He was known to be a hooligan. Technically, he was a “Hooligan” with a capital H. Known by the locals as Happy Hooligan, Fred was one of the more colorful characters of Washington, Missouri.
He lived in a vacant building just outside town. You could easily identify him by his long, scraggly hair and beard. In the winter, he walked about with only burlap bags to protect his feet. His sole means of income was by selling curios constructed from discarded cigar boxes.
When he died in February 1912, no next of kin came forward to claim the body. Happy Hooligan was buried in an unmarked grave in Washington’s cemetery. It seemed that this strange man was destined to be forgotten — just one more unimportant tramp who had never amounted to anything.
That’s exactly how it looked for the next 43 years. In 1955, one of Washington’s resident historians happened to come across the notice of Happy’s death and saw some things that warranted a closer look. He reviewed the coroner’s inquest and all of the public records that were available. He made a startling discovery.
The strange man known as Happy Hooligan was born with the name Fred “Fritz” E. Franke. He had served with distinction as an officer with the 27th Pennsylvania Regiment during the Civil War. After being discharged from the military, he served as an agent for the Federal Reserve Board. He was a successful businessman and journalist.
What happened to transform this man with an impressive list of accomplishments into the tramp known as Happy Hooligan? In short, it was tragedy. In 1895, an outbreak of Diptheria robbed him of his wife and four youngest children. Five years later, scarlet fever took the life of his remaining daughter. In 1905, his last surviving child, a son, succumbed to pneumonia.
Robbed of everything meaningful in his life, Franke turned to drink. He found solace in alcohol and never emerged from the mind-numbing stupor of spirits. When he went to his grave seven years after losing the last of his family, no one remembered the accomplishments of his earlier years. Had it not been for an enterprising local historian, those accomplishments would have been forgotten forever.
In 1996, city leaders decided it was time to rectify the errors of history. They managed to locate Franke’s grave and erected a tombstone to properly identify the man and recognize his contributions to society. If you are in the vicinity of Washington, Missouri, be sure to stop by the cemetery and see it.
You should know, however, that if you are looking for a tombstone with the name “Happy Hooligan,” you’re not going to find it. You won’t even locate it by looking for “Fred E. Franke.” The stone identifies him as “Major, Union Army Civil War, General Sheridan’s staff” — a title he earned by merit. Primarily, the stone proclaims another title — one that he gained at the time of his birth: “Count Von Liechtenstein, Prince of Austria.”
Admittedly, there is some dispute about the veracity of all the records. There was enough evidence, however, to persuade Washington’s civil leaders that the strange tramp whose life ended so dismally, entered this world destined for greatness. Born a prince of Austria, he fought with distinction in the Austro-Hungarian War, receiving the Medal of Maria Teresa. Later, he came to the USA to escape from some legal problems. He made a clean start of things in his new country and appeared to be on track to achieve the greatness that was his birthright.
The final line on the gravestone reads, “Ein verfehltes leben” — German for “A wasted (or stolen) life.” Consider the possibilities if only he had been able to win his final battle against depression and drink.
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