The vast majority of the public record is written by “them”; surely not by us. I have yet to set foot in the scriptorium–knowingly, that is–nor have I met even one of the scribes who labor there by candlelight. It may be a mistake to think this way (that I live my life, while others record it), so let me reconsider. In one small way, however, I have played in that sandbox, if only briefly and with more enthusiasm than skill: I have written nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.
The National Register is a growing public record of who we are as a nation, seen through remnants of our built environment; representative sites and structures that evidence broad themes of American history.
It may be a place where George Washington slept, the scene of a Civil War battle, or the site of our first controlled nuclear reaction (though Washington must have been a narcoleptic to have slept in all the places that claim he bedded down there). Nominations may also propose a type that is either unique in our experience or so endemic that everyone will have seen at least one at some point in our lives: New England meetinghouses, one-room schoolhouses, railroad roundhouses, and Reno whorehouses come to mind.
I have written nominations to the Register, though not recently nor very well. It’s embarrassing to admit, in fact, that I botched a chance three years ago to make a major contribution to the history of architecture in North Dakota, so at 65 years and counting, I’d better get my ass in gear to make amends; the clock is ticking. But that’s a blog for another day. In the meantime, I’ve had an idea.
We have imagined buildings in Agincourt; we’ve imagined the lives of people who designed, built, owned, used and blew them up. Now I’m going to nominate one of them to the National Register of Historic Places–not really–and in the process, merge these two streams of thought: material culture and historical narrative. Three years ago, Howard Tabor threatened to prepare a nomination for Christ the King Catholic Church (I still think that’s a good Idea) but in the next couple weeks I’ll try my hand at nominating a meeting place built in the pit of the Great Depression by Agincourt’s “freethinkers” (read as a euphemism for atheists, heretics and blasphemers, some of my favorite people).
Several blogs ago, I suggested that the community’s irreligionists had built a meeting place on a 25-foot square of land along Carousel Alley behind Hradek’s Shoe Repair. Specific enough for you? The trick is that they adapted a surplus railroad water tower mistakenly delivered by the Milwaukee Road and named it after Robert Ingersoll, America’s foremost 19th century atheist.
Imagine the Pantheon as a rain barrel. Kinky.