About Tom Harlow

I am a history geek.

Beginnings of a Journey for Chester Fritz

Last evening we had a presentation by Dan Rylance discussing Chester Fritz. This seemed like an appropriate time to blog about the early years of the man as well. Born in 1892, in Buxton, North Dakota, his family moved to Fargo, North Dakota, in 1898. Always living in poverty, his situation was exacerbated in 1902 when his father, Charles, was seriously injured in a threshing accident.

With the injury to his father, the family lost their main source of income. However, his mother was able to find work as a clerk and bookkeeper. As a result Chester Fritz was able to remain in school, and attended public school in Fargo from 1898 until 1905. It was during this time, in 1903, that the Fargo Carnegie Public Library opened and the young Fritz made daily visits, and consumed volumes of books. He was particularly enamored with Horatio Alger novels that gave the young man of no means hope for the future.

In 1905, when Chester Fritz was twelve years old, his mother apparently could no longer cope with the burdens of caring for a permanently handicapped husband and a young son. Anne Fritz disappeared in Februrary, 1905, and Chester Fritz never saw his mother again. As a result, he went to live in Lidgerwood, North Dakota, with his aunt and uncle, Katherine and Neil Macdonald. The change in his family status would change his life. The young Fritz excelled in Lidgerwood. He grew to become the high school football quarterback, and valedictorian of his graduating class.

Chester Fritz would go on to complete two years of higher education at the University of North Dakota, but he grew restless. Wanting to see more of the world he went west to Seattle, Washington. There he completed his baccalaureate degree in Commerce at the University of Washington. Shortly after he became employed by Fisher Flouring Mills, and it was while employed by that company that he began his journey to China. Selling flour in Hong Kong.

Want to hear Chester Fritz? Listen to a portion of his speech at our Omeka site from the original dedication ceremony in 1961:  Chester Fritz Library Dedication Speech Recording

To learn more about Chester Fritz, check out this video with Wilbur Stolt, Director of Libraries at the University of North Dakota:

Creating Video from an Oral Interview

In our previous blogs we have discussed how to upload documents, digitize photographs, and how we have used those sources to explore the history of the Chester Fritz library. More recently one of our colleagues conducted an interview with Wilbur Stolt, the Director of Libraries for the University of North Dakota, which provided an opportunity to illustrate the role of oral interviews in public history.

Oral history of course has been around a long time. Many societies have relied on oral tradition as a means of recording and preserving the past, particularly in the absence of written histories. The use of oral history developed in the United States in the nineteenth-century when anthropologists began collecting recordings on phonograph cylinders. Later, in the 1930s the Federal government paid interviewers through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to collect oral accounts from various groups, particularly Civil War survivors and former slaves. Today, oral history has developed into an accepted and useful discipline that provides information from different perspectives, especially when they cannot be found in written sources.

In our particular case, the interviewer was able to explore the changing role of the Chester Fritz library from the perspective of the person responsible for the overall operations of the library. Mr. Stolt’s perspective is one of management and general operations. He provides an overview of the major changes he has witnessed during his tenure. Here’s our video.  Later we hope to provide different perspectives as we interview others of the library staff. .

Of course one of the advantages of conducting oral interviews today is the way we incorporate various media formats into a single presentation. The interviewer may take notes of comments of interest for future reference, or for follow-up questions. However, at the same time the answers provided by the subject can be digitally recorded in both audio and video formats. There are several software applications for capturing, editing, and burning videos or slide shows. In our case we have elected to use Nero Vision, from Nero Multimedia Suite 10 Platinum HD. With this software we were able to overlay music in the introduction, insert titles, still photos, and edit separately the video and audio from the interview.

This raises an important issue regarding oral history. Because what you see is an edited video, it reflects the emphasis that we wished to portray. When conducting research it is always important to check the unedited primary source, rather than rely on secondary sources.