Ghosts of North Dakota

Filed in Destinations by on October 1, 2014


Dilapidated structures such as this can be found in almost any rural midwest town – in this case, Barton, N.D.


by Emily King | Photography provided by Sonic Tremor Media


Empty houses. Abandoned, crumbling buildings. We’ve all seen them around the Midwest. But have you ever wondered about the stories behind them? North Dakota natives and former Y94 (Fargo-Moorhead) morning radio show co-hosts Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp did. Their curiosity and penchant for photography led them to create and These websites have nothing to do with ghosts and the paranormal; they are visual archives of the remnants of our past. Larson and Hinnenkamp have also published two books, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volumes 1 and 2, while still holding their radio day jobs – Hinnenkamp on air and Larson producing the Ed Schultz radio show. Larson talked with us about the popular project.


How did this start?

We had an idea for Halloween for a radio show that we were going to spend the night at an abandoned place and sort of create a Halloween radio program — record our experiences. We never ended up doing it because it was too cold that year. But in the process of scouting locations to do this, we discovered that we had a shared appreciation for history and architecture and ghost towns. That was 10 years ago in October.


Can you tell me a bit more about your focus?

We wanted to go out and do a photographic documentary of (North Dakota). Because in rural areas, and this goes for Minnesota as well, in rural areas there’s a lot of history that’s being lost simply because there’s nobody around to preserve the structures that are left, the remnants of the town. So we started with North Dakota. We eventually included Minnesota too because we had roots there. In North Dakota we started out with a focus on ghost towns, because there are actually a number of them throughout the state. In Minnesota there aren’t so many ghost towns as much as there are individual abandoned places. You know, like an abandoned flour mill. The idea is having some fun, taking some photos, and at the same time making sure that there’s at least a memory of what was here at one time.


Are these ghost towns completely abandoned?

Of the 160 some places that we’ve got on our website, I think there are probably 12 or 15 that are total ghost towns. There’s probably another dozen or so that have between one and four residents.

In Minnesota you don’t have quite as many ghost towns. I think that’s partly because of the geographic difference between the two. In Minnesota you have a lot of lakes. So places that might have wasted away into a ghost town survived because people still wanted to come there to do some fishing or people still have a cabin there because there’s a lake.


How do you get the story behind places?

It’s largely over the Internet. (And) just about every trip we go on we run into someone who has little nuggets of information for us. Sometimes we’ll run into a property owner; sometimes it’ll just be a neighbor. Sometimes people provide information on our website or on our Facebook page. (Social media is) an amazing source of information. When people come and they go, “Oh my grandfather was one of the first homesteaders here; his name was so and so” — it’s an amazing wealth of information from people who have a connection to some of these places.


What draws people to this?

It’s a little bit different for everybody. Family histories are a big part of it. I think for most people it comes down to basic intrigue. Even after doing it all these years, I’m still intrigued. I’m still puzzled when I see a photo of someone’s home out in the middle of a field or at the crest of a hill and the windows are all broken out and the shingles are falling off and the weeds are growing up around the house — clearly nobody lives there anymore. And I’m always intrigued by the thought of why would somebody leave their home. Why would they just leave all this behind?


How did you decide to publish books?


We wanted to do a book ever since we started doing this and we saw how people reacted. It’s been fantastic. We’re making plans to do volume 3 right now — probably at the end of this summer. And (we’re) hoping to do Minnesota here in the next couple of years.


Where can people buy the books?


They can get the e-book on Amazon for the Kindle. They can get the hardcovers on our website, There’s a whole list of retailers on our website.


Do you have guidelines for suggestions?


As far as Minnesota goes, we love to hear suggestions on any kind of abandoned place that offers us something to photograph. It’s an abandoned mill or maybe a neighborhood of abandoned houses where nobody lives because they’re in the floodplain now. Or one of the places we photographed in the vicinity of Detroit Lakes was an abandoned section of highway from back in the ’70s that they’d closed off when they widened Highway 10.


How should people submit ideas? or Or they can submit a form on our website, too.


Are you thinking of expansion?


We do have some plans. We are actually in the process of launching a new website that’s going to cover abandoned places all over North America – the United States and Canada. And it’s called I can’t say much more than that, but stay tuned.


Great! Anything you want to add?


We’re very much in favor of historic preservation. We’ll do anything we can to help out on that front. Most of the time our blog just functions kind of as a way of raising awareness about maybe some places that people should be interested in.


Last question: What do you like to do on the lakes?


I’m probably not on the lake. I’m probably on the shore of the lake, taking pictures of the lake.


Editor’s Note: Since our interview, the duo has published their third volume and have also launched two companion websites, Ghosts of Minnesota and Ghosts of North America where they are photographing their way across America visiting all sorts of abandoned, and beautiful, places.


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