These are some teaser images from a book we’re working on, a photographic history of Fargo featuring present day photos that are reshoots of classic shots from the photographers of the Farm Security Administration. This video incorporates the previous animation I posted featuring old Shanley High School, and several new animations showing “Then and Now” views of downtown with photos by renknowned FSA photographer Arthur Rothstein.
Truth really is stranger-than-fiction, and the news breaks on something unbelievable every day it seems. Every now and then I’ll read something and think to myself, “Wow. Why haven’t they made a movie out of that?” There are a lot of astounding events of the past that have yet to receive big screen treatment. With Hollywood widely criticized for a lack of originality amid the glut of reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels, it is mystifying how these stories have not been the subject of a recent major motion picture. This is my list of ten real stories begging for movie treatment.
A story about a bogus concert promoter who scheduled a fake tour featuring Drake hit the web in 2011, and it reminded me that a similar thing happened at a radio station I once worked at, so I decided to write it down.
The Concert Promotion
It was 2004 and I was working as the Music Director and the PM drive-time personality at a Fargo Top 40 radio station. It was a good time for Top 40 in 2004, too. Artists we consider superstars today were all over the radio then — Maroon 5, Beyonce, No Doubt, Alicia Keys, and particularly, Usher.
For eleven weeks, from the week of February 28th to May 15th, Usher’s song “Yeah” featuring rapper Lil Jon was the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It would go on to be named the number one single of 2004. It was huge, and Lil Jon nearly outshone Usher on the song. He had enjoyed tremendous success with Get Low just two years earlier, had a unique sound, and I can only speak for myself and the rest of the guys at the radio station when I say, he was fun to impersonate. We spent most of that spring walking around the station loudly bellowing “Yeaaaahhh,” and “Okaaaaayyy” in our best Lil Jon facsimile.
It was in that atmosphere that an unsophisticated concert scam unfolded, and it would take us all by surprise.
Sometime that spring, the exact dates escape me, my boss came in to my studio to tell me a Lil Jon concert was coming to Fargo later that summer, to be held at a very large, now-defunct club called Playmakers. We were to get tickets to the show, some for staff and some for listener prizes, an in-studio interview with Lil Jon, and “Presents” status for our station. We got to own the show. I was very excited.
For weeks, we promoted and hyped this show, gave away tickets, and even gave away seats in the studio and the chance to ask Lil Jon a question during the interview. This was gonna be the most up-close-and-personal concert promotion I’d ever had the chance to be a part of.
On the day of the show, it was a beautiful summer day and I was in my studio, waiting for the front desk to call and let me know that Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz had arrived. I had contest winners in my studio, waiting for the same. One of them had driven an hour for this opportunity.
The time of the interview came and went, but celebrities are late all the time for radio interviews, so I went with the flow and made small talk with the contest winners. They were still all smiles.
Fifteen minutes after the interview was to happen, my boss came in the studio and I told him I hadn’t heard anything yet. He had a mildly concerned look on his face and he told me to call the sales representative who was responsible for this concert promoters’ account. I called the rep and got his voicemail, so I left a message.
Ten minutes later, the sales rep came in my studio and he looked like somebody had punched him in the stomach. His phone calls to the promoter were going straight to voicemail. He said he had just gone over to the club, which was right down the street from our radio station, and there were no trucks unloading equipment yet.
That was the moment I first realized something was seriously wrong. A hip-hop show of that caliber should have been setting up equipment most of the day.
The sales rep left the studio and one of the contest winners said something that would prove to be a razor-sharp observation. “You know, I was on Pollstar the other day and they showed Lil Jon as scheduled to play a show in Omaha today,” she said. I immediately found that odd. An artist like Lil Jon would not likely play two shows in the same day, in locations as far apart as Fargo and Omaha, at club-size venues, and then fly out to Denver for a show the next day.
I eventually had to usher the contest winners out and promised them some future tickets or prizes for their inconvenience, but my friend and co-worker Rat, got the worst of it.
He was just leaving the station about the time the news was breaking, and two very large hip-hop fans who had just been turned away from Playmakers when they showed up for the show, showed up in our parking lot. They were very pissed off and they wanted to know how this happened, and they were ready to hold us, hold Rat, responsible. He later told me he thought there was a very real chance he was gonna get his ass whooped right there in the parking lot, but he managed to quickly but diplomatically extricate himself from the situation.
We had egg on our face and we wanted to know as badly as anyone exactly how this had happened, and over the next few days, weeks, and months, the story unfurled.
A man presenting himself as an independent concert promoter contacted a chain of local stores — music store, headshop-type places — and proposed a deal in which they would serve as ticket outlets for a Lil Jon concert in Fargo, and for every ticket they sold, they got to keep a dollar or two. Professional-looking tickets had already been printed. If I remember correctly, he did this all over the phone.
It seems to me in retrospect that this is where it all got rolling. Fargo is a city of over 100-thousand people with over 250-thousand in our media market, but we largely continued to operate like we had historically, like a small town — where a man’s word is his word. That’s not to say it was all small-time naivete. We would find out later that this guy was a showman on the order of PT Barnum.
I was only an employee in those days and a lot of things happened behind the scenes without my knowledge, so there are some things I don’t know for sure, but I know the ticket outlet deal, and the deal with the club to host the show, were made without anyone really questioning who this indie promoter was, and our local trustworthy promoter that we had dealt with on hundreds of occasions in the past was kept on the sidelines. By the time they came to the radio station for advertising, the deal was pretty much done. The show got booked and the club and the promoter both got tons of free advertising from our radio station because we were excited to host the show. Ticket sales were brisk.
We found out later that the con-man claiming to be an indie concert promoter was a man named Scott Elkins, a former radio personality in Texas. He knew just enough about the informal way concerts were booked and promoted to be dangerous.
The payoff for Elkins’ scam happened on the day of the show. He showed up at the ticket outlets in a white limousine, collected the proceeds from the ticket sales, turned off his cellphone and vanished. By the time we discovered the fraud that afternoon, he was hours down the interstate already. Police estimate he disappeared with about two thousand dollars. If you read through the articles I’ve linked in this story, or Google Scott Elkins, you’ll find a myriad of reports from all over the nation involving similar scams that even include allegations of disguises and fake names.
After that, there was a period of time when this loser claimed he was really a promoter and that this was all just a misunderstanding, that Lil Jon was really gonna play a show in Fargo that day, but that he had been denied boarding on his flight in Omaha because he didn’t have ID. That was all bullshit. Lil Jon later said he had never agreed to play a show in Fargo and that this kind of scam “happens all the time.“
When Elkins was implicated in a similar scam sometime later, the Fargo Forum ran a story that read in part:
Robbie Cruz, a former roommate of Elkins who once worked with him at a Texas radio station, said Tuesday he wasn’t surprised to hear the pending charge in Fargo didn’t discouraged his behavior.
“The guy just has absolutely no scruples,” Cruz said. “He’s going to have to be locked up, or it’s going to keep occurring. The man has no regard for the law whatsoever.”
Elkins was implicated in a similar scam in Athens, Ohio to promote a fake Bernie Mac comedy show in 2005, and a fake rap concert in Dubuque, Iowa, a crime for which he would be sentenced to 78 months in prison in 2012. A press release from the US Attorney’s Office in Iowa says Elkins was involved in setting up additional fake concerts in Indiana, Alabama, New Mexico and Texas.
Our radio station dealt with concert promotion differently after that, and so did the ticket brokers and concert venues, unfortunately, at the expense of legitimate indie promoters and artists. It became much harder to book a show if you hadn’t already made a reputation for yourself.
There’s always somebody that has to spoil it for everybody else.
In the course of putting together a few coffee table books, we’ve spent a lot of time rooting through boxes of postcards at estate sales and antique stores, hunting down old photographs, and perusing eBay for the occasional treasure. Over the years, we’ve amassed quite a collection, with the intention of using them in a book about Fargo one day.
One aspect of this potential book is the resilience with which Fargo has survived numerous disasters… epic blizzards, biblical floods, the Great Fargo Fire and the F5 tornado of 1957, which just so happens to have passed two blocks south of the house I live in today.
So, late one night I was surfing eBay and I searched for something like “rare Fargo photo,” and one of the first results was for a lot of silver gelatin prints, little ones, like 2 x 3, from 1957. The photos were taken in the aftermath of the tornado by an unknown photographer. I bought the lot of photos not knowing what a fascinating stash I had found.
All joking aside, as I continued looking at this batch of photos, I slowly began to realize that some of them were very similar angles to some of the others, and the photo of Marty McFly above, was shot number one in a sequence of three by our unknown photographer. He or she had the foresight to shoot a panorama sequence.
I wonder if they imagined that one day almost sixty years later, a guy who now lives in the same neighborhood would put those photos together into a huge panorama.
Click that to see it panorama-size. Marty McFly is over there on the left next to his time machine, and the next two shots in the sequence only amplify the disaster.
Another treat in this collection, photos of Fargo Shanley High School which took terrible damage in the tornado. One particular angle caught my eye because it showed the huge water tower on 10th St in Fargo, a convenient landmark for matching up some photo angles.
This is looking northwest from the intersection of 13th Ave N and 7th St North. You can see some of the damage to Shanley in the photo from 1957. There were many more in the collection that I intend to include in the book. Of course, as the photo from 2015 shows, there is only a parking lot today where the old Shanley stood, the students having long moved on to the new Fargo Shanley in south Fargo.
These photos came from an estate sale in Washington state, and the seller tells me they came from the Klinsmann family. If you know anything about the photographer, please contact us.
When I posted a story about a 1966 UFO sighting in Donnybrook, North Dakota, I was inundated with messages from people who said there was a whole other series of things happening that year. This is that story.
In the fall of 1966, people in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the bordering Canadian provinces began reporting objects in the night sky. The sightings are chronicled in a whole series of Project Blue Book reports from August to October of 1966. One of the earliest occurred at 4 AM on the morning of August 9th, 1966, detailed in Project Blue Book file #8728587.
Mr. [name redacted] said that about o4ooz (400 zulu, or 4 am), 9 Aug 66, he and 16 other people, including two Minnesota highway patrolmen, saw a high, round, luminous , white object move rapidly across the sky going northeast, executing several abrupt right angle turns as it did so. This was observed from in front of his next door neighbor’s home. The next evening, between 0315Z and 330z, he and his next door neighbor, who he said was the “county commissioner,” observed an identical object on an identical course. Mr. [name redacted] said both evenings were clear and still, which raises the possibility of inversions, on which this office has no data. Mr. [name redacted] said a surveyor who was present on 9 Aug made an admittedly very rough estimate of the object’s velocity at 3500 miles per hour. However, the object was large enough or low enough to have a round shape, and no sonic boom was heard. The object’s size was a bout one-third that of a high full moon.
In Walker, Minnesota, August 16th, reported on August 17th, 1966
Mr. [name redacted] said his mother, Mrs [name redacted] and two companions, Mrs [name redacted], and [name redacted] saw an identical object that same evening between 0430Z and 0530Z. They were entering their home in Walker after a party, but described the women as “conservative” and said “None of them drink.” They described the object as soundless and said it proceeded northeast for two or three minutes before they lost sight of it.
Twin Pines Resort, Minnesota, August 16th, 1966
The object paralleled their course west on highway 34. They turned north to get away, went into the Twin Pines Resort, and came out again with [names redacted]. All three then watched the object until about 0440z when it went behind the trees. Their car windows were down, and no sound was heard. They also thought the object expanded vertically, “like a balloon being inflated.”
The same night, a witness in Milwaukee, Wisconsin reported an object brighter than the brightest stars, like a fluorescent light or neon light, and said the edges of the object were sharp at first contact then blurred or fuzzy at the end of sighting.
The next night, August 17th, 1966 in Roosevelt, Minnesota.
SSgt James Vetter of the 692nd Radar Squadron took a UFO report from Steve Arnsen, the owner of Rocky Point Resort in Roosevelt, Minnesota. According to Project Blue Book file #8728587, five others, Jack Arnsen, Pat Andersen, David Andersen, Warren Wenner, and Leon Grove, were also present. The object was described as spherical, green, motionless and luminous. It was silent, even as it appeared to explode, leaving a haze behind. The duration of the sighting was 40 minutes.
Later that fall, September 13th, 1966, Hibbing Minnesota.
Observers watched a pale red cloud type object, almost to the point of appearing as a vapor or being transparent, which appeared in the northern sky. The object was stationary except it was getting larger. Object was compared to a red translucent cloud with no apparent motion. Object was witnessed by the observer at the International Falls Weather Bureau.
Sightings like these were reported all across the north-central US and Canada in 1966, and when described in writing, most had very similar descriptions of translucent or transparent clouds of red and green. When visualized in sketches by witnesses however, they drew something else… spirals.
Some witnesses reported sightings of spirals like these and contrails from vehicles that made right angle turns. One twenty-year-old female reported the object appeared to explode and then began “whirling” in a cloud.
As these sightings continued in the fall of 1966, there was plenty of speculation. There are references throughout the Blue Book reports to satellites and weather phenomena as potential explanations. One woman said she thought she was going to see the “second coming of Christ!” and the exclamation point is hers.
Eventually, photos began to appear.
The above photo of one of the unidentified objects was captured in Minneapolis, photographer unknown.
In October, the news began to get out. Witnesses began receiving letters signed by Project Blue Book’s Hector Quintanilla, Jr., with the official explanation:
“On (insert date) there was a Nike-Apache rocket launched from Fort Churchill. The rocket reached an altitude of approximately 102 statute miles before releasing a cloud that would have been visible for up to 900 miles from the Fort Churchill area. The objectives of these cloud releases is to obtain measurements of electric fields and wind motion in the upper atmosphere by photographing and tracking the movement of the ion1zed clouds.”
Fort Churchill, a cold, remote facility that was used by both Canada and the United States over the decades, is a former science and military outpost on Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, a community best known as home to the historic Prince of Wales Fort (shown).
Now vacant, Ft. Churchill hosted over a dozen tests like this in the fall 1966, and over 3,500 suborbital launches in its operational life. Some reached higher altitudes than others, and the clouds released were sometimes described as “barium clouds.” A note in Project Blue Book file #8293408 lists four launches over just three days in September:
14 Sept. 0400z — 100 miles altitude
16 Sept. 0122z — 100 miles altitude
16 Sept. 0300z — 120 miles altitude
16 Sept. 0417z — 120 miles altitude
Above, a series of four photographs captured from an unknown aircraft on August 16th, 1966, which I combined into an animation. This animation shows the best view I’ve seen, with four exposures, three showing the rocket exhaust and an expanding cloud of gas, then one exposure showing the shrinking cloud at the end.
As I understand it, the rockets were launched over Hudson Bay, there was an explosive deployment of gas to create a cloud, and the rockets frequently tumbled afterward, which accounts for the “whirling” motion or “right-angle” turns reported by witnesses, and the spirals drawn in their reports.
The launches stretched from August through early October and when revealed, satisfied the curiosity of many of the witnesses. One witness noted in his report that his sighting had already been explained as a rocket on the local news by the time he had sent his response questionaire to Project Blue Book.
Do you remember the 1966 UFO Outbreak? Or maybe you don’t believe the official Ft. Churchill rocket launch explanation? Leave a comment below.
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Read a lot more about the Northern UFO outbreak of ’66 at The Black Vault.
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