Wrapping up a lifetime and a legacy in a single conversation isn’t easily done. For Mr. Chapin and me, ninety minutes flew by like we were old friends rehashing good memories. In this final segment, I’ve included our discussion on the importance of looking back, as well as Sam’s memories of the Warroad Pioneer and the Northwest Angle.
Kellie: What does it mean to you on a personal level to keep this legacy going?
Sam: I think it’s important. I get satisfaction out of it. When I see things each day as I go through this, I’m more and more amazed at what my dad did in his lifetime as a writer. His freelance work, his work for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and for the Warroad Pioneer. He has many, many short stories in publications. It’s just so amazing all the things he was able to accomplish. When I go through the diary how quickly he was able to write this story one day and this other story the next day. There is the satisfaction of seeing the interest on the FB page for this type of information knowing it’s of value to the readers as well.
K: You’re putting together a puzzle by tying together the diary entries, the photos and the published pieces of your dad together. That’s really neat. Does it feel like that is finished or is that a project you’ll continue to work on?
Sam: I’ve got a lot of it done but there’s still a lot to do. There are various stages and so forth. My dad was not only the Warroad Pioneer editor, he was the mayor at one time. When he first started, Warroad had a lot of problems in the late 30’s. The town was almost bankrupt, I read someplace. You walk down the street and it wasn’t like Warroad today. Many, many of the stores were boarded up. Telephone poles had posters on them that had been there for 2-3 years. It was not a pretty sight. One of the things I’m going to do will be describing what it was like back in the 30’s, what were the issues, and what was done to get things turned around.
K: Is your information all coming from your family records?
Sam: From their diaries, from my dad’s writing, his books, all the freelance writing about a lot of the characters like Doc Parker, Ka Ka Geesick, Tom Lighting, and all of those wonderful characters up there.
K: What will be the end result? Would it be a book of your own?
Sam: Oh no. No, it’s just basically sharing with the Facebook site and the people up there the things that happened historically in Warroad back in that time period. I have no interest in writing a book about it. There’s already been a book written about that stuff: Long Wednesdays. A lot of it’s in there.
K: What a beautiful tribute to both your parents to go through their life keepsakes to create this picture that you share with all these other people. I think it’s really lovely.
Sam: I hope it works out. I appreciate the responses. There seems to be a real interest.
K: To get a little philosophical, why do you think it’s important that we as a culture look back at how life used to be?
Sam: Well, I think you can look back and see what it’s like for our parents and grandparents, some of their struggles, some of their daily routines, some of the things they did for entertainment. In so doing, you get a greater appreciation for your current situation and how you conduct your life and comparing at least mentally the things that you do in your family relationship with the past. My parents left a real legacy in the form of documentation on what that life was about. It’s something that by sharing it, people start thinking about their own situation living up in that area and can relate.
K: What are some of the biggest differences societally that you recognize? Is it the way we gather? Or…?
Sam: I was amazed at what people did back there, not only working but what did they do with their free time. They didn’t have internet or TV. What did they do for entertainment, it’s a lot different than what we do today. For example, movies. The Fox Theater. My dad ran the newspaper and ran ads for free for the movies in a barter system. We could watch all the movies we wanted for free and didn’t have to pay for it. Every new movie that came out, at least my mother went to them all and my dad went to a lot of them. Of course, radio. My dad enjoyed music. So there were phonograph records. One of the things he would do many Saturday nights, John Pick, Brother Anderson and my dad would have what my mother referred to in the diary as “bull sessions”. Basically, they would get together, throw topics in a hat, and one of them would take the pro side of it and the other two would take the con side of it. And they would verbally debate that issue until they had it basically worked out and then they would pull another topic out. My mother said this would go on until 4 or 5 in the morning.
K: What do you remember of the old Pioneer newspaper? And what are the key things you learned from reading all your dad wrote?
Sam: I remember the important things like where my dad kept the candy down at the newspaper and that he’d give me some when I went down there. I knew my dad was a writer and that he was busy writing and typing all through his life. When I was in high school, at least every Sunday he had a column in the Wisconsin section of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and I always read that and some of his articles. He had a great following in western Wisconsin.
To get back to your question, everything I learned about the Warroad Pioneer, I learned later in life and particularly after I retired I started looking more closely at it out of interest.
K: The Pioneer has survived a long time.
Sam: I remember the building; we lived upstairs. Do you remember Meeks Grocery store? It was right across the street. Marvin’s had a building and the paper was right next to it. It was called Roundy Building; it was owned by a blacksmith at one time. My dad purchased that and we lived in it in the 40’s and 50’s. I remember playing in the back yard.
K: I’m curious to know if your dad lived to see the rise of the internet and the way we consume our news now.
Sam: No, he passed away in 1973. Newspaper was the primary form of communication and people waited for the next issue to come out because that was their news. So many people recognize my name and ask about if my dad wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. They say they just loved what he published, the feature stories and his column called the Roving Reporter. It was snippets of different things and over time, there was quite a bit of family stuff that was published in there as well. I have one column I was looking at recently and my dad was describing Christmas when he grew up as a boy which is different than what we grew up with as well. So, he wrote about personal things as well. He had a great following, I’ll put it that way.
But then with the internet and stuff, these newspapers are getting thinner and thinner, and going out of business. It just isn’t the same.
K: What have been for you some of the best parts of exploring backwards in time?
A: I think it is making connection with people particularly up in Warroad and The Angle that remember my parents and get excited when I post a picture of somebody that lived up in that area. They go off and tell stories about their experiences and then another person picks it up. It’s all the memory stuff that people are reliving. When you get older you seem to harken back to those days and the memories and so forth, which I think is very good, very healthy. I get satisfaction out of it that somebody else is enjoying what my father enjoyed doing.
K: Have there been any parts that are hard or challenging about it?
Sam: Well, I wouldn’t say challenging. I think what it is is bringing all the pieces together. You read something in a diary, then you read something my dad wrote, then you start making connections, for example “I took the Resolute up to the NW Angle.” And then I look at the dates and I figure out what he was after. He wrote about this or that. It’s making those connections. Ok, he went up there and what did he do up there? You go to the diary. He went to Massacre Island or Fort St. Charles or he went to these different sites and then you start running across things he talked about when he went up there. Some of the people that he talked to or was going to see. Then you start wondering who that person was and you start asking questions.
First time he went up there was in 1936, I think it was when he was working on this state book. 1936, for instance, in June he saw George Arnold and Faye Young and arranged a trip up to Canada and the Angle on the Resolute He writes: “Set off for American Point. Got a nice cabin and had moose meat steak for super. Over to Ft. St. Charles. Tried to get to Dora’s but got on the wrong trail. The next entry, “Got to Dora’s. Had moose meat and goat’s milk at McCauley’s” who apparently lived up there. I don’t know who McCauley’s are but I’m sure someone remembers them. Then he says “Indians on a toot.” On a toot: he must have run across some folks who had had too much to drink. Then he talks about mosquitos and that he saw a moose. Then he says “Went up Pine Creek Road over to the school with Gnecke’s” – I don’t know who that is – “school picnic and a ball game.”
He went back with my mother for sort of a second honeymoon. She stayed at American Point while he did his running around. Then they returned on The Scout, which is another boat, tied up over on Oak Island and then on the 14th, got back to Warroad. So you run across entries like this and I wonder who these people are and I try to find out who these people are. sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not.
K: It’s just so neat. How much time do you get to spend on all of this?
Sam: I don’t do it for any long period of time, but I’m retired, so I’ll post something and let it run its course. And then find something else, let it run its course and run across a new subject and I’ll try to put something together on it concisely. And see what kind of response I get. Both Barb and I are still pretty active here in River Falls and at the cabin. We spend six weeks in Texas with a group. We bike. We do a lot of things. I’m not somebody that this is all I can do. This is just kind of a hobby and I enjoy doing it.
K: Well it certainly is a gift. A gift you’re giving to a bunch of people you’ve never met and that’s really beautiful.
Sam: I recognized a long time ago that this body of information that my dad has accumulated about Warroad and Lake of the Woods shouldn’t be hidden. It should be made available. There are still enough people around that remember this stuff and enjoy things that spark their memories. They feel good about things too.
K: Has it impacted how you catalogue your life at all?
Sam: Oh, I don’t know. I guess I haven’t really thought about it.
K: No diary keeping for you?
Sam: Unfortunately, no. I don’t have a diary. I’ve thought about maybe I should document some of these things, my life, and so forth, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe when I get more sedentary and have time that needs to be filled with something. But right now it’s a balance between family and doing the things we like to do, which is travel and going to the cabin and keeping ourselves physically fit. Maybe there will be a time when I decide it is time for me to do some writing about my life?
K: Are you 76?
Sam: Yes, I’m 76? How about you?
K: I’m 43.
Sam: You’re a youngster! My goodness. 43. Wow. (laughs)
K: Have you ever been up to The Angle?
Sam: Barb and I were up to the Angle one time, long, long time ago. We drove up. I remember the gravel road. I think we were up there in the early 80’s or late 70’s. There were washboards. It was bumpy.
K: What do you remember about The Angle?
Sam: I certainly remember the road. We rented a boat and fished a little bit. I remember catching one walleye. I remember it was quiet and very pretty. Beautiful.
K: Did you stay at a resort?
Sam: It was just one day and then back. But my parents used to go up there quite often and stay at a cabin. They really enjoyed that. He had a very strong interest in The Angle and the history. As I said, he loved history. There’s a lot of resource documents that he has on The Angle. There’s a 3-ring binder that must be ¾’s of an inch thick of all the information he’s collected on the NW Angle. I went in to this book The Angle of Incidents. If you don’t have a copy of that, as I said, if you go to the Warroad Historical Society, they have these things. And the book Long Wednesdays. I think the library should have a copy as well.
K: Well I’ve kept you on the phone for an hour and half. Thank you so much.
Sam: Oh, that’s no problem.
K: Thank you again for your time and for all the wonderful stories. I spent quite a bit of time looking back at everything you’ve posted on the Lake of the Woods Memories page on Facebook. What a tremendous gift you’ve given to the people in this area! So, thank you on behalf of the community too.
(Published in the December 25th issue of the Warroad Pioneer)
Photo: Courtesy Sam Chapin via the Lake of the Woods Memories and Stories Facebook page. Caption posted by Sam Chapin: “Did you ever see a cow surf boarding? This picture was taken in 1944. The Resolute was towing a cow from an Island to Angle Inlet.”