Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Check out the page on the Thingvalla Church History, the accidental fire that destroyed the church, and then the wonderful work of the community to design and build the memorial site. You can read the dedication speech by Susan Sigurdson Powers about the Living Prairie Garden below as well as poetry from KN Julius and more about his life.
Though I know that you have just arrived here, I want to you take a little trip with me, an imaginary one–a trip back in time. I want you to travel back at least 115 years or more—before the time that the church was built. I want you to imagine what this spot might have looked like. Look around you. Take away all the elements that have developed here over time:
Take away the planted rows of trees. Take away the power poles. Take away the paved roads. Take away the sounds of cars and trucks speeding past. Take away the perfectly manicured lawn.
Replace it with the sound of the wind blowing across the prairie, tossing the native grasses in an ancient dance. Mingled amongst the native grasses are tiny bursts of color—wildflowers like Blanket Flowers, Brown-Eyed Susan’s, Purple Prairie Clover, Prairie Roses—that are often visible only if you take time to really look at the prairie. Occasionally, the sound of a meadowlark or mourning dove rises above the wind. In a lull in the breeze, you can hear the creek below the ridge as it bubbles over the rocks as it flows to the east.
Feel the peace and solitude of that place………. This is the vision our early ancestors found when they settled here in what was to be Thingvalla Township. It was in that setting that they chose to build a church. After the Thingvalla Church was lost to fire in 2003, we were all heartbroken.
Word of the great loss spread as fast as the fire itself, quickly reaching all across the US and Canada, and even across the ocean to Iceland. The reaction was universal—shock and sadness, bringing tears to the eyes of strong men and women when they thought of the loss of this symbol of our faith, our ancestors, our history……..
The church was gone, but a question remained….what can we do to remember this place and the people who settled here? Over the coming months, many ideas were discussed. A decision was made to save the foundation— helping keep a visible footprint of the presence of the church, without it, it would be easy to forget that there ever was a church here……Eventually, stones were laid in the path to mimic the aisles in the church…..
More discussion followed. Rebuilding the church was not really an option—there were only a few members of the original congregation left, and even if a church would be built, it would never have the history the old church had. We toyed with the idea of a miniature replica of the church, but again, it just wouldn’t be the same and the maintenance would be an issue. There was talk of a bell tower, standing alone…..but it risked being more of an eyesore than a landmark on the prairie that we felt it should be. There was talk of planting a flower garden, but its maintenance would be a huge deterrence—the temperature extremes of the region would be a challenge to most flowers and lack of a water source on the site made the idea of a formal floral tribute unrealistic.
Finally, one idea was settled on—not the only idea, possibly not the absolute best idea, but one that seemed to be a possibility with the options available for resources and people. The idea: plant the foundation with native prairie grasses and wild flowers, returning the church site to its original form—a prairie with native grasses again waving in the breeze, with wildflowers bursting forth in their appointed time. An informal garden, whose beauty is seen best by stepping in and stepping back in time to feel the solitude.
So, in 2004, the ground was seeded. Soon, seeds sprouted and the grasses and flowers began sending their roots deep in to the soil. By the second season, 17 different varieties of plants could be identified within the foundation. Prairies take time…..each year since the planting; there has been a shift in which plants dominate the garden. Sometimes the garden’s unruly appearance aggravates those who think a garden should be neat rows of orderly flowers, landscaped to perfection. But God’s prairie gardens are not orderly—they are free-flowing — ever-changing–, with strong roots to nourish and sustain them though the heat of the summer and cold of the winter.
So, we are again on a journey, this one traveling on into the future. We have planted the seeds, God will tend and nourish this prairie garden memorial, and we will wait to see how it develops. Through it all we will honor the memory of our strong and determined ancestors who came here to this place and we will honor the God who watched over them.
You can read more about K. N. Júlíus – .
Kristján Níels Jónsson Júlíus (1859-1936), a satirical poet, was born near Akureyri, Iceland to Jón Jónsson and Þórunn Kristjánsdóttir. His father was a blacksmith. K.N. or Káinn (pronounced like ‘Cow-En’) as he was known at the time, left Eyjafjörður in 1878. K.N´s older brother, Jón Júlíus Jónsson, had left in 1876. Two of his younger sisters came to America in later years.
Their mother died when K.N. was 14 years and afterwards, he lived with his uncle, Davið Kristjásson. He lived there until he was eighteen. In 1878, he immigrated to the west. At first, he lived in Winnipeg and then moved on to Duluth. Finally, in 1893, he moved to the Thingvalla area of North Dakota. He never married and had no descendants. He was mostly self-taught read and had very little formal education before leaving Iceland.
Káinn labored for most of his adult life in our rural community called Eyford in Thingvalla Township. Many of the graves in the Thingvalla Cemetery were dug by him and he was the last grave-digger to live in the Eyford community. The following is taken from an old newspaper:
“He went at his task as if he were making up a bed for a tired friend, said his close friend, Dr. Rognvaldur Petursson, and most of those buried there were the poet’s personal friends. Here he, too, rests now on the grassy flat, with a small stone at his head. But at the side of the church stands a stately monument with his likeness carved into it. It was placed there by the friends and admirers of K.N. in the United States and Canada, but designed by the neighbors, who thankfully remember the poet whose gentle humor lightened their burdens and eased their struggles for half a century, brought sunshine into their homes, and was an ever active geysir of fun and easy, original wit. Poor as he was in terms of material possessions, K.N. enriched these communities and set their cultural atmosphere as no other man has.”
K. N. Julius
He was a unique, beloved poet and humorist. Some of his poems became published in two books. The original book, Kviðlingar, was published in 1920. Kviðlingar og Kvæði (Ditties and Poems) was published in 1945 and edited by Richard Beck. In 1937, a book in Iceland was published called Rabb um K. N. og kveðskap hans by Magnús Gíslason. In 1965, a book called Vísnabók Káins / Kristján Níels Jónsson (K. N.) was produced by Tómas Guðmundsson in Iceland.
In the 14 Aug 1946 edition of the Heimskringla, you can find an advertisement selling New Books by the Björnsson Book Store. K.N.´s book, Kviðlingar, is for sale at $15.85 and is one of the most expensive books listed. That would be over $180 in the 2013 value of the dollar.
A large monument, dedicated to K.N. Julius, was built on the north side of the church in 1936. The inscription on the monument to K.N. reads:
The Satirical Poet
Translated by Magnus Olafson
Born to make tears few. The mocking flashes of your verses, Lighten and renew the spirit. So dream about the beautiful fjord, of your beautiful childhood home in the countryside.
Fæddur til að fækka tárum. fáir munu betur syngja. Kímnileiftur ljóða þinna, létta spor og hugann yngja. (R. Beck)
Svo dremi þig um fríðan Eyjafjörð, og fagrar bernskustöðvar inn í sveit. (K. N.)
The monument was originally built in 1936 and was reconstructed in 1999 in conjunction with the 100th Annual “Deuce of August Celebration.” The celebration was originally called the 2nd of August Celebration and through the years, became more well-known as the Deuce.
Now these flags fly above his grave and his monument. It is fitting that the North Dakota flag, the Icelandic flag, and the USA flag fly above the grave of this man who knew two homelands. He lived most of his life in North Dakota in the years from 1893 – 1936.
Here is what the KN Júlíus Storyboard Panel, researched and designed by Sunna Pam Olafson Furstenau, and located at the Thingvalla Church Memorial site, looks like:
The following are poems on the KN Storyboard Panel:
About Little Christine Geir Translation by Magnus Olafson
Since the first I saw you near, My need for sunlight dwindled; The light for my life’s path, Is by the light in your eyes kindled.
Síðan fyrst ég sá þig hér, sólskin þarf ég minna. Gegnum lífið lýsir mér ljósið augna þinna.
Anna Geir was a widow with five young children. When Káinn arrived in Pembina County, he was searching for work. He was informed about the family’s situation and he worked on the Geir farm as a farmhand for the remainder of his life. Christine (Geir) Hall was born and raised on the family farm where Káinn lived and worked. K.N did some brick laying work in the community along with digging most of the graves at the Thingvalla Cemetery. He died on the Geir farm of a stroke 25 Oct 1936.
Here is the address given in 1999 by Christine Geir Hall at the rededication ceremony of the monument:
Dakota Sunshine Translation by Gudrun Hanson
When our weary winter yields And spring relives its story, Ah, what a pretty sight to see The sun in all its glory!
And when the wide Dakota fields With ripening wheat are swaying, A pretty sight to see the sun Upon the uplands playing.
When all this tender hay is cut, In sickled-tows reclining, Ah, what a pretty sight the sun Upon the meadows shining.
Then he who yearns to catch a fish Goes to the river streaming. A pretty sight to see the pike In sunny water gleaming.
When in the morn the farmer milks, His brow with pleasure showing, A pretty sight to see the sun On all the cattle glowing.
If one can get a bit of gin, At best by illness hinting Then ’tis a pretty sight the sun Upon the bottle glinting.
And now it seems to be the trend To dress in latest styling, And ’tis a pretty sight the sun On lovely dresses smiling!
And if you long to go to church, Your gladdened faith aligning; Then ’tis a pretty sight the sun Upon the preacher shining!
And though the ‘take’ is very small The man’s surprise be showing; It is a pretty sight the sun Upon the platter glowing.
But if I had to go to church, My need for succour pining, I would as life the sun itself Refused to go on shining.
And when I’ve passed beyond this place, My bones to dust decaying, ’Twill be a pretty sight the sun Upon my tombstone playing.
This next poem is about the Icelandic celebration in our area called ”The 2nd of August” and also known for over 50 years as ”Deuce of August.” This is one of KN’s famous drinking poems. He talks about Reverend (Séra) Hans Thorgrímsen who is one of my favorite pioneers. Séra Hans was a highly respected pioneer pastor and he probably did not find KN´s drinking poems very funny. Séra Hans was very much against drinking and local stories say that he had not attended the party alluded to in the poem and he was very angry about this poem. North Dakota was a dry state at this time.
Many left in drunken sail Everywhere flows beer and ale; Whisky? No one lacked a bit, Cause Swain and Dor were selling it. Women served their coffee swill; Men ranted speeches at their will; There was singing, there was dance. There was I with Reverend Hans.
Margur þaðaan fullur fór Freyddi á skalum malt og bjór Brennivin þar brast ei neinn, Þvi báðir seldu, Dóri og Sveinn. Kvennfólk var með kaffisull Karlmenn fluttu ræðubull Þar var söngur, þar var dans Þar var ég og Séra Hans.
Séra Hans was the pastor in Pembina County from 1883-1886 and then again from 1901-1912. Káinn came to Thingvalla Township in 1893 when Reverend Fríðrík Bergmann was the pastor. So, this poem, ”Annar ágúst” (August Second), was most likely written between 1901-1912.
The very short version about the ND alcohol law is as follows: North Dakota was approved for statehood 22 Feb 1889 (4 years before Káinn arrived). A clause was proposed at the 1889 North Dakota constitutional convention that summer to prohibit the sale and manufacture of liquor. The clause was voted on by the people of ND and was approved at the October 1st vote. Saloons, liquor sales, and alcohol manufacturing were outlawed, beginning July 1, 1890.
Finally, in 1932, ND voted to repeal state prohibition. Alcohol could be manufactured, bought, and sold legally for the first time since North Dakota became a state. Káinn was still alive to see prohibition repealed but Séra Hans was the pastor in Grand Forks at the time. I suppose that Káinn could have written this poem when Séra Hans was working in Grand Forks and maybe even after prohibition was lifted in 1932. If anyone knows the actual date this poem was written, please let me know.
I am glad this is one of the poems on the panel. Some told me it was not appropriate as part of the church memorial. I believe it helps to tell the story of our ancestors and it brings us some humor. Something that seemed important to Káinn and to his honor, this storyboard panel was designed.
Bjorn Olgeirson is quoted in the Lögberg-Heimskringla newspaper 24 Sep 1999:
Björn Olgeirsson knew K.N. well in his youth. “He was a bit unusual,” Björn said, “but he did not drink as much as he is rumoured to have done. He only made the occasional trip to town and got a bit cheerful. Then he walked back, making poetry on the way. He was a great humorist who made many interesting poems.”
A few other poems that have been translated into English are as follows:
So dream about your lovely island fjord And childhood haunts upon the upland run;
Where nowhere do the colors of the land Shine fairer in the glory of the sun.
As shepherds halloo from the mountain passes, Their flocks descending to the the valley grasses.
In The Barn
One day when all was quiet I heard the moo-cows bawl; I think that they were holding A “Ladies Aid” for all.
For everyone was yapping; But none were understood They talked of all and nothing, But most concerning food.
“Yes, we’re full and chubby, And we have lots of feed; Like corn and ground up barley, And stacks of hay with seed.”
“It’s not my business really, and I don’t care, ’tis true, But by the way, dear Spottie, What is the date you’re due?”
“Come has the time for supper, What will we get for treat? Be damned! Here comes that K.N., And brings us straw to eat!”
Is It Any Wonder?
No wonder that he dabs in rhymes, And likes to chase the chicks; No wonder that he drinks a lot, And has a yen for tricks;
No wonder that he steals a bit, And is a liar too; No wonder when he hangs around With such a rascal crew!
I attended a dance there one evening, I’d been feeling so lonely and low; I wanted to go and observe it, And watch how the evening would go.
There youth celebrated its hour. I felt a familiar fire. I sat til the daylight was dawning, In the swirl of hypnotic desire.
The glorious maidens kept dancing With spiffy admiring guys. I sat in a corner unbothered, Alone there with curious eyes.
They bared both their arms and their bosoms, Their ringlets asway and aglow; Such goddesses filled with a power To rouse all the sick with their show.
The blood in my veins was aboiling, My lips were a flammable red; My eyes with the fires of passion Were popping right out of my head.
The fires ignited my body, And burned at my heart-strings too; They singed a part of my jacket, Eventually burning it through!
K.N. was chosen as “Settler of the Week” by Hálfdan Helgason and featured in this newsletter:
Kevin Jon Jonsson wrote an article for the Lögberg-Heimskringla 13 Dec 1996 and included many poems and translations here:
More information about the Icelandic celebration called the Deuce of August or 2nd of August can be found on the website:
Preserving our history for future generations is so important. Thanks for helping to share the story of our ancestors.