Arvold had a passion for famous quotes. Sometimes he published his own thoughts next to the greats, as if by associ- ation he might join their ranks. None, however, inspired him more than Abraham Lincoln. From play openings to theatre dedications, Arvold tied every significant event he could to Lincoln’s birthday. Then, one day, he thought of a way to pay the 12th president an even greater tribute in, of all places, the Old Main attic.
Feeling like a child building a secret hideaway, Arvold ordered split logs from Minnesota’s Itasca State Park and used them to cover the walls and high-peaked ceilings of a space used for set building and storage. He commissioned campus blacksmith Haile Chisholm to fashion wrought iron hinges, door handles and chandeliers. And he furnished the rooms with bark-covered straight-backed chairs and tables. In the crook of the L-shaped space, bricklayers installed a fake fireplace, inscribed with Abraham Lincoln’s words: “Let us have faith that right makes might.”
From the time it opened in 1922 until Arvold retired, the Lincoln Log Cabin served as the social heart of the Little Country Theatre. In this artificially rustic setting, the Von Trapp Family Singers dined, Native Americans danced, Edwin Booth Dramatic Club inductees made their pledges and Lilac Days revelers dined on lavender mashed potatoes.
Lilac Days was one of Arvold’s most long-lived and unique creations, a product of his abiding love for pageantry with
a purpose. His vision was to connect Fargo and the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, with an 80-mile lilac hedge to be celebrated each year with music and dining. Despite the fact few of the lilacs survived, each year NDSU’s sun- bonneted lilac queen and her lilac maidens sang the Lilac Days anthem to school children in small towns along North Dakota Highway 81. In the evening the royal court joined their friends for the annual Lilac Days feast, for which every- thing – even the turkey – was dyed purple.
To Walsh, NDSU’s theatre program represented a bygone era. He’d read Arvold’s book on the Little Country Theatre. And he recognized Arvold as one of the “dynamic figures” of American academic theatre prior to 1930. Still, in his mind, academic theatre in those days “didn’t amount to much.”
Unlike Arvold, Walsh was not a warm and fuzzy guy, say his former students and colleagues. Respected, yes. Professional, to the core. Sentimental, absolutely not. Physically, he was different too. Shorter, wirey, a cigar or pipe often in his grasp. And yet, they shared some strong similarities. Both, for instance, were fascinated with outdoor drama.
As soon as he set foot in North Dakota, Walsh began cruising the state like a movie director looking for locations. Each time he investigated a historic site and its surrounding terrain, he wondered if this might be the spot to stage his mas- terpiece. That’s why – when he heard the Theodore Roosevelt