Graduate and undergraduate students at North Dakota State have been creating and designing an exhibit to be displayed at Bonanzaville.
The exhibit, titled “Uncovering Vice in Fargo-Moorhead, 1871-1920,” will explore in detail life in late 19th century Fargo-Moorhead and its frequent rough and rowdy happenings.
The exhibit will feature three areas of history and archeology, telling a story through curated artifacts, images and a timeline of key events in Fargo-Moorhead’s history.
One section’s focus will be on infamous and illegal establishments offering prostitution, gambling and alcohol. Conversely, it will also tell the story of the community organizations that worked to rid the area of corruption.
Another section will centralize around the pivotal character, brothel owner Melvina Massey of the notorious Crystal Palace in Fargo.
The Crystal Palace would have been located on the corner of 3rd St. and 2nd Ave., beneath what is now city hall’s parking lot and the soon-to-be entrance of the new city hall.
Massey, who is believed to have been born a slave, rose to affluence through her line of work during her time in the F-M area, with two houses and extravagant possessions at the time of her death in 1911. Massey became a character of notoriety.
The final section will display artifacts salvaged from an archeology project last fall during the excavation of the new Fargo city hall, the former location of the Crystal Palace brothel.
An ongoing history research project, work on the exhibit began in 2013 when public records of Massey were discovered by NDSU assistant professor of history Angela Smith and her students.
Smith was joined by Kristen Fellows, assistant professor of anthropology at NDSU, in 2014.
Their research has been supplemented by Smith’s museum studies students and Fellow’s and John Creese’s anthropology students, who worked to design and install the exhibit and catalogue artifacts salvaged from last fall’s operation.
Though initial research was part of the exhibit Taboo Fargo-Moorhead at the Hjemkomst Center in 2013, the exhibit at Bonazaville will present expanded research on the topic.
Museum studies student Courtney Johnson said the topic was chosen to educate the community on the history of the area they are living in.
“Even though we are in the Midwest and are known as ‘nice’ today, Fargo and Moorhead used to be part of the ‘Wild West’ and notorious for people indulging in their vices,” Johnson said.
Johnson appreciated the opportunity for hands-on experience in the planning and organization of museum exhibits.
Smith stressed the importance of preserving the history of our cities, and said that hands on, tangible evidence of historical events increase the interest of citizens.
She encouraged citizens to develop a relationship with the NDSU Archives, talk to archivists, take a history class and learn about genealogy to increase their knowledge of local history.
The exhibit, which has its opening night May 8 at 7 p.m., will be open for a year.
Admission will be free on the opening night but will be required to enter Bonanzaville any other time throughout the year.