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1937

Nineteen thirty-seven was a banner year for Agincourt and the Tennant family. You’ll recall that Anson Tennant had sailed for Liverpool on May 1st, 1915 — sadly, on the RMS Lusitania. Six days later, at 14:12 local time off the coast of Ireland, a German torpedo sank the Lusitania, with the loss of 1,198 lives from the total passenger list of 1,959. It was thought that young Tennant had been among the casualties (though his name does not appear on casualty lists; I’ve checked). The story of his rescue, recuperation, and restoration to his family has been told elsewhere — and often. But it’s the reunion that interests me today.

During all those amnesiac years in the post city of Donostiako, Tennant had worked in the carpentry shop of his father-in-law Eitor Urrutia building furniture. And when he returned to Iowa shortly after the restoration of his memory he continued in that modest occupation, rather than the loftier professional status of being an architect. [Licensure hadn’t been necessary in 1915 when he designed the Public Library but he didn’t test Iowa’s 1926 registration law to be “grandfathered” in.) So, in the spirit of his old friend Manny Galvez, Anson opened a furniture workshop and retreated from the prominent pubic life his family’s position might have expected. His first commission came appropriately from Miss Rose Kavana, his old school teacher at Charles Darwin elementary. During all those intervening years, Miss Kavana had become school principal and then retired to a modest home on NW Third Street.

Though it didn’t have time to become a tradition, Anson had “dated” his projects from the ‘teens with cornerstones of sorts: coins from the project’s year. His office door incorporates a 1912 “standing Liberty” U.S. quarter dollar, and each set of children’s building blocks has a coin from their year of manufacture. So why not the set of “Rose Kavana’s Table and Chairs”? And why not with a Spanish coin still in his pockets when his new family (wife and three children) and his old one (sisters Molly and Claire) boarded the Franconia bound from Liverpool to New York City.


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