Posted 12/22/15 (Tue)
By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
Her rule was no hitchhikers.
Emma Landers was a no-nonsense, single young woman in Minot working at Triple A, a government agency in the early 1940s, when she went on a car ride that would change the direction of her life.
As Crosby native Duane Anderson tells the story, it was a chance meeting with a hitchhiker that ultimately led to his parent’s marriage, and a treasure trove of photos from their years in Divide County.
If all goes as planned, the photos will soon be available for anyone in the community to peruse and search by name.
Giving Gordon a chance
Emma’s roommate, whose family lived near Coteau, offered Emma a ride home to her parents’ farm near Kenmare. Emma said she would go with as long as her roommate promised not to pick up any hitchhikers. Her roommate agreed, but as they drove west on the lonely road, the roommate slammed on the brakes and backed up several feet for a young man walking the stretch of highway.
Emma was furious and said, “You broke your promise to me,” as the man opened the door to get in. Emma sat in stony silence the rest of the ride. Her roommate and the young man also remained silent, feeling the cold weight of her discomfort and disapproval.
Six months later she saw the young man at a dance in Coteau and found out that he wasn’t a stranger the day they picked him up but a childhood friend of the roommate. He was hitchhiking from the ND Agricultural College in Fargo to Coteau to see his mother. She then felt badly about that car ride and apologized to Gordon Anderson, who had since taken a job as an agricultural teacher in Hettinger. Anderson still frequently returned home to check in on his mother.
“They started corresponding right after that,” says Duane. “I still have all the letters they wrote.”
And he has his parents’ photos.
“They left us the records and photos of their entire lives,” Duane says. “It’s a piece of history.”
The vast Anderson photo collection totals more than 6,000 pictures dating as far back as the turn of the century. The collection is a visual family history, as well as a social history snapshot of Crosby and surrounding communities taken during the following decades.
“My brothers and I didn’t want their collection just lost forever,” says Duane, who made digitized copies of the collection for family members. “We wondered who would want to preserve the collection and provide access for people who might be interested.”
Duane first approached the State Historical Society, and while the collection could be stored there, he was told the digitized copy would probably remain stuck on a shelf with thousands of other forgotten and stored photos.
“They were courteous and honest about it,” Duane says.
Duane, who wasn’t sure if the collection would find a proper home, continued on with the project he and his brothers Keith and Don started. They bought a scanner and painstakingly scanned thousands of black and white photos, color slides and glass negatives into their mother’s Apple computer. Whe Duane inherited the computer in 2003, he began the laborious task of labeling each and every photo by date and names of those pictured.
He dedicated several hours each week for more than a decade to organizing the collection.
Steve Joraanstad, a lifelong friend and classmate of Duane’s, went with his wife, Ardis, and Landy and Diane Bummer to visit Duane in Williston several weeks ago. Duane, who has incurable cancer but is taking chemotherapy and concedes nothing to the disease, appreciated the visit from old friends and wanted to show them some photos taken of them during their childhood.
Duane had posted photos on the “If you grew up in or near Crosby” Facebook page and told his friends that people would often stop him at the Divide County Threshing Bee to talk about the posted photos. Duane shared with the group that Maxine Melgaard gave him glass plates, which turned out to be glass negatives of rural schools in Divide County; they have also been added to the collection.
Duane then opened up his computer program and typed in Steve’s name. Steve, who grew up on the same block as Duane, was quickly found mugging for the camera with their boyhood friends at neighborhood birthday parties and Cub Scout meetings.
The group was amazed by the sheer mass of photos and the meticulous cataloging Duane has accomplished over the years.
“He typed my name, and all of these photos popped up with me in them,” Steve says. “I thought there would probably be a lot of us in the community who would appreciate access to the memories and photos of loved ones in the collection.”
Steve told Duane the Divide County Library might be the perfect benefactor for the collection. He approached media specialist Traci Lund, and she quickly agreed to house and honor the collection.
While Duane and Traci are still working out the logistics, they are confident they will find a way to make the photos accessible to each other and to the community at large.
Traci, who recently had all of the school annuals shipped out to be digitized, envisions residents sitting at their computer at home, typing in the library’s website and clicking onto the collection of photos. She says the photos could then be uploaded to Facebook and other social media tools to be shared with even more people.
“It will be really fun to have those memories at the library,” says Traci. “It would be awesome if someone could be at their house and look at the photos there too.”
Traci expects they will have the collection by the end of January and she is researching how to catalog it and make it accessible. Steve said he has also talked with other classmates of Duane’s, and they are ready to provide any assistance and technology that may be needed for the project to be successful.
“The library has done me a favor to be interested,” Duane says.
From aerial photos of farms to Crosby students photographed in band uniforms and at livestock shows to neighborhood birthday parties, community memories have been preserved in the Anderson collection.
Gordon, who was hired as the agriculture teacher in Crosby after WWII and later opened the Soil Conservation Service, took many of those photos. He spent his first paycheck after college on a slide film camera.
“That camera lasted him through all of his life,” Duane says.
Gordon’s older brothers and mother taught him how to take photos. Duane also has photos his grandmother took dating back to the 1890s. Duane recalls his grandmother living with them for many years, and he later realized why after reading letters his father and grandmother kept. Both their photos and letters tell the story.
By the time Gordon was 10, his father, and three out of his five brothers had died. Of the surviving two, one married and the other moved away. Gordon’s mother couldn’t run the farm by herself, but Gordon had been trained by the other brothers how to work and run the farm, so he did, for 8 years.
“He desperately wanted to go to college,” Duane says. “His mother told him they would lose the farm if he left her.”
She lost the farm.
Duane still has the letter Gordon wrote to his mother from college. It reads: “You will never be homeless even though you are losing the farm.”
Gordon continued to provide and take care of his mother while pursuing his dream of a college education and a better life.
Duane then shares a lighter moment of correspondence between Lois Nickols and his mother, Emma. Gordon was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and travelled to the Veteran’s Hospital for treatment. Whenever he and Emma left for treatment, Lois would write Emma letters to keep her up to date on the soap operas she was missing. She just used the first names of the characters, who happened to have the same names as several Crosby residents. One evening Emma left Lois’ letter at the hospital room and Gordon, bored, read through it. He was horrified.
“Dad told Mom the next morning he wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to Crosby because of all the terrible scandals going on there,” says Duane, who adds Gordon was relieved to find out that Lois’s scandalous letter was about fictional characters instead of neighbors and friends.
Duane says his parents hated to be away from each other; WWII was the only time they were separated. His parents wrote to each other and took photographs during those years, too. His parents married in 1943. Gordon wore his naval uniform for the wedding, and they spent their honeymoon taking a bus to his father’s first ship. Gordon spent 13 months on a cargo ship and became the photography officer once his superiors realized Gordon knew how to operate a camera.
It is some of the photos Emma took, though, that Duane finds especially memorable. Emma bought a Brownie, a cardboard box camera, when she was 10 years old. Made by Eastman Kodak beginning in 1900, the cameras were affordable and easy to operate for the masses. Brownies were the original snapshot cameras.
When Emma finished high school, she bought a better camera that produced 4 X 6 negatives and continued to photograph and record her life and community.
Emma’s photo of Gordon on Aug. 6th, 1945, shows a somber, war-worn man, although they were celebrating her birthday in New Orleans. They weren’t aware of it at that moment captured in time, but the U.S. had just dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which many historians believe led to Japan’s surrender. Gordon was training as an officer on a warship scheduled to take part in the planned invasion of Japan. Casualties were expected to be in the millions, and Gordon’s expression that day still weighs on Duane.
“I look at that photo of him looking pretty solemn, knowing there might not have been any Anderson boys if the war didn’t end when it did,” he says.
Such photos provide a visual historical record for the family, but also, for the entire community.
Duane recalls Emma’s brother telling him just before he died how easily such history can be erased. “He said they were just throwing family photos in a bucket and pitching them,” Duane says. “Our generation is next, and I’m especially anxious to get these photos to a place where they would survive.”
Duane hopes the collection will be of use to the library and local residents, and he is grateful to know the photographs are finding safe haven there.