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The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, January 08, 1911, Image 12

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Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1911-01-08/ed-1/seq-12/

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WHEN ONE COBBLER CAPTURED A TOWN
§9 iHE AmazingExplbitpf'Frederick WilliamVdighi. Whose Daring Deed Made the Kaiser's Army the Laughing Stock of the World
When the German village of Koepenick was
captured single handed by an unknown man a
few years azo and all the astounding acts per
formed that are hereafter narrated the whole
world was incredulous for a day or so and then.
» laugh rolled up, beginning in Germany and
spreading all around the globe.
It was merely in the due course of things that
the man was sent to prison for four years. Even
the world looked on this very light mindedly,
and it increased his popularity, if anything. He
Jelt Germany on his release and came to the
United States by way of Canada to evade the
immigration laws, which forbid the entrance
of an alien who has been convicted of a crime.
At last his presence became known, his story
was revived and he was made much of in New,
York. Since his adventure was one thoroughly
in consonance with the spirit *of the Adven
turers' club he was elected an extraordinary
member and the following account of his ex
ploit was prepared, transcribed and translated
by Preston Stone.
Voigt was later found by the United States
authorities and deported, but the members of the
Adventurers' club will make a special effort to
procure his return to American soil unhindered.
Voigt is now 54 years old, his celebrity has
brought to him quite an income and it is doubt
ful if he returns to his cobbler's bench.
By Captain Frederick William Voigt
A a child I played about the hoofs of the
horses of a cavalry garrison, and among the
first things that I remember are tactical
movements. My boyhood was filled with
impressions of the Franco-Prussian war,
ami so, though I was never under arms but once in
my life, and that when I took Koepenick single
handed, and though I never wore a uniform except
on the same occasion, I was quite as well qualified
to carry a rifle, "swing a sabre or command a post
as tens of thousands of the men who do it for the
..." . . ■
glory of the Fatherland. Somehow the army always
struck me as something funny; and by funny I mean
the German kind of funny, which I realize is a very
different kind of funny from that of the. other parts
of the world.
One day quite a number of years ago I was stand
ing looking down on the Steckelhorn-Fleth, in Ham
burg, where the narrow canal, flanked by the tower
ing old -buildings several stories high, passes under
a narrow bridge. Over the noise of the city's din I
beard the regular tread of marching men and the
clink of accoutrements moving in unison on the
bodies of an armed force in motion. Turning I saw
a detachment of infantry swing up to the bridge in
command of a sergeant. I
Just then there issued from a doorway two dandi
fied young officers, who approached the bridge from
the opposite direction. In other words, the* de
tachment in its formation filled the bridge space and
there was not time or space to evolve it. The two
boy officers would be brought into direct collision
with the detachment if each pursued his course. Did
the officer step back into the doorway and allow the
detachment to pass? Did the sergeant halt his men,
'bout face them and return to a wider space? No.
The sergeant halted his command, brought them to
"present arms" and backed them about one hundred
feet before the sauntering young dandies, and the
precious pair went on their way. I sat down and
laughed till my sides pained me.
On another occasion Buffalo Bill's wild west
American show was playing in Berlin, and the first
public appearance they made on the streets was one
busy market day, when there were throngs of all
sorts of traffic. Into one of the squares rode a sub
-tnanager of the show at the head of a body of
A Sort of One Man Uniformed Parade from One _WtnV. Room to Another
J Told Her That She Should Consider Her
self Highly Honored to Have Her Husband
Arrested by an Officer of the Guards Sent
Directly by the Emperor
troops of various nationalities gathered to work with
the show performance. ,
Their entrance was heralded by a bugle call very
similar to that announcing the approach of a Ger
man general. Instantly the misguided people, all
about me took off their hats and gazed on the man"
whom a single glance only would determine to be
not a German general. They kept their hats off till
the cavalcade bad left the square. Such things as
these made me anticipatory of some opportunity. to -
turn the whole system of soldier worship into ridi
cule. ,
Now, the Germans are not noted "for being the
most abstemious people in the world, and among my
friends I bear the .reputation of being less abstemi
ous than most Germans. I am fond of conviviality,
and once or twice my employers have decided that
it interfered too seriously with the work I was doing
for them and have urged me gently to labor else
where.
THE IDEA COMES
October of the year 1906 was a beautiful month
and I was working in Prussia near Berlin and had
saved some money. The beautiful weather, how-'
ever, called me out of doors and I began a little na
ture worship with some friends that resulted in my
being dismissed from my situation. The philosophy
of alcohol is a peculiar one. I blamed my misfor
tune on the army, the ridiculous army, and .it oc
curred to me that my opportunity had come.
The idea of the method came to me from my
friendship with the widow of a defunct captain of
infantry. I had learned that she was in need of
I Purchased Her .Husband's Handsomest
Uniform and Donned It
v * money, and, taking some of my savings, I purchased
her husband's handsomest uniform and donned it
It fitted me beautifully, and, as I am a man of some
appearance and a sufficient military presence, I made
an excellent, /bowing in it. '
The fact that I had been drinking, only carried out
the verisimilitude. If I had been absolutely sober
no one would have credited me with being a true
captain of German infantry. ; *
Not far away was the military station of Ploetzen
see, and/wearing my uniform of the; First '■ Regiment
of the Guards, I went there, called on the command
er, and informed him that I had been sent by the
emperor to get a company of his men to execute a
special mission of a confidential nature in Koepen
ick, a village; of the district Without question the
company was ordered out and turned over to me.
But. i I took seven men only with me to ; Koepenick.
• Our progress to the village was an ordinary mat
ter and attracted little attention till I marched to
the» city hall and » summoned ■ the : burgomaster, or
mayor. ../.'/ ' -»*•
He came before me with fear and trembling, but
with a certain kindly indulgence I told him not to
be afraid, that I would execute my orders with all -
; possible kindness. He must consider himself under
arrest and must turn over to me the keys of the city
offices, including the city funds. This he did,
amazed, dumfounded and stricken with mortal grief
that; his long years of an honorable and upright life
and: all of; his ; excellent public service should, have ■
brought him only to such an opprobrious finale.
\ His wife protested and pleaded, but I told her that,
she should consider . herself. highly honored to have ■-
her husband arrested by an officer of the guards sent
dirctly from the emperor to Koepenick.
, She could not • see that it was, aru- more pleasant 7
to be disgraced from the throne than from the
police station, and really I was very sorry of *' my
joke, to say nothing of being made extremely un
comfortable. If some one had offered; resistance
then I would have known' precisely how, to proceed
and if I had told my men to do so they would have
shot the villagers down in rows. A weeping woman,
however, and -some hundreds of sympathizing
women neighbors are a more difficult'problem. If
the officer in command had been a j real captain in
, stead of a make believe one he would have. found
the task no.more agreeable or any less puzzling.
OWNER OF : THE VILLAGE
, The unfortunate official was too • busy reviewing
his virtues to find his vices—and .1 may, say that
he finally decided that he had done a number of
things .which hitherto had >' thought very com
mendable and which he now, decided merited him
arrest—that he forget the •personal aspect •of the
matter until he was marched away* to confinement,
and -then he pleaded with me to be allowed the
privilege of committing .suicide. This was: carrying
even a joke too far, and my gravest concern was"
that he would find some method of; taking his life
and I would have his blood on my hands!
... So;concerned was I that even after I had ordered
him removed from my presence (and- all my orders
were given with the majesty of a German captain,
which is saying a very great deal) ,1 followed and -
personally searched him, removing even "the little
machine with which * he clipped his nails, for fear
that he might cut his throat with it in some ingeni
ous manner. . ,
My entrance into the town had had; the effect of
suspending all'its" activities. The people stood about
agape, conversing in low tones. I could hardly keep"
from laughing in their faces. They could have over
whelmed me and my handful of men with the great
est of ease, but the thing that stood before their
eyes was the uniform—the all sufficient uniform and
what it represented.
The most amusing thing of all was a conference
which I held with one of the foremost men of the
place. He presented himself with two or three
others and asked for an audience. With proper dig
nity l\ declined to see more than one burgher at a
time; and. instead of his coming in to voice an angry
protest in behalf of his incarcerated fellow towns
man, an official who had -always had" his indorsement
and, support—in fact, to whose family he was con
nected by marriage—the fat wretch came to. ingra
tiate himself with me.
He advanced, saluting profoundly, and after I had
spoken to -him he said: .
"Herr Capitan, as one of the citizens of the village
it -is my pleasure as well as my duty to express to
you, the ; honorable and distinguished" representative
of the - glorious kaiser; the gratification we ** feel in
being relieved from the oppression which the Herr
Burgomaster been exercising over us these many
years. We have rebelled for a long time in secret
against his maladministration of the local govern
ment, and we . have long suspected his dishonesty in
the handling of the town funds, but no one of us felt
MOVING MARBLE IN ITALY
HAiMjj labor is the rule: in the J famous marble
quarries of Carrara, Italy,* since the distances
separating •: quarry from quarry and the declivitous
nature of the country preclude the use of machin
ery- The • methods' of the; lizzatura, or workmen
who convey the marble over the roadless steeps that
stretch from ; the quarries to the wagon track, are
interesting. ,1
When a great fragment of r marble, detached "'by a
blast, has stopped rolling, it is roughly squared into
i block weighing, s--, 40 tons. Then the work
men set about geVtfiig it down.
A series of stout posts has been firmly driven into
:he mountainside along certain lines "of-':' descent
offering the ..least resistance. The : lizzatura, *by
;ans l of crowbars ; and; screw jacks, raise I the: block
>n "to: a • soaped skid of hard beech wood. ' Previously
hey have secured ,'. the block by means of three long"
tempen cables, with which', they take {turns "around
he posts. They payout sufficient rope to allow the
»onderous mass to slide over the ; soared skids by
- ■ ' ■'.' " : ■'.
The San Francisco Sunday Call.
Hniself to be in a position to take the initiative. Yon
have relieved us from" all that embarrassment and
unpleasantness, but we will now do our share. As
soon as you point the way we will help you, and we
will send him to as bad a prison and for as long a
time as possible.'",' Just whatever you want, you
know. It is an outrage that the unspeakable scoun
drel could: have imposed upon us for so long a time
as he has."
TOO MUCH OF A BARGAIN
"Herr burgher," I answered with 'quiet dignity,
"I have come here merely in the pursuit of my duty,
and I; hope that I have done it thus far according to
the will and instructions of -him who sent me. The
most that you can" do is to look after his family, es
pecially his . wife, who seems to be very deeply
affected." ' . , ,< '
"Oh, no, no, Herr Capitan; don't allow her to fool
you. She is a hard one and a cunning one. She
was merely • trying to move • you by bawling around
here. She is as bad as he is; in fact, some of the
people think she is much worse and that it is she
who has planned everything wicked for him that he
has done and has urged him on to do it. We are
more likely to drive her out of town than anything
else."
This being more than I had calculated upon I
gave strict orders that she should not be harmed or
annoyed in any way.
So far as the town 'was concerned, I might hay**
stayed there for some days ami might have lived; in^
a lordly manner and been made very much of with
out any one of them ; questioning my right or au
thority or ; without the news spreading to dangerous
quarters. That. I knew very well. I would have
been a fool if I could not see that The thing that,
1 must look out for was the system of the army*.
The seven men must be accounted for. The routine
of reports must go in. Any hour after the first 24
the system was likely to detect automatically that
something was wrong, so I decided to make myself
scarce. ;
Having taken military charge of the town's af
fairs, 1 ' must set them running again, which I did
,by having all things go on as they had before, by
myself conducting the petty routine quite as the
sensible old fellow I had locked up would have done.
Since I -was in for it and might as well be killed
for a goat as a kid, I had the city funds turned over
to me, and to my surprise they totaled nearly 5,000
marks, which I counted over with due care and gave
a receipt in the name of the crown, then pocketed
them.
Having "seen my political prisoner properly started
to his just punishment and -my seven men ordered
to report to their regiment when they had carried
out my orders concerning him, I had the town secre
tary brush me down neatly, and, without turning my
eyes to right or left, strode out of town and sought
the nearest railway station.
To escape I need, only make my way quickly Into
Berlin, find a place to change' my uniform for civil
ian clothes and return to my cobbler's bench in my
native: town. They would never find the Captain
of Koepenick and the whole country might wonder
and laugh its fill. « , . .....j
HE GOES TOO FAR
Excellent, excellent! But the presence of so much
money in my;. pocket*was,a bad ;thing for me. When
I. was safely away I began to enjoy my own joke so
hugely that I organized myself into' an'individual
celebration, a sort of one man uniformed parade
from one wine room to another; and even this would
have been perfectly safe, but I neglected to get the
uniform off according to schedule, and then matters
grew Very dangerous. .Still, though all Germany
was ringing with the exploits of the Captain of Koep
enick, by this "time and the empire was on the gui
vive for his apprehension, I passed unsuspected as
long as I behaved like a captain of infantry, for the
reason that they were not looking for a fake cap
tain,,but for a real one who had lost his mind or
was drunk. I. qualified in "the .latter respect quite
well by this time, and if everything else had gone
well still I might have escaped. The colonels and
generals of the army were raking, down the file
numbers to account for every man on that memor
able day, and it did not take long for. the system
to render its decision that no man of the "army had
done the deed.
. Now the ponderous machinery of the investiga
tion swung over to the other possibility and my
danger was acute.
I did not know it, however, and went singing
gayly from one merry gathering place to another
spending the money of the municipality of Koepe
nick with an open hand. There is no place in the
world where one can carry on the sort of individual
demonstration in which I was engaged, attract less
attention have a better time and spend less money
than in Germany,; and T believe that I set* some
thing of a record. v
But all things must have an end. The captain o/
the imperial life guards began to act like a cobble*
and they jailed me like a: cobbler and I paid the
fiddler for my joke.
There were consequences not recorded. I had ex
periences before my imprisonment, during it and
since which .am not at liberty to relate. Some day
I may do so : One thing, my adventure had the
effect, of causing the enactment:of laws which re
moved the civil authorities of the empire out of the
reach of interference by the military, and if I did
nothing else, I did a good deed there '
its own weight, but not enough to allow it' to gain
too much momentum . down the incline ° R3m
- During this; descent, besides 'the men tailing on to
the ropes two or more men are seated on the block
A man following closely in the wake of it hands
them the skid just passed over, which they «soa,
and hand to a man who ; keeps* just in front of th'
moving mass to put it .own it, patn, and so pro
vide a continuous "way." This last mentioned
*»*' <ft the .most dangerous **. Should one
of the cables part at. a critical moment, or should
a mistake be matte inlying out or slackening them
he : will inevitably be crashed. -
".It is an amazing fact , that in former /times th.
.izz-atura used only one cable to hold back the load
until -the authorities,; rightly , regarding. theirs as a
perilous occupation, enacted a law that not less than
three cables should be used. It is said this work i!
responsible, on:a„;average, for three deaihsTy^aA
.* remarkable ■ figure. in the' circumstances and I S S'\
ing that the finest discernment, judgment, LoW '
and skill are displayed by the lizzatura, uhoS
in bands numbering from 12 to 15 men. °*I™r*;1™r*;
_ umi-erini. ironic to 15 men.

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