Massachusetts natives bring Patriots' Day to Fargo-Moorhead with colonial garb, tea and a party
MOORHEAD — If you want to know how difficult it is to find patriotic decorations or costumes in Fargo-Moorhead during the middle of April, just ask Clyde Allen or Jim Shaw.
The two Massachusetts natives have spent the past 25 years calling each other on the third Monday of April to wish each other a happy Patriots' Day. It's always a race to see who calls first to shout "Down with the British!" and recite the poem "Paul Revere's Ride."
But they both decided the routine was insufficient for celebrating the start of the Revolutionary War, so they decided this was the year to host a party.
"Nobody has ever heard about this holiday around here," Shaw said Monday, April 16. "I thought Patriots' Day was a national holiday until I went to college in Chicago."
When Shaw was a freshman, he saw there was an exam scheduled for Patriots' Day — the day marking the first American uprising against the British. He asked his professor how this could be, and his professor replied, "What the hell is Patriots' Day?"
Not to be confused with Patriot Day on Sept. 11, Patriots' Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts and Maine — also observed in Wisconsin and Connecticut — that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were the first battles of the Revolutionary War in 1775.
It's a big deal back in Boston where the highlight of the day is the Boston Marathon and the Red Sox playing at home — though this is the first time in 34 years that the game was postponed.
Shaw and Allen recall having the entire week off from school and going to parades and watching historical war reenactments.
In preparing for Monday's party, Allen was told it wouldn't be until Memorial Day or the Fourth of July that store shelves would be lined with red, white and blue. He caused a scene at Hornbacher's grocery store when picking up a large cake with a picture of an American patriot on it.
"It caused a real commotion at the cash register with everybody wanting to look at the cake and asking what's it for," Allen said. "It was a lot of work to convince them it was a holiday."
There aren't many Bostonians living in Fargo-Moorhead. Shaw said having Allen in town is
"like having an older brother from my neck of the woods."
Shaw, 62, was born in Boston and raised in Newton, a suburb. Allen, 83, grew up in Saugus, about 12 miles north of Boston. And they both believe Patriots' Day should be a national holiday.
Unfortunately they said most people who have caught on to the holiday have only learned about it since the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. For Allen, he said that's the most memorable Patriots' Day of his life.
"It was a violation of my home territory. I had been right in the same area a few years before and saw it on the news," he said. "That hit home."
An unexpected party
On Monday, the two invited a couple dozen acquaintances and new friends over to Allen's home in south Moorhead for socializing, cake and tea, of course. Some guests wore colonial attire, while others wore Red Sox jackets, like Ken Lever.
Lever, of Fargo and originally of Shrewsbury, Mass., said he was surprised to get the party invitation after decades of missing out on Patriots' Day back home. He brought along with him historical documents and a ledger book from an ancestor, Ananias Cook, who took part in the Revolutionary War.
Throughout Allen's home, signs were hung up that read "The Redcoats are Coming," "No Tax on Tea" and "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death." A film on the Revolutionary War narrated by Charles Kuralt played in the background.
Shaw said he went around Fargo-Moorhead looking for tricorn hats for the party, but ultimately went on Amazon.com to order a revolutionary-era costume — with white wig and all.
Dee Pretty, who lived in Newton Centre for a year in 1968 while her husband Dave was in school, is nextdoor neighbors of Allen and his wife Esther. Asked if she celebrated Patriots' Day while living in Massachusetts, Pretty said "absolutely not," because she didn't have any idea what the holiday was.
But this year she purchased a Martha Washington dress to attend the celebration in style.
North Dakota Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, attended the party as well. He went to Harvard University at age 50 in 2000 for a master's degree. He said that in Cambridge and Boston there is a "continued physical presence of people and places that we in the Midwest just read about in books."
Allen said he and Shaw are thinking about hosting another Patriots' Day party again next year.