In the 1960’s, the best place to spend your spring break was in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. And that’s where Chuck Stroup overheard his sister asking their parents to go for her spring break in 1969. Both Chuck and his sister were in college, but even though Chuck’s sister got permission to go to Florida, Chuck didn’t have enough money to leave the state of North Dakota. Chuck, who was the student body president of North Dakota State University said “I was sitting in my office one evening and I was thinking about the poor suckers like me who weren’t going to Fort Lauderdale and I thought, well geez, NDSU knows how to party. Why don’t we have a party over a weekend out of town and invite all the other college kids to it.” Chuck and a few of his buddies would go party in a small town called Zap that was just 14 miles west of his hometown Hazen, North Dakota over the summer and Chuck though it would be a fun little place to get more of his college friends to join him over spring break instead of going to Florida. Zap had a population of about 250 residents and 2 bars, but Chuck liked his plan and took out a couple of ads in The Spectrum, the NDSU student newspaper. He figured he could maybe get around a dozen of his friends to go to Zap with him and they would camp while having a couple of beers and hotdogs. The Spectrum editor, Kevin Carvell, decided to write a story on the Zap spring break trip that read “Located in the valley of the scenic Knife River, Zap has thrown open its arms to students. The beautiful burg’s 250 residents welcome us to their shores. Shall we say no to this truly fine gesture of western hospitality? Of course not. On May 10, we and students like us from all over the Midwest will flock to Zap, the Lauderdale of the North “where do you get your suntan, Miami? No, Knife River.)” The story was ran on the front page of the newspaper. The same day that the article came out in the newspaper, Kevin Carvell dropped out of school. On his way back to his hometown of Mott, North Dakota, he stopped at every college and dropped of posters for “Zip to Zap. The Grand Festival of Light and Love”. With Carvell gone, Don Homuth took over as The Spectrum editor. Homuth said that as soon as he became the new editor, his phone started ringing off the hook. First it was from students and groups from NDSU and then it was students from different colleges in North Dakota and finally from students all across the country. The story had been picked by other newspapers across the state and even became a national Associated Press story and a Minneapolis radio station started to spread the word. The Bismark Tribune wrote a story saying “Destiny is about to rear either its beautiful or tumultuous head, or both, May 10, to project this quiet Mercer County city of 300 into national fame in a coincidence of double exposure. Thousands of collegians plan to decend upon Zap in a zip-in, zap-out frenzy of welcoming spring, while shedding their winter blues.” The toy company Wham-O even created a new toy called the Zip-Zap and the Bismark Tribune showed a picture of Zap mayor Norman Fuchs playing with it. The Spectrum also continued to write articles about the party that included publishing a map of Zap and the surrounding area and writing about all of the bars and cafes in Zap. One article concluded by saying “In addition to these events, a full program of orgies, brawls, freakouts, and arrests is being planned. Do you dare miss it?” When Homuth had gotten enough calls that he estimated that Zip to Zap was going to be around 500 to 700 college students, he figured that he would call Zap mayor and warn him about what was going to happen to his town. Fuchs assured Homuth that he already knew about the party and he was preparing the town of Zap to greet the students with open arms. The residents of Zap saw this as a way to make a whole bunch of money in one weekend. Zap only had two bars, but they started stockpiling as much beer as possible. The Some of the women of Zap were planning a barbeque for the students for Saturday night and were cooking all kinds of dishes to serve.
On Friday May 9th, Carvell drove into Zap with his friend and was surprised that there was already over a thousand people in Zap and more were driving in. Around 3,000 total students showed up before the police shut down the paved roads into town to keep any more students from getting in. One bar had hired a band named the “Tibor Brothers” to play on Friday night. When the Tibor Brothers took the stage, the bar raised the price of beer. When some of the students went to go back for more beer and found out the they were more expensive now, a fight quickly broke out. It wasn’t long before one of the students threw a jukebox through one of the bar’s windows. Now there were several students just packed into the streets of town with nowhere to go, and temperatures in Zap in May still got below freezing. Some of the students built a bonfire in the middle of Main Street using scraps of wood that were from a house that had just been demolished. When the jukebox had been thrown into the street, it had been added to the bonfire along with other furniture that was now being ripped out of the bar and thrown into the street. The fire had been lit underneath some powerlines and finally the fire department was called to put it out. Students were also peeing and puking in the middle of the street while several fights kept breaking out, which continued to get worse when the town actually ran out of beer. The residents of Zap started to get worried about their lives and belongings, so they went to Mayor Fuchs to get him to put an end to this madness. Mayor Fuchs along with several of the townspeople, went into town and tried asking the students to leave their town. Most actually complied and left the town, but the few that stayed were still ready to raise some hell. The local sheriff emergency deputized seven of the local men, but they were still no match against the rioting students, which was around 1,000 now. Those that stayed started throwing stones at the bars and then other businesses, completely destroying a bar and a café. That was when Mayor Fuchs called Governor William Guy and begged him to mobilize the North Dakota National Guard and Governor Guy complied by ordering 500 National Guard soldiers to Zap. Second lieutenant Jerry Engelman had just graduated from the University of North Dakota and was planning on driving to Zap on Saturday to party with some of his friends there. Instead, he made his way to Zap after joining up with the 816th Engineer Company and reviewing civil disturbance training. Jerry Engelman ended up retiring as a Brigadier General. Former North Dakota guardsmen said “We were concerned going in, I guess. We didn’t really know what was going to happen, they were saying that people had guns and knives.” By the time that the National Guard got into town at around 6 am, all of the college students had passed out. Another guardsman said “We marched as a unit into town. Nobody got hurt, nothing bad happened. We took a lot of verbal abuse from these people. Some of them happened to be my friends. I don’t think there were a lot of physical confrontations…with our company anyway. It’s kind of hard when you look out in the street and you see friends that probably two months before you had a beer with and you had to be very professional.” When Carvell woke up to see the National Guard come in to town, he said he drove to his parents house and hid in the basement, scared that he was going to be arrested for organizing the event. One NDSU student tried to attack a National Guard soldier with a log chain, but he was quickly pinned against a car and the soldiers pummeled him with their rifle butts. This seems to be the only incident of violence from either side. Some students were just arriving to Zap hoping to still party and not aware of what had happened the night before. They were stopped by highway patrol before getting into town, but still got close enough to see the National Guard marching through the town and herding hungover college students out of Zap. One student trying to get in to Zap on Saturday said “It was over pretty quick, but we got to see it from
the fringe. We weren’t necessarily inside it, but it’s kind of like watching the parade go by. What I was seeing was what happened in big cities, other places that you see in the news and you’re saying ‘Oh my gosh, that’s happening here in Zap.’” As the college students woke up and started moving out of town, the National Guard started picking up beer cans and broken glass that was strewn about Main Street, with help from some regretful student stragglers. It was estimated that the total damages, including the loss of lumber from the demolished building, to the damages to the destroyed café and bar, was about $25,000. North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota both agreed to pay for the damages that were not covered by insurance by adding a surcharge to student fees over the next several years. As the college students got pushed out of Zap by the National Guard, rumors started to swirl about what really happened there, like that a house had been torn down for the bonfire. Walter Cronkite covered the story about Zap on the CBS Evening News that night along with other national news outlets. Homuth was starting to get calls again. He said “I was getting phone calls from all over the world, from England, from the Soviet Union, wanting to know what had truly happened. The myth and the reality of Zip to Zap are a parallel line, they’re never going to cross.” The summer, Woodstock happened and a man walked on the moon and Zap was old news. A new city hall was built in Zap on the site of the old demolished building that had been used for the bonfire. Even though there would be student protests held in North Dakota throughout the Vietnam era, Zip to Zap is the only event that ever required the North Dakota National Guard to use force. There was a 50 year anniversary held last May in Zap and as far as I can tell, Carvell, Homuth, andStroup attended. They had a Zip Thru Zap 5k and had the band Slamabama played. Sources: “Zap Revisited” 1991 documentary “Zip to Zap Revisited” by the Dickinson Press “The Small Town Spring Break The Ended In A Deadly Riot” by Santiago Gonzalez “Zap Will Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Zip to Zap” by Bonnie Meibers “ND’s Zip to Zap Remembered 50 Years Later” by Jill Schramm