Closing out the year 2019 is, in a sense, also closing out the year 1919 which was relived in light of the Fergus Falls cyclone a century ago. Most important is to never forget those who lost their lives.
Credit for this goes to Steve Johnson, a 1973 graduate of Fergus Falls High School, along with the Otter Tail County Historical Society.
Johnson researched the 60 victims who lost their lives and compiled many family and individual photos.
The historical society ran a nice story of Johnson’s work last summer in their newsletter. An exhibit on the cyclone, at the county museum, runs through Dec. 13.
“It was daunting but, after starting a file on each victim and taking one at a time, I got into a routine,” said Johnson, a resident of the Twin Cities.
Johnson’s research started with background information provided by Kathy Evavold and others at the county historical society.
He also gleaned information from the historical society’s research library, including work done by Lance Johnson in the 1980s. Newspaper accounts also were accessed at the research library.
“What I found to be really interesting were the conversations I was able to have with descendants of some of the victims” he said. “Several family members were able and willing to recall stories passed down over the years. These stories are part of family lore.”
Johnson’s research reinforces the fact that the cyclone had a lasting impact on Fergus Falls.
“Many survivors, disrupted by the effects of the cyclone and the later economic impacts, simply left Fergus Falls,” he said, “most often for cities and towns in the West. A large number of descendants and family members currently live in the states of Washington and California.”
Those who died were not the only victims of the 1919 Fergus Falls cyclone.
“Hundreds of others were harmed physically, mentally and financially,” Johnson said. “One can only imagine the grief that hung over Fergus Falls in the wake of the disaster.”
Three citizens committed suicide soon after the event. Many family members of victims and others suffered with alcoholism.
“In many cases,” noted Johnson, “those who had seen so much refused to talk about their experiences, in a way similar to that of soldiers returning from war.”
Johnson’s work represents an attempt that was successful in learning more about the victims who lost their lives and, when possible, adding faces to the names.
One example is a family who lived at 313 W. Birch Ave., near Lake Alice. Losing their lives were Norwegian immigrants Johan and Julianna Anderson, and their daughter, Bernice.
Sixteen-year-old Selma Kjono, a resident of Rothsay, was killed while visiting her half-sister, Emma Johnson, at 410 W. Summit Ave. Emma was also killed, as was her 8-year-old son, Eddie Thompson.
We owe a sincere thanks to Johnson as the year 2019, and the year 1919 comes to a close.
Judge Dell loved his duck hunting
One of the prominent duck hunting cabins in Otter Tail County during the 1950s was one owned by renowned Fergus Falls attorney Roger Dell. His was located near Mud Lake in Star Lake Township.
Dell, who later became chief justice of the Minnesota State Supreme Court, entertained his lawyer friends on weekends at the duck hunting cabin.
“As kids, the judge let us hunt there on weekdays,” said Doug Lange who lived nearby with his parents Adolph and Marcella Lange and his brother, Larry.
“The judge would oftentimes remove his cowboy hat and wave to us while riding his gaited horse,” said Doug, a Seattle resident who spends part of the summer at Dead Lake.
“Judge Dell also was an expert trap shooter,” said Larry, a resident of Perham.
The brothers, in 2019, fondly recall those good duck hunting days. They had success on weekdays, before and after school.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.