1968 Rough Rider Award
written by Merry Helm
October 7, 2019 — It was on this date in 1996 that a journalism legend died in New York. He was Edward K. Thompson, who was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 1968.
Thompson was born in 1907 and grew up in St. Thomas, ND, where his father had a dry goods store and, later, a banking business. Thompson’s mother was an art lover, and she shared with her son her enthusiasm for artists and fine paintings. The family also traveled a lot, including a trip to Europe, so Thompson grew up with a wider view of the world than many of his peers.
Thompson finished high school at age 15 and moved to Grand Forks to attend UND. As editor of the Dakota Student during his senior year, Thompson got in trouble with UND officials. The local Ku Klux Klan controlled the Grand Forks school board and City Council during that period, and Thompson had published a story from one of his writers that criticized Wesley Ambrose – Presbyterian pastor and leader of the local KKK.
After graduation, Thompson began his journalism career as editor of Carrington’s Foster County Independent. Two months later, he moved to Fargo, where he became the night editor of the Fargo Forum. A few months after that, he moved again, this time to Wisconsin, where he worked as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal.
Eventually, Thompson moved into the arena that would define his legendary career; he became the newspaper’s picture editor. The position allowed his love of art to flourish, and he was, in fact, credited with being the first journalist to use large-scale photos in newspapers.
Thompson’s gift for finding “just the write photo” came to the attention of Henry Luce, the owner of Time Magazine. It so happened that Luce’s missionary father had raised him with tales of Teddy Roosevelt and his adventures in western North Dakota. Luce wanted to start a national picture magazine, and North Dakotan Edward Thompson quickly rose to the top of his list. In 1937, Luce offered Thompson a hefty raise, and Thompson accepted. Their creation was to become a smash hit – a luxurious publication called Life Magazine.
Thompson served in the Army during World War II, during which he edited a highly regarded magazine for the air force. By 1944, he was in charge of German Air Force intelligence. Afterwards, he returned to Life Magazine, where he stayed until retiring in 1968.
Retirement or not, Thompson was far from finished with his career. For two years, he served as special assistant to the Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs. Then, he went back into the magazine business, founding the Smithsonian, one of the largest monthly magazines in the United States. He often wore a Stetson in honor of his western roots.
Thompson retired – again – in 1980, at age 72. As he reflected on his accomplishments, he began another project; he wrote a book called A Love Affair with Life & Smithsonian. In it, he talks about writers, of wars, photographers and Presidents… and of his extraordinary life in journalism. And here’s another little something, Thompson’s son grew up to become editor of the Readers Digest.
Caffeine and Fur Coats
written by Merry Helm
October 8, 2019 — In October 1913, the following ad was in the local papers: Wanted! Perfectly healthy men and women who will voluntarily submit to an experiment which may lead to temporary or permanent impairment of health, or possible death. This experiment to be conducted with the coffee drug, “caffeine.” Following that, in bold letters, it read: Would You Apply for the Job?
The ad took up almost a half page in the Fargo Forum; it was advertising the health benefits of drinking the popular beverage, Postum, as opposed to coffee. Of Postum, the ad said, This pure food-beverage, made of prime wheat and the juice of southern sugar-cane, make(s) a rich, seal-brown blend turning to golden brown when cream is added, which tastes much like real Oriental Java but is absolutely free from the coffee drug, “caffeine.”
The ad went on to say: Thousands are trying the experiment every day in spite of the fact that physicians and government experts have proven: That the average cup of coffee contains about 2_ grs. of caffeine; That caffeine is attributed to be one of the principal causes of headache, biliousness, heart disease, indigestion and kidney, liver and bowel trouble. That caffeine in doses as small as that contained in two average cups of coffee has killed rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals at the laboratories of the Gov’t in Washington and elsewhere…
If you know coffee has no bad effect in your particular case and you like it, why, bless your heart, stick to it, but if coffee drinking leaves its tell-tale mark by some symptoms of physical discomfort or peace of mind, it’s a good idea to stop and use POSTUM.
In other news on this date, a story came out in 1924 about Joseph Jarvino, a young man with a criminal record that started with frequent visits to the Northern Pacific station in Moorhead. Jarvino was a bell boy at a Fargo hotel, at that time, and during his noon hours, he would drop by the Moorhead Depot and lift small amounts of money from the till. After awhile, a watch was posted over the Depot, and one day, he got caught in the act.
Jarvino spent the next two years in a St. Cloud reform school, but evidently he didn’t get too reformed. He ended up serving time two more times – in the “Mandan training school.”
He went back to Fargo, where on May 5, 1924, he broke into a home and walked away with a $700 beaver coat, intending it as a present for his girlfriend. Before long, the young woman jilted him, moved to Valley City and took up with another man.
Jarvino followed her to Valley City and asked her to give back the coat. She refused, so Jarvino broke into her place and stole it for the second time. The young woman went to the police, and pretty soon the young thief was arrested and charged with larceny. There was one problem… nobody could find the coat, and Jarvino certainly wasn’t telling.
Back in Fargo, G.D. McDowell, a special agent for Northern Pacific, had been keeping an eye on Jarvino’s movements ever since the days when he looted the depot till. When he heard Jarvino had been arrested because of a fur coat, he connected the dots back to the burglary in May. McDowell contacted the Valley City Sheriff, and when officials accused Jarvino of the Fargo burglary, he broke down and confessed. The coat was returned to Mrs. Peterson, but it turns out there was another part to the story. After he stole the coat from his girlfriend, he tried to sell it to her new sweetheart for $150.
written by Merry Helm
October 9, 2019 — Trail bosses knew the better the cook, the better the men he could hire, because one of the few pleasures in a cowpoke’s day was eating. Preferred cuisine included beans, Sourdough Biscuits, Red Bean Pie and Vinegar Pie. Here’s the recipe for another delicacy, Sonofabitch Stew:
Kill off a young steer. Cut up about a pound of beef, half a pound of liver, and half a heart into 1” cubes. Pull the marrow from one of the calf’s bones and slice into small rings. Place all in a Dutch oven, cover with water, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours. Add one set of sweetbreads (or stomach glands) and one set of brains, chopped. Add salt, pepper and Louisiana hot sauce to taste and simmer another hour without boiling.
written by Merry Helm
October 10, 2019 — UND’s Volcano World is said to be one of the best source of volcano information on the Web. No volcanoes are listed under North Dakota, but many layers of volcanic ash accumulated across the state during the formation of the Rocky Mountains.
Back in 1906, reports came from the Killdeer Mountains saying that some kind of volcanic action was “taking place in the depths of the earth.” A newspaper story read, “A distinct shock was felt one day last week at the mountain and for a distance of fifteen miles in every direction. Deep grumblings of the earth with occasional explosions can be distinctly heard, and those who live near the base of the mountain are divided in their opinions whether to be scared or not. If the mountain continues to show signs of having a toy volcano concealed under its outer covering, it is probable that the people living on the foothills and surrounding prairies will seek refuge in flight.”
written by Merry Helm
October 11, 2019 — Many consider the USS WAHOO the most famous American submarine of World War II. Her third patrol, off the coast of New Guinea, turned the tide of the Pacific submarine war.
The captain of the WAHOO was the aggressive, gutsy “Mush” Morton. During his sixth patrol in the Sea of Japan, WAHOO’S torpedoes failed in almost every instance; Morton was furious and brought the sub back to Pearl Harbor.
Submarine commanders were said to get reckless after five patrols – lasting that long made them feel invincible. Morton was no exception; he knew where the enemy was, and he wanted just one more shot. Admiral Charles Lockwood was against Morton going out again – it would be his seventh patrol. The Sea of Japan was extremely dangerous, and the WAHOO had been through some grueling action. Yet Mush Morton was a legend, an inspiration to the submarine force. So the Admiral finally gave in.
The WAHOO was outfitted with the new electric Mark-18 torpedoes, which left no telltale wake as they passed under the ocean’s surface. On September 5, 1943, the WAHOO left Pearl Harbor and reached Midway eight days later. They topped off their fuel tanks and departed again that afternoon. The sub was heading for the Perouse Strait, which led into the Sea of Japan. It was the last time the submarine was seen by American forces.
The WAHOO was to maintain radio silence until a specified time and date. In the meantime, the Navy could only guess what was happening. Three weeks later, on October 5, the Japanese news service announced that one of their 8,000-ton transports was torpedoed in the Sea of Japan. The steamer went down in seconds, taking with her 544 people.
There was another sub in the area at the time – the SAWFISH. Either one could claim this victory, but it was surmised the hit belonged to the WAHOO. Admiral Lockwood eagerly awaited Morton’s report, but at the appointed time, she failed to transmit. Lockwood remained optimistic and continued trying to raise the WAHOO. The hours turned into days and then weeks. In November, the sub was finally listed as missing in action.
Years later, Japanese records and eyewitness interviews formed a picture of what happened to the sub and its crew. On this date in 1943, six-inch shore batteries on Soya Misaki revealed a surfaced American submarine making a dash through the twenty-mile wide Cape Soya Strait. The Japanese opened fire and the submarine submerged. Within a short time, four Japanese planes arrived on the scene and spotted a trail of oil left behind. The pilots reported they spotted the black conning tower and hull of the sub and began dropping bombs.
By now, the entire coast was on alert, and two submarine chasers joined the battle and began dropping depth charges. At 1207 hours, a bright metallic object, assumed to be part of a propeller blade, was seen in the ensuing explosions. Oil rose to the surface, several more bombs and depth charges were dropped, but no further contact with the submarine was reported.
Japanese records have revealed that the WAHOO sunk four ships during its final patrol. But, nobody has determined why the sub surfaced in the narrow strait in broad daylight or why she didn’t send distress signals. Among the 80 men who died that day was Lieut. Commander Verne L. Skjonsby of Hickson, ND. He was the submarine’s Executive Officer.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.