High Times & Hijinks on the High Plains circa ‘69

12 May

By Jackie Flaten

Then they Zipped to Zap, visions of brawls & freakouts in their heads…
In the spring of 1969 an estimated 3,000 young people descended on the tiny prairie town of Zap, N.D., for a spring break blow-out. What started as an off-beat idea for a party ended with National Guard troops routing the beer-addled revelers from Zap and nearby towns, creating a national sensation (even international, with a report appearing in the Soviet Union’s Pravda).

Zap Revisited, a film by West Fargo, N.D., native Chris Breitling, recalls the strange-but-true story of the “Zip to Zap“, aka the “Zap-In” through the memories of the people who took part in this uniquely infamous episode of North Dakota history. Breitling produced Zap Revisited as a film student in the early 1990s. In conjunction with this year’s 40th anniversary celebration, Breitling is making his DVD available for $12, free shipping, at www.ZapRevisited.com .

Here’s a short clip from the film:

A Northern alternative to warmer spring break climes
It all started when an editor at Fargo’s North Dakota State University student newspaper thought it would be fun to tout the tiny town of Zap as an ideal spring break alternative to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Zap party, according to the article, would include: “… a full program of orgies, brawls, freakouts and arrests… Do you dare miss it??”

Zap merchants were happy to hear of the picnic plans and town bars stocked up on extra beer and food — town ladies even mixed up a big old batch of baked beans. But the tongue-in-cheek article had unwittingly ignited a series of events that got out of hand when the story was picked up by the national press. Even the Wham-O! company piggybacked on the idea, launching its newest toy, the “Zip-Zap.”

Thousands of young people poured into town from all over the Midwest, out-numbering residents at least 10 to 1. Accounts differ as to what exactly caused everything to go downhill, but it seems a beer price increase led to fights, fires and finally shambling treks to the nearby towns of Hazen and Beulah. Zap’s mayor, fearing his town under threat, was forced to request the state’s National Guard troops.

North Dakota’s well-mannered protesters
Back then, the nightly news beamed Vietnam body counts along with colorful scenes of hairy hippies and impassioned students yelling, marching and clashing violently with police. Generally carrying on in a manner alarming to a more sedate generation. Almost any en masse gathering of young people in the late ’60s triggered concern. But for the most part North Dakota’s college students were relatively clean-cut and responsible folks. In fact, at a rather tense University of North Dakota student sit-in, a hat was quietly passed around to collect change for a window accidentally broken during the gathering.

A far as who did what to who in the what now, Zip to Zap organizers and the townspeople seem to agree that it was only a handful of “bad apples” — bad apples who probably weren’t even genuine North Dakotans — who caused most of the trouble.

The editor whose pen started it all felt awful about the whole debacle and reportedly hid out in his parents’ house ’til things died down. He managed to stay out of Zap for 40 years except on one occasion when he couldn’t avoid passing through (but he slunk down far in his seat so as to not be noticed). The universities’ student governments eventually paid for the damages and everyone was very sorry about the whole thing.

All is forgiven and the town’s welcome mat is back out. On that note, someone’s comment on the YouTube clip was: “Zap 2010. You know you want to.”

Pick up Zap Revisited here: www.ZapRevisited.com, read more about the “Zip to Zap” on Wikipedia, or just Google around and you’ll find anniversary stories on the subject.

-jdf

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3 Responses to “High Times & Hijinks on the High Plains circa ‘69”

  1. Kathleen Tai May 19, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    Hi, I was one of those who zipped to Zap in ’69. I was attending Dickinson State College at the time in North Dakota. I was with 5 other girls at the time. But we were outnumbered at 100 to 1 (most likely higher than that) by the guys. I still have my orange T-shirt which on it is written – Zip to Zap. My car had flowers on it at the time and my mother wrote to me (from Los Angeles) that car that looked like mine was on the TV news there. The beer did flow, not much hard stuff and no drugs that I saw. A wild time by all. We got out when the National Guard started to come in hours before dawn. Sorry we didn’t have the phone cameras like they do today, have no pictures but a lot of memories of that night. It was suppose to happen on Saturday but everyone showed up the night before and you couldn’t get into Zap by late Friday. I don’t think that number is right, it was much lower than 3000. I remember when we got back to Dickinson State that I got stopped by the police twice because of having a car with California plates, never showed my college ID more than on Sunday. They had closed off the state Friday night with the national guard. It was one wild memmory to have.

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  2. Cousin John May 20, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    I’m looking forward to getting the 2 DVDs I ordered. My wife has a friend from nearby Beulah, North Dakota who I plan on giving one of the DVDs to for her birthday. I don’t know if she was at the Zip to Zap party or not but I’m sure she will enjoy getting it.

    Peace Out Cousin!

    John

    Like

  3. Roland Olson September 7, 2009 at 7:36 pm #

    Went to this little shindig in a Renault Dophine owned by my girlfriend at the time…Lisa…car and she are both just memories as was the early morning “escape” from town thru the National guard and into SD…seems 27 “smuggled” Coors will cause a bit of befuddlement…I just remember it was very windy, too cold for just a blanket, sleeping bag and tent….and I slept for a day on returning to Moorhead State….never could tell my kids to “take it easy” in college…as I remember Gracie Slick…did a spoof album about this bit of trivia…and I was there…

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