History Notes was on summer break last month, and it’s good to be back after driving across the Dakotas: Stopped to get a fast-flattening tire fixed in Hettinger (many thanks to “Steve’s Service Plus”!), waved along the way to the lovely bovine “Salem Sue,” and returned to the Red River Valley, a.k.a. The Valley of Didactic Billboards: “Smile!” “Be Kind!”
We’re still waiting for one that says “Support Universal Access to Health Care!”
Anyway, speaking of signs and monuments along the highway, we in North Dakota are apparently not doing our part to enter historical markers in the Historical Marker Database: http://www.hmdb. org/
Here is how the editors at “HMDB” introduce their project:
“This website is an illustrated searchable online catalog of historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques. It contains photographs, inscription transcriptions, marker locations, maps, additional information and commentary, and links to more information. Anyone can add new markers to the database and update existing marker pages with new photographs, links, information and commentary.”
A very cool idea.
We have all seen (or sped by) these markers and plaques in parks, on sidewalks and the sides of buildings, and along the roads and highways. They mark events large and small, people famous and obscure, places where remarkable things occurred, places where some specific historical moment struck someone, somewhere, at some time, as worthy of public memory.
But as of late July, 2012, if you go to the Historical Markers Database and follow the link for North Dakota, you’ll find only 13 entries, which is truly paltry compared to our neighbors in South Dakota (88 entries) and Minnesota (284), not to mention the work done in Wisconsin (1774), Texas (1886) or Virginia (5778).
HMDB entries are organized by topic and theme as well as location, and there are hundreds of entries from countries all over the world.
The database currently lists 2693 markers related to Native American and First Nations history, 359 markers for Abolitionist history and the Underground Railroad, 1147 markers all over the world under the category “Arts, Letters, Music,” 547 markers commemorating the American Civil Rights Movement, and 2980 markers under the category “Education.”
North Dakota’s marker for “Seaman” (Meriwether Lewis’s dog) is just one of 359 markers listed under “Animals.”
You will find 1277 ideologically diverse listings under “Politics,” ranging from “The First White House of the Confederacy” in Montgomery, Alabama to a monument in Brazil dedicated to Jewish refugee writer Stefan Zweig, or a plaque honoring the Cuban activist and philosopher Jose Marti in Tampa, Florida.
The category “Labor Unions” lists 140 markers around the world, the first of which is a monument in Ireland (Leinster, County Meath, Crossakiel) which honors the 19th century Irish labor organizer Jim Connell. C onnell was also a journalist and a social democratic, who later joined the Independent Labour Party.
According to the database entry, this monument was “erected in 1998 by Trade Union Councils, S.I.P.T.U. N.E.C., GMB London Region, Irish Labour Party, et al.”
Here’s the inscription on the monument in Crossakiel:
Author of “The Red Flag” which became the anthem of the International Labour Movement. Born Rathniska, Kilskyre 1852. Died Lewisham, London 1929.
Oh, grant me an ownerless corner of earth,
Or pick me a hillock of stones,
Or gather the wind wafted leaves of the trees
To cover my socialist bones.
– Jim Connell
Inspired by this entry in honor of Jim Connell, History Notes took a shot at adding a new North Dakota marker to the database: “The Workers Memorial,” in Grand Forks, which was dedicated in 1996 by the Northern Valley Labor Council and Grand Forks Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.
The monument was constructed thanks to the help of twenty regional labor unions and locals, including several locals of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union and the North Dakota Public Employees Association/AFT.
The Workers Memorial was built to honor all workers who have died on the job, including public service workers like members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, whose members in Local 1099 also helped build the monument.
The Workers Memorial also includes a plaque honoring the social justice work of labor lawyer and ND state representative John Schneider (1945-2001), and features an inscribed dedicatory prayer by longtime regional peace and justice activist Rev. Walter Scott.
Editors of the database review each entry and we’ll see if this one meets their editorial requirements. If it does, History Notes will need to polish up some photography skills, and we’ll need a Prairie Independent reader who is handy with a GPS to add the requested geo-data.
As we might predict, there are also thousands of markers in the Historical Markers Database memorializing “War,” but you will also find 183 markers under the category “Peace.” There’s no entry –yet- for the International Peace Garden, established in 1932 on our very own northern border with Canada.
(Postscript: As PI goes to press, the HMDB sent a friendly note declining the Workers Memorial – because the location itself was not the site of a specific historical “event.” The Crossakiel monument marks a spot where Connell actually gave an important speech. Ah, ok, got it. So: we’ll let this month’s column serve as our own tribute to the Workers Memorial, and History Notes will head to the International Peace Garden and look for specific markers there that might make the HMDB cut!)