The city of Bismarck celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Not to date her or anything, but 50 years ago, my current wife, Ginny, helped plan the city’s centennial celebration. My how time flies! Like it or not.
Ginny was born in Bismarck and grew up there. She graduated from the University of North Dakota, returned to Bismarck for work, where she met a barely employed television anchor whom she followed to Grand Forks.
Ginny’s great-grandmother, Linda Slaughter, is a well-known North Dakota pioneer figure, especially in Bismarck. She was an educator, writer, suffragette, Bismarck’s first postmistress and a lot more.
Back in the early 1970s, Ginny’s mother, Hazel Eastman, edited a batch of Linda Slaughter’s writings from the 1800s, the result of which became a book called “Fortress to Farm.” Long out of print, the book, which sold originally for just a few bucks, now sometimes goes for quite a lot of money online.
The other day, Ginny sat for a Zoom interview with the Bismarck Historical Society. Some of the questions she was asked, with a few of my own tossed in for good measure, are below, along with her paraphrased answers.
Here are A Half Dozen (or so) Questions for Ginny Eastman Dullum.
TD: How many generations of your family can trace their roots to Bismarck, past and present?
GED: Four. My great-grandmother was Linda Slaughter and my great-grandfather was Dr. Benjamin Slaughter. Dr. Slaughter was an army surgeon. Among others, he served with Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Linda Slaughter hated Custer, by the way. My grandmother remembered her calling him “rude, crude and lewd.”
TD: What did your folks do?
GED: My dad, Allan, was a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune. He wrote the first daily newspaper column in North Dakota, “Browsing Around.” More difficult than you might think. He was up late many night working trying to make it look easy. Later, my mother wrote a history column for the “Far West” section of the Tribune.
TD: What do you remember most about growing up in Bismarck?
GED: Bismarck was a great place to grow up in the ’50s and ’60s. It was a very carefree time, especially compared to now. The schools were great. Parks, movie theaters, the Fourth Street shopping district.
The early oil boom days brought kids from around the country to Bismarck. For a time, my dad was executive director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Association. It required my parents to socialize often with people in the oil and gas business, in homes and the Blue Blazer Lounge, a popular watering hole for those in the business in the Prince Hotel. The lounge is also credited as the birthplace of the Smith & Curran’s cocktail named after two local “oil men.”
TD: What are some of the buildings you remember growing up?
GED: I remember The Provident Life Building where my father worked for a while with its Weather Beacon. It’s changing colors would supposedly “forecast” the weather at a glance for those who drove or walked by the building. Someone even wrote a poem about it. “Weather Beacon white as snow, down the temperature will go./Weather Beacon red as fire, temperature is going higher./Weather Beacon emerald green, forecast says no change foreseen./When colors blink in agitation, there’s going to be precipitation.”
With or without any money, we would frequent the local record stores. Jim’s Records, Guy Larson Music, Tavis Music.
I spent many summer days swimming at the Elk’s Pool and attending Teen Canteen at Hill Side Pool building Friday nights.
The North Dakota Capital Building had a drive-through tunnel by the main entrance. Whenever our family would go for a ride in the summertime, we’d drive through the tunnel and honk the horn. It was a sort of Bismarck tradition. Eventually, the powers that be put a stop to it.
At the Memorial Building downtown, we paid as much as a dollar and a half to see the likes of Roy Orbison, and later The Carpenters, Chad & Jeremy. And at St. Mary’s gym, the Everly Brothers.
But probably the building I remember best, however, because I spent so much time there as a teenager, is the Big Boy Drive-In, home of the Pizza Burger (Flying Saucer Style). One day in the ’50s Colonel Saunders — the actual Colonel Sanders — served my family some of his, even then, famous Kentucky Fried Chicken at the drive-through window.
TD: Who are some of the characters you remember growing up?
GED: Rita Murphy, as in Rita Murphy Elementary School, taught English to me and my sister as well as my mom. Her homemade meatballs were renowned locally. People would line up to buy them at St. George’s annual Christmas Bazaar. Rita Murphy paid off the church’s mortgage.
Mac Thompson, the Bismarck Police officer who visited the schools and supervised teen canteen dances. He started a “knot hole gang” at the Bismarck’s baseball park so kids could watch the Bismarck Barons baseball team.
Ted Quanrud, who knew everything there was to know about Bismarck and state history. Sadly, he died much too young.
KFYR Radio’s disc jockey, The Ole Reb, was so famous locally from his radio program he had a burger named after him at Scottie’s Drive-Inn.
In addition to his Bismarck auto dealership, Robert McCarney was famous for taking on any number of state political causes, including what he considered exorbitant expenditures at the University of North Dakota. When I was kid in college, my dad would sent me copies of the Bismarck Tribune. Quite often they would include letters to the editor written by my grandmother, Linnie Lee Hedstrom, praising Mr. McCarney’s political ideas. What is less well-known is him is his generosity. When the father of a friend of mine, who was an employee of his, died unexpectedly, Mr. McCarney quietly paid for the college educations of for all the children in his family.
TD: What do you remember about early television in Bismarck in the ’50s?
GED: When television came to Bismarck in the early ’50s, I was about 6 years old. Most people didn’t own TV sets yet, so they would go to Bismarck’s furniture stores and watch black-and-white television through the store windows.
One of the first must-see TV programs I remember watching was the “Hormel All-Girl Orchestra show every afternoon at my friend Sandy Hirsch’s house.
Some local television was live then. Mike Dosch played the Hammond organ, which he also did at Sears at Christmas time. “Marshal Bill” Owens, who ran the “Marshal Bill Show” on KFYR Television, went on to a network career as an announcer. Cal Culver sang on KFYR and Carl Johnson also did a children’s show.
TD: What else?
GED: I remember a campaign visit to Bismarck by future president Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird. I was about 12 at the time, about the same age as one of the couple’s daughters, Luci. A friend of mine and I tagged along with her dad to the old Bismarck Airport. Lady Bird got off their plane with her husband and came directly over to the two of us. (I have the picture to prove it.) We didn’t know who she was. Just a nice lady who took the time to talk with us about her daughters. I’m convinced now she missed them.