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Cradle to Grave


This postcard is far too rich for my pocket book and the business it represents is also too large an operation, I think, for Agincourt and its hinterlands. So even photo-shopping this image wouldn’t be entirely appropriate for the project. But there very likely was a dealer in tombstones serving the community’s three burial grounds.

Our three cemeteries are grouped at the east edge of the Original Townsite, where Agincourt Avenue crosses the old city limit. The Catholic’s consecrated their ground about 1860, land purchased from the Schütz family; more likely a donation because the family have been prominent in church affairs for more than 150 years. Much larger (about three times the area) is the Protestant or non-sectarian cemetery, cast romantically as “The Shades”, a 19th century reference to ghosts as “shades” or “shadows”. Somewhat later, as the Jewish population warranted, a Hebrew Burial Ground balanced the group. So, among the three of them, there was a full range of decorative styles and ethnic traditions. Who crafted those monuments?

In 2001 I attended an Anglican–Episcopal church history conference in Toronto. It celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) and presented some of my research into the history of Episcopal church architecture in Dakota Territory. [Do you think I’ll ever get that material in print?] During a break in the sessions, I stepped into the courtyard of Trinity College, where a mason was trimming stone for the border of a planting bed: I was transfixed and began a conversation with him.

He was an Aberdeen native, an especially stony part of Scotland which is itself a particularly rocky country. If I were in the market for the services of a mason, an Aberdonian is precisely who I would seek — despite their reputation for speaking an incomprehensible dialect and alcoholism. Indeed, another Aberdeen native had already crossed my path: Nathaniel Maconachie (pronounced “muh·KAHN·shee”), who was the stone and brick mason for some of Fargo architect George Hancock’s earliest works — St Stephen’s Episcopal church in Casselton; Old Main at the NDAC; St Mark’s Episcopal church in Anaconda, among others. So I welcomed the opportunity to speak with a living craftsman practicing his trade.

I’ll try to keep that conversation in mind as I imagine who may have crafted funerary monuments in late 19th Agincourt.

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