May 10, 2004
"Zip to Zap"
Today is the 35th anniversary of the only official riot
in state history that called on the National Guard to disperse the crowd.
1969 was part of a fiery decade that saw mass national
protests against racial segregation and the Vietnam War. The hippie movement
promoted free love, and the slogan dont trust anyone over
30 was being taken to heart. The National Organization of Women
was organized to demand equal rights. College kids discovered LSD, and
the British Invasion spawned a new era in music.
Several months before Woodstock heralded the end of that
era, an event in central North Dakota caused Woodstocks organizers
to plan more carefully. It started innocently. In April of 69, NDSU
student body president, Chuck Stroup, couldnt afford to go to Florida
with his sister for spring break. So he came up with a cheap alternative
and took it to NDSUs school paper, the Spectrum. He was planning
a gathering, near his hometown of Hazen, to be held the following month.
He called it Zip to Zap and took out a classified ad.
A responsive front-page article about the event set things
in motion. It praised the beauty of the Knife River and stated that the
people of Zap were welcoming the idea. The article also predicted that
people from all over the Midwest would come to the Lauderdale of
the North. UND picked up on the idea, and within weeks, Zip to Zap
was being promoted nationwide as a Grand Festival of Light and Love.
Unprepared for such a huge response, the student organizers
quickly got permission from Zap landowners to allow camping in their vacant
fields. They also hired some regional bands to keep the audience entertained.
Meanwhile, Zaps citizens were guardedly optimistic.
The café started working on Zapburgers, and the towns
two bars stocked up on beer. Since there was no way to predict how many
would attend, Governor Guy talked with the Highway Patrol officials about
traffic control, and the National Guard boned up on nationally mandated
procedures for crowd control.
By Friday evening, May 9th, 2,000 people descended on
Zap. The bars were overwhelmed and raised their prices, upsetting the
students. Pretty soon, it didnt matter the beer was all gone,
and the café had to close. Students vomited and urinated in the
open others passed out in the street. Temperatures fell below freezing,
and wood from a demolished building was used to start a bonfire on Main
Street. Pretty soon, the townspeople asked the crowd to break up and go
home. Some complied, but others didnt. The party atmosphere disappeared
and gradually escalated into a riot. Security was overwhelmed, and the
café and one bar were broken into and trashed.
By dawn, 500 National Guardsman surrounded the town.
Two hundred of them moved in and faced about 200 students who were still
going. Approximately 1,000 others were sleeping wherever they had landed
during the night. Their wake-up call was at the point of a fixed bayonet.
Cold, hungry and hung-over, there was little resistance, and the crowd
was dispersed in front of salivating reporters. That evening, the Zip
to Zap fiasco was the lead story on the CBS Evening News giving
the state publicity it neither wanted or needed.
Damage from the riot was assessed at more than $25,000.
A lot of fingers were pointed, but the student governments of UND and
NDSU were handed the bills. Which they paid...
(For an excellent in-depth report, read Spinning
the Zip to Zap: Student Journalist Responsibility and Vulnerability in
the Late 1960s by Richard Shafer.
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