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Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer, and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer, and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

The events of 1930 could be considered a textbook example of “hard times” anywhere in America. The stock market crashed near the end of 1929 and ushered-in the Great Depression. Unemployment skyrocketed along with the price of imported goods. North Dakota and other rural states endured unprecedented drought that would eventually lead to the Dust Bowl. In the midst of these events, it wasn’t uncommon for families to pack up as many of their belongings as they could transport and move to greener pastures, frequently leaving their homes and farms behind, but residents of the tiny community of Schafer, North Dakota and nearby Watford City found it odd when, in the spring of 1930, the six members of the Haven family stopped showing up in town.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Niagara, North Dakota: Former Home of a Serial Killer

Niagara, North Dakota: Former Home of a Serial Killer

Niagara, North Dakota is just off US Highway 2, not quite forty miles west of Grand Forks. It was founded in 1882 by settlers from Niagara County, New York. According to the 2010 Census, Niagara has 53 residents.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota is the former home of a serial killer, a man named Eugene Butler, a recluse who lived on the edge of town. Butler was committed to the State Asylum in Jamestown in 1904, and he died there in 1911. Four years after he died, an excavation at Butler’s home uncovered a hidden trap door leading to a crawlspace. Inside, authorities found the remains of six people. All had been bludgeoned to death with blows to the back of the head.

Niagara, North Dakota

Since Butler was already dead, he never saw the inside of a prison for his crimes. There weren’t any local people reported missing, so there are many theories about who the victims were–transient farmhands for instance. Their identities remain a mystery today.

An update on the mystery came from WDAY-TV in Fargo in February, 2016. Case files have been lost over the years, and an effort to perform DNA testing on the victims’ remains depends on the authorities ability to acquire bones stolen by looters in the aftermath of the discovery.

Niagara, North Dakota

The Butler murders are a chapter of Niagara’s history that many have forgotten. Today, Niagara has a nice historical complex in their town square but there is understandably no mention of Eugene Butler’s crimes.  Butler’s home was demolished and a workshop (not shown) stands on the site today.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Just as we pulled into town, the wind started to really blow and a light drizzle began… so we didn’t spend quite as much time photographing Niagara as we would have liked. We’ll definitely go back sometime when the weather is better.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

There was once an impressive building on the corner of the intersection shown above.  It would have stood where the nose of the pickup is sticking out from behind the fire garage.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Leith, North Dakota After the Turmoil

Leith, North Dakota After the Turmoil

We first visited Leith, North Dakota, in Grant County, about fifty miles southwest of Mandan, in May of 2007. We had heard that it was a shrinking rural community with a few abandoned places to photograph, and we found that to be true, but we could not have known that Leith would become a place of conflict just a few years later when a white supremacist would move-in and thrust Leith into a national spotlight.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Back to Balfour

Back to Balfour

We visited Balfour in November of 2014, nine years after our first visit, to get some photos of all the things we missed the first time. We actually tried to revisit Balfour in 2012, but a road construction crew had traffic at a complete stop on Highway 52, complicating our travel schedule, and we decided to wait until another time, so it was nice to finally get back there.

Balfour, North Dakota

Most notably, Balfour has this abandoned church standing right along Highway 52. If you drive the stretch between Minot and Harvey, you’ll see it.

Balfour, North Dakota

We’re told this church was originally in Verendrye, North Dakota, a near ghost-town where only a farm and the facade of the old school remain standing.

Balfour, North Dakota

On this particular weekend, winter was about two minutes away, and the skies had been flat, gray, overcast the whole time. Balfour was our last stop before heading for home.

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This church, several derelict homes, along with several inhabited ones, stand on the south side of Highway 52.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

On the north side of the highway, some familiar sights… like the former Post Office and Community Hall, covered in gorgeously rusted tin siding.

Balfour, North Dakota

The sunset was approaching and the street light was on.

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Right across the street, the former bank.

Balfour, North Dakota

As we were photographing this area, we ran into the Mayor of Balfour who informed us there are now about 20 residents in town. He also told us about the former fire station and jail, and gave us permission to shoot it as long as we promised to be careful.

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This little non-descript building once functioned as the fire station and jail in Balfour.

Balfour, North Dakota

Inside, the firefighters’ jackets still hang on the wall. The years they’ve been hanging here can be seen demonstrated in jacket number four. The original red wall paint remains on the wood where the jacket has shielded it from the elements that have been pouring in through the open roof for years. Winds have blown the jacket back and forth on the hook, wearing a fan shape on the wood, and the silhouette of jackets that have fallen on the floor can still be seen on the wall.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The siren still rests on top of a tower outside.

Balfour, North Dakota

This is in the room on the other side of the wall from where the jackets are hanging.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The door on the left leads to the Balfour town jail. Seeing this chair with the ashtray on the floor made me imagine a jailer, sitting here smoking cigarettes, waiting for a county deputy to arrive and take custody of a prisoner.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The jail cell is made from two by fours, and when the door is closed, it is pitch black inside.

Balfour, North Dakota

These two abandoned homes stand on the west side of town.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The clouds had been around all day, but just as we were finishing up shooting this school, the sun ducked below the cloud cover and illuminated Balfour in a beautiful golden light that would only last about twenty minutes before sundown.

Balfour, North Dakota

There was another school in Balfour before this one.

Balfour, North Dakota

Part of the wall has collapsed on the south side of the school.

Balfour, North Dakota

Trees have sprouted between the slabs that once served as the basketball court.

Balfour, North Dakota

Just north of the school, this building with a collapsed roof hides in the trees. We intended to get a closer shot, but the changing light conditions made us adjust our priorities. Perhaps next time.Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

There’s something hidden in the photo above. Can you spot it? (Click the image, then again on the next page to see it full size.)

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

We have featured Balfour in several of our hardcover coffee table books.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Photographer Ria Cabral sent us some photos of Balfour in winter you can see here.

Balfour, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, 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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Kathryn, North Dakota: Ripped from a Western Movie

Kathryn, North Dakota: Ripped from a Western Movie

Kathryn is a beautiful little town in Barnes county, nestled perfectly into the landscape of the Sheyenne River Valley. It is more of a small town than a near-ghost town with a population of 57, but with an abundance of abandoned places and other photo opportunities.

There’s a nice little bar in Kathryn and one or two more businesses, plus some nicely maintained homes. If you decide to drive the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway, Kathryn is the perfect non-touristy place to stop in for a beer.

The former bank.

If you drive the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway between Valley City and Kathryn, North Dakota, you’ll be treated to a roadside panorama as incredible as nearly any in the state. It is beautiful.

Terry was snapping photos of this old jail when he walked around the corner and saw this mannequin staring out at him. He said something about needing a change of pants after that!

We spoke with a local resident named Roger who showed us this old photo of the hotel.

The former harness shop.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, 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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Pingree, ND

Pingree, ND

Pingree is a small town in Stutsman County, northwest of Jamestown.  According to the 2010 Census, Pingree is home to 60 residents.  Pingree was founded in 1881 and reached a peak population of 268 residents in 1920.

We didn’t have plans to visit Pingree, but we saw a few photo opportunities from the highway and decided to stop.  On the day we visited, several local residents were busy towing cars from the townsite.  There is a sizable auto repair/salvage operation in Pingree.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

This church is beautifully well-kept and still in use.

Pingree, North Dakota

This church is beautifully well-kept and still in use.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

The former Pingree depot and gazebo.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Relics of Pingree’s railroad heritage are prominently displayed in town.

Pingree, North Dakota

Inside the caboose.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

The former Pingree Jail — two cells.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

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Pingree, North Dakota

Photos by Troy and Rat, 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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Marmarth, ND

Marmarth, ND

Slope County
Inhabited as of 5-07

Marmarth, ND is a Badlands town in Slope County in the extreme southwest corner of the state.

Marmarth is one of the more populous towns we’ve photographed with 130 people according to the 2010 Census, but minimum conveniences. Marmarth has lost 190 residents since 1960.

There’s an exhilarating old west ambience in this part of the state… Montana is only five miles west and it’s just a three hour drive to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  The landscape is a harder, chalkier badland than the more pastoral lands to the east and radio signals sometimes elude the car radio as the highway winds past the occasional butte.  There’s a gas station, a bar/steakhouse (with excellent food), and a railroad bunkhouse where you can rent a room with a double bed for $15 per night.  At the time we visited, we were told they had dial-up internet in Marmarth, and satellite was the only way to get TV programming.

The most prominent abandoned structure in Marmarth is Barber Auditorium. It’s actually two buildings, Barber Auditorium and First National Bank of Marmarth.

The train depot has been cut in two pieces and relocated to a stretch of grass along the highway as you enter from the east.

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Marmarth, North Dakota

The 1st National Bank and Barber Auditorium in downtown Marmarth, built in 1918.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Order Ghosts of North Dakota Books

Marmarth, North Dakota

In the basement of Barber auditorium.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The red velvet theater seats still wait in the murky black.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

The staircase on the main floor of the auditorium.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

A former storefront, now only storage.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

The former Mystic Theatre

Marmarth, North Dakota

These were the first two jail cells ever installed in Marmarth.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The Pastime Bar has cold drinks, and the food in the steakhouse at the rear is excellent.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

One former filling station.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Another former filling station.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The depot has been moved.

Marmarth, North Dakota

It now rests on blocks alongside the road in downtown Marmarth.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

A boarded-up school.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

We rented rooms at this former railroad bunkhouse for $15 bucks a night.

Marmarth, North Dakota

See more photos of Marmarth here.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, 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. @NorthDakotaTroy