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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Acts of God (and his henchmen)

“It’s beyond my control” may be the most perfect break-up line in movie history.

The film is “Dangerous Liaisons.” Having seduced Madame de Tourvel on a wager, Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont ends the affair abruptly with the repeated phrase “It’s beyond my control,” which is, of course, completely untrue. This is so unlike Agincourt, which has suffered, in hindsight, from an almost total absence of events beyond its control.

Tonight reminds me, as local weather coverage traces the path of violent storms across northwestern Minnesota. During more than one hundred and fifty years of Agincourt’s history, there must have been such tragedies beyond anyone’s control — fire, storm and flood; hail and Nature’s other furies — that changed the trajectory of human affairs.

When Gordon Olschlager offered the design of a courthouse in mid-century Brutalist style, I suggested he decide when the previous (second) Fennimore county courthouse was struck by lightening. Two months later, a small crate arrived holding an exquisite model of a courthouse beyond my dreams. And it was accompanied by a backstory I could not have imagined, including the 1966 lightening strike that consumed the former Richardsonian building.

Urban fires in the late 19th century were commonplace. Fargo’s CBD burned in 1893; Bismarck’s in 1898. So Agincourt was unlikely to have avoided a major conflagration. The question is when? And to what degree?


tornado damage

Urban fires have lent themselves to amateur photographers and RPPCs; the on-line auction site that shall remain nameless is rife with them — and they don’t come cheap.  Floods , however, run a close second, and we know that the Mighty Muskrat was inclined to breach its banks in the low-lying part of Agincourt called “The Hollow.”

flood 03

Beyond fire and flood, there are other natural disasters to consider. Winds, for example, (tornadic and otherwise) and the stuff that might accompany them, like hail (from marble to grapefruit-sized). For the time being, Agincourt’s natural history needs my attention.


"In Silence" by Chiharu Shiota

“In Silence” by Chiharu Shiota

“The silence that, without any deferential air, listens with polite attention, is more flattering than compliments, and more frequently broken for the purpose of encouraging others to speak, than to display the listener’s own powers. This is the really eloquent silence. It requires great genius—more perhaps than speaking—and few are gifted with the talent.”  — Arthur Martine

“…And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense…”  — Billy Joel

Life — mine, because I cannot speak to yours — has ground to a paralytic halt.

There are so many things I could say, but won’t; should say, but can’t; would say, but the moment has passed by like clouds in the night. Also, discretion and the possibility that I may possess a modicum of good taste prevent me, knowing that words often accomplish more harm than good. It is also very likely that I have nothing to say.

In the meantime, I should try this silence that Arthur Martine extols.


what does it all mean

Some time toward the end of July, the tenth anniversary of Agincourt passed without notice. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

At about the same time, blog entry #800 was another sort of landmark, I suppose. What occurs to me tonight, though, as it has almost from the beginning, is this: What does any of it mean? That question got a partial response in February, when I was privileged to present the project at the First Interdisciplinary Historical Fictions Research Network Conference at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge [theirs, not ours]. “Privileged” because I addressed a room of non-designers; people who were kind and constructive, enthusiastic and supportive of what we’ve been trying to accomplish, but they saw it through a different lens.

Peter and I left Heathrow with a sense of accomplishment—and some new friends.

IMG_5653 copie

Friends are also on my mind of late. Several have found their way into the narrative as “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” seventeen-and-counting of Howard Tabor’s columns in the Daily Plantagenet. And a few others ought to be here. I wonder why they aren’t.

Would you recognize yourself?



Domestic Arrangements 1.8

The third iteration of the Agincourt Project isn’t guaranteed. Few things are. But I have to assume the possibility of a show in Iowa next August-September and work toward that goal. The available space, however, is about two-thirds what the show occupied last time, so there will have to be some highly selective culling. And fewer pieces means that each one must tell multiple stories. For the theme of single-family housing, two residences are possible: the modest home of school principal Rose Kavanaugh and the more substantial Archer house.

buck houses

Perhaps because it stimulated me sufficiently to write at least seven times, the large house of Aidan and Cordelia Archer at 312 East Agincourt Avenue might be in the mix. [It might also be the much smaller home of Rose Kavana, principal of Charles Darwin Elementary School.] I reviewed what there is in the blog about the Archers and their home and found a tale rich in possibility [Sorry about the bulleted list.]:

  • Domestic Arrangements 1.0 was an opportunity to discuss housing stock in general, its variety, and its origins. This was also an opportunity to introduce Chicago architect Lawrence Buck, who had actually designed five houses in Iowa and could just as easily have done a sixth (or seventh, it turned out).
  • Installment 1.1 was a scaled drawing of the first floor. But rather than focus on the suite of rooms for living and entertaining, I expressed a fascination with a small room at the northeast corner: the bedroom for a live-in domestic worker, identity unknown at that point.
  • 1.2 outlined the Archer family and the circumstances that had brought them to the community.
  • Howard Tabor told us a bit more about the Archers in the context of wealth, power, and responsibility in 1.3—the notion of noblesse oblige, which I genuinely hope has little or nothing to do with trickle-down economics.
  • Parts 1.4 and 1.5 concerned the invention of Miss Nina Köpman, the young Swedish woman who emigrated to the United States and the circumstances of her eventual employment by the Archers. She would become the occupant of the northeast corner room and the story of her life might be the tale of hundreds of young women who came from Europe (Scandinavians and Irish, primarily) for opportunity that was in short supply at home. I really love shit like this.
  • Here and elsewhere there are entries under the general title “The way things work” in which are revealed the workings of my mind as these stories emerge over time. One-point-six was one of those, an earlier iteration of the very list you’re plodding through right now.
  • Finally (almost) was 1.7, the welcome confirmation from a friend and former student that my musings on the nature of 19th century emigration weren’t all that far from the mark: his very own grandmother had come America much as the fictional Ms Köpman had done.
  • Domestic Arrangements 1.0

The question du jour is simple: How can I summarize all these threads in a cohesive narrative, long enough to be thorough but short enough to not bore the pants off gallery visitors? And, for me, of course, will I be able to more completely detail the house at 312 East Agincourt in all its Arts & Crafts fullness—remembering Mies’s admonition that God is in those very details.


Might it be appropriate, for example, to include actual fragments of the Archer home? Stained glass, for example, from the entry vestibule? Or a light fixture from the dining room? A friend has volunteered to help (though I’m reluctant to impose). Stay tuned.


Unidentified Chinese Artist (contemporary)

etching 2006

[From the Community Collection, a public gallery for art in Agincourt, Iowa]

Unidentified Chinese Artist (contemporary)



etching / 6.9 inches by 11.7 inches (image)

A bowl of melons and root vegetables rests on a table top, each surface a pattern of repetitive geometric figures — produce as it might be interpreted through the creative vision of a Tongan tattoo artist. Looking far more Mid-Century Modern, this etching complements other much earlier works in the collection.

Captioned in Chinese, the print was a gift to the City of Agincourt from a Chinese trade delegation traveling through Iowa.