Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

I want


“I want what I want when I want it.”—Eric Cantor, in his high school yearbook

To want is not an evil thing. But wanting can seem less than admirable when it comes from the mouth of Rep. Eric Cantor (R—VA). I want many things, but none of them will come, I hope, at the expense of anyone else. Adding something to my list shouldn’t remove it from yours, nor diminish your chance of achieving it as well. Let me know when it does.

“A few figs from thistles…”

Howard A. Tabor


Northeast of Agincourt, just over half way to Grou on the county road, you’ll pass the old Brinkman Township schoolhouse. The school closed about 1920 and mouldered until the early-50s when someone bought and converted the one-room school-teacherage into a home, then named it “Tottering-on-the-Brink.”

We hear a lot about the Founding Fathers these days—what they intended for a pre-industrial society that Tom Jefferson believed would never exceed three million people! A rare example of shortsightedness on Jefferson’s part. One thing is certain: the FFs meant us to be an educated people.

“Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good governance and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”—from the U.S. Land Ordinance of 1785

Unlike our British cousins, publicly-supported elementary education was built into America’s westward expansion. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the system of range and section lines that define ninety percent of U.S. geography. Townships consist of thirty-six sections (numbered in boustrophedon fashion from the upper right corner back and forth across its six-mile square) and section #16 was dedicated to public education; no child would be more than three or four miles from a school. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 extended this into the country’s newly acquired territory, and the Louisiana Purchase took the principle into the trans-Mississippi West.

My great-aunt Margaret taught at Brinkman until the time of its closure, so it was with no little interest that I heard about the old school’s rebirth. Hal Holt told me about it—he introduced me to many ideas, including coffee—and arranged an afternoon of conversation with the school’s new owner.


Aptly named, it turned out.

I had only heard about Mr Kane. Few people saw him, except for his regular visits to the library, the post office and Perin’s Grocery. He wasn’t reclusive, just pre-occupied with project’s that thrive in solitude. Hal and I drove out one Saturday afternoon in the early 70s, when Kane had been in the converted Brinkman school about ten years. The former teacher’s quarters (kitchen, bed-sitting room and bath) displayed a spartan clutter: I imagined locating anything as a minor archaeological dig. The single school room, however—about twenty-five by forty feet—used every foot of shelving and begged again as much. Books were two deep in places and stalagmites of reading matter obstructed every likely path across the softly worn floor. A hasty survey suggested an intensely personal ordering system, perhaps with a mind to match.

Hal and I were invited to sit around an oak dining table, but one I suspected it had not seen a formal meal in at least a decade. Kane introduced himself as an historian of indeterminate stripe but with a hankering for material culture. Buildings generally seemed to interest him, but I learned about specific projects later in our acquaintance. I recall our first conversation—it was forty years ago—as a broad ramble about out-of-bounds creativity; eccentric Americans and worse whose modus operandi had been an exception to the rule. Abel Kane admired the artistic independence, for example, of American composer Charles Ives (who became an insurance executive so that his music could avoid the taint of Mammon); Ives’ “Concord Sonata” was thought to be unplayable at that time, until pianist John Kirkpatrick tackled the score. Like Ives, Kane was also steeped in the New England Transcedentalists, perhaps, I thought, a reason for his appearance at Agincourt, “the transcendental town.”

Abel Kane also spoke of Carl Ruggles, another American composer and contemporary of Ives, who composed on the floor of his own studio in Maine, drawing in crayon on huge sheets of butcher paper, the brightly colored notes allowing Ruggles to see the sounds in his mind’s ear. Kane evidenced a similar wholistic view, with notecards, sketches, photographs, diagrams, transcripts, and multiply-flagged books in a semicircle around the brocade cushion where he sat. Popular culture wasn’t talking about left brain versus right brain then, but we were all using our right sides that afternoon.

Throughout the next three decades, I was a regular at Tottering-on-the-Brink. Whether Saturday evenings on the porch Kane built along the west side for sunset watching or Sunday afternoons at an impromptu potluck buffet on that big round table, conversations ranged farther, wider and deeper than was my custom. I often felt along for the ride, but exciting, irreverent, unguarded rides they were. I learned much from Abel Kane, yet knew practically nothing about him. Until last month, that is, when I became executor of his estate. Only then did I learn what he wanted.

There’s more to this story….


  1. […] with Evangeline Fromm [1906-1959], whose last years were spent here, living with her son the late Abel Kane at the old Brinkman Township […]

  2. […] #16 Abel Kane deserved a second entry. Every town has its infidels and its infidelities. Abel Kane was both. […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.