Long before the Norsk Hstfest came along in the 1970s, Minot loved greeting and hosting famous visitors. One of those occasions occurred in September 1941, when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor made a whistle stop in Minot drawing thousands of people to the Soo Line depot in downtown Minot to catch a glimpse of the man who had been king of the British Empire and the woman he gave up the throne for.
King Edward VIII had abdicated in December 1936 in order to marry twice-divorced Wallis Simpson and they were given the title of Duke and Duchess of Windsor by Edward's brother, who succeeded him. The whole affair was quite controversial at the time and the Windsors had their fans. After all, they were still royalty and people always like a good love story, even if it is less than storybook in nature.
It was well publicized ahead of time that the Windsors would be making a stop in Minot Sept. 28 on their way to vacation at his 3,000-acre ranch in High River, Alberta, Canada. According to clippings from The Minot Daily News, 2,500 people were on hand when the couple's private car, the Van Horne, rolled into town around noon on a Sunday afternoon, behind a Soo Line train.
"In Minot, where the train arrived at 11:45 a.m., North Dakota's largest crowd was gathered to greet the couple, and 8 year old Carol Doreen Weiss presented to the duchess a bouquet from Minot civic and service organizations. The couple stood on the rear platform of their private car here and chatted with persons nearby, complemented by Arvil N. Graving, Minot high school band director, who had a pep band of 22 pieces at the station to play for the royal visitors, and posed willingly for photographs."
The train stopped at many points along the Soo Line that day, including Kenmare, Bowbells, Donnybrook, Carpio, and Portal, where it was admitted into Canada. On board with the Windsors, besides their staff, were two Secret Service agents and a sergeant with Scotland Yard, who was the duke's bodyguard.
"At Kenmare, Bowbells and Flaxton, there were throngs at the station. Close to a thousand persons assembled at the rear of the train at Kenmare, and heard the duke inquire about the numerous ducks he had seen fly up from the waters of the Des Lacs lakes as the train sped by.
"The former king saluted and nodded at Flaxton as one of the townsmen told him, "We're all for you here," and he and the duchess shook hands with several who came up to the rear of the car."
It was also the first day of the upland hunting season in North Dakota, and the Windsors were presented with many birds by area hunters.
"The first game came aboard at Carrington, where a box of a dozen birds was presented to the duke. At Harvey, young Donald Helgerud came up to the train just as it was pulling out of the station and handed up a pheasant he had just shot. Pleased by the gift, the duke asked Soo Line officials to telegraph back to Harvey to learn the boy's name, and he was planning to send a personal note to Donald to thank him for the gift."
The Windsors had their vacation in Canada and planned to return through North Dakota Oct. 9 before heading home to the Bahamas, where the duke was governor general at the time.
There were no formal plans in Minot to greet the Windsors on their return trip, but a crowd still managed to gather about 3,000 people this time.
And the gifts kept coming.
"During the stay here, the Windsors stepped back into their car to greet Einar Madsen, manager of the F.S.A. homestead project at Burlington, who had brot several boxes of project-grown strawberries to present to them, and to express their thanks.
"Madsen attempted to make the presentation at Burlington, but was unable to contact a member of the Windsors' party there, so he boarded the train and came to Minot. He sent the berries, with an accompanying letter. ... A few minutes later, the duke's secretary came out to find Madsen, escorted him into the private car and presented him to the Windors.
"They asked several questions about the project, and told him they planned to have the berries at their breakfast today, Madsen said afterward."
Having not one but two railroads passing through Minot afforded residents many opportunities to see the high and famous throughout the years, perhaps most notably during the whistle stops made by President Harry Truman and his family in the 1950s. Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha, of Norway, passed through Minot by train in 1939, a longer visit that included a motorcar parade in downtown Minot.
With airliners and private jets not on the scene yet, one can only wonder what other celebrities came through the Magic City without the fanfare extended to royalty and just how many people are still around to remember back in the day when the Duke of Windsor and "the woman I love" stopped in Minot.
(Kent Olson is the managing editor of The Minot Daily News)