Dakota Datebook

German-Russian Weather Man

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

“I like this free liberty of the United States,” exclaimed German-Russian Henry Moldenhauer in a 1940 interview, “I like to vote for the President of my country.” His new country put new meaning behind his voice. Henry sang, he spoke, he prophesied, and he voiced his opinion about the government, something he could not have done in the Old Country.
Henry left Russian ruled Poland for America in 1884. For a little over 20 years, he worked in Pennsylvania and Ohio, learning English and saving money. It was in Ohio where Henry met a real estate salesman who convinced him to buy land in North Dakota. Accompanied by five other friends, Henry settled in Dickinson, ND during the summer of 1906. The six young men arrived to discover a sparsely populated town. “There were lots of stone and sod houses,” Henry explained, “and cowboys every place.”
Unaware of homesteading laws concerning free land, Henry bought $4000 worth of land, on which he built a stone house. Henry quickly discovered that the best way to survive in North Dakota was by “doing a little of everything”. He raised cattle and grains, and claimed that when one failed he had the other to depend on.
Henry Moldenhauer farmed, he struggled against the North Dakota prairies, he married and raised kids. Although his time was consumed with the responsibilities of father, husband, and farmer, Henry still found time for new and old hobbies.
Singing was a hobby that had crossed the ocean with Mr. Moldenhauer. The language in which he sang changed from German to English, but his passion for the music stayed the same. Henry’s tenor voice could be heard in various settings across the Midwest. He admitted to singing while driving through the countryside. He sang for students at Dickinson High School and he also sang at a Farmer’s Union convention in Minnesota.
Shortly after arriving in Dickinson, Henry discovered a new hobby: astronomy. In 1909, Henry began to study the stars and planets in relation to the weather. He compared weather conditions to the position of extraterrestrial objects, and factored in equations of his own to make predictions concerning the coming seasons. Using information from an Almanac and a knowledge of mathematics, Henry accurately forecasted weather months in advance.
In 1936 he organized the “Moldenhauer Weather Forecasting Company,” and began to forecast weather for 17 states. Henry was assisted by his son Oscar, who studied astronomy in Ohio. The Moldenhauers’ forecasts helped farmers by predicting conditions that could be used in the fields. Unwilling to share his secrets to deciphering the heavens, Henry’s methods remain unknown.
Many Old Country superstitions involved the observance of everyday activities to gauge the arrival of wealth, death, luck, and, among other things, changes in weather. Old German traditions teach the observance of the sun and moon to determine weather, and Moldenhauer may have learned some of his technique from family who once watched the skies for clues concerning coming weather conditions.
“People have liberty and freedom (in the United States) that you never have in a foreign place,” said Henry when asked his opinion of the US. In America, Henry Moldenhauer had the freedom to say what he pleased about his adopted nation, vote for his president, and predict the weather any way he chose, even if his method of prediction involved the planets and the stars.

By Ann Erling

Sources:
“North Dakota’s Ethnic History: Plains Folk.” Sherman, Thorson, Henke, Kloberdanz, Pedeliski, Wilkins.
“WPA Ethnic History Files.”

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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