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.”