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A nose by any other name…


Recent life events have encourage me to consider the medical history of Agincourt.

Doc Fahnstock wasn’t the community’s earliest health provider;  we know him primarily for the three-way relationship he had with Maud Adams and Cissy Beddowes at the turn of the 20th century. Fahnstock’s predecessors are, as yet, unidentified. To be sure, some of those early characters claiming medical ability were charlatans, purveyors of snake oil and worse (about which Howard has written before), but surely there were others who, with caring conscience, provided invaluable public service in what passed for the Medical Arts in the 19th century.

Howard and I seem to have at least one thing in common: the subjects of our research and writing come to us. Such was the case in his column last Saturday.

A few figs from thistles…

by Howard A. Tabor

The nose knows 

Agincourt’s earliest burial ground, The Shades, was barely established when its first interments came home from the Civil War. I’ve written before about Agincourt’s first war casualty, John Beddowes.  From his burial in the fall of 1863 onward, the cemetery’s chronology has been our own; a record, if not of our arrival, at least of our departure. So Rowan Oakes and his history seminar students at Fennimore County High are tackling that history for the cemetery’s 150th anniversary in October.


Our family were frequent visitor to The Shades. On Memorial Day, our mother would take Catherine and me there to care for the graves of relatives and friends; we’d pack a lunch and make a day of it. And during each visit, I’d invariably wander off, returning with questions about who so-and-so was or why there were so many burials in 1918. The cemetery became, for me, a card file of local history—though the “cards” were granite chunks. One of the more unusual burials is in Section 16, near the pond, on the Cuijpers family plot: a simple granite square incised “Poppy 1948”.

I’d recently heard a radio broadcast of “L’incoronazione di Poppea“, Claudio Monteverdi’s opera about Emperor Nero’s hapless wife (she’s kicked to death in the final scene), and wondered if there had been a connection. No, mom explained—though, in her view, some operas ought to be recognized as cultural cadavers and mercifully buried; it was dad who loved opera—Poppy was neither a questionable work of art, nor even a child of the Cuijpers family. Poppy was a dog, perhaps the only canine honored with interment at The Shades. The question of what service had warranted such a burial waited years for an answer.


The arrival of Henk Cuijpers in Agincourt is a story for another day. For the time being, let’s agree that he graduated from the University of Iowa Medical School in the mid-1930s and began his practice here soon after.

A surgeon of some skill, Dr Cuijpers developed a remarkable record of success in the treatment of cancer at a time when operations were brutal and long-term survival unlikely. Our great aunt Clara in Mason City endured a mastectomy that filleted her like a trout and required weeks of physical therapy to regain use of her right arm. Family had encouraged her to see Cuijpers, but Clara insisted on doctors she knew; but I think her diagnosis might have been different here. “Medicine is medicine,” she would say, and go on about X-rays and mustard plasters. What Clara didn’t know—what most of Agincourt and the State Medical Association didn’t even suspect—was Dr Cuijpers’ principal diagnostic tool: a Shepherd-Corgi cross with an olfactory gift for sniffing out cancer cells.

Poppy the dog materialized at the Cuijpers’ kitchen door one weekday morning, hungry and craving human contact. Lacking collar or claim, Poppy fit quickly into the family of four (Henk, his wife Marilyn, and their girls). But when Poppy first appeared at Cuijpers’ office in the Medical Arts Building or how he discovered her diagnostic skills is the stuff of folklore. I’m following some leads and will get back to you as the story develops.

In the meantime, bring flowers—poppies might be appropriate—and some dog treats to her resting place at The Shades.

Better yet, shelter a homeless animal of your own.

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