I must admit, the only thing I knew about Fargo before my recent visit came from the Coen brothers’ movie of the same name. In other words, as the movie had nothing to do with Fargo and is set primarily in Minnesota, I knew nothing about Fargo.
Despite its tenuous connection to the movie, Fargo has learned to embrace the notoriety gained by the film. The actual wood chipper in the movie is at the Welcome Center, complete with Steve Buscemi’s foot jutting out of the top, and signed by both Joel and Ethan Coen.
There is also a “Walk of Fame” outside the Welcome Center, but curiously, the individuals and groups memorialized there are not necessarily from Fargo, or even North Dakota.
Thanks to Harvest Hosts, I set up camp at the Fargo Air Museum, only a short drive to downtown Fargo.
The wind blew constantly, and I could only imagine the unrelenting winters. In January, the average low is 0 degrees, and Fargo gets up to 50 inches of snow each winter.
The state of North Dakota, at 70,000 square miles, has a population of only 750,000 people. It’s a long drive across the state, with very little to look at, save a string of civility billboards bankrolled by an anonymous North Dakota businessman.
I had stopped for the night in the state capitol of Bismarck, grabbing a photo of the capitol building and walking along the Missouri River.
Fargo is twice the size of Bismarck, with over 120,000 people (233,000 in the greater area), and growing. A local magazine article interviewed 10 individuals about things to do in the region, and not one of them had lived there more than two years. Most moved to the area for work in the healthcare and education fields. Long-time regional healthcare provider Sanford is busy putting the finishing touches on the new hospital, due to open in July, across the freeway from the Welcome Center.
What the influx of people has not brought to Fargo is diversity. In my two days there I met one person of color. The locals are friendly and polite, with visages vaguely reminiscent of Scandinavian ancestors. Businesses bear native names like Herberger’s Department Store, and Hornbacher’s Grocery Store. The gentleman at the welcome center looked an awful lot like Garrison Keillor. The accent is a bit nasal, with a lot of “Oh yah?” thrown into conversation. The charming woman at the clothing store expressed a few “Oof-das” without irony or self-consciousness.
Not even North Dakota State University, whose mascot is pronounced “bizon,” not bison, has brought diversity to town. Another magazine interviewed 10 LGBTQ individuals who left North Dakota due to lack of social support, and even fear for personal safety.
Did you know that the towns of Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorehead, Minnesota sit directly across from one another along the Red River?
Neither did I. This is the same Red River Valley of song, and I could not help but hum the tune the entire time I was in the area.
Over in Moorehead, the Hjemkomst Center tells a fascinating story of modern Scandinavian spirit and perseverance.
In the 1980s, locals built the Hjemkomst (“Homecoming” in Norwegian) Viking Ship and sailed it to Norway and back. The ship is a full-scale replica of the Gokstad Viking ship that was discovered in Norway in 1880.
You can walk from Hjemkomst Center in Moorehead across the river to downtown Fargo, where the crown jewel of Broadway is the restored 1920s vaudeville theater.
Shops and restaurants abound downtown, many award-winning.
I really enjoyed my time in Fargo, and I’ll stop by for a visit anytime I’m near the area.