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Monthly Archives: May 2021


Accidents happen. Sometimes they’re intentional and made to look random. But let’s give everyone the benefit of doubt — one of the few occasions when doubt can work against the public good.

Photographs of train wrecks come up for auction frequently and are usually well beyond my budget. Images of trolley and interurban mishaps are less frequent and proportionally higher in value. That’s the way of the market. This one, of a car that ran along the Ohio shore of Lake Erie, had an opening bid of $35, too rich for a flunky faculty member. So I’m content to merely heist a jpeg.

Interurban cars like this one were made by a few companies. Their subtle differences are obvious to “rail fans” among whom I can’t yet count myself. But it does look like the sort of car the NITC would have run from Fort Dodge to Storm Lake: a hybrid, with a passenger area but also a portion set aside for freight. Despite these differences, their measurements were more or less standardized, from track gauge to clearances, which might have useful for a company like the NITC whose “fleet” may have been a mixed breed. The design of this car would have looked something like this:

Those clearances are important for designing station platforms or depots, especially like the NITC facility in downtown Agincourt, where the track passes through the building. Though, at 50’–6″, this would have protruded out each end of its shed and blocked the sidewalk a few times a day for brief periods.


“We must build one house. We must build one family.” — Congressman John Lewis


COVID vaccination has reached levels where it may be possible during these summer months to see some family reunions around Agincourt. Technically, I’m having one right now; indeed, anywhere I happen to be is a reunion of my family of one. There is the family we get, of course, but then there is the family we make. I’ve recruited a pretty awesome one, but we could still get together in the corner booth at Mango’s. What’s a “cousin”?

Reunion reminded me of a subtle shift in advertising on TV; probably in print media, too, but I don’t see much of that. What now constitutes a “family” is no longer the 1950s model presented in “Pleasantville.” I’m seeing families that look a whole lot different and, in fact, more representative of who we are. Couples that are Black and White with bi-racial children might be expected in 21st century America. But now I’m also seeing a more representative percentage of Asian-Americans. And those couples are often same-sex — actually showing affection for one another and their children. Now this is making America great.

Commercials seem directed at a broader range of age, as well as race. In fact, holiday gatherings are opportunities to extend this idea generationally, too. I’d jump at the chance to lurk in the corner of a Madison Avenue ad agency as they strategize the casting call for a shoot. The Supreme Court (certainly not the current court) allowing me to marry my husband was a landmark day in modern culture but it wasn’t real until it was used to sell me insurance or corn flakes. Or make-up (not that I’m using eye shadow these days) but cosmetics constitute a huge and lucrative market, with a broader range of skin color and hair type. Products go where the money is and advertising dollars follow suit.

I’ve tried, in my halting, myopic, aging-White-guy way to broaden Agincourt’s base, who lives there, where they come from, how they relate. But I’ve got a long way to go. And not much time to do it. But is there a tent big enough; if not, we must build it.

Stay tuned.

[Appropriately, this is entry #1500]



Pads, Paws & Claws

Osteology is the science of bones. Like most of our scientific terminology, it derives from the Greek: ὀστέον ‘bones’ and λόγος ‘study’. William Plane Pycraft [1868–1942] was renowned for his work in both osteology and zoology. But it’s the rare scientist who can share their knowledge with youngsters without “talking down” to them. Pycraft was that rarity.

One of his best publications for children was Pads, Paws & Claws, which gains some of its charm from the illustrations of his near contemporary John Edwin Noble [1876–1941]. And it is bones which seem to have bonded these two men, because Noble himself wrote about the anatomy of animals as an aid to drawing them proportionately, accurately, convincingly. Pads, Paws & Claws may be the perfect collaboration. I found and bought my first copy of the book at a flea market in Rochester, Minnesota, and it was the first of several other books illustrated by Noble, including more produced with Pycraft.

I sat down one day to expand the business life of Agincourt and realized that any rural community of modest size was likely to have a veterinarian and that “P,P&C” was the near-perfect name for a veterinary practice. “Near-perfect” because the only thing missing is hooves. And so it is that northwestern Iowa acquired its animal doctors — though I can’t at the moment tell you their names. Working on it.

Suggestions are always appreciated. As is constructive criticism.

[Hard to believe this is blog entry #1499!]

PS: Most readers will know that I find “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” to be a pessimistic point of view; it’s usually more like two or three degrees. One of Noble’s artistic predecessors and mentors was Sir Edwin Landseer [1803–1973]. Landseer’s name was passed along to the son of a friend; that child became Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, renowned Edwardian architect.

The Music Scene

A long-standing dream of mine is to have sung backup in a 60s group, “Toody Lipschitz and the Dipshits“. Our first album “Loose Bowels” was premiered at the Yellow Brick Road House in Agincourt. Don’t you wish you’d been there.

Etymology 101

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return. To express that fundamental notion most Europeans can utilize a word derived from the Greek (nostalgia, nostalgie) as well as other words with roots in their national languages: añoranza, say the Spaniards; saudade, say the Portuguese. In each language these words have a different semantic nuance. Often they mean only the sadness caused by the impossibility of returning to one’s country: a longing for country, for home. What in English is called “homesickness.” Or in German: Heimweh. In Dutch: heimwee. But this reduces that great notion to just its spatial element. One of the oldest European languages, Icelandic (like English) makes a distinction between two terms: söknuour: nostalgia in its general sense; and heimprá: longing for the homeland. Czechs have the Greek-derived nostalgie as well as their own noun, stesk, and their own verb; the most moving, Czech expression of love: styska se mi po tobe (“I yearn for you,” “I’m nostalgic for you”; “I cannot bear the pain of your absence”). In Spanish añoranza comes from the verb añorar (to feel nostalgia), which comes from the Catalan enyorar, itself derived from the Latin word ignorare (to be unaware of, not know, not experience; to lack or miss), In that etymological light nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing. You are far away, and I don’t know what has become of you. My country is far away, and I don’t know what is happening there. Certain languages have problems with nostalgia: the French can only express it by the noun from the Greek root, and have no verb for it; they can say Je m’ennuie de toi (I miss you), but the word s’ennuyer is weak, cold — anyhow too light for so grave a feeling. The Germans rarely use the Greek-derived term Nostalgie, and tend to say Sehnsucht in speaking of the desire for an absent thing. But Sehnsucht can refer both to something that has existed and to something that has never existed (a new adventure), and therefore it does not necessarily imply the nostos idea; to include in Sehnsucht the obsession with returning would require adding a complementary phrase: Sehnsucht nach der Vergangenheit, nach der verlorenen Kindheit, nach der ersten Liebe (longing for the past, for lost childhood, for a first love).”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

Frank Burke [born 1947]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

BURKE, Frank [born 1947]

“Garden Party”


oil on canvas / 3.4 inches by 11.3 inches

A British artist from Northumberland, he paints mainly in oils. Burke’s subjects include seascapes, scenes of north east life and landscapes of the Tyne River valley. He also paints historical paintings going back to the English Civil War. The “Garden Party” is a recent gift in memory of Phoebe and Sophia Tennant.

Willis W. Fahnstock [1853–1920]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

FAHNSTOCK, Willis Winthrop [1853–1920]

Portrait of my Father / Elias Fahnstock

oil on canvas / 18.1 inches by 14.2 inches


Willis was the son of early Agincourt investor Elias Fahnstock and older brother of the community’s earliest physician Rudyard “Doc” Fahnstock. Willis studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia — yet another connection between Agincourt and that renowned school — then returned East to the family place at New Castle, Delaware.

The portrait subject Elias Fahnstock was the first investor outside the original Founders in the Agincourt adventure, and also the founder in his own right of the village that bears the family name eight miles east. The portrait style is loosely reflective of the Newlyn School, a British artist colony on the coast of Cornwall, which Fahnstock may have visited.* A second Newlyn School began operation about 2010 but is devoted to Modernism.

Descendants of the Fahnstock family have only recently donated this fine piece to the Community Collection as a memorial to their name hereabouts.

* Faint markings on the reverse of the painting confirm the “Newlyn” connection: it is inscribed “James Lanham Ltd. / Frame Maker / St. Ives / Cornwall.” The Lanham Galleries were central to several artist colonies. It formed about 1887-1889 and remained in family ownership until 1911, which confirms to the dates Fahnstock was in England. [Information courtesy of Milton Yergens]

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon

Psych(ot)ic notions of karma and inevitability, as opposed to mere coïncidence, are part of me, always have been. I’ve lost count of cases where “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” has stepped up to kick me in the ass: “See? I told you. But would you listen? No.” Now, I’m no great fan of Mr Bacon — not that he’s a bad actor; maybe it’s the films that lack luster — but I could easily bypass a “Kevin Bacon” film festival. One of those “coïncidences” occurred a few years ago while I was living in Belgium.

My friend Richard came for a visit and we rented a car for a trip across northern France, a day-trip. We intended to travel as far as an anachronistic English country house by Sir Edwin Lutyens at Varengeville-sur-Mer, a rural commune just beyond Dieppe. But the first stop, the true beginning of our westward journey, was at Lille, technically at Croix, an upscale suburb.

Architect Rob Mallet-Stevens was contemporary of LeCorbusier, though history books don’t see it quite that way. Though just one year separated them, it was Corbu who became a thing, the darling of the Modern Movement, part of a trinity which included Mies van der Rohe and the somewhat older Frank Lloyd Wright. What is it about threesomes?

Mallet-Stevens began his career in 1907, about the same time as Corbu, and though he was successful in monetary terms, attracting wealthy and influential clients, time has not treated him well. Which may have something to do with his death in 1945, while Corb lived on until 1969; those twenty-four years made the difference, if the work did not.

In 1932 Paul and Lucie Cavrois commissioned the design of a large suburban home from Mallet-Stevens for a site in Croix — definitively on the proper side of town for “bourgeois domestic architecture,” according to one source. Cavrois was a Roubaix textile entrepreneur with both money and a taste for the shockingly modern, a good fit with the showman architect. The product of that collaboration was Villa Cavrois, 1840 m² (nearly 20,000 square feet) of sleek modern exterior and custom fittings. There isn’t anything deprived of Mallet-Stevens’ touch. After having become derelict, the house and grounds were acquired by the city of Croix and restored to their 1932 glory, the year the project was complete. This was the destination for Richard and me that spring morning.

Finding the place from space is no problem; it can literally be distinguished from its context in google.earth. Finding it on the ground is another matter, particularly since neither Richard nor I speak French. When we chanced on a lady returning from market, the best I could manage was “veel cav-wah” and a shrug of the shoulders signifying ignorance. She point in a direction and said something about “une chapelle”. With little more than a keen sense of direction — like homing pigeons — we located the villa, surrounded by chain-link fence, in mid-restoration, which was not unexpected. You can find the house today, fully restored and open for tours (as soon as the pandemic has passed) at the intersection of Avenue du Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Avenue François Roussel.

Other intermediate stops on our pilgrimage included several WWI cemeteries designed by the aforementioned Lutyens, during his “classical” period. But our ultimate goal that day was the country house “Bois des Moutiers” at Varengeville-sur-Mer, as spectacular an exercise in Edwardian Arts & Crafts (though geographically misplaced) as the Villa Cavrois was to the Art Deco. Two iconic houses were the brackets of our journey.

And so, we duly arrived at Varengeville with as little knowledge of the house’s location as we had at Croix, except this time there were hints of signage that took us down a single-track road with no shoulder or space for parking. The house was a tremendous experience, again equal to our first stop but here the setting had been provided by the landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll, a cousin of architect Lutyens and frequent collaborator. The interiors of the house have been inaccessible for some time but the grounds were worth the drive and we had an excellent chat with the owners, who doubled as admittance staff. We learned that Bois des Moutiers is embroiled in French inheritance court, shares of the property owned by two dozen cousins of contrary opinion on what should be done with the place — a perfect “tear-down” site for a bunch of McMansions. But as we turned toward the car, our host admonished us to drive right, rather than left, and visit the village church at the end of the road.

A charming Romanesque church, the église de Varengeville-sur-Mer, and its burial ground, tottering on the edge of a cliff above La Mance or what the English so rudely claim as their “Channel.” Come back in twenty years and both chapel and grounds will have collapsed into La Manche, taking its inmates along for the ride. 

The church was interesting but the tombs and the view their inmates couldn’t appreciate were a late afternoon spectacle not to be missed. Wandering among the memorials, hoping to find we knew not what, I was drawn to an impressive grave. And was stunned to learn that it is the final resting place of French composer Albert Roussel. Why he should be found in such an out-of-the-way cemetery and not nobly interred at Pere Lachaise, is a mystery. But I took great personal satisfaction that the brackets of our architectural tour had each been houses of iconic status on streets associated with French musicians bearing the surname Roussel: Francois (1510–1577) and Albert (1869–1937).

I rest my case. And, thank you, Kevin Bacon.



“Although the tribe are friends with the coca leaf, mescal, ayahuasca, yagé, the titular milk of river toads in the mating season, marijuana, peyote and Salvia divinorum, none of these are as potent for them as the power of a story.

“This tribe are storytellers, and stories are their drugs. For them, stories are not mental escapades, but are lived, richly, fully, viscerally. Every person in the tribe, man, woman and child, has the power; once they begin to recount, the others fall into trances. There are some figures, elders of the tribe, the Tellers, whose power to do this is even stronger…. Unusually, apart from their creation myth, there is no canon, and stories beget stories, in endless circulation, endless supply, one folding into another and generating a third, fourth, fifth, the characters always recognisable but always changing. Every story is told anew, nothing is ever repeated. And the fount of all these stories is that creation myth: a leopard, drunk on the milk of the river toad, brought the world into being with a story, and will end it again when the story finishes.”

— C. D. Rose, Who’s who when everyone is someone else.

In my world, the story never ends, so long as there is someone to pick up the thread. My part is almost over; my chapter.  Who will take it on?

Val Hamer [active]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa.]

HAMER, Val [active]

“Bird Cage on White Stand”

pastel on paper / 22.7 inches by 15.6 inches


British artist Val Hamer attended Bury Art School in the 1950’s, where she met her husband and fellow artist Rod Hamer. Val also studied Fine Art at Lancaster College of Art. Hamer has been inspired by the Euston Road School, especially Sir William Coldstream and Euan Uglow, as well as the works of Bernard Dunstan.

In 1967, Val Hamer was an acting and founding member of the Drama Group 65 in Bishops’ Stortford, Hertfordshire. Recently, the artist practised in her art studio in the Chilterns.