Monday, August 28, 2006

The Nelson's Tarp Brass Band War of 1983

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

On an unusually warm spring day in 1983, the population of the small town of Nelson's Tarp, North Dakota erupted, without reason, into one of the strangest cases of mass hysteria on record. The circumstances surrounding the battle defy rationality to the point that many armchair investigators cannot put forth a theory that doesn't involve paranormal motivations.

The morning of April 14th began normally enough in the largely agrarian community. By dawn the cows had already been milked and the plowing of the cornfields was underway in preparation for late April planting. At approximately 9:00 A.M. two groups of students, one at the town's only high school and one at the junior high, suddenly stormed their respective band rooms and ran from their buildings with every last available brass instrument. At the same time, six miles away, the employees of the Responsible Allies Insurance company made their way into Max's Music Delight, held the owner at bay with a high-powered stapler, and stole Max Schum's entire stock of brass.

One hour later, insurance agents and students met in the middle of Main Street outside of the Woolworth's, formed two distinctly new groups and began pelting and bludgeoning each other with flugelhorns, trombones, tubas, and all other manner of brass. Police were on the scene, having been alerted of the thefts, but were unable to maintain order. Nelson's Tarp was a tight-knit community and for the most part the officers were not prepared to use excessive force on children and people they had known their entire lives. The local force however put themselves in harm's way and did their best to disarm the combatants.

Twelve minutes into the melee, fighting abruptly ceased and those members of the two factions who were still standing came together once more and attempted a forty-six second rendition of Louie, Louie on the remaining beaten and blood-soaked horns. All of the participants then threw themselves to the ground and wept uncontrollably until they were taken away by emergency vehicle or school counselor.

Twenty-two people were injured, including two police officers. All of those involved had clear recollections of the incident. All claimed that they were fully aware of their actions as they were being taken and were also convinced that their actions were entirely reasonable but were unable to explain them afterward. The mystery remains unsolved to this day.

As a side note, Max Schum was fully covered by the very insurance company whose employees had robbed him. He invested the claim money in acoustic guitars and flutes which, he said, if it came right down to it, seemed like they would be less painful than a euphonium to the head.

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