Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Mystic Journal

A cabin boy in the Union Navy during the Civil War, he was reputedly present when the Monitor fought the Merrimack. Tavern owner, informal banker, poet, publisher, member of the Mystic Band of Brothers. And I only found out about him last night.

His name was Bernhard Heinrich Funk, and he was my great-grandfather.

According to my brother's family tree data, and another listing online, he was born in Ostfriesland, Germany in 1843, and eventually died in Hudson, NJ. I don't know his wife's name or the year of his death. My dad isn't sure whether it was Bernhard's wife or his mother who eventually wrote and complained to the War Department, because he didn't get his promised share of the spoils from the capture of a privateer. He owned a tavern in lower Manhattan, and his son later spoke of hauling mattresses around to put up overnight guests there. Many of Bernhard's clients were sailors, who would leave money with him for safekeeping so it wouldn't be stolen or squandered.

The reason I happened to hear about him this week was that my dad was in New Jersey recently, visiting one of his sisters in the hospital. Another of his sisters had something interesting on the wall in a frame, and Dad borrowed it. That's how I happened to get this:

The poster tube and my dad's explanatory note

And this is what was inside:

Yes, I boosted the saturation to make it look more mystical.

It's only a photocopy Dad made, but there are four broadsheet-sized pages of it. It's a copy of The Mystic Journal, Vol I No. 8, published in New York City on March 15, 1872. My great-grandfather's name is in the upper left-hand corner of the first page, as the newspaper's "Proprietor & Publisher."

Proprietor & Publisher...and Poet? Probably.

Underneath his name is something one does not normally expect to see in a newspaper: poetry and fiction. The first poem, entitled "Life," begins,
Life is a rose, brier-burdened, jet-sweet.
Blooming a day;
Flinging its perfume to meet,
Wind blown away!
Okay, so it's not to my taste, is pretty much the best I can say about that one. The other poem, The Skipper's Boat, is in a bit of seaman's dialect - and remember, this isn't so long after the age of pirates. Kate would be interested.... Given the subject matter of the second poem, his knowledge of his grandfather's background and the lack of a byline, my dad reckons that Bernhard wrote the poetry himself. He probably wrote "Edith's Counterplot," too. A sample:
"But do you take into account the proposition that Edith Amesbury may love Walter Harding?"


"And do you furthermore reflect that a woman will be very slow to listen to tales of evil against the man who possesses her heart?"

"I have thought it all over Gideon. If the lady were alone concerned, I might doubt the success of my plan; but her brother Charles, who is her guardian since her uncle's death, is one of the stiffest and most exciting of the mortal crew. Let him so much as suspect that Walter Harling drinks and gambles, and he would see his sister suffer any amount of torment rather than see her marry that man."

The Mystic Journal is said to be "Devoted to Local and General Information, Miscellany, and the Brotherhood." It is an apt description, given the highly miscellaneous nature of its contents. But what of this Mystic Band of Brothers? Page Two offers us some clues. The "Directory of the M. B. of B." lists Grand Chiefs and Great Chiefs in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. A letter signed simply "Storm" offers reasons why Bernhard's paper has not heard recently from club officers in Philadelphia, citing illnesses and other personal troubles before admitting,
As for the Grand Conductor he has no excuse why he should not keep up a monthly correspondence with the Mystic Journal, but if I should ask him to do this he would laugh at me and say his leisure him is all taken up with entertaining any visiting brethren who by chance come in his way, the brethren that know him will corroborate my statement that he is a lively young man and enjoys good company; look out for him in New York the next session of the Grand Council.
Fascinating stuff. But my stepmother Ruth's favorite part is the ads of page four, some of which you can see below:

Thanks, Dad. I love it! This is an amazing glimpse at a relative from an era I know little about. And someday I'm going to rip off that amazing publication name for fictional use.



julie said...

That is too cool! It's always fun (at least for me) to find out something about the family background, and it's double cool to find out that you an an ancestor have something like that in common.

Becky said...

Neat! It reminds me...When I was a kid, there was a small restaurant located inside a local Sears that had table covered with ads and pages from original Sears catalogs from that same era. I loved reading those ads. Too funny! I was bummed when the restaurant was shut down and the space converted into the new offices for a new Sears venture...the Discover card.