Amity Burroughs Flynn, widow of Agincourt mayor Edmund Fitzgerald Flynn, held sway over what passed as the Arts in our community for nearly thirty years. She and her husband had come here from the East—Boston, most likely—though they were an odd and unlikely pair. Let Howard tell us a bit more about them, especially hizzoner Mayor Flynn.
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
In a corner of The Shades, our Protestant and non-sectarian burial ground, surrounded by forsythia his widow herself had planted, Edmund Fitzgerald Flynn entered his final rest in 1896. You don’t have to ask which grave is his: the Flynns built Agincourt’s first and, to date, only mausoleum, a surprisingly tasteful pile of neo-classical marble, with a pair of Fs back to back above its single Ionic column. Most of us will enjoy eternity safely ensconced below ground, while the Flynns are shelved a few feet above the earth, as detached from it in death as they may have been in life.
Ed had come to town in the very early 90s with swagger and cash, a self-styled “capitalist” in the city directory for 1892, in fact the only listing in that category. Before income tax, long before labor, anti-trust and other government regulations cramped the style of America’s robber barons, Ed Flynn might have claimed the political talking point du jour of “job creator” as his own and only role in the community.
The Flynns took rooms at The Blenheim, an East Coast affectation that raised a few eyebrows hereabouts. Hotels hinted at transience, while homeownership had begun to connote more trustworthy long term Midwestern values. But the Blenheim was our foremost hostelry and residence there afforded its permanent guests a civic presence and entertainment opportunity literally larger than life—used to great advantage by Ed and Amity, who sailed about town like Cleopatra’s barge.
The barge analogy becomes even more appropriate, since its oars were not their own. Flynn’s stock in trade was the “Big Think,” lofty thoughts expectant that others would carry out his schemes and intuit their details. Indeed, Flynn had money because, like many of the rich, he kept his cash close at hand. His greatest skill, in fact, may have been the essence of diplomacy: the art of letting other people have your way, for Flynn’s schemes were largely underwrittten by others. And in the meantime, those schemes swept him into politics and a successful run as mayor of our city council—all of this in the wake of economic panic in 1893 that hadn’t quite washed upon our shores.
Flynn played havoc with local government, talking the business model but playing the role of autocrat. The essence of his term as mayor inspired the image of bloated haughtiness Karl Wasserman captured in the WPA mural circling the city council chamber; on your way out, look at the pair just left of the entry vestibule and I suspect Ed and Amity are looking back at you. They exude an air of Manifest Destiny.
Mayor Flynn built himself a House of Carte Blanche which collapsed shortly before his death. Bank draughts from Boston came with less regularity and we found that Ed was, indeed, a “remittance man,” one of those 19th century ne’er-do-wells whose abilities (or lack thereof) had banished them as far from home as the dollar would stretch; the monthly checks flowed as long as they stayed away. Despite his Boston Brahmin accent, the family’s money had come from brewing rather than inheritance, and the Panic of 1893 slowed his cash flow to a drip feed. So, with civic schemes aplenty and little to back them up, hizzonner slumped one day at his personal trough of narcissism (the monthly dinner of the Commercial Club, of which he’d become president) and he was dead within the hour.
Amity Burroughs Flynn, wife, now widow, comported herself with characteristic grace and more than a little hauteur, convinced the community had lost its guiding light–and looking very good in black, by the way. Accompanied to their mausoleum by a cortege of complicity, one wonders how many attended his funeral to protect their own reputations as they buried his.
Edmund Fitzgerald Flynn has achieved a measure of immortality, but perhaps not the sort he wished.