Inside San Haven Sanatorium, part one

This is a mirrorpost from GhostsofNorthDakota.com

Our Ghosts of North Dakota website is a constant reminder of how things change over time, those reminders frequently coming in the form of a photograph that shows a crumbling structure, a little less stout than when we last photographed it. Sometimes though, the reminders come in the form of a story, an email from a visitor.  In this case, we received an email from a former ten-year-old patient at San Haven Sanatorium and we’re reminded that sometimes it’s a change in our culture which leads to abandonment.

Mary found our website, and after perusing the San Haven galleries, sent us an email.

Mary wrote:

Your pictures brought back a lot of scarier memories. None of them good. I was a patient at San Haven from March 1963 to July 1963.  I was there. They thought I had TB because I reacted to the shot. 

Her email immediately got my attention and I contacted Mary with the hope that she would share more of her story.

San Haven was a tuberculosis Sanatorium near Dunseith, founded in 1909, which eventually became a home for the developmentally disabled. It has frequently been the subject of controversy, usually a dispute between those who insist no wrongdoing or neglect ever took place at San Haven and those who want to make sure it never happens again. Firsthand accounts from former patients could illuminate this conversation.

I asked Mary to tell us more and she started with…

…the day my Mom and Dad took me there. It was cold and it took three hours to drive there. I met the doctors [and thought] they talked funny. I didn’t know they were going to leave me there even though they packed my dolls and some clothes. My Mom wasn’t sure they were even going to leave me there, so they left and said they would be back to see me the next day.

I asked Mary to explain this point. What kind of shot was it she reacted to? When did she know that her Mom and Dad would be leaving her there?

It was a TB scrape . They have a instrument with several needles. They pierce the forearm and wait three days and if you react with a red spot then you have to have a chest x-ray to see if you have spots in your lungs. I have no idea why my Mom did it to us kids. Maybe she heard it on TV that there was cases of TB and went to the doctor. After us three girls reacted the whole school was tested as well as several other people. No one around here reacted so the doctor said that us three girls may have been walking together and some one spit on the sidewalk that actually had TB and we contracted it. That was one explanation. The doctor contacted the state AMA and they told him that we had to go to San Haven or Grand Forks because they were the only places that was close enough to go to. They knew that it was a possibility that I would have to stay there but we weren’t sure until we actually got there.

The situation as it was: a ten-year-old girl quarantined for tuberculosis in a massive sanatorium three hours from home.

So they took me to a room which held 3 bunk beds and two single hospital beds. I was on the 2nd floor in the women section. I was in a room with 6 other girls ranging from 9 to 17. I was 10. They put me on the top bunk.

San Haven, North Dakota

The two older girls were watching tv and smoking as were the others even the 9 yr old. They all looked at me rather strangely being as I was the only white girl. So I got up on my bunk and started to talk to my dolls. The older ones told me to shut up but I kind of ignored them. It made them mad and they got up and pulled me off the bed, threw me on the floor, put a chair over me and threatened to burn me with a cigarette. I was very quiet after that.

Mary’s reference to being the only “white girl” is just the tip of a very large iceberg of regional feelings on race and politics, partly because the hospital is located in tribal territory in a very conservative, predominantly white state and partly because of the impact the hospital had on the local economy in neighboring Dunseith. All that aside, and beyond a government versus private industry argument which remains perpetually unsettled, there is an important legacy to the abandonment of San Haven, which we’ll get to in part two.

There was 1 bathroom for 20 women. In the bathroom there was one tub, no shower, two stools, and two sinks.

It wasn’t long and the older girls escaped, but they came back and brought head lice with them. When they brought the lice they took us upstairs to a bathroom that had a shower, stool and a sink and washed our hair with kerosene. My hair was down to my waist and when my Mom found out about our little bugs she brought her neighbor and she cut my hair real short. That was the first time I had my hair cut short.

I was moved nearly to tears as I read this, imagining a ten year old girl getting her hair cut short for the first time in this terrible place, under such awful circumstances.  I’m willing to speculate that the head lice were always blamed on the girls who escaped. Parasites like head lice were a continuing problem at places like San Haven in the 1960s.  At any rate, on the subject of the older girls, Mary says:

Then they moved them to a different room or they escaped again but I didn’t see them around anymore. So that left 4 of us girls in the room together and we got our own beds.

That’s only the beginning of the story of a former patient of San Haven Sanatorium — a ten-year-old girl with a questionable TB diagnosis. When I asked Mary about her misdiagnosis, she was forgiving.

They did not have the resources that we have now but I don’t blame my doctor for any of this because he knew it wasn’t TB but the state said we had to go.

Read part two, on daily life at San Haven, what Mary found on the third floor, and what it took to secure her release from San Haven.


Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com. Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp.

Do You Remember the Sleepwatcher?

Fargo-area residents might remember the “Sleepwatcher” case. In 2006 and 2007, a man snuck into homes in the Fargo-Moorhead area and watched people sleep. In some cases, he actually climbed into bed with them and watched them until they woke up. I was reminded of the case when I saw a similar story in the local media awhile back. I got curious and decided to do some digging on it.

Court records cited by the Fargo Forum in an April 17th, 2007 report named a Washington man, Casmer Volk, as a suspect in the Sleepwatcher case. Volk spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between Kittitas County, Washington, and the Fargo area, where he has family. Volk was given two years of probation for 2006 and 2007 window peeping incidents in the Fargo area, but he was never conclusively linked to other Sleepwatcher home intrusions.

As a Fargo resident who paid some attention to the cases, I vaguely remember some law enforcement sources poo-pooing the notion that Volk was responsible for all the Sleepwatcher home intrusions, but I always suspected Volk was the guy, partly based on eyewitness description of the man. I have no doubt the police worked very hard to convict the guy, and to connect him to the other Sleepwatcher cases, but the community wasn’t really in a panic over it — the Sleepwatcher has not harmed anybody seemed to be the attitude.

Casmer-J-VolkI saw a newspaper headline awhile back about a man who walked into a West Fargo woman’s home and climbed into bed with her and I immediately wondered if the Sleepwatcher had returned, but as I read the story on this latest incident, it seemed obvious that this guy was just a drunk who wandered into the wrong house ala Robert Downey Jr during his lost years.

Nevertheless, my interest was piqued on whatever happened to the Sleepwatcher and I decided to do some searching. I searched for stories on the Sleepwatcher and Casmer Volk and this is what I discovered.

In September of 2008, after returning to Kittitas County, Volk was caught in a Washington woman’s apartment while she was showering. Volk was returned to North Dakota and his probation was revoked by Judge John Irby, who gave him one year with credit for 128 days served.

I can find no record of Volk’s release from jail in North Dakota, but he must have been released because he promptly went back to Washington state and started getting in trouble. In January of 2012, Volk was convicted of raping a four year old boy in Kittitas County. The rape occurred in May of 2011 while Volk’s girlfriend was babysitting the boy. I think Volk was sentenced to 28 years to life, but the link is no longer available online.  In early 2014, Volk’s attorney appealed his conviction and the appeal was denied. You can see the document here, but a word of caution, the details of his assault on the little boy are graphic.

I was pretty surprised to find all this information since I had no idea that he had such a criminal history outside North Dakota, but a few thoughts come immediately to mind. First, the Fargo area dodged a bullet with this sicko. To my knowledge, he never actually assaulted anyone during his time here, probably due to the fact that our police force kept him back on his heels once they were onto him. And second, I’m reminded why it’s important to take seemingly petty crimes like peeping seriously. This guy started out as a peeper, then became an intruder, and eventually went on to become a child rapist.

Kudos to the authorities who finally put him away.

Troy Larson is a Fargo resident, husband, father, writer, photographer, and President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC. Read more.

A Haunting: Our First Home

In the course of my life, I’ve had a few run-ins I would characterize as supernatural or paranormal, but the experiences we would have when we bought our first home would leave no doubt in my mind about the reality of the supernatural. With Halloween not far off, I thought this story would be appropriate. This is the first installment of that story, from the beginning.

We bought our first house in the summer of 2007. It was a beautiful, sun-soaked summer for the most part, until we started looking for a house. For about ten or eleven days straight, it rained. We ran around town with our realtor, checking out houses in a constant downpour. We learned to go in the basement first — it was so wet, if there were any problems with water in the basement, it was exposed by the weather. At the time we kind of took it as a blessing. We found a nice little home in North Fargo and bought it.

We didn’t have to make our first house payment for about sixty days, so we had the luxury of having the keys to our house while still living in our apartment for two months. We decided to take the move-in process casually, moving a little bit each day. Every day, I would leave work, drive up to the apartment, fill our Jeep with one load of boxes, drive it to the house and unload in the garage. When I arrived on day two, I started to notice little things.

The light in the basement was on when I arrived. There’s a switch at the bottom of the steps, and one at the top. I turned it off after I dropped off the first load yesterday. I was sure of it. And yet, there I was, looking down the stairwell at a lit basement. I unloaded my cache of boxes, made a production of turning off the light — “I’m turning off the light now” — and headed back to the apartment. I did not immediately mention any of this to Rebecca.

A couple of weeks later, we had moved enough of our belongings to begin spending the night in the house. So our family spent a Saturday taking apart our beds and reassembling them in our new bedrooms. By this time I had shared my experiences — with lights being on, etc… with my wife. She expressed some mild agreement as she had encountered the same thing… thinking she had turned off the light, but finding it on. So, we were on our hands and knees in our bedroom, putting together our bed frame. It was quiet in the house since our TV hadn’t yet made the trip. And out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something.

In my peripheral vision, I saw my son Cole walk into the room. Or that’s what I thought I saw. And in a reflexive fatherly moment, I stopped cranking on the socket wrench and sat up, hands on my knees, knocking back my baseball cap as I readied myself to answer the question that would inevitably come from my three year old boy. There was nobody there. I was looking at an empty spot in the room. And Rebecca was looking at me, looking at an empty spot in the room.

“What??” she said, alarmed. “Nothing,” I said. I had learned a long time ago to not make a big deal out of these things or Becky gets all freaked out. I tried to go back to work, but she wouldn’t let me. She made me tell her what I saw. A little boy in blue, walked into the room. I thought it was Cole. Becky had a little shudder and we went back to work.

This would not be the last time we encountered a small, child size apparition in our new home.

This is a mirrorpost from SonicTremorMedia.com. Read part two here.

Bridges of the Red River: Georgetown

I’ve always referred to this bridge as the Georgetown bridge due to its proximity to Georgetown, Minnesota, but I believe its official name is the Red River of the North Bridge, and it spans the Red in Cass and Clay Counties, joining Cass County 34 and Clay County 36.

Red River of the North Bridge was built in 1949 and rehabbed in 1993At a total length of 553 feet, this is definitely one of the more impressive truss bridges in the southern valley.

Some kind of alien carcass?

See part one – Bridges of the Red River: Center/NP Avenue

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

Bridges of the Red River: NP Avenue/Center Avenue

The Red River is the natural dividing line between North Dakota and Minnesota and it’s somewhat average as rivers go. But in the 1800s, as pioneers began to populate the Dakota Territory, the Red was a formidable obstacle and the bridges across the Red River became important corridors with cities sprouting up wherever a bridge spanned the muddy water.

Here we see three bridges in one shot:

On top, the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge on Main Avenue between Fargo and Moorhead. A white car can be seen on the bridge.

Just below that, you can see the dark colored NP Avenue Railroad Bridge stretching through the middle of the photo, and on the bottom, in the foreground, the distinctive orange NP Avenue/Central Avenue Bridge. That’s the bridge I’m focused on today.

This bridge was originally built in 1937, a replacement for an even older bridge, and rehabbed in 1987. Like many bridges these days, it is classified as functionally obsolete.

On the bridge, looking east at Center Avenue in Moorhead.

The same view in 1965, before downtown Moorhead was razed to make way for the Center Mall.

Beneath the bridge on the Moorhead side of the Red River, looking south.

This is the first installment in a series I hope will eventually be a photographic look at every bridge over the Red River between the origin at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Ottertail Rivers and the mouth at Lake Winnipeg.

See part two – Bridges of the Red River: Georgetown

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

Downtown Fargo Poster Art

Consider this a small folder dump… some things I’ve done that have been accumulating on my hard drive.

I like to snap photographs in downtown Fargo and then turn them into posterized, pop-art-type things. Make sure you click ‘em to see ‘em full-size.

Bank of the West

The Powers Hotel — “400 in Crimson”

The Pioneer Life building. — “Waitin’ for the Bus”

The former NP Avenue Railroad bridge in Moorhead, now gone.

What began as a panorama photo of the Quentin BUrdick Federal Courthouse in downtown Fargo ended up as a piece of propaganda art. — “Free Leonard”

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

DeLendrecies and the Depot: A Century in Fargo

The postcard below shows the scene in 1906 or 1907, looking southeast at the intersection of 6th Street and Main Avenue which was then known as Front Street.

A woman named Mrs. Shea sent the following note on this card:

Hello Margaret. I just got home from Fargo. Would send from there but did not have address. Now, even away, I think of you. Many thanks for the nice Xmas card. Will write you a letter soon. Hope you are well. Kindest regards from J. and myself. Write [something illegible] Don’t wait. Mrs. [first name illegible] Shea. Two Harbors. 2/22/06

In the postcard itself, take note of three buildings. Left of center, the Northern Pacific Depot wears the red and brown A-frame roof.  Right of center is the brown four-story version of the Fargo Waldorf hotel.  And right in between the two, a barely noticeable two story building — DeLendrecies.

The postcard above is a view from 1924 and as you can see, things have changed.  The DeLendrecies building in the center has grown to five stories, and the Waldorf on the right has sprouted a fifth story too. The historic DeLendrecies department store would later move to West Acres mall and subsequently got bought by Herbergers in 1998, ending a century in Fargo.

The scene in 2011.  The Waldorf is gone, destroyed in a fire on December 13th, 1951. The DeLendrecies building is now rental housing, and the depot is home to the Fargo Park District. The Bank of the West building dwarfs the whole scene from a block away.

Three views of the same intersection, spanning more than a century from 1907 to 2011. That’s the kind of thing that fascinates me, and I just thought I’d share.

See also: Fargo’s Front Street – 1909
See also: More of the Fargo Waldorf

The Original Fargodome

Some years ago when I was researching some historic Fargo happenings, I ran across an obscure webpage that featured a short blurb about a place called the Fargo Arena. If you know where Island Park Pool is, you’ve probably seen the remains of the Fargo Arena without giving it a moment’s thought.

The strange, seemingly out-of-place structure on the site of the Island Park pool shown above is a remnant of the Fargo Arena.

The structure above was once the entryway to the Fargo Arena, a giant indoor recreation facility which only existed for five years in Fargo. Essentially a massive quonset, Fargo Arena was huge.  According to a note written on the back of an early photograph, Fargo Arena was purported to be the largest building in the United States by floor space. It was reportedly dismantled after the flood of 1943 and moved to Hector International Airport for use as an airplane hangar.

Through photos housed at both the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies and the North Dakota State Historical Society (in a dated web presentation), we can follow the life of the place – here’s a photo of the building under construction.  Here’s a photo of the building in all its glory, and here’s another angle.  Here’s a photo which shows it flooded (1943). Here’s a photo from approximately 1945 which shows the building after the actual arena had been dismantled and removed. Please feel free to correct or add any information you might have in the comments below.

The WPA plaque above says the structure was built in 1939, but NDSU’s Institute for Regional Studies says it was 1938.  Where the arena once stood, the Island Park Pool now resides.

If you have any information about the former Fargo Arena, please make a comment below.

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

The Remains of a Red River Prohibition Bridge

During a bike ride with my family one summer, we ran across a historical marker along the Moorhead Red River bike path that told the story of Fargo’s connection to Moorhead Saloons during the prohibition era, saloons which were clustered around bridges on the Moorhead side of the river.  This historical marker has the photo shown below, and the accompanying text.

Moorhead’s saloons, many built on piers cantilevering out over the River, were clustered around the River’s bridges to be as close as possible to their North Dakota customers.. This photo looks over the Red River to the east from the top of the Case Plaza building in Fargo. Note the old North Bridge and Billy Diemert’s salon built on piers along the steep river bank. This marker is near the rear of Diemert’s former location.

In 1889, North Dakota entered the Union as a dry state. The state Constitution required all saloons to close in June 30, 1890. Soon after, thirsty North Dakotans flocked acros the river to drink in Minnesota. By 1900 Moorhead was home to 45 saloons and 3700 citizens.

Moorhead’s saloon business boomed until 1915 when Clay County finally went dry. Today, except for lingering rumors or bawdy houses and connecting tunnels, all that remains is the occasional broken bottle eroding from the river bank.

Photo courtesy of Flaten/Wange Collection, Clay County Historical Society

The photo below was taken from approximately where Diemert’s is shown in the photo above (the spot where American Crystal Sugar’s corporate headquarters is today), looking toward the bridge. All that remains is the old footing.

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

A Film Noir Restroom

Every time I get a weekday off, I treat myself to lunch at Bertrosa’s in the basement of the Black building in downtown Fargo.  After one recent lunch, I went hunting for the public restroom on an upper floor and apparently stepped through a time warp to a 1940′s gangster movie when I walked into this restroom.

Wowzers.  Hide the modern touches like the soap dispenser, put a trench and a fedora on an actor and you could shoot a period piece in this john. Cue the saxophone music.

“She came in with nothing but a green light on… she said, “Joe, I need your help.”

I had to be honest. This dame was bold, strolling into the men’s room like this…

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com