Believe it, because these North Dakotans were featured in ‘Believe It or Not’ – InForum
FARGO — My favorite book as a young child in the 1940s was “Believe It or Not,” a hardback compilation of Robert Ripley’s popular newspaper article. I literally reread it until it started falling apart.
I believe this book and Ripley’s daily articles were the basis of my fascination with unusual facts or anecdotes. One entry in that book that I found very interesting was that the man with the longest beard was from North Dakota. His name was Hans Langseth.
In the mid 1950’s I read the book “Extraordinary North Dakotans”, by Erling Rolfsrud, and discovered that not only did he include Langseth in his book, but he also wrote about a number other people that Ripley had included in his collective work. .
Ripley began his “Believe It or Not” newspaper article in 1918, and by the 1930s, at the height of its popularity, it was read daily by an estimated 80 million readers. Its creator, Robert Ripley, received more letters than anyone except Santa Claus. It was also featured on radio in the 1930s and 1940s and spawned seven television series in the 1940s, 50s, 80s and beyond. The most recent series is on Travel Channel.
On August 19, 2007 my newspaper article about the people, places and events involving North Dakota featured in “Believe It or Not” was published. Since that time I have received information or discovered other North Dakota-related entries in “Believe It or Not” and would like to share this expanded information.
Special thanks to Edward Meyer, who served as Vice President of Exhibitions and Archives for Ripley Entertainment Inc. from 1986 to 2019.
The longest beard in the world: Hans Langseth (1876-1927) was a farmer from Richland County, near the town of Barney, and a Norwegian immigrant who, at the age of 30, decided to let his mustaches grow. As his beard grew longer, he tucked it into his waistcoat. When the beard grew to 17 feet 4 inches, he joined the Ringling Brothers Circus. At the time of his death, his beard was 18 feet 6 inches long.
The tallest boy in the world: Vaclav “Jimmie” Janousek (1926-1946) weighed 10 pounds when he was born near Veseleyville, Walsh County. At age 7, Jimmie weighed 235 pounds and he weighed 587 pounds at age 14. Since no standard household scales could record his weight, he was weighed on a grain elevator scale. When he died, at the age of 19, he weighed over 800 pounds.
A 71-year-old player sets a world record for free throws: Tom Amberry (1922-2017) was born and raised in Grand Forks, where he was an outstanding basketball player in high school and at the University of North Dakota. At the age of 71, he set the record by making 2,750 free throws in a row in 1993. Amberry transferred from UND to Long Beach City College where he was the nation’s top scorer in 1946 and 1947 and was offered a no-cut contract by the Minneapolis Lakers. Instead, he chose to become a doctor of podiatry. After retiring from medicine, Amberry took up basketball again and decided to use a scientific approach to shooting free throws. Using his new technique, he spent an afternoon in the gym making 2,750 consecutive free throws. He could have stayed longer but had to give up because the gymnasium was closing.
A man shoots a fox with a $20 bill in its mouth: Joseph H. Taylor (1844-1908), of Painted Woods in Burleigh County, shot a red fox with a $20 bill in its mouth. He followed the fox and found a cache consisting of $95. Taylor was the first non-Native American permanent resident of what is now Burleigh County. He edited a journal and wrote four books. He was the first postmaster of Painted Woods, and his post office was a hole in the trunk of an oak tree.
World Champion Miniature Scriptwriter: James Zaharee (1905-1981) grew up on a farm near Max in McLean County. While hospitalized following a motorcycle accident in 1926, he began to write in miniature. In 1935, he wrote the entire Declaration of Independence with the names of its 56 signatories on one side of a grain of rice. The following year he wrote Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on a single lock of hair just over 2 inches long. To do this, Zaharee used a quill pen and ordinary ink.
Fargo’s Black Building is white: In 1930, Fargo merchant George Black (1881-1972) constructed the tallest building in the state. It was named after Mr. Black and was frequently advertised on WDAY, whose offices were located in the building. Visitors came to Fargo to see the black building, thinking it was its color. This must have been reported to them, by the local residents, because the structure was white. The Black Building lost its distinction as the tallest building in North Dakota with the construction of the State Capitol in 1933. Black is also known for being the originator of the “one-cent sale”, a practice soon to be implemented in stores nationwide.
A boy with his arms torn off by an agricultural machine dials the phone to ask for help: John Thompson (born 1974) was an 18-year-old high school student who worked on his parents’ farm near Hurdsfield in Wells County. In January 1992, his shirt became entangled in a PTO while he was grinding food, and he lost both his arms. After regaining consciousness, he staggered over 100 meters to his farmhouse, opened the door with his mouth and, pencil between his teeth, dialed the phone for help. He then climbed into a bathtub so as not to bleed on his mother’s carpet. After initial treatment at Harvey’s hospital, he was airlifted to a hospital in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, where his arms were reattached. Due to lack of fine motor skills in her arms, Thompson could not find satisfying work. In 2002 he wrote his autobiography, “Home in One Piece”, and “currently divides his time between his house in Minot and an apartment in Minneapolis”.
The grandson of a Native American pardoned from execution by President Lincoln became minister of five churches: Reverend Philip Frazier (1892-1964) served the Standing Rock Reservation of North and South Dakota as a minister to five churches. Frazier was a Santee Sioux and the grandson of Artemas Ehnamani, one of 100 Santee convicted at Mankato after the Sioux uprising of 1862 and later pardoned by President Lincoln. While in prison, Ehnamani converted to Christianity and became a pastor at the largest church in Dakota in the United States. Reverend Philip Frazier earned degrees from Oberlin College, Chicago Theological Seminary and Dartmouth College and became a minister. He “ministered among the Dakota, and late in his life served as overseer of the Sioux Indian Mission on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.”
College football player has scored touchdowns in each of his last 15 games: Glenn “Red” Jarrett (1907-1962) was a standout athlete at Grand Forks Central and UND. While playing for the Sioux, from 1928 to 1931, he earned nine letters in the sport. He coached at Minot High then returned to UND where he coached football and basketball. He then became the sports director of this institution. While serving as athletic director, Jarrett established the hockey program at UND.
Next week, we’ll continue to feature North Dakota and its inclusion in “Believe It or Not.”
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Fargo’s Jan Eriksmoen. Send your comments, corrections or column suggestions to Eriksmoens at [email protected]