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How far is it from Hildesheim? [Not very far.]


To be the first of anything is a double-edged sword. Imagine the responsibilities resting on the shoulders of Northwest Iowa Normal College president-elect Professor Wilhelm Reinhardt, PhD. 

Wilhelm Auguste Karl Ernst Reinhardt was born in Hildesheim, Germany in 1874 (which had been annexed to the Kingdom of Prussia a few years earlier). Why did I choose Hildesheim? Because it has a wonderful early Medieval church, St Michael’s, that I use to illustrate the spontaneous eruption of the Romanesque architectural style around A.D. 1000—when the Second Coming should have happened but didn’t, a disappointment compensated by a flurry of building activity not seen again until the 1989 reunification of Germany.  Looks like a nice town.


Let’s imagine him a middling child, third oldest of seven, in a household sufficiently well off to send one of its sons to university at Göttingen, only sixty miles south in the province of Hanover. One source credits Göttingen as the most modern of Germany’s 18th century universities, perhaps through its ties to England and the House of Hanover. I was pleased to see that “modern” meant a demotion of theology in favor of law; where seminars displaced disputation and the natural sciences attained the greatest acclaim. They wouldn’t have let me in, but if they had, at least the requirement to speak Latin would have been waived.

Let’s have young Wilhelm arrive from his local gymnasium at age seventeen or eighteen and proceed through the standard four-to-six year curriculum in history, graduating circa 1898, fresh for employment potential here in the U.S., when American universities sought the status that came with European credentials. That was certainly true in architecture, when a degree from the École des Beaux Arts was a passport to academic success in the U.S. But just to be sure, Wilhelm’s M.A. (Magister Artium) degree ought to have been prologue to the Ph.D., attained after a further period of study. That put him in the job market shortly after the turn of the century. But what might have brought him to America?

In 1904 St Louis, Missouri was the site of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a World’s Fair, in a city with substantial German population—perhaps including Reinhardt relatives. The history of 19th century America can be told through the leap-frogging of emigrant families, one generation paving a way for the next (children establishing themselves and making a place for parents; one parent finding work and eventually sending for the spouse and kids). I can certainly flesh this out in time. It could be that young Reinhardt had some connection with the division of Prussian bureaucracy responsible for the German exhibit at the Fair, a statement of Germanic culture and industry in a portion of the Mississippi River valley already heavily populated with emigrants from the Fatherland. [What’s the difference between a Fatherland and a Motherland, anyway?]

Professor Reinhardt might have found work at Washington University, then building its new campus near the site of the 1904 Exposition in Forest Park, and perhaps craving the products of rigorous German education. That puts him in a region close to Iowa at an age (31 or thereabouts) and a context (professor of history) convenient for him to have seen the notice of opportunity for academic advancement at Agincourt.

So many question unanswered. So many opportunities unexplored, not the least of them being his arrival in Iowa at the outbreak of World War.

[Incidentally, the Hildesheim town hall suffered a good deal of war damage (I suspect) and appears far less interesting today than it did closer to the turn of the 20th century, shown in the postcard view above.]

[And a further postscript: the title of this entry should be sung to the tune of a not-so-popular Christmas carol.]

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