Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa



1.  a book published usually under the jurisdiction of the government and containing a list of drugs, their formulas, methods for making medicinal preparations, requirements and tests for their strength and purity, and other related information.

2. a stock of drugs.

Patent medicines during the 19th century and up to about 1920 presented a bewildering array of outrageous claims and false hope to sufferers of everything from warts and ringworm to cancer and dementia. Eventually this all came under the watchful regulatory eye of the federal government — the FDA, founded as early as 1906, a surprise to me.

The point today is this: I ran across a book on the history of 19th century packaging, packaging as art, and though immediately off Agincourt’s need for graphic design. Imagine the possibilities. Mine went immediately to the topic of pharmaceuticals.

“More real than real”

In the YCMTSU Department [“You can’t make this shit up”], a friend of the project recently called our attention to a postcard offering (on the Online Auction Site that Dare Not Speak). Its name: the RPPC view of an urban fire.

I’d seen this image some time ago, and was intrigued by the event; urban fires have been a fact of municipal life and surely Agincourt had been touched by at least one. A firefighter is shown still pumping water on the smoldering semi-ruin. At least part of the signage was still visible — “…N & ERBE MFG. CO.” — and turned out to have been the Chicago office-showroom of Yawman & Erbe, maker of office and library furnishings at the turn of the last century. I thought immediately that they would have manufactured cabinetry for the public library project of 1915, so I cribbed the image and wrote a brief entry.

Then, yesterday, Mr Johnson called my attention to a listing on eBay for another copy of that card — it’s relatively easy to tell one RPPC from another “identical” card — a listing that identified the image as “Agincourt Iowa”! Now we’ve been known to play fast and loose with history but never imagined that one of the project’s many fictions would enter the realm of fact. The slight guilt I feel encourages (obligates?) me to buy the damned card. Whaduya think?


“Does this bus go to Duluth?”

The reply to that query (during my high school years) was, “No, this bus goes beep-beep.”

The 34th annual Lake Superior Design Retreat, a two-day creative cross-pollination among various design types, took place at Fitger’s Inn on the Duluth lakefront. You can read about it here and plan to attend in 2024. You’ll thank me. This year I shared the Agincourt experience with ninety folks, in fifteen-minutes “commercial breaks” scattered among the other five presenters. Agincourt was conceived during a commercial break, so there’s a measure of justice here.

It’s difficult enough to encapsulate a seventeen-year effort in seventy-five minutes. Try parsing that into five bitesized chunks. By the fourth installment, I’d nearly figured it out and number five took a form that should have shaped the other four. Better late than not at all.

I’ll do better next time. But this opportunity has been more beneficial than I could have imagined.


The New Normal (1.3)


The name of Agincourt’s second esteemed educational institution has been bandied about for several years, with no resolution to the big question: What is the history of Northwest Iowa Normal College? That’s unlikely to be resolved this afternoon, but I do want to make not of two important issues: 1) what is the college motto and is it in Latin or Greek? and 2) what is the mascot of its sports teams?

As a nominee for #1, I offer “μιλήστε γρήγορα και αφοσιωθείτε σε τίποτα” (Talk Fast and Commit to Nothing). It’s pronounced, “milíste grígora kai afosiotheíte se típota”. You’re welcome.

Meanwhile, some nominees for #2 have already been taken: the high school team are the Muskrats and its Double-A baseball team are the Archers. So what’s left?

PS / Update [20 minutes later]: Problem solved via Robert: The Pomegranates., a.k.a., The Pips.

NITC (again)

The solid brass HO-gauge model of an early 20th century interurban car which frequently distinguishes our masthead represents the rolling stock of the Northwest Iowa Traction Co. Its origin and early history are outlined elsewhere. [I’ll try to post some links.] But of late I seem preoccupied with two small matters: first, the schedule of service between Fort Dodge and Storm Lake. Inserting several miles into the actual distance between those two northwest Iowa communities presents issues.

A second but still important issue — given that it affects the appearance of that brass HO model — is the color scheme for the company: what would have distinguished its rolling stock from other connecting lines [like the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern]. As someone more fond of secondary colors than those garish primaries — Cecil Elliott once said that I wasn’t satisfied with any color until I’d added a bucket of shit; it’s the Victorian in me — I’ve settle on Mustard and Magenta. The first must be a robust, nearly whole grain mustard of the eastern European variety (not that ghastly French’s yellow) and the second, the sort of 100% woolen magenta of high school band uniforms. I’m terrified to actually paint the bloody brass car, though, so photoshopping will have to do for the present, at least until I grow a spine.


Reményi again

Photograph of Reményi early in his career. He was always passionate about his Magyar heritage.

A couple entries ago, I introduced Edouard Reményi as a likely visitor to Agincourt and also discussed the notion of itinerancy. By a stroke of luck, Reményi was one of those vagabonds who left a sketchy trail.

Within eight years of his passing, friends and family of the artist gathered recollections of him; less that a biography but far more than might have been written about his passing in San Francisco. The introduction lays out a behavior that suits our purposes:

“His movements were always mysterious. There would be long silences; then would come detailed reports of his death. How many times was he shipwrecked, captured by savages and assassinated! How many times was he reported deserted and dying in strange countries! Soon, however, he would be announced as playing in some place on the far edge of the world — always happy, always finding something beautiful, always a roamer, always a gypsy.” [from: Reményi, Musician and Man (1906)]

If rural northwestern Iowa qualifies as “the far edge of the world,” we’ve found our man.

Opening Season

The Auditorium


“The Transcendentalists” 

a lecture by Ednora Nahar, Elocutionist

Edouard Reményi, Violinist

[programme to be announced]

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

a play by J. McKinney [Chicago cast]

adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson

Rosamunde Saucisse-Sèche, Lyric Soprano

selections from “Dante et Béatrice” by B. Godard

and “The Queen of Spades” / “Pique Dame” by P. I. Tchaikovsky.

“Philidor”— an opera comique

libretto and music by D. d’Argentuille, 

[sung in French with projected text]



Ede Reményi [1828/1830–1898]

Photo of Ede Reményi by Fritz Luckhardt

In the TWTW department, I’m doing background research on Ede Reményi, renowned Hungarian violinist, friend of Liszt and Brahms, a frequent performer in the U.S. during the mid- to late 19th century. He was in the country in ’95 and could have been booked in Agincourt on his way from Chicago to San Francisco. Much earlier, in 1880, he performed in the gold prospecting camps of Colorado, furkrysake! So a pit.stop in Iowa isn’t farfetched during at least one of his American concert tours. Well, as you might suspect, this has turned out to be one of several rabbit holes that keep me from doing other stuff.

There is a 1906 book, Reményi, Musician and Man, that seems to be the most comprehensive treatment, especially his penchant for traveling to weird places and being incognito for long periods of time — all of which work in my favor. I found a copy of the book at a dealer in California, an ex-library copy with the usual stamps and pocket but far fewer than I’d expected.  With shipping, I’ve invested $14.

This evening, I decided to check eBay; perhaps I had paid too much. Gosh! There is a British dealer who is offering his copy for the astounding price of £10,049! That’s a trifle more than $12K. Lest you think I jest, here is a screen shot of the listing:

Of course, you can ask £10K with no chance of actually getting it.

Oh, and to compound the freakishness of the day, Reményi’s birthday is the same as mine.



Map of U.S. population density n 1880. *

    1. the act of traveling from place to place. 2. a going around from place to place in the discharge of duty or the conducting of business.

There is a question, I suppose, concerning a distinction between itinerancy and vagabond-ish-ness. Itinerancy suggests purpose, while a vagabond has neither specific intent nor destination in mind. My suspicion is that 19th century America involves a good deal more of the second category.

Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” must have something to say about the processes of western, trans-Appalachian migration but it’s been a long time since I did more than glance at it. Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip is a localized and more up-to-date treatment with a thesis that, when contrasted with Turner, offers grim prospects for Midwestern population of the 19th century.

The opposite phenomenon is staying put; too much of that limits the gene pool. [Michael Lesy’s contention is that too many of the wrong people were staying put — in Wisconsin, at least.] So, in the 19th century there were several mechanisms to avoid that danger. The annual county fair was one and it served to add variety to the genetic makeup of both human’s and livestock. Another, not focused on reproduction, was the periodic rotation of clergy. Methodists, for example, imposed a strict three-year limit on a minister’s connection with any one congregation and their relocation was rarely “just down the road.” I’m more familiar with the Protestant Episcopal church in 19th century Dakota Territory and can attest to a fairly regular cycling of priests prior to 1900. An itinerant medical profession, by contrast, would have wreaked havoc on general community health. So, somewhere in my self-conscious subconscious I’ve given due consideration to these various and varying patterns of movement.

* Consider the “empty” zone just below the map’s center and straddling the gutter. That’s Oklahoma Territory, held out from settlement until 1889. Smaller, more localized exceptions like this have added unpredictable eddies and swirls to patters of transhumance, Agincourt being among them.

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