Wheelock, ND – Herman Gerling Family

This morning the Facebook told me I posted about the Gerling Family 5 years ago today. It just so happens I am working on an article about Wheelock. So here is an update on the Gerlings (complete with typos – I haven’t proofread yet).

Russell Lee’s journeys brought him to North Dakota from August through November 1937, with much of his work focusing, not unexpectedly, on the arid western half of the state.[1] In September 1937, Lee visited Wheelock and photographed a number of area families and farms. While we have only the photographic evidence to work from, and propaganda photos at that, there is still much to be gleaned. The photos uniformly record utilitarian, somewhat ad hoc structures. Farmer Ole Tronson poses in front of his home, decorated only with what seems to be mud mortar and a hanging thermometer. Ole Thompson sits at his kitchen table in the

unfinished interior of a vertical slatboard structures, with the wooden framing serving as narrow shelfs.  Thompson is surrounded by items and clutter, some functional, like kitchen condiments and books, other piles of papers, destined for reuse. Lee recorded other utilitarian houses. One is a simple house with a low sloped roof, sided with pieces of sheet metal, a shed unceremoniously placed right in front, car perked in front. Another is two shed roofed building of different heights joined together, the exposed end loosely covered in tar paper.

Most memorable, perhaps, is the series of photos focusing on the home and farm of Herman Gerling.  The photos indicate that the Gehrling family did not live in town; they do not appear as landowners in the 1937 atlas, indicating that they were likely tenant farmers.   Herman Gerling was born in Minnesota, but was a resident of Williams County, North Dakota all of his adult life. Gerling was in his first marriage to Katie when in 1912 when their mortgage was foreclosed (Williston Graphic 4 July 1912). He was drafted in 1914, and was back home by August 1916, when he collected an $8.00 bounty on four coyote skins (Williston Graphic 10 August 1916). By 1920 Herman was living in nearby Springbrook, and Katie had died (1920 U.S. Census). By 1930 Herman, now 49 years old, had relocated to Truax township (about 15 miles south of Wheelock), with his second wife Tirazah (age 29). Three children were living in the house: Doris Hickle (age 4), James (age 9), and Gertrude (age 4) (1930 U.S. Census). A decade later, it seems that Doris Hickle and James had left the household, but Herman, Tirazah, Gertrude (Age 14), and son John (Age 3) were still in Truax.     Hermann was buried in Epping, a town in Truax township in 1966.  Gertrude never married, or at least never took another name, and lived in Williston in the late 1990s.  She died in 2001 and is also buried in Epping.[2]


The Gerling family seems to have interested Lee, or maybe have just been amendable to his presence, as he recorded multiple scenes with them. The most notable image, perhaps is the family in front of their handmade door, Tirazah holding baby John, Herman hand-on-hip. Eleven year old Gertrude, wearing clothes so clean and oversized they must be Herman’s best outfit, is turned slightly to the side, perhaps self-conscious of her missing right arm, which she lost four years earlier in an accident. The house, as revealed in other photos, is in rough shape. The attic window is missing completely, with one board over it showing that it has been opened up for ventilation during hot late summer days. The front window is missing, the frame boarded up except for a top slat opened for light and air; a second photo shows this window fully “closed,” with glimpses of the cloth used to stuff cracks and stop seeping dust. The windows on the sides of the house are in their frames, but all but two panes of glass have been boarded over. The house does have, however, wooden siding and a good roof. A pile of rocks along the side of the house seems aspirational, rather than an actual stone socle; the rocks are held in place by a retaining fence and this style is matched at other houses photographed by Lee.  Boards form a ladder up the roof to the stove pipe, suggesting maintenance is regular. A crosscut woodsaw hangs from the eaves. The Gerling house has an interesting additional feature.  A large sheet of wood mounted to serve as a second door that closes over the front door and secures the house. This is an odd feature; perhaps it serves to close out the dust when the storms come, or perhaps to better secure the house when the family is away.

The interior of the Gerling home is similarly utilitarian. The framing is exposed and used as shelving in the kitchen, where three guns are hung over the boarded up window. Lee recorded Herman sitting in a chair reading the newspaper, and a hung photo is canted to created a storage space for stacks of paper waiting to be reused.  The wall finishes are curious; they are sheets of a material perhaps 4 x 3 ft in dimension, with flaps or subdivided panels at one side. They are not placed piecemeal however, and the Gerlings have aligned them where possible.  The yard of the Gerling house is filled with items; barrels for water Herman fetched from the spring, a discarded tire, a washing machine. To the left of the front door there is a metal barrel laid on its side, with a metal pan sitting next to it; perhaps for storage or a shelter for farm animals. Lee also photographed the Gerling’s threshing machine, which had not been used since the harvest of 1929, eight years earlier.[3] The machine is surrounded by metal debris and forms the core of what is a typical farm junk pile, a not-so-subtle indication that, for the Gerlings, no one intends to thresh again.

[1] Based on a search of the Photogrammar database, http://photogrammar.yale.edu/, accessed 23 January 2018.

[2] http://www.willistonherald.com/obituaries/gertrude-gerling/article_0c739f12-adf9-5727-9485-221db31f1c99.html

[3] Lee, Russell, photographer. Old threshing machine on Herman Gerling’s farm. There have been no crops for eight years. Near Wheelock, North Dakota. North Dakota United States Wheelock Williams County, 1937. Sept. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://lccn.loc.gov/2017780478. (Accessed January 16, 2018.)


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Punk Archaeology Conference 5 Year Anniversary – The Real Story

That’s really me. Some of those fillings are now crowns.

Today is the 5th anniversary of the epic Punk Archaeology conference the Sidestreet Grill in Fargo, N.D.  You really should download and read my article Punk Archaeoseismology, which is presented in artisinal Richard handwriting.  Probably there are other good pieces of writing in there.  But here is the never before told backstory to my on-stage presentation. In 2013 I was still fighting a wierd sinus infection thing, and had recently had my skull trephinated, again.  They drilled a skull in my forehead to fix things and drilled some other holes and sent me into the cold night.  No worries; my life was saved and I’m better. But at the time, there was some pain involved.

2 February 2013 was a bad day.  In my green room pre-performance preparations at the Holiday Inn, first, I rewrote my presentation on a graph paper with a fountain pen ’cause art.  (I suspect I wrote, not rewrote; I have the paper but not the memory). I hung my head off the side of my bed and poured liquid steroid up my nose until the sinuses were filled.  Then I waited as long as I could withstand it, then drained.  Then repeated. All the while a headache tightened and tightened.  When I went from the greenly flourescent hotel room to the dark sidestreet, I was at tunnel vision.  And then presenter Aaron Barth started pounding on the drums, and Andrew Reinhard started screaming, and Bill Caraher leaned back in his chair and flopped his ponytail from side to side, and I realized that I had not been in pain, that this new sensation was pain.  I remember we were there at a table, and Kris and Tom and Suzzanne were there. I may have eaten the Sidestreet’s famous Fargo Dog.  I remember speaking, but mostly I remember Pain.  So much pain. I was supposed to take Andrew to the train station at 3AM or some such, but I abandoned him.  I don’t know how he got there.  It was fun; let’s do it again.

[insert quote about art and pain here]

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Archaeology of Care–Gölcük, Turkey 1999 Revisited

Jump over to Bill Caraher’s blog and read about the archaeology of care.  He made me dig a little deeper into my recollections.

On Thanskgiving Day 1999 I was in Turkey duing a survey of recent earthquake damage.  We visited Gölcük, which had been devastated by an earthquake 3 months earlier.  (You can read about our work in the essay Punk Archaeoseismology).  President Clinton had just visited a few days earlier and promised aid.  People who had nowhere else to go and who were not willing to risk life in damaged structures were living in canvas tents left over from WWI and makeshift shelters rigged from tarps.  Some of those who were willing to risk living in damage structures had recently been killed by a major aftershock, so most people were outside.   Byzantine landownership laws kept people in places they didn’t want to be.  Winter was approaching.  Mud. Lots of Mud.

At the time, I was studying ground deformations, tsunami runup and the like.  I wasn’t studying the refugees and how they lived.  These days, the temporary abodes are of more interest to me, in part because of our Man Camp project.  But I remember the camps.  That day, if you must know, burned in some of my strongest memories.  Three boys, two with boots, one without, the oldest a little bit bent over, oversize gloves, one pair.  Smiles.  You’d be surprised how often these guys pop into my head.  In hindsight, I wish I had stayed longer.  My only good-luck charm came from a horrible spot on that day, and it reminds me just how much luck matters.   Some photos below.  If you want, notice the water bottles, electrical wires (and self-erected power pole), and t.v. antennae.

Golcuk ThanksgivingP0002260P0002288P0002289Doll

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I am bored when people weep over the destruction of Nineveh.

Their brief public wailing has no tie to the basalt roots carved by waves of conquest and cruelty.

Do they imagine that Shamshi-Adad would hold hands with them, and gaze longingly on some alabaster lion or hulking lammasu?

Would the Assyrians, the ASSYRIANS, flinch at brutality and cracking destruction?

Their beloved bull-men gates were built with the surge and flow of decapitation and evisceration.

Would Sennacherib, who paved the street with corpses, prefer the triumph of the knife of ISIS, or the lonely editorials of half-lived lives?

The winged lions also crumble if you dare to rip them from their martial birth.

Perhaps they prefer the bulldozer, the jackhammer, to the sterile embrace that denies the flex of their muscle and the tear of their talon.

Or perhaps they choose to break into grain and dust when the last who care for them cannot bring themselves to stare into the empty darkness of the boots of their brother’s son, empty in Baghdad, for no particular reason.

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Your Enthusiasm for Protecting Antiquities Cost Army Pfc. Edward J. Herrgott His Life

Your Enthusiasm for Protecting Antiquities Cost Army Pfc. Edward J. Herrgott His Life 

[Listen to us discuss this and similar issues on the Caraheard Podcast]

The full tale of Pfc. Herrgott, the first Minnesotan to die in the Iraq war (3 July 2003), is little known. The news reports all read “Herrgott, 20, of Shakopee, Minn., died July 3 when a sniper shot him in the neck outside the National Museum in Baghdad.” But here is a fuller account from our fellow The Ohio State University Alum, Colonel Peter Mansoor:

“Two days into my command, the Ready First Combat Team lost its third soldier since its arrival in Baghdad and the first of my tenure. Private First Class Edward J. Herrgott was guarding the Baghdad Museum when he was shot and killed by armed gunmen. I visited the location shortly after his death and was shocked by what I discovered. The museum was not the one that contained the ancient treasures of Iraq but was rather more akin to a wax museum for the enjoyment of locals and tourists. The curator had removed all of the exhibits to a safe location to prevent their theft in the aftermath of the war, but nevertheless CJTF-7 had ordered us to guard the place. The media frenzy over the looting of the National Museum of Antiquities had provoked a knee-jerk reaction to guard every place that could possibly be construed to have cultural value. The end result was that we were guarding an empty structure, one made indefensible by the cavernous buildings that engulfed it on both sides and parking garage several stories high across the street. The gunmen who killed Herrgott had sneaked up a side alley and engaged him from the flank as he manned his position in the hatch of a Bradley fighting vehicle.

I was determined to get my soldiers out of that death trap. . . . ”

Peter Mansoor, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq. Yale University Press, 2008.


Note 1: Herrgott’s Aunt is worth quoting: “President Bush made a comment a week ago, and he said, ‘bring it on.’ They brought it on and now my nephew is dead.

Note 2: I didn’t meet Col. Mansoor when we overlapped at the massive OSU. I met him while working on a battlefield study of New Ulm, MN, his home town. If you don’t think the world is ruled by serendipity and The Ohio State University, you are mistaken. And we are fine with that.

Note 3: It looks like the Washington Post ran the Wax Museum Story on 8 July 2003, but I’m not 100% sure.

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Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Domain) and Battlefield Archaeology

Alain-Fournier’s only masterpiece, Le Grand Meaulnes, recounts the twisting journey of 15 year old François Seurel, whose life is buffeted by the arrival of the older boy, Augustin Meulnes.  Together and apart, they wander to a hidden, isolated manor, which weaves their lives together in tensions of honor and love.  I do not want to give the story away, but rather encourage people to read it, so I give only a vague synopsis.

The Wanderer Anchor 1950s

Edward Gorey’s illustation for a 1950 edition of the work.

The book, sometimes titled The Lost Domain in English, is full of Victorian-esque improbably twists, coincidences, and shocks, but the beauty of the work lies in its descriptive sense of place, wrapped in the melancholy romantic views of an adolescent.   An iconic work in France (or so the Internet tells me), it is not all that well known in the United States. 

Alain Fournier.jpg

A Young Fournier

Fournier was a master of evocative descriptions (F. Davison translation):

We had made our way down through a maze of narrows lanes full of white pebbles, or sand – lanes which springs turned into brooks as they neared the river’s edge.  We caught our sleeves on thrones of wild gooseberry bushes.  At one moment we plunged into the cool shade of a ravine, and a moment later, at a point where the line of hedges was broken, came out into the full clear sunlight which shed a radiance over the whole valley. Across the river a man sat on a rock patiently angling. Never was there a more beautiful day.

Why did Alain-Fournier (whose real name was Henri-Alban Fournier) only gift us with this one lyrical masterpiece, published when he was only 27 years old? Because he was one of the many young men whose lives we decided to throw away and trample in the mud during WWI. 


The Mass Grave – Fournier is No. 16

Fournier died near Meuse on 22 September 1914, a month after he joined the army.  He and a small squad of soldiers were sent into the woods on a mission, and were never heard from again.  Members of the Association of Friends of Alain-Fournier made several trips to Meuse, to feel and understand, perhaps, what Alain-Fournier saw in his last moments.  This group wandered that woods where Alain-Fournier and twenty-one soldiers disappeared.  

The Mass Burial of Alain-Fournier

Research in the German military archives and a four-week archaeological excavation found the mass grave of the twenty-one, and Alain-Fournier’s body was identified by his nameplate.  The research and archaeology indicates that he was shot in the chest after his group was surrounded by Germans, presumably in retaliation for an attack on a German ambulance.  The archaeologists on the project were met with skepticism that real archaeology could be done on something as recent as a 1914 mass grave, and the project was the first French archaeological excavation of a WWI site.  If you want, you can read Frédéric Adam’s articles on the discovery of the grave, the archaeological excavation, and the wounds of those found (you may not like what you see, and you probably should quit reading blogs and learn French).   

Alain—Fournier was re-buried at Saint-Remy-la-Calonne in 1991.

The Verdun-Meuse Grave Site Monument

To be honest, I am stunned by this web.  How wonderful and horrific that we have Le Grand Meaulnes, from an author who, duty-bound like his characters, was lost in the woods for almost 100 years, and found only through the faithful patience of friends.  A sad final plot twist, but no doubt not a fair trade for what Alain-Fournier would have given us if we had let him live.   [I’m not going to tell you how well the pieces fit.  Read the book].

Post-script – I completely stumbled into this topic. I read a review piece on the Centenary Edition of Le Grand Meaulnes, and found the rest out of curious internet searching.  Journeys often result from, and in, serendipity, it seems.

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Farewell, Roosevelt School

The Roosevelt Elementary School (now the Roosevelt Learning Center), burned down Saturday night (6/15/2014).  The building was built in 1920, and featured a beautiful stairway flanked by two huge marble columns.  I walked through those doors many, many times (a decade apart) with two of my children, and I do not think I once passed the columns without pressing my palm to one and murmuring an appreciative word.   I loved to watch the little heads crane skyward, and I can only imagine the columns seemed as tall as the sky to them.   The community has lost an anchor for many families.


St Cloud Times Photo


The intact column


The broken column


This is the calm-down tree.  If you were a frustrated student, this is where you could go to get things under control.


The spouse just stacked those blue chairs a week ago

A youngster says goodbye to his first classrooms


Some nice brickwork you were never meant to see

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thro.out greek style

From Jacque Tati’s Playtime.   The clip is from a tradeshow scene, where everyone, even American tourists, can see the wonders of a modernist Paris. 

thro.out greek style

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The Hiawatha Asylum

The Hiawatha Asylum is (or was) at terrible place.  I don’t want to write about it. 

But it has been in the news today.  This is a pretty good story and video: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/05/sd-native-american-insane-asylum/2137011/ 

Here is a good article you might want to read that tries to address some of the hard questions:

Anne Dilenschneider, An Invitation to Restorative Justice: The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. Northern Plains Ethics Journal 1(1) 2013, 105-128.

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Not All That Funny

This is a revised post.  I misread the tone and intent of the article “Losing Face”  in the Appendix.  The author and editors quickly listened to my concerns, and I decided I was wrong and hot-headed (not news to some of you).    So there’s nothing to look at here.  Go read the article, and pay attention to the last line, which flew over my head.


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