Among one thousand-plus entries here, there is a group of “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” These are people significant to Howard Tabor, writer of a local history column in the Daily Plantagenet and general chronicler of the community. Actually, these ghosts are mostly very real people (included under their own or slightly fictional names) who have been important in my life, one way or another. These brief references are a paltry way to thank them posthumously for helping me become a real person or a close approximation.
#00 Howard A. Tabor is my avatar in the Agincourt story, a writer for the Plantagenet and my contemporary. He and I talk a lot. One evening during a blizzard he met the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Incidentally, Howard’s middle initial stood for Alan, a family name; he changed it to just “A” so that it could also stand for his great-uncle Anson.
#01 Cliff Pherson, owner-operator of a gas station and garage and surrogate father for the kids who hung out there. Cliff’s character is based on my father Roy C. Ramsey.
#02 William A. Simmons and his wife Lillian. Cliff Pherson had an account with stock broker William A. Simmons. I learned a lot from Willie but met his wife Lillian just once for an afternoon of tea.
#03 Marilla Thurston Missbach was a neighbor and friend from my youth, influential in more ways than I can enumerate here.
#04 Anson Curtiss Tennant is in many ways the central, pivotal figure for the entire project, the young man who became an architect, whose surrogate I was in designing the Agincourt Public Library of 1915. Providing Tennant with a backstory has added to the richness of his family and the community as a whole. Initially, I had made him a One Hit Wonder — the Vanilla Ice of Agincourt — until Dr Bob intervened, wondering “Does he have to die?” Giving Anson a past and a future has paid benefits many times over. Until then I’d been lazy—and myopic.
#05 Hamish Brookes owned Shelf Life, a used book store above Vandervort’s Bakery. One afternoon, on an errand to get a loaf of sourdough, Howard Tabor chanced to make Mr Brookes’s acquaintance and became addicted to the world of books.
#06a/b “Slick” and Frannie Fielding were Howard’s neighbors when he came back to Agincourt for a job at the newspaper. He lived in the apartment above theirs at The Franklin.
#07a/b Alec and Margaret Parks were very real and very English. We became acquainted in the course of another research project and they subsequently made a two-week visit to Fargo that warranted being included here. Both are now deceased.
#08 Phyllis Tabor, with Ella Rose, her twin, were pioneer aviatrices (is that the plural of aviatrix?) and also happen to have been Howard’s great-aunts. He had a special relationship with Aunt Phyllis, who shows up in other settings.
#09 Ray Benson retired from the Merchant Marine and became a neighbor of Rosalie Oakes, mother of Rowan Oakes. Rowan is married to Howard. Ray sounds a great deal like my endearingly cranky former neighbor Ray Jackson.#10 Ernest “Red” Anhauser was the village atheist, a watchmaker at Salmagundi, Agincourt’s jewelers and purveyors of fine china. He, too, needed a second entry. “Red” has many characteristics of Cecil Elliott, a former colleague at N.D.S.U.
#11 “Veterans” is as close as I can get to understanding Agincourt’s many contributions to war. At some point, there’ll be a specific character who can stand for all those listed on the memorials in The Square.
#12 Brother Crucible is yet another attempt to tell the complex story of religious institutions in the community’s history. I don’t know him but I’d like to.
#13 Robina Lyle is very real, the public health nurse in my elementary school, a character so legendary in my own community’s history that an elementary school is named for her.
#14 Michael Corbett was someone of my acquaintance in about the 5th or 6th grade. He beat the shit out of me during recess until it ceased to be any fun and then moved on to other targets. Mike’s real-life story is the stuff of made-for-TV movies.
#15 Henry “Whitey” Malone is a thinly veiled version of myself.
#17 Harold Russell Holt (a.k.a. Hal) was a retired civil engineer who became director of the Fennimore County History Center. A second article about his passing was written before the “Ghost” series began.
#18 Sandor Szolnay guided the Men’s Department at deBijenkorf. Sandor is a hybrid character, a blend of the Hungarian baker I knew in Argo (who came there following the 1956 Hungarian uprising) and the nameless Hungarian tailor at Capper & Capper, who adjusted the cut of my first suit.
#19 Seamus Tierney was the founder of professional theatre in Agincourt. If he seems familiar, you catch on pretty quick.
#20 Fred D. Shellabarger doesn’t yet have a place in Agincourt. But he is a fond memory from my own beginnings in architecture and was, in hindsight, a strong influence on its trajectory. I could not have known how that experience would connect with my later life. On second thought, Fred’s legacy here rests in my feeble attempts to replicate his ability to draw poetically with a #2 Dixon “Ticonderoga” pencil — the one with the pink “delete” switch on the end..
#21 Edmund FitzGerald Flynn, Agincourt’s thirteenth mayor and husband of Amity Burroughs Flynn, died in office. Some people were not upset about this, including, I suspect, Mrs Flynn herself. Flynn is named for a sunken ore boat in Lake Superior, about which Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song — something which has yet to happen for the late Agincourt mayor. Unless you count “Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead.” [See Amity at #23.]
#22 Fern Pirtle was someone I knew in the 1960s. I hope she won’t mind being recast as a Black woman.
#23 Amity Burroughs Flynn, wife of Ghost #21, developed far beyond my expectations: after Ed died she became so much more than the half-term mayor’s consort. Amity’s growing presence was inspired by an exquisite portrait acquired from the on-line auction site that dare not speak its name. Her life needs a fuller treatment, however, than the article linked here. Indeed, each time I revisit her life, she becomes more interesting.
#24 Pliny’s Purse involves the least visible of Howard’s subjects: the keepers of a charity unintended to be seen as such. Pliny Tennant — one of the original townsite owners — didn’t know he’d be here; those in charge of his fund don’t want to be. As the “silent partner” in Agincourt’s founding, he is still celebrated each October 25th on Founders’ Day.
#25 Rose Kavanaugh (also spelled “Kavanagh” or “Kavana”) was the principal of Charles Darwin Public School, on one of Agincourt’s four original “School Lots” set aside by the Founders for public education. Miss Kavanaugh is a composite of many teachers from my own early education in Bedford Park and Argo-Summit, Illinois during the 1950s. She was also an opportunity to design a modest home in the style of architect Lawrence Buck (who, incidentally, actually designed a modest home in Oak Park, Illinois, for a real teacher named Rose Kavana, whom we have appropriated). BTW, Miss Kavana was a figure here long before a more recent political appointee. Miss Kavana had retired by the time Anson returned from his watery grave in 1937, and she was the first client for his new woodworking enterprise, the recipient of “Miss Kavanaugh’s Table and Chairs“.
#26 Reverend Chilton Fanning Dowd served St Joseph the Carpenter Episcopal church during the 1920s. Following retirement, Howard came to know him as a volunteer Sunday school teacher. Father Dowd is a composite of several clergy of my experience, particularly a former Episcopal bishop who once lived in North Dakota and was kind enough to reminisce about growing up spiritually in a George Hancock church. I can elaborate if necessary.
Others are likely to appear as the story develops.
And then there are those troublesome Ghosts of Christmas Present….