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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Health and Medicine

Nineteenth century medicine is a broad topic, from “snake oil” and patent medicines to the gradual acceptance of germ theory. Today’s MDs shared the stage with several other perspectives: homeopaths, naturopaths, naprapaths, chiropractors, etc. And at the fringe were those ready to prey on public fear and ignorance hawking “snake oil” and unregulated pharmaceuticals.


Rudyard Fahnstock, M.D. was the earliest doctor to become a long-term resident in the 1880s; someone willing to stay long enough to be haunted by his errors of judgment and outright mistakes. A graduate of Chicago’s Rush Medical College, Fahnstock collaborated with Sissy Beddowes, medicine woman to the Sac & Fox people who lived in the Muskrat Valley long before the Treaty of 1850. Another doctor would likely have been at odds with Mrs. Beddowes, but their personalities meshed, and Mrs. B became a frequent consultant on unusual and difficult cases.

[Beddowes made frequent visits, for example, to Mrs. Miller’s Enterprise — our euphemism for Agincourt’s house of ill repute — where earlier unwanted pregnancies more often than not ended badly. The unlikely foursome of Doc Fahnstock, Circe Beddowes, Annabelle Miller, and Martha Tennant “placed” unwanted infants in homes throughout the region.]

Fahnstock and the community’s other short-term medical practitioners applied their skills in second-story offices above our bakeries and hardware stores and haberdashers, and also in schools and private residences; the “house call” was still a common occurrence. The circumstances behind Agincourt’s first purpose-built hospital remain to be written. But there is a likely prototype: the Cottage Hospital Movement that began in Britain and was quickly taken up in the U.S.

The Cottage Hospital

Henry Burdett published The Cottage Hospital, its origins, progress, management and work in 1877, a detailed presentation of this new building type and a virtual handbook for those who understood its promise in rural communities. Burdett included drawings of at least four examples and a list of many others, with full details of cost and statistics related to their operation. I can’t say how quickly we applied his principles here in the United States. But an extensive four-page article appeared in Carpentry and Building in December 1891. Surely medical journals had presented the idea long before.

The C&B article illustrated a sixteen-bed facility at Flushing, Long Island, an outlying suburb of New York City. Ever vigilant for time and labor-saving additions to the poroject’s evolving building stock, I’m content to adapt it’s economies for an Agincourt site, probably in the sparse southeast quadrant near the banks of Crispin Creek.


Historical Fiction


The likes of William Faulkner and Rod Serling notwithstanding, apparently “historical fiction” has become a thing. Imagine my surprise when I accidentally visited the National Endowment for the Humanities website (h-net.org) some months ago and thought to enter some search terms in the databases of conferences and requests-for-papers., as long as I was there. What to my wondering eyes should appear something tailor made for the Agincourt Project. In fact, the First Interdisciplinary Historical Fictions Research Network Conference will occur at Ruskin College, Cambridge University, in the U.K. on 27-28 February this year. And among its thirty-five participants you will find one Rowan Ramsey, my assumed identity for the conference; come on Sunday from 11:30 to 13:00 for my session if you haven’t already heard too much about Agincourt, Iowa.

It’s a given that I not only can, but will, talk about Agincourt and Fennimore county at sufficient length to test the endurance of the Buddha, so the challenge will be compressing that material into about twenty minutes, there being two other participants in that session. I’m honored (it should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway) to represent our department at such an event. And I welcome the invitation to share with an international audience a project that has welcomed and/or conscripted the participation of so many toward making it something worth sharing.

PS: The Fortune magazine cover art from the Arpil 1938 issue was created by John O’Hara Cosgrave II. Would that I could solicit his services as illustrator.

Another year, but which one?


All is artifice.

For many of us, midnight last night began a new year. But that’s simply a convention, a point in space-time whose meaning we agree upon and accept. I took very little notice of it, except to wonder how long it will take to put “2016” consistently on my checks.

Depending whether your calendar is solar or lunar, tradition, and some pivotal point in the history of your culture. This year may be:

  • 2016 in the Julian calendar
  • 2016 in the Gregorian, but eleven days late
  • 5776 for Jews
  • 1437 in the Islamic world
  • 1394 in the Persian calendar (which isn’t used in Iran)
  • for all you Maya who may yet be hanging around
  • 1937 in the Indian Civil calendar
  • 224 for those whose era began with the French Revolution
  • 2558 for Buddhists
  • and several others

For my part, I’m fond of seeing this as Year 2; that is, two years, six months, and twenty days since my open heart surgery, the day I was “born again,” commemorated by a tattoo on my right forearm as Mayan date But I’m also inclined to think about counting the years in reverse, the very personal cosmic countdown to my departure — except that day isn’t known.


So, in the spirit of the times — whatever the hell year it is — from this day forward, I wish better times for my friends and those who are not; for the Nation; and most especially for the World, with the hope that there is enough time to get it right.