Life isn’t always quiet in North Dakota small towns. Once and a while, something truly big happens; something big enough to gain the attention of thousands. These 5 tiny towns each had a brief moment in the spotlight when everyday life was disrupted for something huge:
1. Michigan, ND
With only 294 residents, Michigan City is usually pretty quiet in the day-to-day life. But on a fateful day in 1945, tragedy struck that would go down in history as one of the worst disasters in North Dakota.
On August 9th of that year, two Empire Builder trains were headed west across North Dakota. World War II was officially ended that week and these trains carried mostly members of the armed forces who were finally heading home. Unfortunately, many of them never made it. The first train had to make an emergency stop right in the town of Michigan, and with the second train, only about ten minutes behind with no way of knowing that the other had broken down, was unable to stop in time. When it got to where the first train was stopped, it plowed directly into the back of it.
The 34 people in the last car that was hit died as a result. This story made national news and today there is a memorial site for the wreck. It is the worst train wreck in North Dakota's history.
2. Rutland, ND
Fewer than 200 people live in this quaint town, but they made their mark in the record books in 1982 for something literally huge.
Rutland residents decided to do something massive: make the world's largest hamburger. The massive beef patty weighed 3,591 pounds and a giant grill was made just to cook it on. They managed to flip the thing over with a crane, gaining it the world record for "world's largest flipped hamburger." Thousands of spectators that had come to see the event then got to eat the burger themselves.
They did this record-breaking stunt as a part of the town's centennial celebration. I wonder what they'll do on their 200th birthday to surpass it!
3. Leith, ND
This is one of the tiniest towns in North Dakota at only 16 residents, but that isn't why this place garnered international attention in just the last few years. The once peaceful town of Leith became one man's project that caused quite a bit of tension.
This man was Craig Cobb, and in 2012 he moved to this town and began buying up as many plots as he could. He wanted to own the entire town and turn it into a white nationalist community. Locals quickly began to fight back against this, trying to disincorporate Leith. Cobb was later arrested after he confronted one of the residents of the town with a shotgun and a rifle. After the arrest, he left, gave some of the properties back to the town and sold off others.
Cobb has tried the same thing in other towns since then, but this is the one that originally gained worldwide fame. It also resulted in a full length documentary called "Welcome to Leith," made in 2015.
4. Zap, ND
This little town usually only sees the hustle and bustle of less than 250 residents, and for the most part it remains peaceful and quiet like most small towns here, but in May of 1969, it got a little crazy.
For spring break that year, a group of students from NDSU decided to make a diversion to Zap and wrote about it in the school newspaper. Somehow this story managed to make its way to the Associated Press, and what was going to be a small group ended up being somewhere between 2000 and 3000 people all flocking to Zap in what became known as the "Zip to Zap" or "Zap-In."
Understandably, the residents were a little bit surprised and none too thrilled that a giant partying crowd was suddenly flooding their town. It didn't take long for the partiers to get out of control, and the residents of the town began to ask the visitors to get out. While some complied, many didn't, and it ended up turning into a huge riot. It was the only time in North Dakota's history that the National Guard had to be called to put an end to it.
The whole thing resulted in thousands of dollars in damage, and also put Zap, North Dakota as a headlining story of the CBS Evening News. It showed up in publications across the country and there will never be anything quite like it.
5. Regent, ND
When a local of the little town of Regent decided he wanted to put this place on the map, he went all out. It resulted in national news spots and still holds a world record to this day. I'm talking about the Enchanted Highway, of course: the world's "largest" collection of metal sculptures. Not the most - but the BIGGEST, all built by local Gary Greff.
These sculptures are located along a highway just south of Regent. One of these sculptures, "Geese in Flight," has the official Guinness World Record for the world's largest scrap metal sculpture. Other sculptures include large pheasants, grasshoppers, fish, and even Theodore Roosevelt on a horse. And the artist is still adding new pieces! Talk about ambition.