Ghosts of North Dakota was profiled by the AP on Thanksgiving, November 28th, 2013. This story ran in the New York Times, the London Daily Mail, USA Today, on ABC News, on Yahoo News, the AP’s National Travel Wire, the Seattle PI and dozens more outlets.
Photographers Find New Life In ND Ghost Towns
Dave Kolpack, Associated Press
FARGO, N.D. — Two Fargo radio personalities who photographed the remains of western North Dakota’s pioneer towns for a coffee table book discovered a surprise when they returned for volume 2.
One of the images that Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp had hoped to capture for the second volume of “Ghosts of North Dakota” was an abandoned church in Fortuna, near the borders of Montana and Saskatchewan. When they arrived, they found a recreational vehicle and semi-trailer parked in front of the building, ruling out a photo shoot.
And then there’s nearby Appam, which was featured in the first edition. The pair was surprised to find about 30 recreational vehicles and trailers set up behind a shelter belt that once guarded the town.
“We were shocked to see that some of the towns we photographed in 2005 or 2006 had people living there now,” Larson said. “We always said it would be a happy day when we could say one of these towns turned the corner
and starting coming back. We didn’t expect it to happen like this.”
Larson knows that the rebirth is temporary and might be the makings of future ghost town photos.
“If we’re still above the ground, because Lord knows how long the boom will last out there, we fully intend to go back out there and photograph what is left,” Larson said. “It would be a very different type of ghost town. What is a man camp going to look like when nobody is left? Will there even be a man camp?”
The second edition is 88 pages and features towns such as Bantry, Barton and Bentley, along with Raleigh, Roseville and Roth. Larson’s favorite photographs are one he took of a house in Sims, which is featured on the cover, and one by Hinnenkamp of a one-room schoolhouse in Clear Lake Township that is surrounded by rings of crops on a foggy morning.
“There was no way we could have known there was going to be a crop circle around the school house or it was going to be all foggy and misty when we showed up there,” Larson said. “It seemed like the shot was just presenting itself to us when we got there.”
The first book has sold about 3,000 copies, Larson said, and the pair had to back-order more books to meet demand. That allowed them to finance the second volume, which is available on the group’s website at GhostsofNorthDakota.com.
“Being able to do one book was more than he hoped for, to be honest,” Larson said. “We’re poor radio guys and never had the money to do a book. We were pleasantly surprised that we were successful and it all worked out.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
Ghosts of North Dakota on Prairie Pulse
Ghosts of North Dakota was featured by the Fargo Forum, June 18th, 2013
Fargo men travel the state to document disappearing communities
John Lamb/Fargo Forum
Road trips usually lead to lakes, oceans, mountains, amusement parks or national parks – some place vibrant and exciting.
Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp are looking for a quieter getaway. We’re talking real quiet.
For nearly the past decade, the Fargo men have been searching out ghost towns for their website, www.ghostsofnorthdakota.com.
Their destinations may be on the map, but they are fading. Larson and Hinnenkamp want to get there and document these towns before they all disappear.
Earlier this year they released “Ghosts of North Dakota: North Dakota’s Ghost Towns and Abandoned Places,” a coffee table book documenting their trips on the state’s byways.
“That’s one thing North Dakota has a lot of,” Larson says. “There aren’t many states that have beautiful abandoned things to photograph.”
“People are kind starved for good picture books of North Dakota,” says Greg Danz, who has sold out of the book a few times at his downtown Fargo store, Zandbroz Variety.
“It’s a combination of interest in photo books of North Dakota and weird history of North Dakota,” Danz says when asked who buys the book. “It’s a fun book. … I’ve had people come in and look for their old hometown in it.”
On the road
Despite their website’s name, the two aren’t ghost hunters looking for haunting spirits, though that’s how this whole adventure started.
A decade ago Larson and Hinnenkamp worked together at a radio station and hatched an idea to spend a night around Halloween. Their spooky sleepover never materialized, but they discovered they each had an affinity for the fading small towns on the prairie.
They started taking short trips out, shooting photos of what remained and doing a bit of research. They started the website the following March, posting the photos and what they learned.
“We started off as two dudes having fun photographing places, putting it up on a website,” Hinnenkamp says.
While some abandoned sites have been combed over by antique pickers, the travelers abide by a ghost towner’s creed: “Take only photographs. Leave only footprints.”
“We don’t disturb anything if we can help it,” Larson says.
Over the years, their eyes for photography have gotten sharper. Hinnenkamp taps a picture of Berwick in the book.
“Blue skies and puffy clouds,” he says. “That’s what we hear from people in New York. They don’t see skylines like that.”
Their site has attracted viewers from around the world, some because they knew the area and others curious about life in North Dakota.
At first, those who logged on did so expecting to read about prairie apparitions, not old communities. But eventually people with connections to these communities found the site.
“It’s become a place for memories for people who fill in the storyline for these photos,” says Hinnenkamp. “People are finding each other via our website.”
And the more people drawn to the site, the more information the photos receive and the clearer the history of the area becomes.
Towns are indexed on the site with photo galleries attached and numerous comments under most shots. Some visitors relate their own history. Others suggest other towns – often ones the viewer has an interest in. But most thank Larson and Hinnenkamp for the website.
Over the last decade, they’ve learned their own lessons. They prepare for walking through tall grass, cover their legs and arms and wear mosquito repellent.
And they never leave home without their phones, which have gotten them out of a few jams and allow them to hit the road without reams of printouts from Mapquest.
They’ve also gotten more competent with their documenting, with Hinnenkamp shooting most of the photos and Larson handling social media. Through their Facebook page, the nearly 16,000 followers can virtually tag along on trips without more people cramming into the car.
“It’s an added bit of fun, it’s like having all of these people with us,” Larson says, adding that he’ll sometimes post photos just after visiting a town and minutes later someone will identify the space or share a bit of history about it.
There have been some bumps in the road. The highway travels have claimed two of Larson’s cars, and paying for gas has taken a bite out of their modest, self-funded budget.
“We got smart about it,” Larson says. “I used to drive a Jeep 4×4. That wasn’t smart.”
Now he drives a hybrid.
Even in breakdowns, they got to see the brighter side of living in North Dakota. When Larson’s Jeep broke down in Bowman, a mechanic flipped them keys to a loaner and let them carry on to Gascoyne.
“It’s a great example of North Dakota nice,” Larson says. “You wouldn’t see that anywhere else.”
Sometime to return
Even with a more trustworthy vehicle, their window for travel is small. Between May and November they’ll hit the road between three and six times, from day trips to long weekends. But with jobs and families at home, time for ghost towns is limited.
This year’s hope is to get up to Turtle Mountain area and Cavalier and Walsh Counties.
They even have favorite places they’d visit again.
“I’ve always been a fan of Lincoln Valley,” Larson says of the Sheridan County township, noting how the general store and a gas station are still standing, even if the opera house is now gone.
“Unless you’re aware of the history, you won’t even know it’s there,” Hinnenkamp adds.
And for another reason the San Haven Sanatorium just north of Dunseith, in Rolette County, is quite memorable, though not particularly safe.
Originally a facility to treat tuberculosis in the first half of the 20th century and a home for the developmentally disabled in the second half, the building has an ominous presence.
“That’s a spooky place to be,” Hinnenkamp says. “It’s weird how a bird three flights up makes a noise and makes you think you heard something else. What sounded like a disembodied voice was actually a pigeon cooing down the hall. There are rumors galore about that.”
Over the years they’ve found that some ghost towns rise again. After visiting Appam in Williams County, they heard the oil boom out west brought a few more people to town.
When they decided to go ahead and print their book, the explorers started a Kickstarter campaign, offering investors of a certain level to suggest their next towns to visit. The campaign raised $12,000 in 30 days, and one donor suggested they visit Wheelock. He later withdrew his request, saying he’d heard trucks and campers from the oil field had moved into town and he didn’t want to remember it that way.
While the pair has been able to make enough money for a second edition of the book to come out by Christmas, they’re not able to make a real profit from the project.
“The real payoff is down the line,” Hinnenkamp says. “Imagine in 10 years how many of these buildings will be gone. In the future, the people with first-hand memories will be gone. … It’s the history most people don’t know about.”
See photos and commentary from their visits at www.ghostsofnorthdakota.com
Ghosts of North Dakota was featured on WDAY TV Channel 6/Fargo and WDAZ Channel 8/Grand Forks on September 14th, 2012.
Ghosts of North Dakota on Prairie Public Radio, October, 2012:
Ghosts of North Dakota was profiled by the AP on July 3rd, 2011. Story below.
North Dakota’s Ghost Towns Get Life, Of A Sort
Dave Kolpack, Associated Press
FARGO — What began as a failed promotion by two radio disc jockeys has turned into a quiet effort to breathe life into North Dakota’s ghost towns.
The project is called Ghosts of North Dakota, started eight years ago by two native sons who had planned to overnight in haunted locations. That never took off, but the idea of documenting history and visualizing days gone by appealed to Terry Hinnenkamp and Troy Larson.
Their goal, Larson said, is to keep taking photos until there are none to take.
“If we can do something in a non-in-your-face way to spur restoration or renovation in any of these places, we would be all about it,” Larson said. “But we don’t like to be too political either.”
Their website has photographs from 100 faded or fading old towns, along with whatever brief history that could be gleaned about the place. Their work shows remnants of humanity, but more often features no people, light poles, cars or anything else that might compromise the authenticity of a photo.
Their most recent post features the town of Forbes, on the South Dakota border, where they made photos of a stone house museum, school, post office, bank and saloon. One striking picture shows a square wooden house, fairly intact, flanked by a barn settling to its knees and a third, smaller building that’s fallen to little more than a pile of wood.
“On nearly every trip, we go out looking forward to seeing a certain town, but on the way home, we realize another town was better or more fun. Forbes was that town on this trip. The pleasant surprise,” the duo writes.
The website has more than 10,000 followers on Facebook. Some fans have become contributors; about one-fourth of the material on the site is submitted.
Mark Johnson, 35, of Fargo, has posted work from the towns of Omemee, Temple and Brantford.
“What’s really neat is when they have the galleries posted, folks will see them and will retell all their memories about back in the old days,” Johnson said. “It’s fascinating to read them, and lots of times people from these towns are re-connecting through this project.”
Another contributor, Sara Schindler, posted pictures of Aylmer, a settlement about 40 miles southwest of Rugby still home to two people. Schindler described a former general store, garage or storage shed, an abandoned home and “possibly some kind of blacksmith or other repair shop.”
“The general store building has moved off it’s foundation and the basement is filled with water so probably won’t stand much longer,” Schindler wrote.
The enthusiasm for the Ghosts of North Dakota project didn’t surprise Jim Davis, an archivist for the state Historical Society.
“I think that some people study ghost towns because they love the detective work, they may contain some fascinating history and the basic fact that they are ghost towns means that there are few toes left to step on when writing the history,” Davis said.
Doug Wick, a North Dakota native and researcher who wrote the book “North Dakota Place Names” in 1988, said the state had about 3,200 named towns in its heyday. Today’s state highway map lists about 500.
Davis attributes the withering of many towns in recent decades to the decline of family farms that serve as economic drivers.
But it started long before. Many tiny towns formed around railroad stations set as little as 7.5 miles apart back in the days when people travelled by horse and wagon. The advent of the automobile made it easier to travel farther and smaller towns lost out to communities that offered cheaper prices and support, he said.
And many people left during the Great Depression, Davis said.
Davis said many people support the restoration of ghost towns, but it would be a waste of time without a viable local economy. The society has received offers from people who want to restore an old community and give the land to the group, but maintenance costs are usually too high, he said.
The first town Hinnenkamp and Larson documented was Blabon, about 60 miles northeast of Fargo. It sparked an Internet exchange with a resident of Norway whose great-grandparents owned the general store and saloon in Blabon, about 60 miles northeast of Fargo. The family moved back to Norway about 1915, stung by the harsh conditions and the death of their young daughter, whose grave is the only record of the failed attempt to fulfill the American dream.
“It really had an impact on both Terry and me,” Larson said. “We started to go, wow, it’s not just pictures of buildings in empty towns. It has a bigger impact for some people.”
When they first started researching towns, Hinnenkamp and Larson looked at old railroad maps from different eras to get leads. They later graduated to Internet sites Mapquest and Google Earth and began using satellite photos that give them an idea what they will find. They recently started using GPS.
Sometimes they’re too late and wind up in an empty field.
“For us, it’s a missed opportunity,” Hinnenkamp said.
Both say they love the peace and quiet of the ghosts of North Dakota.
“You kind of get a sense of fragility about who we are, where we’re going and what’s going to be here when we’re gone,” Larson said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.
The above article was published on Independence Weekend of 2011 in several dozen newspapers nationwide. It was also reprinted on hundreds of blogs.
Ghosts of North Dakota featured on KVLY/Fargo-Moorhead