April 22, 2022
For over 100 years, Red River floods defined the cities and people who experienced the rising waters – not only due to the destruction, but the feelings and relationships developed during a time of restoration. Some areas may still show the wear and tear of the flood, but nearby restaurants, shops, and other small businesses are alive and bustling. The images in the exhibit show a community with some scars, but one that continued on strong.
Those affected by the flood remember the experience in multiple ways including books, plays, and collections of photographs. In 2021, The City of Fargo unveiled a donor-funded public art piece led by the Fargo Lions Club and dedicated to the community members who helped with sandbagging efforts during the 1997 Red River Flood. The monument is a gateway arch known as "The Spirit of the Sandbagger" (pictured left; details below).
"Disasters: The Stories We Share" is an experimental traveling exhibit developed by Susanne Caro (NDSU Libraries), Jen Kirk (Utah State University Libraries), and Ben Chiewphasa (University of Notre Dame) where host content is integrated into the physical display as well as the website to build a broader narrative of disasters and the stories told to memorialize the events. The subject of floods was chosen for the Fargo-Moorhead portion of the traveling exhibit and was a collaboration between Trista Raezer-Stursa, University Archivist, Minnesota State University Moorhead; Chelsea Olmsted, Legacy of the Lakes Museum, Alexandria, Minnesota; and Susanne Caro, Government Information Librarian, North Dakota State University Libraries. Caro states, "I’m hoping this model of incorporating local stories will change the long-term design of traveling exhibits to present a wider range of experiences."
NDSU is the first stop for the exhibit which will be on display until July 1, 2022, with hosting duties followed by Utah State University Libraries; University of Montana, Missoula; and finally University of Notre Dame.
To learn more about the project and follow its progress go to disasterexhibit.org.
Photo above: "Great Flood of 1897" by O.E. Flaten, 1897, Flaten/Wange Collection, Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. You can find more images of the 1897 flood at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.
“The Spirit of the Sandbagger” (pictured within article) was conceived and coordinated by Fargo Lions Club member Mike Benson; designed by local visual artist Karen Bakke; and constructed by local custom metal artist Brock Davis. The artwork was commissioned by the Fargo Lions Club and gifted to the City of Fargo in 2021. Image courtesy of City of Fargo. Learn more about the sculpture including this short documentary at spiritofthesandbagger.com.
This project was funded by a NEH Public Humanities Project grant. Learn more about the NEH grants here. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.