It’s astounding how easy the internet has made background research. If I find it useful to write an entry on missing people, newspapers.com has given me the tools to write something with period conviction, i.e., the flavor of the time. The search phrase “missing child” led me to a series of articles about a child who disappeared from her Terre Haute, Indiana, newspaper route one Sunday in 1929, and the ensuing two-month search. Adapting their language and the details gender, geography, etc.), and adding an introductory article of my own concoction, has generated these four news items from three local newspapers:
From the Daily Plantagenet:
MISSING CHILD // Dierdorf Boy Has Disappeared. // Massive Search Underway. // AGINCOURT, Ia., Jan 28.— Harry Dierdorf, 10-year-old son of Abner and Thelma Dierdorf, of rural Nimby, is reported missing. Fennimore county sheriff’s deputies have instituted a search in the area between Agincourt and Nimby. At the present time, there is no reason to assume foul play. // When last seen on his way to a paper route in Agincourt, Harry was wearing blue corduroy pants and white shirt. He is three feet tall, thin, and has brown hair and eyes. If seen, call the Fennimore sheriff at Agincourt 1234.
From the Fort Dodge, IA Plaintiff:
FAIL TO LOCATE MISSING CHILD // Small Party Still Seeking Iowa Boy Who Disappeared. // AGINCOURT, Ia., Feb. 1.— Persistent searchers again tramped the dreary region call the Barrens seeking Harry Dierdorf, 10-year-old boy, who has been missing since last Sunday. // Young Dierdorf left his rural Nimby home early that morning for the eight mile walk into Agincourt, the county town, where he had a paper route to help the family’s financial situation. What should have taken no more than five or six hours, and brought him home for Sunday dinner, dragged on. By six o’clock, the Dierdorfs joined hands in prayer. At eight, Mr Dierdorf walked to a neighbor’s house to telephone the sheriff. // By Tuesday, nearly five hundred volunteers had assembled, scouring Harry’s usual route and one mile on either side. By Thursday, a pilot from the Tri-County Crop Dusting Service was searching from the air. // Rewards totaling $2,500 have been offered.
From the Daily Plantagenet:
NO TRACE IS FOUND OF NIMBY CHILD // Harry Dierdorf Vanishes Completely—His Newspaper Bag Is Blood Stained. // AGINCOURT, Ia., Sat., Feb. 2.— Harry Dierdorf, 10-year-old rural Nimby newsboy, has vanished as completely as some of the characters in “Alice in Wonderland”, a book he was fond of reading. // Fennimore county sheriff Joe Pyne admitted today they were without a clue, except for the boy’s blood-stained newspaper bag, which was found by a deep water hole Thursday afternoon. // The citizens of Agincourt have subscribed a reward of $2,000. // Nearly 500 searchers have combed the countryside, first in the swath of open land between Agincourt and the boy’s home near Nimby, and then outward. The NITC interurban tracks, ditches, and the Barrens received special attention, without finding a trace of the missing child. // Dr. Henk Cuijpers, county coroner, has announced his analysis of the stains on the newspaper bag, concluding they were human blood. The stain was approximately four inches wide and unlikely to have been accidental. Strands of hair matted with the blood clot indicated, police said, that the bag might have been used to cover a wound in the child’s head and to stifle his screams.
From the Storm Lake, IA Patriot:
BODY OF MISSING CHILD IS FOUND // Believed That of Harry Dierdorf of Nimby, Iowa. // EVIDENCE OF A MURDER // The body of a boy about 10 years old, believed by police to be that of Harry Dierdorf, of Nimby, Ia., was found in The Barrens, fewer than three miles from his rural Nimby home, this afternoon. The boy disappeared last January 27th. // The body was found using the keen sense of smell of Poppy, the golden retriever of Dr Henk Cuijpers, M.D., of Agincourt. // Once the crime scene had been generally established, heavy equipment lent by the NITC traction company excavated the marshy site. The body was recovered only two or three feet below the surface. The boy’s feet were bound with bailing wire. // Young Dierdorf was located two miles from where his blood-stained newspaper bag was found. But the bog had filled with water from melting snow and recent rain, obscuring tracks and other traces. Harry still wore the corduroy trousers he had on the Sunday of his disappearance.
Hetty Pegler’s Tump
The day I ran across Hetty Pegler’s Tump on a British ordnance map, I nearly pissed myself laughing. Hetty has her very own wikipedia entry, so there’s no longer any mystery (I first ran across “her” about twenty-five years ago, while scanning an actual ordnance map, which is the British equivalent of our USCGS maps), and its more proper name is the Uley Long Barrow, a “partially reconstructed Neolithic chambered mound”. However authentic that nomenclature may be, it is and will always be, for me, Ms Pegler’s Tump.
There are similar earthen mounds throughout the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio river valleys of the United States; fewer along the Missouri. The best known is one I’ve actually visited at Cahokia, a pre-Columbian settlement on the Illinois side of the Mississippi near St Louis. Cahokia was once a city of considerable size, with an earthen pyramid whose base is equal to the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Much less impressive now, but the visitor interpretive center is worth a visit, should you find yourselves in the vicinity. Some day, I’ll visit Ms Pegler’s landform, if for no other reason than 19th and early 20th century Fargo architects George and Walter Hancock were born about two miles from that earthen breast. That’s a story in its own right.
The church of St John, Uley, was the Hancock family home parish and several members are buried in its churchyard, including the brothers’ father David Hancock. Oddly, I’ve been to the church (and to Owlpen Farm, where the Hancocks lived) but not to the tump itself. Don’t know why I missed the opportunity. It won’t happen again.
The Uley Long Barrow came to mind today because Agincourt once had its very own earth mound, though far newer, called, not surprisingly, The Mound. Sitauted near the intersection of Third Street SE and Alcott Avenue, the mound predates Agincourt’s founding, and in fact interrupts the orderly grid of the original town plat, necessitating a half block of the Third Street right-of-way being vacated. Fortunately for archeological purposes, it partially occupies the southeast school lot and merely forced the reorientation of three residential lots, so no harm no foul.
Archaeologists from the University of Iowa examined the site some time during the Great Depression (WPA, no doubt) and the city erected a modest interpretive kiosk on the school property — but without much impact on the neighborhood, except for Elie Munro, that is, who grew up next door and was sufficiently fascinated to become an amateur archaeologist herself. Elie’s story has its own twists and turns, but that’s different tale for another day. For the time being, some explication of The Mound seems in order.
Henry and Mathilda Utz
Henry Utz stands casually in the entry of his delicatessen-cum-bakery on Chicago’s south side; at least I think it’s on the south side, because the U.S. Census for 1910 puts his residence at 2973 South Cottage Grove Avenue. Much farther south Cottage Grove forms the west edge of the University of Chicago campus, but his old neighborhood was urban-renewed during the 1960s and LeCorbusi-fied with repetitive slab-like apartment blocks at a jaunty angle with the urban grid. Presumably this place of business was somewhere nearby.
Henry Jacob Utz was born in Germany in 1874 and emigrated to the United States in 1893, just in time for the World’s Columbian Exposition. His wife Mathilda was a NYC native, but also from emigrant German stock, and six years his junior. They had (at that time) one child, a son Clarence, aged three. Their sister-in-law Florence Spitznagel (age 17) lived with them and was a domestic, probably in another household.
Cottage Grove is a Chicago section-line street, running north-south, probably lined with party-wall row houses or low-rise apartment blocks; the census puts two other families at the same address. To live a block or two east or west would have put the Utzes in a single-family or duplex home and a comparably upscale neighborhood. Cottage Grove enjoyed the convenience of a streetcar line, with frequent service and the shriek of steel wheels on steel rails throughout the night. Wouldn’t it have been fortunate if the Utzes had craved the quieter life of a smaller town, a place where his skills as a baker might have been more fully appreciated? I’ll see what I can do to change his mind.
Few things instill more fear in a parent’s mind than the word “missing”.
A U.S. Attorney’s Office recently conducted a raid connected with a child sex-trafficking ring. I don’t know the number of arrests, but I do know the number of children recovered was substantial. It was also staggering to learn that a number of the children had never been reported missing! Let that sink in. The only explanation for such forgetfulness is hard to fathom: were the children sold?
These days, with condition at our borders at human-rights-violation levels, it shouldn’t surprise us that some of the children in the custody of I.C.E. might have been consigned to a wide variety of indentured servitude. Remember that I.C.E. is destroying records. [And don’t tell me that my imagination is suspect; that human beings are above such heinous actions. We both know better, and these days are proving it more true than we can stomach.]
People go missing all the time, but there is usually someone to miss them; to alert law enforcement and otherwise undertake a search — “search and recovery” sounding too fatalistic. From the Lindbergh baby to Patty Hearst, the end of these tragedies are rarely happy. Whatever the rate of resolution, the restoration of a loved one to their family and friends happens at an unacceptible rate. Yet each story is both unique and the same: whether run-away, kidnapping, or far, far worse, communiteis of severy size and color are affected. Dare I say it, even a place like Agincourt.
This postcard tells a story, sadly an anonymous one since it is unidentified by either date or location. Only the label “midday dig at the boneyard” suggests something grim, perhaps something grim in a dark corner of Fennimore county. I feel a story coming on.
Since the earliest European settlers arrived shortly after 1850, residents of what would become Agincourt needed to drink and bathe and pee and poop. How they did that and where have changed dramatically since in nearly 170 years. But incrementally, in spasms of complacency and progress; hardly a steady measured march into our future. But I’m not a civil engineer and neither are you, probably, so we have to leave such speculations to the imagination.
There is a story about Walter Burley Griffin that I’ve told elsewhere (and should review it, just to be certain I’m telling it accurately). Griffin was a Midwestern American architect, collaborator with early Frank Lloyd Wright, who won an international competition for the design of Canberra, the relocated capital of Australia.
The capital had been situated at Melbourne since 1901, while most of the country’s population lived within a few miles of the coastline, leaving the vast interior untapped. Parliament decided to boldly go where few Australians had gone before, dragging its government agencies kicking and screaming to a virgin site with little but scrub and grazing cattle. Nearly fifty years later, Brazil would make a similar choice for comparable reasons and create Brasilia.
I can’t speak for the politics of Brazil at mid-century, but those of post-WWI Australia were volatile. The government that had envisioned Canberra was replaced with one which did not support the plan, but might have gone out of its way to sabotage what had only just begun. Griffin as director of planning for the ACT (Australian Capital Territory, like out District of Columbia) and increasingly aware that the integrity of his plan was in jeopardy, made an equally bold move to insure its continuation.
You and I (sorry, I shouldn’t speak for you) might have gone for the gold, seeing the writing on the wall, and pushed for completion of the Parliament building itself to a hasty completion. But that building would have been the tombstone for Griffin’s innovative scheme. Rather he chose to push completion of the laying out of the city’s unseen infrastructure: the thing no one would see, but which would be the most expensive to remove or abandon; the plan’s water, sewer, and telecommunication lines. His dismissal shortly thereafter proved the wisdom of his decision. Canberra today appears much as Griffin had foreseen.
Oh, and that Capitol Building waited for another seventy years and was likewise the product of an international competition won by an American. What was a dusty plain is now home to 410,000 people. [Brasilia, on the other hand, in half the time, is a city of 3 million.]
- Where did Agincourt get its water supply? The Mighty Muskrat or Crispin Creek? Wells or cisterns?
- How did it deal with not only human waste but also the leftovers from slaughtering fresh meat?
- And with regard to yesterdays entry, would the relative luxury of a municipal swimming pool have been likely early in the community’s history?
Two aspects of the Agincourt story are of special interest to me now, and both of them involve water. First (and possibly least enticing) is the question of the city’s water supply and how its sewage treatment complicates that need. My simplistic view of civil engineering reduces the issue to “down stream theory”: get your water upstream, eject your human waste downstream, and let the folks below you worry about it. The other is more alluring because it is more “architectural”: a municipal recreation facility to extend the summer swimming season from spring into the fall. In the 19th century, it would have been called a natatorium.
From the Roman Temple of Minerva at Bath, England (the baths gave the city its name) to one of its most elegant successors, the Gellert Baths in Budapest, Europe was blessed with these glorious facilities wherever there was a natural spring. Generically they were called spas, after the town of that name in Belgium, places where the well-to-do resorted for the healthful application of the mineral water in any way possible: bathing, drinking, and mud, but also the enema and douche. There were other less elegant places, of course, and priced accordingly.
Here in the United States they took that form — the spa as resort — but another in urban areas for the working classes who may not have enjoyed the blessings of indoor plumbing. For them, municipal baths were a matter of public health and safety. The picturesque Physical Institute and its humbler cousin, both in Philadelphia, represent that range. Two of the more renowned 19th century baths were the Broadwater Natatorium outside Helena, Montana, and the Sudro Baths, on the Pacific coast of San Francisco. Both of these are gone but hardly forgotten.
Agincourt could hardly have justified a facility like the Broadwater, with a main pool that measured 100 by 300 feet. It also lacked a ready and reliable source of fresh water requiring minimal filtering. There was the Mighty Muskrat, of course, but there was also spring-fed Crispin Creek, with its source northeast of the city near Grou. Somehow I should be able to make one of these work and add another facet to the Agincourt story.
Depending on its site and water source, this is also likely to be closely linked with the earlier question of water for drinking and flushing.
Language being what it is, sanguine is a color — which I recognize from conté pencils purchased from Dick Blick — which is difficult to describe, because it resembles dried blood, though I don’t think that’s its source. What that has to do with another of the dictionary definitions (optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation) I can’t quite fathom. Unfortunately, the O.E.D. isn’t handy.
For a split second I flashed on Donald Trump and tried to imagine him uttering the word “sanguine”, and deemed it improbable, despite it having just two syllables, because it involves introspection, an intellectual exercise beyond his capability because it is also beyond his comprehension. Odd, because I wonder if sanguinity may come with age; he is but seventeen months younger than I. Like other mental states that involve being on the cusp, the edge, a point of change or transition, it comes with reflection that more of life lies behind than ahead.
I wrote in a recent application for promotion of a difference between myself and the college committee that had reviewed my dossier. “My guess,” I wrote to the university provost, “is that the median age of the committee might be thirty-six.” [University committees are populated with mid-career faculty whose “service” will reinforce their own quest for advancement.] I went on, “But I am seventy-two and can tell you that a career ahead looks remarkably different from one substantially in a rearview mirror. And also that my promotion and my death are likely to be a photo finish.” I made a point, but probably at a cost yet to be paid. And so, as I wax nostalgic, reminisce, reflect, resign myself, yes, I’ve become sanguine: of what lies in the past and does not; of what lies before me and cannot. Therein resides my sanguinity.
My seventy-fifth birthday is six months from last Wednesday, and, though I’m enjoying moderate good health, this has become as good as any opportunity to plan….and tie up all those loose ends. Three are underway: restoring the Little House; creating a 501(c)(3) non-profit to carry the L.H. into a useful future; and establishing a fund at the F-M Area Foundation named for my grandmother, Clara Frances Markiewicz, to support causes dear to my heart. So…
When the time comes…
…and it will all too soon, and should you wish to remember me in some modest way, may I make a comparably modest suggestion. The Markiewicz Fund will support programs that: 1) advance medical research (heart disease, cancer, and alzheimer’s); 2) promote social justice (voter’s rights, anti-discrimination); 3) underwrite architectural education (scholarships and travel); and 4) support the arts (museums and commissions). The Fund is generating about 3%, contributions are tax exempt (to the extent provided by law, i.e., for the time being), and it is guided by a committee of five good friends, most connected through the Department in some way and committed to the same goals (you’d recognize their names). Together with the 501(c)(3) and other provisions, these contribute significantly to our sense of sanguinity.
I’m just saying.
And then there’s the matter of putting Agincourt to bed.
Birthing a Bilding
…or is it berthing a bilding?
Planning Agincourt’s Public Library
Beyond his role in the public library movement — he underwrote the cost of 1,800 libraries between 1889 and about 1920 — the frugal Scot Andrew Carnegie felt that large amounts of ink, paper, and time were consumed preparing documents, and that a significant savings in all three categories could be achieved if we just simplified the spelling of the English language. In 1909, concerned that the early stage of his library benefaction had been misspent, Carnegie hired someone to analyze the program’s expenditures and rein in its excesses. James Bertram contributed mightily to its reform and, for the first time, provided guidance, rather than money alone, and it was Bertram who penned a simple two-fold pamphlet title “Notes on Library Bilding” which used the reformed spelling favored by Carnegie and a few others.
You may be surprised to know that a Carnegie grant was the result of a formula based on population in the last U.S. Census, provision of a centrally-located site, and commitment to annual support equal to ten percent of the grant. Carnegie played no role in programming the new library, nor were his staff involved with architectural selection. The pre-1909 result was monumental design that failed to work: Grandiose lobbies and Carnegie’s name in massive Roman letters, but poorly organized spaces that might have been more appropriate for an art museum.
There were 101 Carnegie-funded public libraries in Iowa and another seven for academic institutions. They range from 1892 until 1917, so there was no lack of enthusiasm for library construction, nor an absence of precedent. Indeed there were other libraries not underwritten by Andrew. I elected to fund the proposed Agincourt Public Library from local sources for two reasons: #1) it afforded greater latitude in design (e.g., I could add program elements beyond the library itself), and #2) it generated an exclusively local narrative. Also, by delaying the project until about 1915, Louis Sullivan had time to complete his five Iowa projects, and the Neo-Classicism that dominated earlier library design had passed its prime.
The clear majority of Iowa’s public libraries were Classical Revival or Neo-Classical in style, a logical result of influence from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. This example from Iowa Falls is more extreme than most, but it illustrates the problem that Bertram uncovered: he found that grandiosity trumped functionality in far too may cases. Local building committees construed Carnegie’s benefaction as a wish for architectural immortality. They were wrong.
Iowa Falls is also typical in being a free-standing structure, splendid isolation on a prominent site, they have an almost suburban character, rather than genuinely “urban”. Examples in dense settings are rare, indeed, and may be limited to major urban areas like Pittsburgh or New York City. In many ways, these buildings are formulaic, so much so that many people actually believe they were built from a single prototype. They’re wrong, too.
You can see why I was fascinated, imagining an unconventional approach Louis Sullivan might have taken.
“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” ― Walter Cronkite
“From coast to coast, elementary and high school libraries are being neglected, defunded, repurposed, abandoned, and closed.” This is the first line of a 2015 article that documents a situation which can only have deteriorated during the last four years. Remember, we were still in the midst of a political campaign then that has brought us to the brink of a new Dark Age. If that seems pessimistic, you haven’t been paying attention.
I prefer the view of Jorge Luis Borges — someone probably from one of those “shit-hole countries”, so pay him no heed — who said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” but he continued, expansively: “Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” Eat your heart out, Herakleitos.
At odd moments during the last two years, I’ve wondered [as someone educated to be an architect but who never followed through, for obvious reasons] about the Donald John Trump Presidential Library. Where will it be located, do you imagine? Who will be its architect? That is, who will have the cojones (or lack of good judgment) to even seek the commission, let along have their name and repute linked with it for all time? Putting all that aside, if you can, try to form in your mind’s eye an image of the completed building; I’ve tried and have only a migraine for my trouble. It is even more frustratingly amusing to conceive its contents. I briefly considered developing a studio design project for the DJTPL but realized it would be the end of my so-called career in higher education. These are perilous times to have socio-cultural views measurably left of center — especially when you are suckling at the Public Teat.
If you fear an ongoing treatise on the decline of American culture, rest easy: This is merely the politically-loaded introduction to some thoughts on the origins of the Agincourt Public Library.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
America’s public library movement during the 19th century had its roots in New England about 1850. Earlier libraries were “social”, joint stock companies providing access to those who could afford a membership. Libraries supported by taxation, and thereby accessible to the public at large, began in 1849 in New Hampshire and spread rapidly westward. It was Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s influence, however, between 1880 and 1920 that shaped the library networks we enjoy today.
Efforts toward a public library in Agincourt date to about 1880; prior to that time there were small lending libraries in churches (the Methodists and Episcopalians primarily). Planning for a new county courthouse begun in 1886 — the earlier stately Italianate courthouse was wooden and had long since been outgrown — afforded inclusion of a library room (at county expense) which would be centrally situated. It would be readily accessible during normal business hours and some evenings by arrangement with the Ladies Literary Society. Indeed, the new courthouse, dedicated in 1889, evolved into a genuine cultural center: courtrooms were used for lectures and recitals (and the occasional religious service); the northwest corner room was dedicated to the G.A.R. (a gathering place for Civil War veterans to reminisce while their numbers dwindled); and the newly-formed library collection. So, beyond its use for civic business and law enforcement, the second courthouse welcomed a broad audience of adults and children before the suffrage movement and while Victorian norms consigned children to the home and the care of mothers, older sisters, and maiden aunts.
Like the Community Collection of art, which originated there (in 1912 in the increasingly ceremonial G.A.R. Hall), the library collection began in much the same way: with no formal organization or source of financial support, the shelves filled slowly from family donations and the occasional business. Newspaper and periodical subscriptions were divided among a core of contributing families; books arrived from overcrowded shelves at home, for the first dozen years or so. The library functioned this way, informally, for almost twenty years. But my 1910, still in the early years of “library science”, the growing collection required an orderly system of shelving and circulation other than the honor system. A trained librarian was sought.
At about the same time, the first “library board” was established, in a loose affiliation with the city council, and discussions began in earnest for a free-standing, self-sustaining library on another central site. Several were suggested, but none had suitable “prominence”, and those that did were beyond the budget — until the tragic Masonic Lodge fire of New Year’s Eve 1911. Before the smoldering ruins cooled, what may have been the ideal site was suddenly open, a gift from the A.F. & A.M. Lodge “…in the interest of Civic Virtue.”
The next installment of the story will outline the planning process for the new library: developing a professional program within budgetary constraints; interviewing architects; and the actual construction process which yielded the building we enjoyed for fifty-five years.
“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.”
Agincourt has needed a photographer almost from the beginning. And try as I might to interest an actual photographer in helping create one, none were forthcoming. In one case, I got the impression he was offended. Ah, well.
I tackled the easy part several years ago, placing a photographer’s studio on a north-facing second floor, above Van Kannel’s Sanitary Drug, at the corner of Broad and James. I’ll bet you’ve walked past it several times but failed to look up and admire the enormous skylight — still in place, though the studio has been vacant for years. Now I “simply” have to populate the space with a professional.
Through the second half of the 19th century, every community of even modest size enjoyed the services of a wet-plate photographer. Posed, studio photographs were the norm, largely, I guess, because the apparatus for taking images was so cumbersome. There was also an inordinate amount of paraphernalia—tables, chairs, chaises longues, easels, trunks, vases and urns, brackets and shelves, etc., and a variety of theatrical backdrops, curtains, carpets, tapestries, and drapery. The photographer might even have provided costumes of humorous or patriotic sorts. I can’t even imagine the amount of time required for a typical session, the number of poses and images taken.
The studio above—the “busman’s holiday” when the photographer is the subject—is the simplest I could find; the most modest and, in my mind’s eye, at least, more likely to represent a 19th century photographic studio in the American Midwest.
I consulted a list of well-known American photographers, the sort of compendium Wikipedia enjoys, and wasn’t at all surprised to note how few names were obviously women. Which is all that’s required to set my mind in motion: Agincourt’s resident photographer will be a woman. And for some reason her surname will be Sullivan, known to her friends as “Sully” and perhaps unmarried. In 1901, the Ladies Home Journal featured six women as “The Foremost Women Photographers in America”, though I haven’t seen the actual article. I do know that one of them was Zaida Ben-Yusuf. The field has opened considerably since then; one website has put together a list of twenty-one “you need to know”. Which makes me proud that Ms Sullivan was a pioneer in her profession.
What kinds of stories do you suppose might grow from such simple circumstance?