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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, October 20, 1912, Image 4

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1912-10-20/ed-1/seq-4/

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fiS!S?S3BnMD\ v WILHKLM voigt—
{tIP r* frl t ms B T °t est l ue impulses,
tCCI \Si and using them to better
advantage in fiction, have
become a rival of Dumas, Turgenieft' or Joseph
Conrad. But he was born to poverty, and assigned
to a cobbler's bench as soon as he was old enough to
ply a needle, and to tap nails into the soles of old
shoes. Cobbling 1 A great destiny for a man of
But the life had its compensations. It gave him the
leisure to think, and he developed a humorously cyn
ical attitude toward humanity. Few readers will fail
to remember how, six years ago, at the age of fifty
eight, he dressed himself in a colonel's uniform, went
to Koepenick, and arrested the burgomaster and the
treasurer of that highly respectable suburb of Berlin,
on charges that they were too frightened to question.
Immediately, he became the news sensation of the
day. He gained nothing from this bizarre proceeding,
except a term in jail. But he had freed himself from
the shackles of the conventions that he hated, and
thereafter his life became a romance unparalleled
in the pages of the novelists. It is still an astounding
adventure; and, on his authority, I say that before
long he will again spring to the center of the stage
as the hero of a world drama of his own devising.
For, in tpite of the fact that "The Colonel of
Koepenick" died and was officially buried in London
this sunnuer; in spile of the fact that his body was
identified anil his obituary printed in thousands of
netesf>aj>ers; I asst it Hint he has returned and is in
Sew York today, lie has confided his memoirs to
my rare; he has mad: 1 me his biographer to the Ameri
can public; and the following is a true account of
my relationship with him, and of his career as known
to me.
I Meet the "Colonel"
| FIRST met Heir Voigt while T was living in
* Berlin as a political refugee, and acting as the
correspondent of a Russian newspaper. Immediately
after the Koepenick incident. I visited him in jail
and obtained his story. I, incidentally, made a friend
of I lie then broken-down old cobbler. His personality
interested me immensely; for I perceived that he was
by no means the madman, or crank, that he was sup
posed to be. He had worked out a philosophy that,
if based upon false premises, was nevertheless sin
cere. Money — or, rather, the commercial spirit.—
he believed to be the curse of the world; and, as he
could not take his age seriously, he was unable to
resist the temptation to flout its prejudices.
"I am a born adventurer and social rebel," he said
once. "Prom the stolid German point of view, the
adventures that appeal to me are crimes; and accord
ingly the law of my native land has dubbed me with
the name of' Criminal.' Much as I despise the unjust
label. I have no choice but to bear it."
Even as a boy, Voigt i tayed many extraordinary
pranks. His brain was always full of schemes, and he
fhe life.death.resurrection and further
idventures of the great international
joker as $iven to his friend .
seems to'have had no difficulty in planning the de
tails. Tliis so alarmed his father, who was himself
engaged in the family trade of cobbling at Weissenee,
thai he made an apprentice of him without delay.
"The cobbler must stick to his last. It is an honest
profession, and will give a dreamer every oppor
tunity to build air castles." Thus spoke old Voigt;
and the divergence of temperaments is illustrated
by the ''Colonel's" statement in later years. "My
youth was a period of prosaic vegetation," he said
to me. "I worked hard from early morning until
late at night, and with what reward in view? To
earn my living and to learn a trade that would insure
cabbage and sausages when I was old. And in the
end. when they buried me. a few of my friends and
customers would say: 'Wilhelm Voigt was a good
old cobbler; he did honest work and made low
charges. Peace be to his soul!' The mere idea of such
a career filled me with horror."
Berlin being a big city that offered possibilities
of romance, he moved there; but in a short time he
realized that a cobbler's boy would hardly run across
any fabulous adventures. He, therefore, commenced
to dream about conjuring up romance on his own
The basement shop in which he worked faced an
old church with a small graveyard behind it. Voigt
saw the pastor every day, as he went down the street;
and, in time, he got to know the members of the con
gregation. His employer was a convert of the old
pastor, and took his religion seriously. It was a queer
sect, with a belief in supernatural manifestations.
Although Voigt's employer pretended not to admit
that ghosts could exist in these matter-of-fact days—
especially in a busy city like Berlin — he was ready
to swallow* any tale of one having been seen in the
countryside, or in a graveyard. This gave the young
trickster an idea.
He made an instrument somewhat resembling a
bag-pipe that, when properly manipulated, gave out
a weird and ghastly sound. Armen with this, he cou
cealed himself in the graveyard of the old church
one dark and rainy night. It was early autumn; and,
in spite of the rain, many of the windows in the row
of houses across the way were half open. He began
to play on his bag-pipe, and the music roused strange
echoes about the old church. The startled faces of
the householders appeared at the windows. He saw
the bearded face of the pastor and the faces of the
members of his family. Dogs barked frantically, and
the yowling of cats added to the pandemonium.
Vpigt stopped his music at the right moment,
and vanished through a rear gate behind the shrub
bery. He had hardly reached the street before he
saw people with lanterns in their hands exploring
the graveyard. The next day. his employer told him
with bulging eyes of the "host that had disturbed the
neighborhood. The hoax was kept up. night after
night, to the terror of the citizens and the cynical
amusement of the perpetrator; until, at last. Voigt
realized that there might lie money in the game. He
redoubled his efforts, and created an actual reign of
terror in that district of Berlin. Then, he circulated
mysterious notes, to the effect that the ghost would be
satisfied if under the headstone of a certain grave
in the churchyard, there should be placed a cross of
gold, a silver tablet and three golden wedding rings,
accompanied by the written words: "Leave us alone!
Amen!" He craftily added that this ottering was to
be kept under the headstone only on Monday night.
During the balance of the week it might rest under a
brass candlestick in the southwestern coiner of the
lie did not believe that the citizens could be so
easily gulled; but to his sui| rise, the very next Mon
day night lie found the trinkets under the headstone.
He promptly took them to a pawn-shop) and realized
fifty marks on them.
"I felt like a millionaire," said the "Colonel," in
recounting his experiences to me, "and immediately
decided that, thereafter, 1 would live by my wits.
That there was anything crooked in such methods I
did not admit then, and do not admit now. What is
commercial competition but the preying of the strong
upon the weak? Compared with the great wrongs
that are done under cover of Ihe law by persons in
high places, my tricks were innocent. I only devised
ways to fool the tools."
Unfortunately, from Ilerr Yoigt's point of viewer
his further conjuring up of specters did not prove
financially successful. He was detected, and sen
tenced to serve six months in the penitentiary. After
that, he seems to have quieted down, and to have
pursued his trade of cobbling until his fifty-eighth
year, without getting a chance to make Society under
stand that he was an arch satirist of its conventions,
Then, out of a clear sky came the Koepenick ad
venture; and its details shall be told in his own words,
as translated from the original (Jerman of his
Voigt's Own Story of Koepenick
"T RESOLVED," be writes, "to expose that most
* absurd of German absurdities — the slavish re
spect of I uniform that has turned a race of poets
and thinkers into militaristic tyrants. After being
released from jail for a petty offence, I earned
enough at my cobbling to buy, second-hand, the uni
form of a captain of the First Foot Guards. This I
cleaned and greased until it was nearly as good as
new; but I needed a cap, an overcoat and a saber. I
worked hard for three weeks longer and saved every
penny, My weekly income was only two dollars and
fifty cents; but I scraped a dollar together and bought
a cap. Later. I purchased, for two dollars, the cast
off overcoat of a colonel of a Line regiment. The
saber I borrowed from a dealer in theatrical cos
tumes, to Whom I stated that 1 had a friend who
was to play the role of a lieutenant in an out-of-town
theater, but who lacked a sword. The patchwork
character of my uniform was ludicrous. Any army
officer would have known in a moment that I was
faking. I relied, however, on the fact that the aver
age German citizen stands iii such awe of a uniform
that no one would dare to suspect me.
"On October Hi. 1006, I was ready \'ov action. I
placed my military uniform in a grip; and early in
the morning left my boarding house, and took' the
municipal circuit railway to Schoeueber- . The paiijp
was deserted, and under cover of the shrubbery I ar
rayed myself as a colonel. With the change of gar
ments, my personality underwent a singular transfor
mation. I was no longer a poor cobbler, but felt as if I
had always belonged to the high and mighty military
class. On my return to the railway station. 1 realised
i hat universal respect was being paid to me. A police
man saluted me with an air of great.humility, and
(Continued on Pan? N)

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