Recording the history of a nation, state or city can be an arduous task. One way to do it is to tap into the memories of those who lived through the times. They not only have their memories, but tales told them by ancestors.
The Bismarck Historical Society has launched an ambitious project to complete an oral history of Bismarck for its sesquicentennial in 2022. The city will be 150 next year and it has a rich past.
Just the last 50 years have seen amazing growth and changes in the capital city. Teenagers in 1972 are now in their 60s and have a lifetime of memories to share. The historical society has been eager to do an oral history, but lacked the resources, according to Marilyn Snyder, society president.
That problem was overcome when Chad Wachter, president and CEO of Investcore Inc., donated funding for the project. He said he hopes to accomplish the project with $100,000.
The society is in the process of hiring staff to conduct interviews. The society hopes to interview 50 individuals or businesses for the project. The 50 number isn’t set in stone, serving more as a target for the society.
The plan calls for 200 interviews, four per individual or business. The estimated 600 hours of interviews will be turned in video and also be offered on paper. Eventually the society hopes to turn the interviews into a book.
Snyder and Walt Bailey, executive director of the society, stressed to the Tribune editorial board that the project doesn’t have to stop at 50. The society needs the help of the public to complete the project, starting with determining who to interview. They hope to complete the project in 18 months.
Oral histories have been done before by Bismarck, the state and by different groups. The North Dakota Newspaper Association has an ongoing oral history project where members are interviewed. The history revealed in the interviews is as good as the memories of those interviewed, which tends to be very good.
Fifty years is a long time between oral histories for Bismarck. In that timespan there have been dramatic changes in education, the arts, air travel, the size of the city and the diversity of the population. Bismarck is much more reflective of the rest of the nation than it was in 1972.
The city was originally named Edwinton when it was founded in 1872. It was named for Edwin L. Johnson, who was a supporter of a transcontinental railway. The name didn’t last long as the city was renamed Bismarck in 1873 in honor of German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck. It was done in hopes of getting German investment in the railway.
The first Northern Pacific train that arrived in Bismarck on June 5, 1873, carried the printing press for the Tribune. The Wachter family began a business in the city in 1882. These two items show how rich the history is in Bismarck.