…and Other Fun Stuff
The city scene is often shaped by urban disasters—fires, storms and floods—and other more happy accidents. I had to manufacture one, for example, so that “100% corner” could be vacant when the time came in 1914 for the community’s first freestanding public library. Though the image above is a renowned European example, there are ample cases to draw on in middling American towns like Agincourt, such as the destruction shown here in Loraine, Ohio, of about the same time (June 1924) or an undated flood in Topeka, KS.
Since other “random” events like this were bound to occur, do you think we should employ some instrument of chance? An Acts-of-God lottery driven by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Many of these things should simply be taken from my hands and left to a roll of the dice.
Candidates might include:
- FIRE (lightening)
- FIRE (accident)
- FIRE (arson)
- BRIDGE COLLAPSE
- VEHICULAR MISHAP
What have I overlooked?
Several years ago, as a grad student in American History, one of my seminars required a paper on American history prior to 1850. Happily for me, that precluded the Civil War, which, along with most other wars, is of very little interest to me. In consultation with the instructor Cathy Matson, we settled on something involving Philadelphia, being one of the few urban areas nearby with a significant amount of unpublished historical material. As I’ve written here before, the initial topic was interesting but probably not going anywhere worthwhile, so it morphed into a study of the Thomas Holmes plan for Philadelphia of 1683.
Among the several things that have been written about old Philadelphia — essentially between South and Vine streets and running between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers — its cartesian grid is guilty of being boring. One of my discoveries put that popular conception to rest; it is, in fact, a highly articulated pattern and surprisingly mathematical. But back to the boredom.
Even the most rudimentary of urban grids has texture. Its blocks are divided into lots which almost invariably run N-S or E-W, such that street corners favor one of the intersecting rights-of-way and one of those streets will be more active than its right-angled counterpart: You are either looking at the front of a building or its side elevation. In the case of my own city, its principle thoroughfares run east-west, and consequentially its business fronts face north or south. Observing the revitalization of the CBD during the past twenty-five years I’ve developed an informal theory that south-facing business fronts are more likely to rent than those which face north and, therefore get very little natural light. Couple that with the current preference for darkened glass windows and the prevalence for neon “OPEN” signs makes sense.
Whether that observation was part of my thinking in creating the Agincourt townsite, Broad Street avoids that issue because all of its businesses face either east or west. The few stores around the corners on the avenues are minimized. So when I run across postcard views like this¹, I get excited because they’re fair game for conscription into the project.
The scale and stylistic “age” of these stores suggest construction in the 1880s — notice the 1877 date in one pediment — and, perhaps, on the “poorer” end of Broad Street [that being another aspect of gridded townsites: there is a “right” and “wrong” side of the tracks, but that’s a story for another time]. Happily, this card isn’t cluttered with labelling, so I can adapt it with impunity for our purposes.
¹ The town is Brainerd, Nebraska, and is currently being auctioned off at an opening bid of $42.00, far too rich for my pocketbook.
Unless something really unforeseen gets in the way, the Agincourt Project will be going on-line during the next few months. That means several things:
- We’ll be working with a computer-knowledgeable person (i.e., not me) to whip this thing into some sort of negotiable state.
- It means trimming the content down by about 90% (i.e., eliminating all my fulmination about the current state of politics and my bowels).
- There will be wondrous new tools for getting around the site, an improved search engine, and other guideposts.
- The appearance will, I hope, be stylish—at least my notion of style—without being slick. Remember that admonition: Nothing looks so old as that which once looked so new. so I’d vastly prefer tasteful rather than a la mode.
I do have one concern, which I suppose should have been broached long before now: Who owns copyright? Given that things on the web tend to outlast their creators, that’s an issue requiring some attention. Though the notion of having “literary executors” is pretty far-fetched.
I’m told by reliable authorities that our part of Iowa is Milwaukee Road country. Technically, that’s the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific railway in its current iteration, shown here in a route map from earlier in the company’s history. That has implications for Agincourt in how directly the city is connected to the mainlines; whether it’s a spur or loop.
It also narrows the types of depots built along its route, varying with time and community size. I’d like it to have been something like this one from Pulaski, Iowa, date unknown. I’m fairly certain this was a Milwaukee Road station, because I found another preserved example from LaMotte, IA from circa 1911 that is damned close to being a twin to Pulaski. The door and adjacent window are reversed, the brackets are a bit different, and the siding runs opposite, but this is substantially the same. That difference in siding looks like a change in style from the 1880s to post-1900. Chances are very good that Agincourt’s earlier depots — I have no idea how many there may have been — might have been built on this pattern.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
YOSHIDA Hiroshi / 吉田 博 (1876–1950)
“Himeji Castle” from the Enthronement Edition of the Commercial Advertiser
color woodcut / 14.5 inches by 9.5 inches / unnumbered edition
Yoshida was a member of a multi-generational family renowned for their woodcut prints, many of them in the shin-hanga style. For the “Enthronement Edition” celebrating coronation of Emperor Hirohito, Yoshida produced a subtly-shaded woodcut view of Himeji Castle, one of Japan’s best preserved castles from the time of the shoguns. The print is tipped into the volume, published in English with detailed description of the elaborate ceremony itself, but also a vast amount of information on court life. The festivities lasted sixteen days in both Tokyo and Kyoto. Our copy of the entire volume comes courtesy of the Tabor family.
By a happy coincidence, Methodist missionary William Malcolm (“Uncle Malcolm”) was passing through Tokyo on the way to his mission at Chefoo, China. He delayed departure in order to observe a rare cultural event, unlikely to occur more than once or twice in a century.
Howard’s great aunt Phyllis Tabor died not long ago, upwards of ninety-six years old. Alert and sassy as ever during her last months, Phyl provided some family history for the book Howard has been writing. Though technically she’s a Tabor and not a Tennant, Howie is being fairly catholic about this because, frankly, the in-laws are often more fun that the others.
I was glancing through some old blog entries and found Phyllis’s story about her twin sister Ella Rose, who disappeared in China during the revolution and Chairman Mao’s “Long March”. And though that story needed a bit more fleshing out.
Phyllis made a fleeting reference to her brother-in-law Malcolm and his wife Kate, presumably Ben Tabor’s sister. [That part of the genealogical chart has never been extended.] Malcolm was a Methodist missionary in China. I was confused for a while, until I realized that it was his surname that was “Malcolm”, not his given. Apparently there were three family members about the same age names “William”, so he was habitually referenced as Uncle Malcolm.
William R. MALCOLM [1861–1942]
Uncle Malcolm was a Methodist missionary stationed in Chefoo [now Zhifoo], a coastal town in Shantung Province, though I believe that travels took him periodically to the interior. It was Rev Malcolm who recruited Ella Rose Tabor, one of Agincourt’s twin aviatixes — is that the plural of “aviatrix”? Spellcheck doesn’t like it — into service as a pilot, delivering medical supplies to those mission hospitals. She was lost in the winter of 1935-1936, however, and never found. It was suspected that she also served as a messenger during those perilous years, which may have got her into deeper trouble than vaccines might have.
Though she was just sixteen years old at the time, Ella Rose accompanied her uncle to China in the fall of 1928, with a strategic stopover in Japan. It was on November 10th that year that Hirohito was enthroned as Japan’s one hundred and twenty-fourth emperor. How close to the ceremony Rev Malcolm and his niece were able to get ins’t known but she did return with the English-language program, that has remained in the family until recently, when it was given to the Community Collection as a memorial to Ms Tabor by her own nieces and nephews.
This would otherwise be a matter of simple curiosity, were it not for the inclusion of a woodcut print of Himeji Castle by ukiyo-e artist Hiroshi Yoshida. Not the only Japanese print in the collection, it is significant additionally for the association with an important cultural event witnessed by several Westerners, but also because Hirohito would take on special significance for Americans thirteen years later on December 7th, 1941.
NOTES TOWARD A PLAY
“Theatre” is certainly not in my blood (though my husband is a semi-retired costumer and I hung around college and community theater as a consequence). But for some unexplained reason, theatre is a frequent theme in the Agincourt story, I think, because it adds another dimension and, especially, because it potentially involves an entirely different cast of characters, some real, some imagined. There is also the architectonic aspect of stage set design, though I have no aspirations in that direction. In the meantime, a former student and friend in the Chicago theatre community has acted as yenta and linked Agincourt (m with possible collaborators.
My first inclination was the unfulfilled story of Dr Reinhold Kölb, Austrian refugee from the 1920s, who came to town to visit his sister Edith Wasserman and stayed. Kölb was a disciple of Freud and Jung and a friend of Jacob Levy Moreno, who himself emigrated to the U.S. shortly thereafter for more obvious reasons: Moreno was Romanian Jew and a target following the Anschluss. [As I continue with this rambling story of theatre in Agincourt, I’ll boldface the names of imagined characters and italicize real persons who’ve been conscripted for the narrative.]
Moreno, after his arrival in New York, developed something in psychiatric practice he called “Drama Therapy” where patients act out and potentially though their psychoses. Kölb maintained a correspondence with Moreno and put his own spin on that innovative therapy, hybridizing it with both puppets (marionettes) and Japanese Noh (about which I know just enough to be dangerous). The idea was to imagine Kölb‘s private mental hospital, “Walden Retreat” at the end of Thoreau Avenue (too obvious, I know) and an example of his technique.
Somehow I had a “Marat/Sade” sort of play-within-the-play in mind, perhaps three acts, maybe just scenes: 1) Dr Kölb interacting with his patients, perhaps welcoming a new resident. The ensuing conversation with begin to outline the various reasons for each character being in therapy; 2) Dr Kölb’s introduction of “drama therapy”, which would be familiar to some and new to others; the beginning of their interaction, both writing the play and crafting the marionettes; and 3) the play-within-the-play itself, during which the characters improve and some may even be “cured”, represented by their puppet disappearing from the stage and the person subtly joining the audience. I thought the illusion might be carried out by carefully introducing a big-screen TV monitor and videotaped activity of the marionettes, so the audience wouldn’t notice the actor’s disappearance.
[As I write this, I’m reminded of a chamber opera by Samuel Barber, “A Hand of Bridge“, with four dysfunctional characters (two couples) playing a hand of bridge, while each reveals their troubling inner monologue to the audience. My love for that opera probably lies behind the Kölb episode.]
I suspect the real reason for the marionette theatre is an unfulfilled desire to design both a stage — probably looking like a lilliputian Radio City Music Hall on acid — and a stage set. These links below are the principle blog entries relating to Kölb in particular and theatre in general.
I probably ought to come back and flesh out each of these links with a summary of what will be found there.
The above entries also introduce at least two other opportunities to create scripts, though I hadn’t thought of carrying each of them that far at the time. One of them is “Night Court”, a purported unfinished play inspired by a painting I bought on eBay. And, similarly, “The Cave of the Heart” would have been a play inspired by another painting, a dance performance by Martha Graham, and music once again by Samuel Barber. I seem to have a Barber thing going.
- “Night Court” was written by E. G. Fromm, a left-wing playwright and political activist during the McCarthy years and the Cold War.
- “The Cave of the Heart” had no particular storyline in mind. It was simply an excuse to incorporate a painting into the narrative.
There was also another character introduced in all of this, Seamus Tierney, director of the community theatre group, but also based on the life of a cantankerous friend of mine James O’Rourke whose life had been devoted to art, rather than theatre.
Either all of this will make sense, build enthusiasm, and attract collaborators, or it won’t.
PS: As if this weren’t enough, I just recalled that back in 2013 the Theatre Arts department at NINS [Northwest Iowa Normal School] celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of Frederick Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo, with, among other things, a production of “Hadrian the Seventh”, a play based on Rolfe’s book of the same title. All of these are real (the person, the novel and the adapted play), by the way.
In just three months, this blog will reach its tenth birthday. Fourteen hundred and ten entries are something to celebrate, I guess, but I don’t know how. Perhaps a fruit cake. I love fruit cake. You can omit the candles.
I noticed that yesterday someone visited the blog and scored 143 pages visits; that’s not the record, but it’s the biggest number in a long time. Question is, who the hell was that? I’ve been living under the delusion that no one reads this thing but me. Now that it is officially out of control — as in, the WordPress search engine is crap; even they admit that — and it’s far, far too late to think about a comprehensive index, though one purports to be in progress.
This did remind me of a 60s movie, “A Majority of One“, which I recall seeing when I was an undergraduate in a practically empty theater in Norman, Oklahoma. If I constitute such a majority, so be it.
I guess that makes this entry #1,411.
Though last semester’s seminar was less than successful, the notion of an Agincourt board game continues to intrigue me.
Other than playing Monopoly for the majority of my pre-teen years, and a few other board games after that, the first game that came to mind as a “model” for ATBG (Agincourt, the Board Game) was an ancient Egyptian game called Senet. Examples have survived in tombs — the recently deceased would need entertainment in the afterlife — but, of course, any Egyptian would already have known how to play, so there was no need to pack a set of rules for the journey. Consequently, the way to play Senet is conjecture. That was the first “model” for ATBG: a prototype design with all the playing pieces, tokens, play money, cards in the spirit of “Community Chest”, etc. Except that the game was never manufactured. Never put into production and its inventor took any unwritten information about the game — thoughts of rules and procedure, even the game’s ultimate objective, hopefully not “winning” — to the grave. To play the game, then, is necessarily to play with the game. To intuit the whole from its parts.
Since I had become fascinated with woodworking, making sets of “William Halsey Wood Blox”, etc for friends, my first sketches concerned the board itself: a grid as basis for designing a town not unlike Agincourt. Game pieces would include city blocks with variations in the “texture” of lot lines and patterns (commercial versus residential, for example, or interrupted by river or railroad), an objective being the ability to “own” blocks and place them as the beginning of real estate developments, not all of which would be in sympathy with one another. Part of the “action” might involve negotiation, the trading of block for cash or other property. Perhaps even bankruptcy or hostile take-over. I recently came across “The fields of Arle” at the website of Board Game Geek.
Now here’s a game to find in someone’s tomb, intact but minus its rules and procedures. I cannot imagine they’d constitute anything less than a small library, cross-referenced and footnoted and interleaved with fold-out flow charts and diagrams — certification from your community college optional but recommended.
Don’t you want to meet Board Game Geek some time — soon.
|AUG -/26/28||–/W/F||Introduction: Who we are. What we’ll (try to) do. How and why we’ll do it. // Negotiating a Project|
|AUG 31/ SEP 02/04||M/W/F||Town Formation in the 19th Century: NW Ordinance of 1787; Courthouse squares; Plains Country Towns (Hudson)|
|SEP -/09/11||–/W/F||Architectural Styles and Building Technologies of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries: What Style Is It? Style is more than fashion.|
|SEP 14/16/18||M/W/F||Infrastructure: H2O and other municipal services; government|
|SEP 21/23/25||M/W/F||Institutions/Initiatives/Innovations: War and its consequences; Prohibition; Public health; Social change; Historic Preservation // Housing Stock: More diverse than you might imagine|
|SEP 28/30/ OCT 02||M/W/F||Some Buildings and Their Stories: Syndicate Mill; St Ahab’s/Christ the King; St Joseph-the-Carpenter; Asbury UMC; Fennimore County Courthouse; NITC; Aidan and Cordelia Archer; etc.|
|OCT 05/07/09||M/W/F||Narrative & Design: Strategies for story-telling as an aspect of place-making; other opportunities for design. [I’ve shown you mine. Now show me yours.] // Community as Genealogy: Families|
|OCT 12/14/16||M/W/F||Preliminary Presentation: Your selection and background work toward individual projects, 15@30minutes (perhaps grouped by type, period, or place)|
|MID-TERM ASSESSMENT: Is this working? If not, why not? If so, how so?|
|NOV 30/ DEC 02/04||M/W/F|
|DEC 07/09/11||M/W/F||FINAL PRESENTATIONS|