“I looked, and looked, and this I came to see—that what I thought was you and you, was really me and me.” —unknown
The image you should be seeing here isn’t quite ready. In the 1970s the historical society in the state where I live acquired a trunk of KKK paraphernalia that had been found in a lodge hall not far from where I live. No one in that community wanted to admit having any connection whatsoever with the stuff but, fortunate for history, chose to send it to a state agency for preservation and interpretation. The archivist put the robes on, and the photo curator took a photograph of him standing in a doorway. The caption read “Frank can’t come to the phone right now. He’s in a meeting.” I adapt that brief story here for Agincourt purposes, since it’s not entirely outside the limits of possibility.
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A Tabor
“Hall’s in a meeting…”
The late Hal Holt learned the art of diplomacy (which Reader’s Digest once described as “…the art of letting other people have your way”) early in his long tenure as director of the Fennimore County Heritage Center. Folks have tended to see the museum’s collections as a repository for whatever overflows their attic or basement. Surely future generations, they believe, will profit from Aunt Hepsebah’s spring-form cake pan or Uncle Phineas’s galoshes. Yes, there is room for the ugly and commonplace. But how many butter churns are too many?
A few years before his death, Hal received a call from someone who, for reasons that will be clear, wished anonymity. The acquisition record for what had been offered is incomplete. Whatever information was omitted went to Gnostic Grove with Hal—his ashes were scattered there in 2008. He revealed only that the objects had been discovered during the renovation of an unspecified men’s club.
Ku Klux Klan
The Klan takes its name from the Greek word “κύκλος” or circle and was formed initially in Kentucky or Tennessee (by a Yankee!). During the 1920s, the KKK spread widely in the North, though many communities downplay its presence among us. So it shouldn’t surprise that Klan paraphernalia shows up in basements, attics, and garages of families with no recollection that Uncle Mort went to special meetings on Tuesday nights.
One of Iowa’s most notorious Klan-related events was the funeral of Myrtle Underwood Cook, a Klan matron from a community so small that her funeral was held in the Methodist church at Vinton, approved by a new minister clueless to what was about to put his church on the wrong sort of map. Mrs Cook’s murder remains one of Iowa’s unsolved crimes, and there is no public record of the communities that participated in the 1925 service.
In addition to her Klan affiliation, Mrs Cook was also a high-ranking member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, whose president attended, wearing white Klan robes embroidered with the WCTU insignia. Odd that Temperance would align itself with the intemperate, and that those unable to tolerate alcohol could embrace racial bigotry so wholeheartedly.
So the Klan’s presence in Agincourt is suggested by some regalia in the Heritage Center collections. They aren’t on display, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but ignorance of the past won’t change it. In fact, a physical confrontation with that robe—which I have seen, by the way, but chose not to touch—might be powerful enough to change any of us still sitting on the fence.
It seems unlikely that we will ever know why these artifacts were found where they were. History often provokes more questions than it answers.