Original Zip to Zappers gather for 40th reunion
Shortly after 4 a.m.
Shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday, May 10, 1969, after spending most of Friday in Zap, N.D., Forum reporter Rod Deckert stepped out of the Greystone Motel in nearby Beulah, and realized, "We had a story on our hands that weekend."
Only a few hours earlier, when Deckert had finally turned in for the night, there had been no sign of the National Guard military convoy, intermixed with state trooper vehicles, which now overflowed the motel parking lot and surrounding area.
Deckert, who now lives in Corvallis, Ore., after retiring as managing editor of the Albuquerque Journal, recalls, "They didn't torch the town like some reports had it stated."
Deckert says much of the infamous weekend has since become legendary North Dakota folklore.
It was getting back into Zap, where a few thousand college students were overzealously celebrating on Mother's Day weekend, that was the biggest challenge of his Zip to Zap coverage. Officials had all access by road cut off.
Deckert recalls running down a hillside into the town and coming head-on with countless numbers of students who were running out. They were the first wave of revelers who were being routed out of Zap.
Scores of others, such as University of North Dakota senior Sandra Davidson (now Sandy Zaleski) and her friends, had made the choice to leave a few hours earlier,
"We had kind of been like tenting - more like camping in and out of cars," she said.
But when the alcohol-fueled antics appeared to be getting out of hand, they left in the middle of the night.
Davidson and throngs of other Zappers made it back only as far as Bismarck, where no lodging remained.
Many ended up sleeping on lobby furniture and the floor of the sympathetic Patterson hotel.
Back in Zap, as dawn broke over the rolling countryside, Mayor Norman Fuchs, surrounded by a small contingent of state troopers, marched boldly through the tiny community behind a line of rifle-wielding guardsmen, bayonets mounted.
Fuchs, with bullhorn in hand, bellowed out for everyone to clear the scene and get out. Several cars were abandoned as hundreds were forced across the countryside on foot - that was likely the plan.
Many were in no condition to drive anyway.
By this time, as a Forum photographer documenting the event, I had deftly donned military fatigues in hopes of being able to weave in and out of riotous encounters.
Sunday morning the tranquility of the seventh day settled in on the trashed community and locals distressingly picked their way through the deluge of litter in serene quietness as they gravitated toward church services.
That was then; this is now.
Central to the Zap legend is Kevin Carvell, who, as student editor of the Spectrum newspaper at North Dakota State University, heavily promoted Zip to Zap as a free-spirited rite of spring.
Carvell experienced a significant measure of displeasure from school administrators for doing so.
Interestingly, when Carvell again took up newspaper reporting at The Forum a few years later, it was Deckert's position as city reporter he assumed.
Carvell returned to Zap for the first time this weekend, where he was joined by Hazen-Beulah banker Chuck Stroup. Stroup was the NDSU student who conceived Zip to Zap in 1969.
As one Zap resident puts it as he grins ear to ear, "Stroup is the guy we get to blame!"
Stroup and Carvell, along with scores of other Zap enthusiasts, are responding to the invitation of Zap resident Keith Kasanke.
Kasanke orchestrated this weekend's 40th anniversary celebration commemorating what is likely North Dakota's best-known public gathering. With a small committee, he organized a motorcycle poker run, car show, pig roast, beer garden and live music.
But, unlike 40 years ago, on the eve of the main events, night settled in on the tiny community with an almost eerie quietness. No one was on the streets save one middle school-age lad practicing on his skateboard.
The post-flood, meticulously manicured city park sat sterile and empty.
There were no tents pitched anywhere in the area - maybe 40-degree temperatures had something to do with that.
The only sign of life was at Zap's Little Dipper Bar, just up Main Street from the boarded up Lignite Bar, where the Zip to Zap riots purportedly began when the price of beer was jacked up.
There were 47 patrons in the Little Dipper on Friday night.
They say that's more than average even for the weekend. All appeared to be older than student age, and, according to one regular, they were all local or from the immediate surrounding area.
Saturday morning, bikers - mostly riding Harley iron - descended into the valley community and the celebration kicked into full gear.
A pig roast and beer garden was scheduled at the conclusion of their poker ride.
Scores of aging original Zip to Zappers, and many to whom the event was just a many-times-told story, filtered into the town during the day.
Zip to Zap organizer Don Homuth, who succeeded Carvell as editor of the NDSU student newspaper, traveled to the celebration from his home in Salem, Ore. And late in the afternoon, Kevin Carvell finally returned for the first time to the community he was run out of in 1969.
Both Carvell and Homuth expressed a genuine affinity for Fuchs and planned to visit his gravesite just outside Zap.
When asked to sum up his return to Zap, Carvell said, "It's great fun now, but it's still embarrassing."
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Hvidston, a longtime Forum photographer and photo chief, captured the original Zip to Zap for The Forum. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org