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Remembering Black Sunday

Remembering Black Sunday

April 14th, 2015 is the eightieth anniversary of Black Sunday, arguably the worst day of the Dust Bowl era. Dust storms that had plagued North America for a decade reached a terrible crescendo on that day, with dust clouds taller than the tallest buildings enveloping and blanketing Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and many other places.

PBS’ American Experience describes the experience of one family who was caught traveling on that day as a Black Blizzard approached:

Ed and Ada Phillips of Boise City, and their six-year-old daughter, had to stop on their way to seek shelter in an abandoned adobe hut. There they joined ten other people already huddled in the two-room ruin, sitting for four hours in the dark, fearing that they would be smothered.

Dust Bowl
Aftermath of an Oklahoma Dust Storm. Photo by Arthur Rothstein.

In his memoir, Farming the Dust Bowl, Kansas farmer Lawrence Svobida describes an approaching dust storm:

At other times a cloud is seen to be approaching from a distance of many miles. Already it has the banked appearance of a cumulus cloud, but it is black instead of white and it hangs low, seeming to hug the earth. Instead of being slow to change its form, it appears to be rolling on itself from the crest downward. As it sweeps onward, the landscape is progressively blotted out. Birds fly in terror before the storm, and only those that are strong of wing may escape. The smaller birds fly until they are exhausted, then fall to the ground, to share the fate of the thousands of jack rabbits which perish from suffocation

The northern plains states and Canadian provinces suffered from these dust storms for years, a subject we’ve covered before. The Farm Security Administration employed a number of photographers to document the effects of the Dust Bowl, and we’ve posted the work of several who photographed North Dakota, including Arthur Rothstein’s photos of Dust Bowl Grassy Butte, and The Grashhopper Plagues, plus Russell Lee’s photos in this piece.

Please take a look and take a moment to remember those affected by Black Sunday.



Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
The Grasshopper Plague

The Grasshopper Plague

The 1930s could be described as a perfect storm of hardship in America. The Great Depression devastated the national economy and job market, and a persistent drought compounded matters in the Midwest, contributing to the Black Blizzards of the Dust Bowl era. The skies from Texas to the Canadian plains were sometimes so dark, cities would light their streetlamps in the daytime. Crops had already failed due to the drought, causing families to relocate, businesses to close up, and populations to sink. When you dared think things couldn’t get any worse, they did. 

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Dust Bowl Grassy Butte

Dust Bowl Grassy Butte

Grassy Butte, North Dakota is a very remote Badlands settlement in McKenzie County near the Montana border, an unincorporated community with a population in the dozens. In the 1930s, Grassy Butte was one of a multitude of places where the locals who’d arrived in search of the American dream faced sad realities and hard choices. The population was in the hundreds then, and knowing that, you now understand the choice that many eventually made.  They left. 

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Dust Bowl North Dakota

Dust Bowl North Dakota

Russell Lee was a trained chemical engineer who passed on a career in the field in favor of art. He is best known for the incredible number of photographs he took during the Dust Bowl for the Farm Security Administration.  Mr. Lee spent a good portion of 1937 in North Dakota photographing families, farms and cities, too.

The photos below are just a small sampling of Mr. Lee’s work.  He left a vast collection of photos of American culture in the 30s and 40s, and we were lucky to have his camera trained on us for a time.

Russell Lee, Highway Number 2, North Dakota

Abandoned garage on Highway Number 2. Western North Dakota. 1937

Russell Lee, Williston After Dust Storm

After a dust storm. Williston, North Dakota. 1937

Russell Lee, Sod Post Office

Sod post office. Grassy Butte, North Dakota. 1937

Russell Lee, Sodhouse

Sod house. McKenzie County, North Dakota. 1937

Russell Lee, Sodhouse

Corner of sodhouse. Williams County, North Dakota. 1937

Photos by Russell Lee, Farm Security Administration, in 1937

Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.