The Medora Musical, Part One

Medora, North Dakota: the Gateway to the West. During its illustrious history as a frontier town, Medora was called home by such famous (and infamous!) historical figures as Teddy Roosevelt, the Marquis de Mores, and North Dakota’s celebrated native son, Harold Schafer. Off the I-94, it adjoins the stunning North Dakota Badlands National Park. It is here that The Medora Musical, one of the largest, if not the largest, summer regional attractions plays to audiences of over 110,000 every summer!

Between September and May, Medora, North Dakota isn’t exactly a town. Most of the buildings stand empty. No drug store, no factory, no supermarket, no high school. No need. Billings County averages 0.8 people per square mile. One policeman. One volunteer ambulance for 736,000 acres. Fewer than 100 people call Medora home during these months, but between May and September, the population swells to a constantly transient organism 10 times larger than its annual empty existence, with, on average, 1000 new tourists passing through every night.

Medora, North Dakota is a living legend. It is “where the West kicked up its heels,” according to the blue denim shirts worn by employees and sold in the gift shops, showing a magnificently embroidered cowboy two-stepping with a fair lady in can-can skirts.

It is a brief moment in the savage expanse of the Badlands, a speck from the sky. Small, small buildings on the flat, flat land.

Medora, North Dakota is a town not a town. It is an embodied and performed set of values, a simulacra of the small, quaint, rural town we somehow all wish we came from.

I said, “It sort of makes me think that it’s like Disneyland, except real.”

Randy Hatzenbuehler, President of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, nods approvingly. “That’s a good description. That’s a really good description.”

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