My favorite things North Dakota

It has been suggested to me that perhaps North Dakota is the most obscure state in the Union.  Maybe so!  Let’s take a look:

1. Author: William Gass would be a possible pick, but I do not enjoy his work.  Same with Louis L’Amour.

2. Humorist: Chuck Klosterman.

3. Sociologist of religion: Rodney Stark.

4. Painter: Clifford Styll is the obvious pick, except I don’t much like his work.  If you were wondering, he dominates so many rooms in American museums because of restrictions placed on grants of his paintings from the artist’s own collection.  I suspect some curators have come to resent this, but often the grants were made propitiously near the peak of Styll’s reputation.  I suppose I’ll opt for James Rosenquist, although I am not a huge fan of his work either.

5. Evening television bandleader and toastmaster: Lawrence Welk.  I can’t even think of a clear runner-up, with or without bubbles; this video will show you why he was a favorite of so many.

6. Movie and TV show, set in: Fargo duh. Otherwise it is Man in the Wilderness, which was the original and in some ways superior source material for The Revenant.

7. Actress: Angie Dickinson comes to mind, Dressed to Kill is a good movie.

8. gdp per capitaThat can set many things right, although 2016 may not be as good as was 2014.

The bottom line: Hm..but yet we must consider Delaware and Rhode Island!


Does "Fargo" ever get to North Dakota? I watched it again recently and it's overwhelmingly set in Minnesota. I can't recall if any scenes are set in Fargo, or if Fargo merely serves as an evocative name, kind of like how "Chinatown" doesn't take place in Chinatown.

Ya...Fargo is not set in North Dakota at all. Neither the movie nor the TV show.

(don't make the mistake of watching season 2. It's awful. Season 1 however is the best thing since...well since Fargo)

I think the initial meeting takes place in Fargo. But the bulk of it is indeed in Minnesota.

Regarding the tv show, I think the second season is better than the first, but both are inferior to the movie. The Coens are actually from Minnesota, Noah Hawley's knowledge all seems to come from crime films (a bit like Tarantino).

At the end of the movie the second to last scene is the arrest which occurs in Bismarck. Like everything else involving North Dakota the action all takes place in Minnesota.

"Regarding the tv show, I think the second season is better than the first"

I have literally nothing to say to you.

The TV show is awesome. It stands on it's own. Please don't compare it to the movie.

And both seasons are great.

Greater Fargo actually straddles the border. It's 80% North Dakota, 20% Minnesota.

That 20% in Minnesota is known as Moorhead.

Isn't the meeting between Jerry and kidnappers that opens the film in Fargo?

Yes. I think that's all there is of Fargo in the movie.

As I recall, the Coen brothers admitted that "Fargo" just had the right ring to it. You probably wouldn't go to see a movie called "Brainerd."

The mass killing that bring in Marge Gunderson was set in Minnesota, but shot in North Dakota due to an unusually warm winter.

#3 I never thought I would like Rodney Stark, and resisted reading him for years, but now I've read almost all his books, he's quite good. However, I don't know that the current climate of most major universities would like his viewpoint.

Studied religion at a top university and graduated a couple of years ago; although his work was contentious, he was still read as part of the standard curriculum.

It can't be Delaware, the first state, nor Rhode Island, the smallest state. It's one of the Dakotas or perhaps Montana. Oh wait, Mount Rushmore is in South Dakota, and Rugby (geographic center of North America) is in North Dakota. It's Montana!

Close, it's Idaho

Not Montana. As the setting for much of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, definitely not Montana.


+1 Wyoming!

No way. If Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills saves S. Dakota, then Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons save Wyoming.

The nation's only perfectly rectangular state? I don't think so.

Umm....Colorado says "hi"

I have to say that is a fairly poor list. Poor/slim pickings across entertainment & academics. I'd suspect the same for politics & business.

My money is still on good old North Dakota

South Dakota is better. No state income tax, I like that! :-) Been there once, to establish domicile.

Fargo's most improbable scene is where the policewoman shoots the fleeing suspect in the leg with the snub-nosed revolver, when he is 30 yards away. That's very good shooting, or just plain lucky.

On Abstract artist C. Still--he does not do still life, but notice below he is EARLIER than his contemporaries J. Pollock and M. Rothko in doing abstract art, so he is technically SUPERIOR as a modern artist. Recall how important being first is to modern art: the first person to 'paint' a blank canvas with a single dot in the center is labeled a genius...the second person to do this is labeled a charlatan. Hence why is Still's slop any worse than the insane paint drippings of the alcoholic Pollock? It's not, so he's 'better' IMO.

Art is fraud, in many ways not unlike being a macro economist (or any economist, pace TC). My favorite art story involves the Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840–1926). For any years he was hailed a genius for painting water lilies that had wavy looks as if they were viewed underwater. Then it turns out a doctor convincingly argued that Monet simply had a condition akin to cataracts (an ophthalmologist would know the right term, it's very common) where images simply appeared just as he painted them. So instead of being a genius he had an eye condition so that whatever he painted simply looked like what he saw. "Paint what you know" - indeed, pun intended. I guess Van Gogh arguably also had a medical condition that made him see things in fragments, the way he painted. And I would even say Picasso was a fraud because maybe he couldn't paint very well, so he resorted to drawing the way he did, but I've seen his very early works, of a horse, and the horse is drawn realistically, beautifully (i.e., about as well as I can draw, I'm pretty good). BTW Picasso also appropriated the art of the Greek islands of the Cyclades, which in turn archeologists say may have been inspired if not imported from sub-Saharan Africa (there's African DNA in Greek islanders DNA, showing a nexus).


Wikipedia: Clyfford Still (November 30, 1904 – June 23, 1980) was an American painter, and one of the leading figures in the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II. Still has been credited with laying the groundwork for the movement, as his shift from representational to abstract painting occurred between 1938 and 1942, earlier than his colleagues like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, who continued to paint in figurative-surrealist styles well into the 1940s.[1]

No favorite economist from ND?

Not only Dr. Syverson, but also Mancur Olson.

The gay farmer/poet Timothy Murphy lives and farms in North Dakota.

I did like Gass' book on the colour blue.

Heidi Williams is from North Dakota as well - along with Syverson, that's a pretty good duo for such a small state!

A big (literally) omission: Basketball legend: Phil Jackson

Not to be confused with the equally big legend: Phil Jordon.

Athlete: Darin Erstad - won a National Championship with Nebraska in football and a World Series with the Anaheim Angels. Also state 110 and 300 m hurdles champion and hockey player

Coach (Zen Master division) - Phil Jackson

Rodney Stark did some great work but now he has become a bit too apologetic. (And his work always lacked rigour: cf. :)

As a foreigner can somebody explain to me why North Dakota would be more obscure than South Dakota?

South Dakota is known for containing perhaps our most famous national monument, Mt. Rushmore. It is also home to the Badlands and the Black Hills, both places of great natural beauty. There are no famous sights to see in North Dakota.

There's badlands in ND too; Teddy Rosevelt National Park. Plus buffalo roaming around.

And empty vastness is a sight in itself.

Are the North Dakota badlands as cool as South Dakota's? I have never been to ND.

I should also mention that Wind Cave and Jewel Cave in SD are well worth seeing too.

The ND Badlands compare to the SD Badlands, but no reason to see both. You can stay in Rapid City and enjoy the Black Hills, Badlands and Rushmore. Of course, there's always the Medora Musical if your in the ND Badlands area.

It should also be noted that Sioux Falls has also become a bit of an alternate banking capital, for tax and regulatory reasons. It's no Wall Street, but a shocking number of credit card companies have set up shop there. IIRC, in terms of #s of transactions processed in the US, it is second only to NY. Until the recent Baaken boom, North Dakota has had few economic points of note.

ND had an oil boom up by Williston in the early/mid 50's, and again in the 70's after the oil crises. In the search for new energy sources, the lignite (sub-bituminous) coal deposits were considered a possibility for energy, but that hasn't worked out well, largely because of the fly ash problem. Still, each of those created millionaires in turn -- several of whom I attended ND State University with in the late 60's and early 70's.
ND is now undergoing a major transformation involving the death and disappearance of small towns. The population is now moving to the 8 larger (in a manner of speaking) leaving the small towns to wither and die off. Some will take longer than others.
But Fargo itself has been undergoing a very large economic boom meanwhile. It is no longer the stop-off on old US 10 or even I-94 it once was. Its economic growth has fed into the ongoing sense of resentment from the rest of the state, which has since statehood resented Imperial Cass (county) as having far more influence in the state than they feel it ought.

ND is now undergoing a major transformation involving the death and disappearance of small towns.

Been going on in the westerly portions of Kansas and Nebraska since about 1930, with no end in sight.

North Dakota is famous for being the most obscure state.

South Dakota is a very attractive state, especially in the western portion. It has the Black Hills, the Badlands, and Deadwood is a very important part if American folk history. Add things like the Sturgis motorcycle rally and Wall drug it is very well known in certain subcultures, and regardly rather highly by most of its neighbors.

North Dakota is singularly lacking in all these departments.

I've been to the marker in Rugby for the geographic center of North America. It's sort of a tower made of rock with a polished sphere (pink granite?) on top. It would make the perfect terrorist target: low cost to attack, big news after it happens.

ISIS has blown up the Geographic Center of North America!

Yep, the eastern side of SD might as well be rural Iowa/Minnesota. Pleasant towns (Sioux Falls is reasonable) but not much to see. The Black Hills area is gorgeous with a fair amount to do. Riding a motorcycles through the Black Hills is a wonderful experience.

Lawrence Welk of the Lawrence Welk Show grew up in ND.

The great Phil Jackson attended high school in ND and played basketball for the University of North Dakota.

Thanks, I keep forgetting what show Lawrence Welk was on.

Peggy Lee was from ND.

& she never performed with Lawrence Welk [rather, Benny Goodman]

Born Norma Deloris Egstrom, now that is a ND name, she left at 17 for Palm Springs and I am sure back then she sounded like she was barely 40.

She left and then arranged for her siblings to follow her out there within a couple of years.

Her singing is just extraordinary and she holds one odd record: the gap in time between her first hit single and her last (28 years) is longer than that of any performer on record. She was also approaching middle age (36) when her top hit (Fever) was released.

Peggy Lee's work has a sensibility that would have been completely out of place on the Welk show. Also, I think Welk's performers were salaried and paid top scale; I don't think he featured performers who were primarily working on their own account.

'..salaried & top scale performers':


One of my favorite things about North Dakota is talking with Canadians about its right to carry both long and handguns in the open, yet somehow have half the homicide rates of its northern neighbors Manitoba and Sakatchewan.

Per 100,000 people

ND - 2.00
MB - 4.23
SK - 3.59

About 40% of the population in Saskatchewan lives in the dense settlement around Regina and Saskatoon and about 60% of Manitoba's population lives in greater Winnepeg. The corresponding figure for North Dakota is 30% and North Dakota's cities are smaller than these Canadian cities.

The murder rate is high in Saskachewan, I suspect because they have a larger Native American community as a percentage of population, which tends to be very impoverished, with the high crime rate that general goes along with it. Also alcoholism.
There's also significant racial tension between whites and Native Americans in both places.
Somehow North Dakota doesn't seem to have that problem, but I could be wrong.

I don't know if ND has that large of an Indian population. Western SD has a fair amount. I'd suspect that the murder rate in the Rosebud Indian Reservation is pretty high.

Next time you speak to your Canadian friends, casually mention that North Dakota likely has more nuclear weapons per capita than any other state. They are not to be messed with.

Like much of what I write this is way too long, but this one is good.

In the 1990s I was living in Minnesota and went to a focus group one night. It was slow going at first and I remember the breaking point was when they handed out pamphlets on Lewis and Clark, and the extremely Minnesotan group suddenly perked up. They all thought following the Lewis & Clark route would be a wonderful trip, so much beautiful country to see. They all started talking about how they would also go to the Badlands and see the Black Hills. Of course driving on I-90 through SoDak almost guarantees a ticket, but it is so pretty. When the moderator pointed out that those were not along the route, everyone looked at him as if he were an idiot. Of course it wasn't they all planned to drive through South Dakota and then into Montana. When one suggested working there way up backroads to Miles City and then up to Havre everyone became actually excited.

At that point we were informed that thefocus group was about ND tourism. Everyone was very apologetic, like good Minnesotans they really felt terrible, North Dakotans are good decent people. Very quickly they got to work on helping, but nobody could think of anything, except maybe building a mall, or maybe telling people it was on the way to Winipeg, it was awful. My suggestion of Theodore Roosevelt National Monument was actually voted second place by the panel, after building a shopping mall.

The worst moment when the old lady who was involved in competitive clog dancing, Norwegian, pointed out there was a very big Norwegian festival in Minot every year, but she had never been, though she apparently travelled the world visiting Norwegian festivals, because it was in North Dakota.

The saddest part was that in addition to the fear of speeding tickets, the Tein Cities are on I-94 not I-90 and you positively have to go out of your way to not drive through North Dakota, but on countless family vacations not one of these denizens of the star of the North had ever voluntarily subjected themselves to North Dakota when they didn't have to.

So it really depends on what is meant by obscure, but by almost any definition except fame, which in this case is mostly earned by being dreary, miserable, boring, and remote. North Dakota has to be among the most obscure of states.

Idaho may be confused with Iowa and Ohio, and regularly assumed to be in the wrong part of the country, and Nebraska may be the place that talent must flee, but in the west North Dakota must be the most forsaken by all seeking anything but hard work and brutal weather.

Fantastic (and very Minnesotan/Scandinavian) story.

I've been to 48 of the 50 states; the only ones that I haven't been to are North Dakota and Iowa. While planning a trip to Minneapolis, an acquaintance who lives there pointed out that I could rent a car and in a single day reach both of those states. I thought about it and realized that while there were some places that I hadn't been to and very much wanted to see (such as Michigan, where the Upper Peninsula and Mackinac Island were both wonderful, and Alaska which is even more spectacular than I had been expecting), I have no strong desire to see anything in North Dakota (nor Iowa). And visiting all 50 states is a rather meaningless and empty goal anyway. So even when I had a golden opportunity to visit North Dakota, I declined to do so.

If it we me, I would have an adventure vacation company that takes people on Canoe trips up the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. That would be freaking epic.

From the North Dakota tourism board:

>"Nebraska may be the place that talent must flee"

Pistols at dawn, Sir.

Artist: Walter Piehl, Jr.

Local phenomenon: Seven-time NCAA national champion hockey team of UND (Playing again for the crown this week).

Invention: Melroe Bobcat, first hydrostatic front end loader, now found everywhere.

Don't forget 5-time defending FCS champs, the NDSU Bison. That's a true football dynasty.

A third of US wheat production, 4/5 of US oil seed production.

So want if Lawrence Welk was a bore.

The votes are in, and the most obscure state (i.e., least searched on Google) is Wyoming.

The ETs found Devils Tower!

Is Iowa that much more well known than Nebraska? Growing up in Michigan Iowa seemed the much more obscure state primarily because Nebraska had a powerhouse college football team.

After reading this post though North Dalota probably tops them all.

Iowa is not obscure. Large numbers of several generations of American school children have been subjected to the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Back in the day, the test booklets had the outline of the state of Iowa on them, bringing notoriety to an otherwise oddly shaped state. Otherwise, it's just another of what I refer to as the "cows and corn" states.

Iowa is pigs and corn, Cows are generally raised on worse land (at least for beef cattle) as they can convert grasses that grow on dry land into meat.

Don't forget that Iowa is a pretty important place every 4 years.

Iowa is the home state of Radar O'Reilly. 'nuff said.

Chuck Klosterman is an author and a very good one. His book on popular culture through the lens of morality was some of the most interesting and approachable criticism I have ever read.

Yes I came here to defend Klosterman. Titling him as a "humorist" sells him short. He's perhaps the most cogent social critic of his generation and a terrific writer.

I regret that, for years, I dismissed him offhand based on some misguided "anti-hipster" ethos.

Best historic recording: Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940. Two young fans schlep a recording machine to Duke's dance date (with the Ellington office's permission secured in advance) and get most of the evening down on discs.

Delaware and Rhode Island bear little resemblance to North Dakota. Both are predominantly urban. Delaware conjoins a component of greater Philadelphia (52% of the total) to a provincial portion which might be described as 'Southern-lite'. It's not obscure. It is odd. Rhode Island consists of a low-end-of-2d tier city (greater Providence) and a tributary zone; with a few exceptions (New York, New Jersey, California, and New Jersey), it's the most intensely urbanized state in the country. Rhode Island is an appropriate locus for a research university and university hospital complex and Delaware arguably is.

North Dakota, by contrast, is predominantly rural and small town, has only small cities, and, as recently as 1980, a majority of the workforce therein was in agriculture. It's an appropriate locus for a state college, not a state university.

Peggy Lee grew up in North Dakota.

Whenever she returned to Fargo, Peggy Lee would oftimes appear live on WDAY tv. I recall watching her just after we got our first television in Fargo in 1956.
If you want to recall another famous Nordakoda star, remember Angie Dickinson, who hailed from Jamestown.

No list of North Dakota greats is complete without Roger Maris.

Home run king Roger Maris. He even has a museum in Fargo.

If you're going to talk North Dakota, I think one would start with the great outdoors. Every place is shaped by it's climate and geography.
I was born in Saskachewan, not far north of North Dakota. They key things to know are that the land is flat and semi-arid, dry grassland, the winters are bitterly cold, and the population density is very low. There are wide spaces that one can stretch out in and be completely isolated. You can have a view for miles in every direction with not a single other human being in it, or even a hill or a river. On many days, maybe no even a cloud in the sky, especially on the very cold winter days. Nothing but blue and white in the winter, or blue and yellow-green in summer, like a Rothko painting.

Beside that, listing the sort of authors and TV personalities it has produced, seems trivial and petty. If you're focusing on the bits of North Dakota that an urban city dweller would appreciate, you're doing it wrong.

No discussion of Peggy Lee is petty or trivial. And they've had radio service in North Dakota since the 1920s.

I had a roommate from North Dakota. She described the state as miles and miles of miles and miles.

Delaware is out because so many US companies are incorporated there to access its courts.

Definitely Rhode Island. If it were not for this show (pretty good) I wouldn't know thing one about it.

TV-MA | 1h | Crime, Drama | TV Series (2006–2008)
Set in an Irish neighbourhood in Providence, the series reflects around two brothers on opposite sides of the law: one a gangster (Jason Isaacs) and the other a politician (Jason Clarke).

As Tyler himself speculated, North Dakota is probably saved by the fact that there is a North Dakota and a South Dakota. People who know nothing else about the Great Plains might know "oh, there are two states named Dakota".

If North Dakota was named something else, I think it would be a clear contender for most obscure...except for the fact that it is the center of America's fracking boom. That is the other thing working against it.

Anyway, Americans continue to believe that the interior states are the obscure ones, but foreigners keep telling us that it is the small eastern states that confuse them most.

Re: Larry Welk; I can't link to Youtube from here, but check out Ken and Barbie singing "One Toke Over the Line" about 45 years ago!

Gass didn't live in ND. Would have to go with Larry Woiwode for novelist.

I think that everyone here is sleeping on the Medora Musical. If you want ND pride, check it out.

"We are North Dakota!"

Partly in response to the movie and the teevee series, I wrote a couple of books about what it was like to grow up in Fargo from the early 50's through the 70's. Living on the Left Coast, I find folks who comment on Fargo to be way off when they discuss it from what they have seen. It was a far more complex and interesting, occasionally funny and sometimes downright inspiring place to live and grow up than either portray it.
They are "Being Fargo" and "Becoming Fargo" and are available through Amazon and on Kindle. Most reviewers are local -- actually from Fargo -- and have found them worth a read. Others have suggested that as a personal commentary on growing up during those interesting times, they may even have some further merit.
But really, they are just stories. True stories, but stories withal.
"Buy North Dakota Products."
Or earlier "Buy Dakota Maid Flour" for those who remember.

1. Louise Erdrich.

Stark's book The Victory of Reason is well worth reading.

I just read that two remarkable young blues musicians are from North Dakota: Jonny Lang and Shannon Curfman. Regards

Not ND, not Delaware, not even Rhode Island. West Virginia. The state isn't even economically self-sustaining, and would never have become a state except for the accident of the Civil War.

Yes, Virginia may have lost the war but they ditched the 63 mountain counties.

You omit ND's greatest seat of learning, the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, and its Very Full Professor of Musicology and Musical Pathology, Peter Schickele...

(Seriously: Schickele had a significant amount of his basic musical education in the state from Sigvald Thompson, longtime director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra)

In the mid-50's, one of my friends at Roosevelt School was Peter Jensen, son of Chris Jensen whose wife played in the F-M Symphony when Schickele was playing bassoon. I had occasion to meet Schickele at their house on 11th Avenue. The three Jensen boys and I were screwing around with some bagpipe chanters and laughing uproariously over how odd they sounded when we tried to play the stuff we were being taught by our music teachers. The Jensens bought the Schickele house at 1354 12th Street when the Schickeles left Fargo. They found music-related murals painted on the basement walls. Later when Chris died, the house was bought by Martha and the late David Berryhill, two more good friends. I understand the Schickele murals may have been paneled over, but they might still be there.

It was at the 12th Street house where I first heard Schickele's "Sanka Cantata" played on a Wollensak recorder. If memory serves, that was perhaps the first magnum opus of the PDQ Bach series. The three Jensen boys and I howled with laughter at how funny it was.

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