next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
— e. e. cummings
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
Edmund FitzGerald Flynn, Agincourt’s half-term mayor
When Ed Flynn announced his candidacy for mayor of Agincourt in late summer 1894, the country was deep in the Panic of the year before, a depression born of too much silver and too few markets for American crops. Urban unemployment was growing but the situation in rural areas (where unemployment figures are unreliable) was just as dire. Ed’s campaign took a protectionist spin, claiming his business acumen could reverse these trends and regain Agincourt’s greatness — though as a relatively recent arrival he would have known little about us. Ed must have found the Cliff’s Notes of Agincourt History, dropping a few strategic names into the conversation and thereby gaining the trust of the business community’s Whiggish element.
Flynn’s opponent was incumbent mayor Gordon Thursby, whose “day job” managing the Home Loan Association connected him with banking and insurance, contractors and material suppliers. Thursby’s wife Nadine taught school at Charles Darwin Elementary and the family attended Asbury Methodist Episcopal church. Gordon’s bases were covered.
Flynn’s arrival less that a year before ought to have disadvantaged his quest for public service, but he was a Mason, attended St Joe’s, and took rooms at the Hazzard House, where he and his young wife Amity Burroughs Flynn entertained in high style. Cassius Miller had to import expensive Nicaraguan cigars (which Ed passed around like business cards) and his tab at the Hazzard’s Tap Room seemed endless. Rumor hinted that a monthly check kept his account full.
But it was the realm of ideas that differentiated them, not so much wheat from chaff as fat from lean. Thursby saw first hand the stress and outright suffering that economic panics can bring on: choices between delinquent payments or missed meals; school tuition or a second job. He proposed belt-tightening strategies, fiscal responsibility. At Asbury, Pastor Quinn impressed on him the Social Gospel of Gladden and Rauschenbusch.
Flynn, on the other hand, appealed to the protectionists in the community by preaching a trickle-down economics of sorts: we’ll all benefit, he claimed, when those nearer the top of the food chain have been fed. Ed’s schemes were painted with a wide brush (in the hand of another), leaving the details, the actual implementation to Leona Helmsley’s “little people.”
The Saturday before Election Day, Flynn held a rally out at Gnostic Grove, an affair “for the whole family” with fried chicken, potato salad, and “pink wobbly jellies that seem to excite all the men” (a line, I think, from Beatrice Lillie). “If Ed Flynn is evidence for the efficacy of his policies,” his guests reasoned, “then he’s got my vote!” Because it worked: Thursby’s belt-tightening versus Flynn’s dreamscape was no contest: Edmund FitzGerald Flynn became Agincourt’s thirteenth mayor by a margin of forty-two votes.
POSTSCRIPT: Mayor Flynn’s administration began to unravel within six months of the election, about the time his “remittence” checks arrived from the East with less regularity. Then one evening as he held forth at the monthly meeting of the Commercial Club — among his most fervent supporters — the good mayor rose to offer a toast, clutched his chest and died, face forward in a plate of sauerbraten.
During the winter of 1895-1896, Agincourt reached a benchmark in its maturing culture: The Auditorium was dedicated with considerable celebration and an opening season the envy of Des Moines or Omaha. Knowing the range of entertainment that winter would help us understand a time when even middling communities achieved near cosmopolitan status. In my view, the world has become far too provincial.
The Auditorium — an obvious reference to Chicago which had dedicated its own Auditorium just five years earlier — was a substantial masonry pile with income-generating office and retail space in addition to its 650+ velvet-upholstered seats. Two-hundred-and-forty linear feet of storefront faced east toward the Hazzard House hotel (a happy coincidence, as you’ll see later) and north onto The Square. A rudimentary lobby brought concertgoers to a second floor lounge and promenade, and from there into the main seating area. A small balcony and auxiliary lobbies occupied most of the third floor.
Like many theaters, congestion only became an exiting issue: people arrive in twos and fours, early, on-time, and late. But they exit as a herd. So almost immediately management looked for an economical solution requiring minimal demolition to get people out more efficiently. The solution came when the Hazzard House burned — the last of several fires that justified the hotel’s name — and plans were drawn for an elegant new hostelry, The Blenheim, built in 1899-1900.
I suspect there may have been a few of the Auditorium’s shareholders who incorporated the Blenheim, because a pedestrian bridge was part of the original construction. This new link between the second-floor lounge and the hotel gave patrons access to food and drink during intermission and late-night dining after the concert.
Like the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, the original 140-by-150-foot site left little room for constructing and storing stage sets and props, for building costumes, and administrative space. A brick stable/warehouse across the alley was remodeled for those utilities. Then someone realized that its roof was at the same level as the promenade. Another short bridge gave access to a roof-top café that became a popular luncheon destination during the summer. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What entertainments attracted audiences in the fall and winter of 1895?
Vigil, coming from the Latin word for “awake”, has a positive connotation in the context of religion:
Exodus 12:42 (New International Version)
42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.
Other versions translate vigil with less directness but it and some of its derivatives have been on my mind. Words like vigilance, vigilante and vigilantism. These are times for vigilance — being awake while others sleep — when sleight of hand (or mouth) may divert attention from the man behind the green curtain. But there are also negative connotations of the word.
“impressive sleight of hand”
4.“this is financial sleight of hand of the worst sort” [synonyms: deception, deceit, dissimulation, chicanery, trickery]
In writing (as I often do) about Crispin Creek and Gnostic Grove, it occurred to me that, among the many events associated with that special place, it may have witnessed vigilantism of some sort: self-appointed enforcement of the law, without authorization.
Agincourt has been a place to explore the differences between syzygystic pairs — words like justice and the law — that seem closely related, if not actually interchangeable. Etymologically, they aren’t, however, and indeed their divergence is far greater than any perceived similarity. A few of Agincourt’s citizenry, Sheriff Joe Pyne, for example have leaned in the direction of justice when the choice presented itself.
The eponymous “V” got his name from perverted science as the fifth in a series of medical experiments; he is tattooed with “V” as the Roman numeral, though vigilance and vendetta are implied. The film has been on cable more than usual, it seems, driven perhaps by the tenor of these times. Surely in its 160-year history (the history of record), there have been acts of vigilantism at both ends of the spectrum of morality.
From its spring-fed source near Grou, Crispin Creek flows west by south-west toward its junction with the Mighty Muskrat. Near the southeast corner of the original townsite — where it is crossed by the road from Nimby¹ southeast of the city — the creek makes a gentle curve to the right, an arc of quiet slow-moving water near what archaeologists have told us was a camping ground of the Sac and Fox people, high enough above the Spring thaw flood water.
Beyond this point (behind the photographer in this view) the creek curves in the opposite direction before being crossed by South Broad Street and then straightway to the Muskrat. Just along the southern edge of the city alone, there are several not entirely complementary things: 1) the back lawn of what was once Walden Retreat, a private psychiatric hospital, 2) Gnostic Grove, the Sac and Fox campground which has seen subsequent human activity from vice to virtue, 3) the grain elevator built to serve the Milwaukee Road, and 4) the broad swath of flood plain that has been a community garden since the WPA.
The left (or south) bank remained agricultural until the acreage west of Broad became the Country Club. Otherwise, the creek was an effective barrier to the city’s southward growth, as the Muskrat was to the west. But it is the sunny patch called Gnostic Grove that engages my imagination again and again as the site of so many rituals, both civic and personal, public and private, from the community’s pre-history to the present. I invite you to search the archive for “Gnostic Grove” and in particular for “Harold Holt” or Hall as he was best known. Hal and his family have been the keepers of Agincourt history for multiple generations and his ashes are scattered among the council ring of stones that are the centerpiece of the grove.
¹The village of Nimby in the southeast part of the county presents its own story, a not always happy place that seems in perpetual shadow.
By 1910, about the date of this postcard, the Chautauqua pavilion at the Fennimore county fairgrounds had been established for twenty-five or thirty years and the festival it represented had become a summer staple. The Agincourt Street Railway Co. extended a spur line to the fair grounds in 1909-1910 for easier access. Attendance on a still Sunday afternoon might have looked like the crowd shown at Winfield, Kansas.
The after-church Sunday dinner had been shared by the family, the newspaper read, callers received and offered refreshments. By three or four in the afternoon, still dressed in their best, the family walked a block to the trolley stop. The waived at friends enjoying the afternoon on their screened porches and waited for the car, due at ten after and twenty to the hour. On the crowded car, men stood to offer their seats to women and young children; the windows were open to enjoy the little breeze there was. Conversations varied: business, crops, sport, a newborn or a death in the family, visitors from out of town.
Depending where you lived in town, the trip might take five minutes or twenty-five, but it cost just a nickel; children rode free on Sunday. When the car turned left at the Normal College and approached the trestle over the Muskrat, hats were adjusted and the car glided to a stop at the NITC transit shelter, where a sandwich board announced the afternoon and evening programs.
Just how many years did this pleasant ritual endure into the 20th century? The Great War registered as just a blip, but the Depression was another matter. Howard needs to find someone to write that history before its ethos is forgotten.
Musings on the tonsorial arts — sorry for using that word, musing; I try not to muse any more than absolutely necessary — in Agincourt have appeared here before. Not having reviewed them for content, I’ll say no more here except that this wonderful image has recently shown up on the auction site that shall not be named but the bidding is far too dear for a lowly college professor. The best I can do is “borrow” the image and allow it to stimulate the imagination.
In the meantime, tell me what it does for yours.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
Walter G. Cleveland (born 1940?)
“Fish on a Plate”
color etching on paper / 7.75 inches by 9.75 inches (plate size)
“Blueberries on a Plate”
color etching on paper / 7 inches by 7.75 inches (plate size)
During the 1960s the Ferdinand Roten Galleries of Baltimore, Maryland, made the rounds of college campuses selling original art. Today student Unions are visited by purveyors of cheap posters strewn on folding tables to decorate dorm room walls. Roten’s works, by contrast, were commissioned from living artists, from whom they purchased the entire edition — often a hundred prints or more. Sold at rock bottom prices, even for the 60s, the prints were presented well and were often the beginning of a personal collection. These two prints by American artist Walter Cleveland were acquired that way.
Roten’s sales staff consisted of graduate students who drove an art-filled van across America, announcing by poster the day before their arrival. For four hours, morning or afternoon, a wide range of artistic styles could be acquired for as little as $5 or $10. They probably arrived in Agincourt from Drake University in Des Moines and pushed on the Morningside College in Sioux City. These are two of their prints left behind that formed the basis for a small collection that has been donated anonymously to the Community Collection over the years. One was acquired from Roten circa 1965, the other from an unknown later source.
Of Walter Cleveland himself, there is not much to say. One on-line source (though hardly authoritative) say this:
Walter Cleveland, “Orchids” US. Born 1940
Education: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Orange Coast College; Pasadena City College. Exhibitions: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 1960, 1961; Los Angeles County Art Museum, 1962 ; California State Fair 2 years; Small Images II at California State LA 1967. Purchased by the US Info Agency for Overseas Embassies; Ithaca College Art Museum.
Biographical Information: Born in Santa Barbara and raised in a rural atmosphere where his appreciation for nature was fostered. He enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he first studied print-making with Morris Blackburn. At Pasadena City College he studied under Shiro Ikegawa and Ben Sakoguchi.