Town of Harrison inspires chapter in bookHARRISON — An English author with a curiosity about the small South Dakota town that bears his name visited Harrison on Thursday to discuss and sign his book “Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota.”
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
HARRISON — An English author with a curiosity about the small South Dakota town that bears his name visited Harrison on Thursday to discuss and sign his book “Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota.”
Fraser Harrison met with about a dozen people from Harrison at the former town hall to speak about his experience in the town during his 2010 trip. Harrison included an entire chapter in his book about the town, featuring interviews with a few of the residents.
“They were free with their time, which was kind of them,” Harrison said in an interview with The Daily Republic prior to the event.
Harrison received a grant to visit the state and write a book. He first emailed the Rev. Steve Hayes, who is pastor of the First Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church in Harrison.
“I didn’t respond right away, thinking ‘Well, what’s this all about?’ ” Hayes said with a laugh. “As a pastor, sometimes you encounter people asking for things. … So when I got a note from someone from England who wants to write a book about Harrison, I had to take a step back and look at it.”
Eventually, Hayes did respond, and the two met up in 2010 when Harrison made his trip.
“Well, I couldn’t just blunder in here,” Harrison said. “I needed somebody to introduce me.”
During his visit, Harrison said he found two major themes — the people knew they represent the end of an era and had a total certainty they will go to Heaven upon death.
He said those he interviewed had come to terms with the fact their generation is ending, and that families are moving from the area.
Harrison is an atheist, but wasn’t surprised at the small town’s certainty of life after death, because Americans are more religious than those in England.
“That kind of certitude had not come across in the Anglican church,” he said.
He found it strange, however, that the residents seemed to pay a steep price for their ticket to Heaven. He was surprised that many residents didn’t finish high school or even make it to the eighth grade, and most of their education was through church and Bible studies, which they continue today.
“Their life experience was very uniform and produced that confidence of immortality, which you might regard as enviable,” he said. “But it’s earned at a price, which is isolationism.”
Harrison first visited South Dakota in the 1990s while teaching at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. He took a trip with five others during spring break to South Dakota. When he got an Authors’ Foundation grant through the Society of Authors in England, he was happy to come back to the state and finally visit the town of Harrison.
Despite having pleasant experiences in the town and with its residents, Harrison doesn’t expect to make any return trips to visit the town.
“The distances are so punishing, forbidding,” he said. “I certainly would visit again if it were in reasonable distances, but Steve is leaving, so I won’t have that connection.”
Hayes, who has served as the pastor in Harrison for three years, accepted a position in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, and will be leaving this year with his wife Sonia and two sons Alex, 4, and Jacob, 1.
Harrison hopes to travel back to the United States anytime he can.
“Any excuse to visit Northfield,” he said. “I still have close friends in Northfield, so I’ll go to any lengths to get there, maybe write another book.”
Harrison’s book also includes chapters on Lewis and Clark, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood and Wounded Knee. He also wrote short pieces on Yankton, the Rosebud Casino, Rosebud, Rapid City, Hill City, Crazy Horse Memorial, Spearfish Canyon, Mobridge, Sturgis and Selby.
The book is published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press.