This May will be the 50th anniversary of Zip to Zap, and many plan to return to the small town of Zap to party like it's 1969.
Zip to Zap started as an alternative spring break, but things quickly went awry, ending in a call from the governor to the National Guard, and turning the celebration into what one attendee calls a “hysterical historical event.”
It was first joked about in the North Dakota State University’s student newspaper, The Spectrum. It started gaining traction and eventually a story was published inviting college students from all over the country to Zap, written by Kevin Carvell, now 73, and the editor of The Spectrum in 1969.
Now, 74, Don Homuth was the editor of The Spectrum during Zip to Zap, when Carvell was taking a break from school. Carvell wrote the tongue-in-cheek article and then left school, leaving Homuth fielding calls from schools all over the country wanting to attend Zip to Zap.
Homuth said the UND Veterans Club was the first to call and say they wanted to go on the trip.
Carvell attended the original Zip to Zap May 9-10. He has been to one anniversary celebration and plans to go to the 50th anniversary.
“Last time I sat with some old Guardsmen and they told me all kinds of stories,” Carvell said.
Homuth also plans to go.
“I cannot not be there, I have to be there,” Homuth said.
Although Zap, with a population of about 250, was not prepared for the first gathering, this year it is making plans to accommodate visitors. The town 80 miles northwest of Bismarck has been promoting the May 11 event.
There will be a “Zip Thru Zap” 5K and country group Slamabama will perform, according to the Zip to Zap 1969-2019 Facebook page.
Cindy Zahn, Zap’s city auditor, said that the town is hoping for good weather and a good crowd on May 11. Zahn has lived in Zap all her life and was 12 when Zip to Zap happened.
“I do hope they continue this event every 10 years or so when we’re all gone,” Zahn said. “You can either look at this as something that didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to and look back at it in a bad way or you can turn it into something fun and family friendly.”
Homuth said that he thinks this is a “goofy piece of history” is “just fundamentally North Dakotan.”
“I’m glad the people in Zap are finding humor in it. It was always meant to be fun,” Homuth said.
These anniversary celebrations are much smaller and more sedate than the original event, Carvell said.
Zip to Zap quickly turned into a riot as the town was not prepared for the nearly 3,000 college students who descended upon Zap, according to the Herald archives.
“Those of us who organized it were complete knuckleheads,” Carvell said.
The city originally decided to go along with it, but things went south, according to Carvell.
Partying spilled out from a small bar and into the streets. The town ran out of alcohol. A fire was set in the middle of Main Street.
Mayor Norman Fuchs called on North Dakota Gov. William Guy, who called in 500 troops from the National Guard.
“The presence of the National Guard makes this what it was,” Homuth said. “There were riots everywhere else, North Dakota needed a riot.”
In the early hours of May 10, 1969, the National Guard crept into the town of Zap and chased out the drunk college students.
“Everyone was asleep when the Guard arrived, it was 6 in the morning on a Saturday,” Carvell said. “As partiers were ousted from Zap, they then went to Hazen, Beulah and ended in Bismarck. I went home, mortified at what had occurred.”
It was estimated around $25,000 in damage was caused to the town of Zap, according to the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The student governments of NDSU and UND paid for the damages.
“It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life,” Carvell said. “The governor called the National Guard on us, Walter Cronkite is on national television talking about it, commentators are horrified at what America’s youth had come it. It was horrible. It takes quite a while to be able and look back on it as a goofy moment.”
Homuth said that things started to get out of hand after the National Guard chased students out of Zap. He was again fielding calls.
“I was getting phone calls from all over the world, from England, from the Soviet Union, wanting to know what had truly happened,” Homuth said. “The myth and the reality of Zip to Zap are a parallel line, they’re never going to cross.”
Homuth looks back on Zip to Zap and sees a something that “almost went right.”
“Had the Guard not shown up and the bands played, it would have been a great party,” Homuth said. “But we also wouldn’t be talking about Zap right now if the Guard hadn’t come in. I think the memory of it is a reason for a party. It’s something to celebrate.”