The Magic City, Fall 1940
For those of us who are history buffs, the 1930s and 40s are a golden age of documentary photography. Government photographers from the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information traveled the country, photographing American cities big and small. They left behind a photographic treasure trove of places that no longer exist. It was photos like those, largely the work of Arthur Rothstein, that allowed us to do our book on North Dakota’s largest city, Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found, and another of those government photographers, John Vachon, captured these photos of Minot in October of 1940.
I find these photos interesting for the look back at the WWII era, in a season when the air had gone brisk and the leaves had presumably turned brilliant shades of yellow and red, about to become a carpet for residents of the Magic City.
Cars and trucks were everywhere in 1940, but these old horsedrawn wagons were still used to shuttle around cans of milk. This shipment was just waiting at the depot to head off to its next destination.
Unidentified football players on what appears to be Main Street, walking north. I could be wrong but their helmets appear to be plastic, which would have been a new development at the time. Riddell introduced plastic helmets in 1939, and the old leather helmets disappeared from use by the 1950s. Update: site visitor Brad says the player on the right, #44, is his dad Archie Peterson (see comments below).
The former Great Northern Hotel wasn’t exactly a swanky joint in 1940. I am not sure the location of this place, but it doesn’t look like the kind of place that would still be standing in a town the size of Minot.
This photo was simply labeled, “Chimneysweeper. Minot, ND.”
Upon closer inspection, chimney sweep looks like a dangeorous job. Standing on that wood ladder 3 1/2 stories above the ground doesn’t seem like a place I would be eager to be.
I zoomed in on this section of the photo because I was interested in the signs. Partially obscured by the column on the left is the word “Rooms,” indicating this was a rooming house, and the building in the background has an automotive use with the words “Body Dept.” painted on the white facade. It wasn’t until I saw the address “304” on the column at left that I realized I knew this place.
It is the former home of Martin Jacobson at 304 S. Main Street. In 1945, just five years after these photos were taken, it would be purchased by a funeral director transplant from the Twin Cities, Ben (B.J.) Thomas, and it became the Thomas Family Funeral Home.
I remember this place from my childhood in Minot, primarily as the place next door to the old Empire Theater. If you came out of a Saturday matinee and sat down on the grass to wait for your mom and dad to pick you up, someone would come out and ask you to get off the grass. Us darn kids.
In the image above, you can see the home changed substantially over the years in its life as a funeral home. The cupola and flagpole on the northwest side are gone. A room which once occupied the space between the columns is also gone, and several windows have been closed off, including the third story window over the front entrance. Image/Google Earth
This photo was labeled “Lutheran Church. Minot, ND.” I was unfamiliar with which church this is, so please leave a comment if you know.
Church was the social media of the day, and this photo is a good example. Everybody in their Sunday best, catching up with people they hadn’t seen all week.
Photos by John Vachon, original content © Sonic Tremor Media