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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Brigg Fair

As a visual person, it’s odd to think how significant the other four senses can be. I heard something on the radio this morning that reminded me.

Brigg Fair

By all accounts, Frederick Delius was a nasty man. But that didn’t stop him from writing some evocative music. For some myterious reason I associate his instrumental composition “Brigg Fair” with the death of my grandmother Clara Markiewicz, the woman who—for better and for worse—stepped in when my mother packed a suitcase of lengerie and loose cash and was never seen again. When grandma died I somehow became imprinted with the Delius composition. Now, whenever I hear it, a tsunami of grief washes over me. If you’ve never heard it, please do.

Delius based “Brigg Fair” on an English folk melody whose text I append below:

“It was on the fifth of August

The weather fair and mild

Unto Brigg Fair I did repair

For love I was inclined.

“I got up with the lark in the morning

And my heart was full of glee

Expecting there to meet my dear

Long time I’d wished to see.

“I looked over my left shoulder

To see what I might see

And there I spied my own true love

Come a-tripping down to me.

“I took hold of her lily white hand

And merrily sang my heart

For now we are together

We never more shall part.

“For the green leaves, they will wither

And the roots, they shall decay

Before I prove false to her

The lass that loves me well.”

Ten Year Plan

There will come a time in your life—if it hasn’t already—that you’ll own a suit worn almost exclusively at funerals. I have one. 

The last time I put it on, there were two programs in the inside pocket—one folded within the other—from the last two funerals I had attended. Jim O’Rourke’s memorial service a few weeks ago has only piled more frosting on an overly rich cake. Too much of that diet will put me in an early grave.

“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax…'” and of all that is unfinished in my life. I have decided to create a ten-year plan, which, of course, assumes ten more years of life.


Two long, very long, bus rides during the last week afforded some time to ruminate (not always a good thing, in my case) and I’ve identified some goals from the experience. The completion of several long-standing projects has become very important, a bucket list that I must fit beside the normal job of teaching:

  • The North Dakota volume in The Buildings of the United States series is the most pressing task. Steve Martens and I (though mostly Steve) have much work already done from an earlier contract with the Society of Architectural Historians—when corporate funding was more forthcoming. Our new contract anticipates a publication date in early 2013, with several stages of production (field research, writing, editing, maps, etc) at regular intervals until then.

Four other long-term research projects must also be completed for personal reasons; there are intensely interesting to me (perhaps to me alone) and the research files will make little sense to anyone else when I am gone.

  • Tangent Lives is the working title of a manuscript drawn from the history of Episcopal church architecture in Dakota Territory. I’ve been investigating this series of buildings since March 1973 (I know, thirty-eight years may qualify as obsessive-compulsive behavior) and the time has long since come to tie up the loose ends and tell the story.
  • Building the Social Gospel—the flip side of Tangent Lives, because it treats Methodists, rather than Episcopalians—has been shorter by twenty years, but it also cries out for completion. Here, too, I wonder if my files will make any sense to others. Luckily, Nick Lippert has become my Research Assistant and his energy and organizational skills are going to make all the difference.
  • Then there is “The Agincourt Project,” that most intense of my creative efforts. I had hoped to stage a second Agincourt exhibit this October, but the revival of the North Dakota guidebook has pushed that at least a year away.
  • And how can I forget William Halsey Wood, most recent of my many projects. What should become of it?

So much for the academic side of life. The other loose ends are legion and require at least as much attention: my failing health, deteriorating properties and years of fiscal irresponsibility. So in the next week, look for a schedule that will take me to 2020.

As ever, your advice and criticisms are welcome.

I’m just sayin’

This Thursday (April 14th) if you happen to be in Chicago, consider Glenn Back’s appearance at the Chicago Theatre. Tickets are still available at a variety of prices, from $33 to $170. How do I know he’ll be there? I just walked by the theater marquis Saturday afternoon and saw Beck’s name in 18-inch letters. Much as I hate to admit it, Beck and I are both performers, so there’s part of me that would like to watch him in action.


I almost didn’t make it to Chicago for the third-year architecture field trip.

Last Thursday morning I went to the bank to make a regular payment and decided to stop on the way out to check the available balance on my debit card–oh so foolishly leaving my card behind in the ATM. Of course I didn’t realize this until about 6:30 that evening, when it was far too late to retrieve the card and there was no possibility of replacement. That card was the only way I could have financed the trip. Luckily, I had just received my new passport in Thursday’s mail. So as soon as I got to Chicago, I found a U.S. Bank branch near our hotel and got a cash advance to carry me through the weekend. Here’s the irony: I was enabled to learn about Glenn Beck’s performance only because I had an I.D. (my new passport) obtained through presentation of a birth certificate.

Two weeks earlier I had filed my application for a new passport at the Fargo post office: a simple two-page form and a copy of my birth certificate. That certified document had been ordered one week earlier from an on-line provider. Because we’re taking a group of students to Brazil and Argentina at the end of May, the new passport was necessary a.s.a.p. for visa applications.

The state departments of three nations are each willing to accept a certified statement of my birth (i.e., birth certificate) in Cook County, Illinois, sixty-six years ago—without seeing the original document—in order 1) to issue a new passport acceptable for international travel (and convenient for domestic flights) and 2) to apply for that Brazilian visa. If there is a weak link in this chain of events, it has to be the certified statement of birth. The U.S.A., Brazil and Argentina accept this as confirmation of my nativity and citizenship, yet Birthers presumably will not. Good thing (for several reasons) I’m not running for public office. [Hold your applause on that news.] But why is this insufficient documentation for a large percentage of the Republican Party?

It’s a good bet there will be more than a busload of Birthers in the Beck audience Thursday night. But much as I might like to observe his performance, there is also NO way I’d contribute 33 cents to the Beck coffers, let alone real dollars. And much as it may put my grundies in a bundle, I know that a carpool of those wingnuts will drive over from Agincourt.

I’m just sayin’.

The Great War

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

The Great War

Perry McKenna, parish administrator at Christ the King parish, called Tuesday to talk about the special relationship that has existed between this community and our French sister city. I learned from him that the first Iowan to visit Azincourt, France, may have been Michael Schütz. Schütz enlisted in the American Expeditionary Force when we entered the First World War in 1917 and fought in the Argonne campaign.

As a third-generation member of the family that founded Saint Ahab, our first Roman Catholic parish, it was appropriate that he should be our ambassador to the only other church bearing that name. In a recent column, I wondered how the dialogue between the two congregations had begun; how it was that we exchanged gifts and forged a new friendship in the 1920s. McKenna shared with me the surviving correspondence between the two priests, Fathers Farber and Cornot (who never actually met, by the way); letters where Michael Schütz is mentioned specifically as the link between them. Ironic that they corresponded in German, the only language they shared (besides Latin). Thanks, Perry, for this insight.

There have been so many Schützes hereabouts that we were uncertain whether Michael had returned from the war dead or alive. American casualties were high, but hardly compared to French, German and English losses. So I skipped lunch and walked over to The Square for a survey of our war memorials—hoping not to find Michael’s name among them.

The Square

Iowans may have sacrificed their fair share for conflicts around the world. But there have been so many of those conflicts since 1857 and so many casualties that The Square is crammed, jammed and layered with a dizzying array of memorials. Of the last 104 years, I was surprised to learn how many of them we’ve spent at War (or something very much like it). It’s astounding.

  • American Civil War (1861-1865)
  • Spanish-American (1898)
  • World War I (1917-1918)
  • World War II (1941-1945)
  • Korea (1950-1953)
  • Vietnam (1960-1975)
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961)
  • Grenada (1983)
  • Panama Invasion (1989)
  • Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)
  • Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995-1996)
  • Invasion of Afghanistan (2001+)
  • Invasion of Iraq (2003+)
  • Intervention in Libya (2011)

It’s hardly a compelling reason to avoid war—there are so many better ones—but frankly we’re running out of room to memorialize the dead.

WWI was “The Great War,” “The war to end war,” “The war they wrote songs about.” How might Michael Schütz have felt, enlisting in a war that everyone hoped would be the last armed conflict society must endure. What shining optimism on the troop ship leaving New York harbor; what satisfaction for the survivors coming home. And what bitter disappointment that their hopes remain unfulfilled.

Michael Schütz did come home. He married, fathered five children and died in 1969.

Sister Cities

There are a handful of cities named Agincourt, but we’re concerned with two—only two. One, in northern France, was the site of a pivotal battle between the English and the French in the Hundred Years War. The other, in northern Iowa, has enjoyed a more placid history since its founding in 1857. It shouldn’t surprise us that they became sister cities in 1907, children of different parents choosing to be family. About twenty years later, another link was forged between them: an exchange between the only two churches dedicated to the obscure 4th century saint named Ahab.

Nineteen twenty-five was a happy year in Azincourt, France (they spell it a bit differently than their English victors did). The First World War was safely behind them; the 1920s lay brightly ahead; and the tiny farming community prepared to celebrate its 750th anniversary. I doubt the French nation took much notice; we did. Who initiated the conversation is unrecorded—whether our Fr Emile Farber or his French counterpart Fr Gaston Cornot—but the two churches named Ahab began to share pleasantries as an overture to the exchange of gifts. 

The Fennimore County Fair that year exhibited the collective, collaborative creativity of several Iowa farm ladies who crafted a quilt: the trapunto telling of our scrawny seventy-plus years, compared to ten times that amount of French history. Carefully packed, packaged and shipped to arrive in France on October 25th—anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt—on that day we received in return an exquisite reproduction of the mediæval icon of Saint Ahab and a painting of the church interior where its inspiration hangs. Both can be seen today in Saint Ahab’s chapel, specially designed in 1950 to preserve the saint’s name in the new church of Christ the King.


Eglise St Ahab, Azincourt, France (built 1840; restored 1920)

Something tells me I should ask Howard to rummage in the Plantagenet archives and see how these events were recorded when they were fresh.


How will it be, this end of which you have spoken, Brother Enim?

Fennimore county’s river, the Mighty Muskrat, is usually well behaved. In our earliest days, fishing and hunting along its banks provided a welcome source of protein and variety for the frontier diet. Later its waters were a cool retreat during the summer doldrums and a pleasant recreation place much closer and more convenient than the lakes beyond Fahnstock. Even in winter its snakey course became a skating rink and race course for horse-drawn sleighs.

Then there are those maverick times when the Muskrat is downright unneighborly.


Howard has written about our kindly encounters with a gentle Muskrat. But as the spring thaw feeds its ego, I suspect he’ll have something to say about the downside of living by a river.