Bye, Bye Borders

Today’s front page of the Rapid City Journal sent shivers through the offices of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press. Borders, the dying megalith of the bricks-and-mortar book world, is closing its store in South Dakota’s second-largest city. For a publisher that has just a handful of bona fide bookstores in its home state, losing its second largest bookstore is not a particularly positive development.

We’re sad to see Borders go. Many within the small press world will choose to denigrate Borders as a chain store, picking an independent store over it every time. We love independent bookstores as well, but Borders buys a lot of books! Rapid City has seen its bookstore numbers dwindle to the point that when Borders closes only Prairie Edge (which is really a gallery, but has a great book selection) will remain. During that times the SDSHS Press has always known that we will sell a good number of books to Borders. This knowledge was comforting, particularly when book sales are down, so we’ll definitely miss it in purely financial terms, but we’ll also miss Borders because it was a bookstore. Regardless of whether a super-chain or a mom-and-pop outfit, a bookstore is a bookstore, and to hear of another one biting the dust is an oh-too-sad moment.

Maybe someone will pick up the mantle and open a new, independent bookstore. I can’t see Barnes & Noble taking the risk, but perhaps someone will see that a locally oriented bookstore might just work. Examples of successful, independent bookstores exist in Pierre (Prairie Pages), Mitchell (Readers’ Den), and Aberdeen (The Little Professor), so there is precedent for a smaller bookstore with a regional/local ethos to do well in South Dakota.

Whatever happens in Rapid City, you can rest assured that the SDSHS Press will continue to publish great books on South Dakota history, and that you will be able to find them in various (perhaps less traditional) places throughout the city and the state. We wish all the employees at Borders the best of luck in locating new jobs, and we’re grateful that they were there for so long, telling people about our books and sharing their love of the printed word.

Merlyn Magner’s Book Tour

From Wednesday 8 to Monday 13 June, South Dakota State Historical Society Press author Merlyn Magner has been touring South Dakota for her new book, Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story.

During that time, she has given three presentations, signed books in four locations, and been interviewed by television, radio, and print media a combined twelve times. In other words, Merlyn’s been quite busy! She started the tour soon after arriving in Rapid City, SD, from her home in the Ozarks last Wednesday. By that time, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the Rapid City Journal had already interviewed her, but South Dakota Public Television had not yet had the chance. She unpacked her bags at the hotel and drove out to where her house stood before the flood washed it away to meet Charles Michael Ray of SDPB TV. The interview went well, and the footage will be used in an SDPB special for the 40th anniversary of the flood in 2012.

June 9th dawned and, with it, so did the anniversary of the 1972 Rapid City Flood. A jam-packed day awaited Merlyn, which started bright and early with a radio interview conducted by Don Grant for KOTA-Radio out of Rapid City. From there, she whisked over to SDPB’s radio studio to chat with Dakota Midday host Paul Guggenheimer, and from there, she hurried straight over to KOTA-TV studios in order to appear on the noon news show with Cindy Davis. Don, Paul, and Cindy asked some great questions, gave Merlyn the chance to answer in depth, and conducted flawless interviews.

Not content with a few minutes on the live show, Cindy asked Merlyn to partake in a longer feature piece for the evening news. So, we all headed over to Merlyn’s former home, where Cindy filmed and questioned Merlyn further. At the end of the filming, we finally had a moment to catch our breath before the next appointment: an oral-history interview at the Journey Museum for their comprehensive exhibit on the flood. An hour or so flew by quickly, which left enough time for dinner before returning to the Journey for a presentation, book signing, and reception that evening. Having hoped for seventy-five or attendees, it became apparent by about 6:30pm that we had underestimated rather considerably. The official count ended up at 296 audience members, 3 TV news crews (including Tessa Thomas from Black Hills Fox, as well as a reporter from KNBN in RC), 2 presenters, and a number of pleased-as-punch Journey Museum staff and this SDSHS Press marketing director! Merlyn and Don Barnett (the other presenter) engaged the audience during their presentations, while answering questions, and as they signed books, and when we finally left at almost 10pm, it is safe to say that although rather tired, we were all pleased with the outcome.

Friday, we headed back to Pierre. Merlyn had interviews with the Capital Journal and with KSOO radio to carry out prior to a presentation and signing at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, and, once again, both interviews went well. The presentation and signing attracted more than thirty attendees, including some who had their own recollections of the events of 1972. Saturday, we all jumped back in the car and took off for Sioux Falls.

Again, media responsibilities drew us, as did a signing at Zandbroz Bookstore. Both KDLT and KELO TV (two of South Dakota’s biggest news outlets) welcomed Merlyn into their studios for in-depth interviews. With a slightly different target audience, Maren Larson or KDLT and Angela Kennecke of KELO had some slightly different questions to those Merlyn had answered in Rapid City, and as such drew out some new thoughts from our author. The signing at Zandbroz was also well-attended, and as usual, Jeff, Jamie, and their crew at Zandbroz made us all feel right at home.

A long trip back to Rapid City awaited Merlyn, along with a date at the Adams Museum in Deadwood and an interview with the Mitchell Daily Republic today, by which time, I’m fairly certain our most-obliging author will be just about ready for a nap!

Come into the Water

Merlyn Magner’s fascinating new book, Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story has just arrived in the SDSHS Press warehouse!

This incredible book details the horrific night of the Rapid City Flood in June 1972, Merlyn’s personal survival but incredible loss, and her life’s journey to find meaning in the tragedy of that night. Her memoir is powerfully written, engrossing, and engaging. Not to sound the trumpets too loudly, but this really is a book that you can’t put down!

Interested? Check out a short excerpt from the book.


Our headlines today speak of the terrible flooding in eastern South Dakota. Roads closed, many homeowners having to find alternate routes home – and then only being able to get there by tractor. Counties are supplying sandbags and sand for people to shore up their homes and protect from the rising rivers. Last week, there was news of one homeowner losing everything from his trailer home to cattle and six horses.

Flooding is not new here, although we do have the benefit of technology to warn us and help us to prepare.

In April 1881, Alice Bower records events that could be recorded today. She says “Oh, Journal, last night at about 5 o’clock I watched from the top of the hill, the last timber of our house go floating on towards the Missouri. It was the worst sight I ever saw; first the kitchen went, then the other part.”

You can read more of her story in the SDSHS Press book Sunshine Always.


Why I Love History, part 12!

Continuing our series of posts from South Dakota State Historical Society Press authors and illustrators, Paula M. Nelson, editor of the award-winning Sunshine Always: The Courtship Letters of Alice Bower and Joseph Gossage has added her thoughts. Thanks, Paula!

It was my father’s interest in history that sparked my own. My father was the high school music teacher in our town, but his second love was history. He had a large collection of books, some of them oversized coffee table books that featured photographs, paintings or maps. Long before I could read, my mother would wash my hands and sit me down with one of those books; I was transfixed by all that I saw there, the things that looked so different from what I saw around me. When I learned to read, my favorite books were historical fiction, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, and biographies. Our elementary school library had a set of biographies of famous people, mostly born in the 17th through 19th centuries, and I devoured them all. I was fascinated by other people’s stories, their triumphs and their disasters.

My father also nurtured my love of the west. Most of our vacations were spent camping in the west. To get there from our south central Minnesota home we drove through South Dakota or Nebraska and I fell in love with the Plains. To this day it is the sweep of the Great Plains and especially the lay of South Dakota lands that feed my imagination. We also stopped at nearly every historical marker, monument or museum on our trips. Vacations filled with history would disappoint many children. Not me. I could “see” the people of the past in their original haunts; they moved, they spoke, they lived again in my mind. Those trips taught me the importance of place, the power of human agency and that time moves forward, sweeping everything in its path. If I tried really hard, however, I realized that I could reach out and touch the people who inhabited that world now gone, and make them live again, if just in my mind or, later, on the page.

My father died when I was seventeen. He knew that we shared a love of history and books. I like to think that he would be proud of the historian that I have become.

Alex Johnson Hotel

So, the grand, old Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City is reopening to fanfare and pomp. It has been rehabbed and updated, and is, apparently, much the better as a result.

These old hotels can be found in many South Dakota cities. Often built by the railroads they became luxurious oases in the plains. The Alex Johnson, which Suzanne Julin described as “imposing” and a “significant exception to the unassuming quarters” to be found elsewhere in the Black Hills in the first third of the twentieth century, opened in 1928 with 200 rooms.

Suzanne’s book, A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles: Black Hills Tourism, 1880-1941 describes the Johnson and the other efforts that were made to build tourism and leisure opportunities in the Black Hills.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day, 1880’s-style!

Love and romance feature heavily at this time of the year. (Gentlemen, just in case you have forgotten, it is less than 2 weeks until Valentine’s Day.)

So, in the spirit of this celebration of red hearts, chocolates, flowers, puppies, etc., oh and love and romance, the South Dakota State Historical Society Press is offering Sunshine Always: The Courtship Letters of Alice Bower and Joseph Gossage at a special price!

“Good night, Dear Alice, a good night kiss to the one I am soon to call my own, my little wife . . .”–Sunshine Always

“Our correspondence, Dear Joe, has been pleasant to me from the first. There has never been written anything for us to regret–honest & true from the first, and loving & true to the last. May it be typical of our life.”–Sunshine Always

This book is a tale long-distance romance between the founders of the Rapid City Journal, and should warm the hearts of even the biggest love-sceptic!

Take a chance on love and order this book for your favorite reader this Valentine’s Day.