Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Agincourt goes on-line!

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.

 

[#1504]

C.M.St.P.&P.

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.

YOSHIDA Hiroshi (1876–1950)

[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

1928

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.

“Uncle Malcolm”

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

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.

The Play’s the Thing

Mächen on Stage

Drama Therapy 1.something

Agincourt Redux…again

“Your talent is in your choice” — Stella Adler

Night Court

Frederick Judd Waugh

Art and Therapy

The Alienist

One of a Kind

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.

[#1,412]

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.

1,410 and counting


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.

 

Agincourt, the board game 1.1

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.

ARCH 771, Fall 2020 1.2

PRELIMINARY SCHEDULE

AUG 26/28 –/W/F Introduction: Who we are. What we’ll (try to) do. Why and how we’ll do it.
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 CenturiesWhat 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?
OCT 19/21/23 M/W/F
OCT 26/28/30 M/W/F
NOV 02/04/06 M/W/F
NOV 09/13 M/–/F
NOV 16/18/20 M/W/F
NOV 23 M/–/–
NOV 30/ DEC 02/04 M/W/F
DEC 07/09/11 M/W/F FINAL PRESENTATIONS

Sweet Tooth

Burt’s, the Duchess Chocolate Shop, Main Street, Warren, OH / circa 1910

For those unfamiliar with Sanborn fire insurance maps, they are a source of considerable and varied information, facts that would be valuable for someone underwriting a fire insurance policy. Lumber yards are obvious; hardware stores somewhat less so, though they often store combustibles like turpentine and oil-based paints, or flame-driven ovens for baking. Even less obvious are candy manufacturing facilities, cauldrons of molten sugar kept boiling 24/7 and often unattended.

In the 19th century, a substantial portion of confections were produced locally. Large manufacturers (like Hershey or Mars today) had begun to form, but even some of their products were produced at secondary facilities. A town like Agincourt — with a late-19th century population under 10,000 — would certainly have had a candy shop with its busy back kitchen. Sadly, the Duchess Chocolate Shop in Warren, Ohio (pictured above) is not that place.

Few institutions embody the essence of early 20th century small-town American life like the corner malt shop, offering a mirrored, tile-floored, wood-paneled intimacy where sweets of all sorts were proffered to all ages. Van Kannel’s Sanitary Drug at Broad and James had a lunch counter with a fuller menu than Burt’s is likely to have enjoyed. So I suspect there’s room in the story for a specialty store such as this — perhaps even a void long needing to be filled — purveying locally made candy.

Citizenship

“There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own. They are the lordly ones. They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They can be young or old, men or women, soldiers or pacifists, rich or poor. They can be patriots, but they are never chauvinists. They share with each other, across all the nations, common values of humour and understanding. When you are among them you know you will not be mocked or resented, because they will not care about your race, your faith, your sex or your nationality, and they suffer fools if not gladly, at least sympathetically. They laugh easily. They are easily grateful. They are never mean. They are not inhibited by fashion, public opinion or political correctness. They are exiles in their own communities, because they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation, if they only knew it. It is the nation of nowhere, and I have come to think that its natural capital is Trieste.”
Jan Morris, Trieste and The Meaning of Nowhere

A few months ago I had the silly notion to award a certificate of honorary citizenship to friends who have contributed to this project well beyond the normal course of events; who have naïvely strayed and stayed with enthusiasm, and who continue to believe there is purpose in its continuation. Writing the text for such a formal certificate is not as easy as it might seem — all those “whereas” paragraphs preceding a pompous “therefore”.

For the majority of Agincourt’s existence I’ve tried to make it hyperreal, more real than real; a product of the imagination, rather than of fantasy. But it is a mistake to think that Agincourt is Everytown. It may evidence the places of your youth, nostalgic references to playing kick-the-can or sledding dangerously behind autos driving slowly down your street, but on more careful examination it may have more to do with the Trieste conjured by Jan Morris.

So as I pursue sources for language that is stately without being stilted, feel free to offer your own suggestions for its text. In the meantime, I’m happy to report that Ms Morris is still with us, at age 93. Perhaps she can help.