Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Scene of a Tragedy

Map showing Fitzpatrick farm where 1954 tragedy occurred
[©Google Maps, USA Farm Service Agency]
When hearing the story of the tragic spring and summer of 1954, I often wondered where the scene of the second of the two tragedies - the drowning of my uncle and my two cousins - took place.  As strange as it may sound, not once did anyone offer to show me where it happened (on the other hand, it was a very painful memory for my mother, who was very close to her brother...)  I know it happened on my family's farm (at that time owned and run by my uncle, but once my grandparent's homestead), but where the farm itself was, I had no idea.

Which leads me to the reason for this post.  While it was a very personal tragedy for my family, it was one that touched the whole community, thus I include the history of it here on this blog.

I was recently contacted by a Shaw descendant on Facebook.  The Shaw family (I was to learn) had a farm just to the north of my grandparents, back in the day. She wrote to say:
Trish, I came across your blog while traveling and doing some searches on my parents' old high schools. My father was born and raised in Kittson county and I spent many a summer and weekend in the area with my family. My grandmother was an Ash (Marguerite) and my grandfather was an immigrant from Scotland (Alexander Shaw). I just wanted to say what a great collection of stories and photos you have of the area! I am sharing it with my dad and his living brother and sister. I hope that they may be able to add more information to your blog and history collection. I never got tired of hearing all the stories of the old days from my grandmother. 
Noticing that she was related to the Ash family, I asked Bill Ash if he knew of the Shaw family (he did) , and found out from him that they were neighbors to my Uncle John Fitzpatrick, which led to learning of the farm's location.  Bill told me:
...The land belonging to Lena Fitzpatrick Nordstrom and this is on the extreme NW corner of section 10 of St. Vincent Township in Kittson County. Lena Fitzpatrick Nordstrom owns the west 2 quarters or 318 acres on that section 10. ...Just to the north of the Fitzpatrick farm is the Shaw Farm so they are very close. 
[The farm] is almost exactly 1 mile west of the North Star Church on county road 16. On a Kittson County Atlas as recently as 2002 the west 2 quarters on that section of land where still listing Lena Fitzpatrick Nordstrom as the land owner. There is a small circle on the map on the extreme NW corner of the northwest qtr of section 10 in St. Vincent Township where there is a small grove of trees, a few small grain bins I believe and a small pond. As far back as I can remember sometime in the late 1960's I don't remember any house being there as what is currently there is all I've ever remember seeing there as it is unchanged for 40 years or more.
I recently learned that Lena is now living about an hour from me in Hallock.  After years away, she came back to Kittson County to live her final years at the county nursing home.  She is in her 90's, very hard-of-hearing, and time is short.  I hope to visit her soon, and learn more about my Uncle John - a man who was much loved by his family as a son, brother, and husband, but whom I never knew - and my cousins, if she is willing to discuss them.  I'd love to hear anything she has to share about that time period over 50 years ago not only about my family, but about the area...