Feb. 26, 2020 — Sometimes, here in North Dakota, we feel removed from problems that go on in the rest of the country. However, on this day in 1959 one man reminded some North Dakotans that they should expect the unexpected … and also that they should meet the unexpected head on.
Victor Riesel was an unusual, famous columnist from New York who was scheduled to give some talks in Bismarck and Fargo. He was known for promoting trade labor unions, and also for the 118-some articles he had written, as well as the time he had spent on the radio and on TV, “blasting the underworld menace” of gangsters. This had not gone over well with the mafia. So a few years before, they sent someone after Riesel, and blinded him.
He said, “The attack was intended to frighten not only myself, but the press of the country, which it hasn’t.”
He remained upbeat. Perhaps he couldn’t see, but he continued to write, and to speak out. However, the experience did change his lifestyle. He had more help in areas he didn’t need help in, before.
For instance, when Riesel arrived in North Dakota, he was accompanied by his wife. Although he said he kept “feeling the swish of arrows in the air,” and although he certainly didn’t need the cold or the snow, described to him, Mrs. Riesel described the surroundings of the streets of Bismarck as they walked along.
Riesel also was accompanied by an ever-present New York cop named John O’Leary — his bodyguard — who was “an exception to the rule that Brooklynites are noisy and have difficulty with the mother tongue.”
Riesel didn’t need his bodyguard here. In fact, the mafia hadn’t attacked him for a while, and they didn’t attack him when he was in North Dakota. However, as he reminded North Dakotans, “gangsters” were everywhere. He said the “old Capone syndicate of Chicago was extending…to this area,” and that there had also been some activity through those gagsters operating in Minneapolis. “No community is immune to this sort of thing,” he said.