Photographers find new life in North Dakota ghost towns
FARGO — Two Fargo radio personalities who photographed the remains of western North Dakota’s pioneer towns for a coffee table book discovered a surprise when they returned for volume 2.
Some of the “ghost” towns had come back to life, thanks largely to the oil boom.
One of the images that Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp had hoped to capture for the second volume of “Ghosts of North Dakota” was an abandoned church in Fortuna, near the borders of Montana and Saskatchewan. When they arrived, they found a recreational vehicle and semi-trailer parked in front of the building, ruling out a photo shoot.
And then there’s nearby Appam, which was featured in the first edition. The pair was surprised to find about 30 recreational vehicles and trailers set up behind a shelter belt that once guarded the town.
“We were shocked to see that some of the towns we photographed in 2005 or 2006 had people living there now,” Larson said. “We always said it would be a happy day when we could say one of these towns turned the corner and starting coming back. We didn’t expect it to happen like this.”
Larson knows that the rebirth is temporary and might be the makings of future ghost town photos.
“If we’re still above the ground, because Lord knows how long the boom will last out there, we fully intend to go back out there and photograph what is left,” Larson said. “It would be a very different type of ghost town. What is a man camp going to look like when nobody is left? Will there even be a man camp?”
The second edition is 88 pages and features towns such as Bantry, Barton and Bentley, along with Raleigh, Roseville and Roth. Larson’s favorite photographs are one he took of a house in Sims, which is featured on the cover, and one by Hinnenkamp of a one-room schoolhouse in Clear Lake Township that is surrounded by rings of crops on a foggy morning.
“There was no way we could have known there was going to be a crop circle around the school house or it was going to be all foggy and misty when we showed up there,” Larson said. “It seemed like the shot was just presenting itself to us when we got there.”
The first book has sold about 3,000 copies, Larson said, and the pair had to back-order more books to meet demand. That allowed them to finance the second volume, which is available on the group's website at GhostsofNorthDakota.com.
“Being able to do one book was more than he hoped for, to be honest,” Larson said. “We’re poor radio guys and never had the money to do a book. We were pleasantly surprised that we were successful and it all worked out.”