Dakota Datebook

Cathedral Car of North Dakota

October 30, 2017 — Meeting the religious needs of Dakota’s far-flung and sparse population in the late 19th century required ingenuity. For Episcopal Bishop William Walker, the solution was a “church on wheels.” Constructed out east, the newly-built railway car was on its way to North Dakota on this date in 1890. While traveling around the state, large crowds gathered for services at the unique “Cathedral Car of North Dakota.” Constructed to seat eighty, the car frequently exceeded capacity.

But despite its immediate success, the life of the Cathedral Car was short-lived. By the turn of the century, the much-publicized car was in need of repair, behind in rent and the Northern Pacific was less and less inclined to haul it around free of charge. Unable to pay for its handling, the car was sent to Carrington, North Dakota for use as a stationary chapel and sold one year later.

by Christina Sunwall

Ghost Story

October 31, 2017 — Today is Halloween, a good day for ghost stories, and North Dakota has no shortage of them. Legends have been floating around for years of the “Kindred Lights,” the “Grim Reaper” in a Baptist church near Fredonia, the “Fatal Stump” near Belfield, and the “Gas Chamber” on the deserted Oss farmstead near Hatton.

In Grand Forks, in the Altru Hospital, a staff elevator seems to make unexpected runs on its own, stopping at routine floors on and off throughout the night. Custer’s wife is said to haunt her former home at Fort Lincoln in Mandan, and at Fort Abercrombie, many believe they’ve seen the spirits of soldiers and Indians who died there.

The Liberty Memorial Building, on the grounds of the State Capitol, is said to be haunted by a ghost known as the “Stack Monster.” The state historical society used to be located in the building, in which thousands of Indian and pioneer artifacts, skeletons, and old books were stored and displayed; it’s thought that one of the items had a ghost attached. It’s reported that voices, feelings of dread, unexplained shadows and footsteps affected workers there for years.

The Memory Gardens Cemetery east of Valley City has a floating orb known as the Blue Boy, and a cemetery near the State Hospital in Jamestown has spawned stories of rattling gates, unexplained footsteps and sensations of being grabbed.

In a tunnel that connects UND’s dining hall to five dorms, there have been several sightings of the ghost of a girl with short dark hair. It’s said that in 1988, three students saw her and described her as about five feet five and wearing a nightshirt. The apparition has been linked to the tragic death of a young woman who froze to death in 1962 when she was on her way to the dining hall in the middle of the night. It’s believed she slipped on the ice – this being before the tunnels were built.

A glowing cross can be seen at night in an empty church near Absaraka. Be forewarned, the locals aren’t happy to have curious folks poking around their community at night – which is understandable. But those who have managed to see the image describe a glowing cross that hovers in mid-air within the sanctuary, and that no matter what angle you view it from, it’s always a front-on view. The cross cannot be seen from inside the church, only by looking through the windows, which are by some accounts boarded up… or not. The locals have explained that the cross is nothing more than the result of light passing through a special feature in the window glass; but that’s not much fun.

by Merry Helm

The Royal Gorge

November 1, 2017 — Arizona has the Grand Canyon, Colorado has the Rocky Mountains, but the Ward County Independent reported that North Dakota has the Royal Gorge. The paper wasn’t talking about a geographic feature, but rather, a person. That person was Queen Marie of Romania, and she visited North Dakota today in 1926.

The Independent reported that visitors of the Queen brought food, including homemade rolls, “which reports say she stowed away without butter,” and five mallards. The Independent continued, “The good queen of Romania just naturally gorged herself, right out where everyone could see her do it, and if this is not evidence of a royal gorge, then North Dakotans don’t know natural or unnatural wonders when they see them.”

The train darted through North Dakota in one day on its way to the west coast, but Queen Marie made it a point to stop at various intervals to allow locals on board. The queen was extremely interested in the farming conditions and techniques that might be used in developing her own country’s agriculture. She also showed much interest for the homemakers, and was eager to learn all she could from these common people.

While most of her trip concentrated on the farmers of North Dakota, Queen Marie did make special appearances in Mandan, Dickinson, and Medora. In Mandan, Queen Marie stopped to meet with the Sioux Indians, who honored her with a headdress and welcomed her into their tribe.

The queen’s next visit was Dickinson. There, she left the train dressed in traditional costume to pay tribute to the Romanian people who settled there. The queen then proceeded on to Medora. There, a rodeo was held in honor of the queen. She and her children Princess Ileana and Prince Nicholas dressed in riding garb and rode in the rodeo.

The people of North Dakota must have made quite an impression on the queen, for at the end of this one-day visit to the state, the queen said, “It has been one of the happiest days of my life.”

By Tessa Sandstrom

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at

Post Comment