Andy Bishop's quest begins promisingly when he leaves Columbus, Ohio, in 1914 after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. In Austria, Hungary, his goals are threefold: make contact with distant Austrian relatives, practice his nascent journalistic skills, and discover why his aristocratic ancestor, Matthias zu Windischgrätz, immigrated to America so long ago.
The scenery changes drastically as Andy witnesses the last stand of imperial Austrian society. He arrives just three weeks before the assassination of the Kaiser's nephew, the Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie. This event sparks the fateful slide toward world war and chaos for both family and friends. Andy's fateful decision to remain in the doomed Habsburg Empire after the war begins-and his irresistible attraction to a young Austrian countess-lead him to Budapest, Rome, and finally Paris, as Europe is convulsed by the greatest war since the defeat of Napoleon.
Told from the perspective of Andy Bishop, An American in Vienna presents historical insight into the Austrian court, royal society, and the demise of a once-powerful empire as it becomes embroiled in the Great War.
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An American in Vienna
By Chip Wagar
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Chip Wagar
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAustria, June 1914
Andy swore quietly as he steadied himself before the tiny mirror in the toilet as the train swayed and rocked along toward the Bavarian frontier with Austria. Despite his best efforts to carefully shave, he had still managed to nick himself under his nose and now dabbed at the tiny wound with a towel. As soon as he managed to stop the blood, he eyed himself again in the mirror, located at about chest height, forcing him to stoop to see. He ran a comb through his hair, parting it carefully on one side. His bare chest and arms revealed the tan lines that his baseball uniform had left from playing in the early summer sun. A varsity letterman on Notre Dame's 1914 baseball team, Andy had the muscular chest and arms of a hitter and the long legs of an outfielder.
Andy figured that the train should reach the border at any moment and then it would only be a few hours to the Salzburg station where his relatives would be waiting. Now would be as good a time as any to put on his suit and tie that his mother had bought for the trip at the Lazarus department store on High Street in Columbus. It was the only one he had. The mirror was far too small to properly inspect himself after he had dressed in the cramped little room, but as he re-entered his compartment on the train, he could vaguely see his reflection in the window and decided that he looked presentable.
About fifteen minutes had passed when the train began to slow and then stop, hissing steam. As Andy waited, he could hear doors sliding open and being shut as the Austrian customs guards made their way down the corridor of the car. Then his door was opened and an elderly guard in uniform entered, nodding his head politely. Making firm eye contact, the guard asked for his papers.
Andy's German was pretty good, but the accent in the guard's voice was peculiar. The German he had learned to speak was the "High German" taught at St. Mary's or the "Rhineland" version spoken by many of his friends' parents in the German village, south of downtown Columbus. The village itself was populated by older German immigrants who had come to America just before and after the Civil War, their children, and grandchildren. St. Mary's, founded in the 1850s by Catholic German immigrants, was in the very heart of the village, a few blocks from the trolley line on South High Street. Here the German community lived, worked, brewed beer, held Oktoberfest and often spoke only the language of their forefathers. Der Westbote, or the Western Messenger, was the newspaper that fathers of many of Andy's friends read, sitting on the stoops of their tenements, smoking their pipes on summer evenings while their mothers put the young ones to bed.
Andy had been able to make polite conversation with a couple of German passengers aboard the Normandie on his Atlantic crossing and with a few others on the train that had left Paris the prior evening. With the guard, however, he could barely understand the Alpine accent. If this was how the Austrians spoke, he wondered whether he would be able to understand his relatives when he arrived at the station.
"What is your purpose in Austria-Hungary?" the older guard inquired through his low gray mustache. He was resplendent in his dark blue uniform and round cap. Gold epaulettes adorned his shoulders and a small, brass double eagle glinted at the top of his hat. The uniform of a customs officer in this country was more elaborate than an American general's, Andy thought.
"I'm visiting relatives on holiday in Salzburg and Vienna." This comment seemed to amuse the old guard who nodded politely, but continued his inquiries. Apparently, he could understand Andy's German very well and that was a relief.
"What is the name of your relatives you have come to visit?"
"Windischgrätz." This reply raised two bushy, white eyebrows. The guard looked at Andy's passport for a moment, and then returned his gaze.
"The military family?"
"Yes, I believe so. Have you heard of them?" The older guard smiled faintly and nodded.
"Most people in this country have heard of them. And you are related to this family?"
"Well, yes. A little bit. From a long time ago. My ancestors came to America in the 1700s."
"Have you been here before?"
"No, sir. This is my first time." Again the heavy accent, but the guard's questions were so simple and direct that Andy was still able to understand. He wasn't sure he would if the conversation became much more complicated.
"I see. And what is this?" He pointed toward an Underwood typewriter on one of the empty seats.
"It's a typewriter, sir. I'm a journalist and I brought it with me." Andy was not really a journalist. Not yet. Not like his father. He had majored in journalism at Notre Dame and had written accounts of baseball games when he was home for the summer for his father's newspaper in Columbus, but so far, that was the extent of his journalistic career. Andy had actually brought the typewriter to practice writing stories of his experiences in Austria at his father's suggestion, to get the hang of it, as his father had said. Again, the guard's eyebrows arched, then he nodded, seemingly satisfied.
"Very good," the old guard said as he handed back the passport with a white-gloved hand. "Welcome to Austria, Herr Bishop. Have a pleasant stay." With that, and a final nod, he opened the door and stepped out. Apparently there would be no further questions about his baggage or what he might be bringing into the country. After another half an hour, the train made steam and began moving again into the mountains.
* * *
As the train chugged along through the countryside, Andy had time to reflect on the guard's question about his purpose in Austria. It had all started at a family gathering in Pittsburgh when his mother's sister mentioned that the family was related by marriage to Joseph Hooker, a Civil War general. The discussion eventually led to stories of other not-so-famous relatives and to the question of from where the Windischgrätz name and family had come. Nobody really knew. They—whoever "they" were—had come to America a long time ago, that was for sure. Someone had heard that they were from Germany, but that was not hard to guess, given the Teutonic sounding name and the umlaut. Another had heard that "they" came over due to religious persecution of some kind—a typical reason in those days. Finally, a very elderly uncle spoke up to say that he had always been told that "they" had been "driven out of Europe" after being disowned by the family for some forgotten misdeed.
On the train back to Columbus, Andy remembered that his mother, Susan Windischgrätz Bishop, had mentioned her curiosity about the origins of her family to his father, Arthur Bishop.
"We all came to America for some reason, Susan," Andy recalled his father saying. "Religion, war, poverty, who knows? What difference does it make now?"
For some reason that Andy never knew, it did make a difference to Susan. Perhaps it was because her own family was so small that her thoughts turned to endless generations of ancestors. Perhaps it was because she had time on her hands. Perhaps it was because it might mean something—who knew what—that she had set about finding out. The more she searched in the months and years that followed, the more curious she became.
After giving birth to Andy, Susan had suffered a series of miscarriages and never bore another child, to her dismay. Perhaps because of it, Andy thought, they had always had an exceptionally close relationship as he grew up. He knew that his departure for college had left a huge void in his mother's life. Although still in love with his father, Susan had found the empty hours alone a lonely burden. Intelligent, with an inquisitive mind, she read a great deal and volunteered here and there, but it was not until she became intrigued with tracing her own family lineage that her restless energy was absorbed. In researching her own lineage, the trail ran cold with most of Susan's ancestors, but not with her mother's line: the Windischgrätz family.
After a year or so of research on family lines that ran here and there, she began mapping out a family tree that, when spread out, covered the dining room table. The Windischgrätz branch was the most fulsome, occupying about a quarter of the tree and ending at the topmost branch with Matthias zu Windischgrätz who had entered the country in Philadelphia in 1754 with his wife, Sarah, from Trieste. On a map, Andy had found the city and the fact that it was the biggest seaport of the Austrian Empire during the time of the Empress Maria Theresa.
Much of Susan's research had been done with trips to cemeteries and letter inquiries to various churches and government registrars, mainly in Pennsylvania where, it seemed, the family had grown in numbers. The further back in time she went, the more difficult the task became. Sometimes, weeks or months went by before she received replies from parish priests or bureaucrats from distant counties who, after being prompted several times, took the trouble to search their baptismal records or registries for names, dates, children, and so forth.
Who would have believed that his mother's little hobby would have led to his being on this train? Her fitful progress was often discussed on Andy's trips home from college, but for a long time, it seemed to lead to nothing but satisfaction of his mother's curiosity. Andy noticed that his father seemed bored by the whole thing and even Andy found her excited discoveries somewhat tedious, although he had often feigned interest to please her. There was a little gossip here and there to go with an ever-widening list of names and dates on the tree. Yes, it had been something about persecution that had brought "them" to America, but who exactly and why?
The Bishops were Catholic. The Windischgratz family (the umlaut having been dropped in America somewhere along the way) had been Catholic. The German village in Columbus was full of German-speaking Catholics, some of whom had come from Austria as well. Austria was a Catholic country, like Ireland and Italy, Susan had explained to Andy one day, so why would a Catholic ancestor from Austria have been "persecuted" there to the extreme of fleeing the country? It didn't make sense. There must have been another reason.
Shortly after Andy had begun his senior year at Notre Dame, Susan Bishop made contact with an elderly widow in Philadelphia whose maiden name was Windischgrätz and who shared an interest in the family genealogy. It was Gertrude Windischgrätz who had completed the last link to a certain Matthias and Sarah zu Windischgrätz, Susan explained to Andy over his Thanksgiving vacation, but there it stopped. Gertrude did write, however, that family lore vaguely suggested that some scandal had prompted the couple to emigrate, but nobody knew what it was. Furthermore, Matthias seemed to be related to a noble family in one of the provinces of the Austrian Empire known as Styria. It was the first time Andy could remember being interested in his mother's work. He couldn't deny it. It had thrilled him a little bit to think that he might be related, however distantly, to some noble European house.
Andy's interest and Susan's enthusiasm about this news from Philadelphia did not stir similar feelings in Arthur.
"I really don't understand this at all," Arthur said evenly as he lit his pipe on their front porch one evening. The Bishops lived in a modest red brick house on East Mithoft Street on the south side of the village. It was a quiet street just a few blocks from the trolley line on South High Street that Andy had used to ride to school at St. Mary's, the Catholic church and school that was the heart and soul of the German Village. "I wouldn't be so proud to be related to European aristocrats," Arthur said to both of them as they rocked in the chairs on the porch.
"If you look at the history of Europe, you will see that there is not much that the kings and aristocrats should be proud of. People like us have no rights in those countries. The kings and their nobles have kept them down forever, just as King George III tried to do to us and King Louis did to the peasants of France. Here, we're free. No kings or rich, titled families to bow down to. Personally, I'm not very fond of their ways. Democracy. That's how it should be. All men created equal. That's why our ancestors came here—to get away from that sort of thing."
"Not my ancestors," Susan rejoined. "They came in 1754. America was not a democracy then. It didn't even exist. We were colonies. I don't disagree with what you said, Arthur. I'm just curious. This man and his wife, Matthias and Sarah, were aristocrats. So why did they come here? I wonder."
"You'll never find that out now. That was hundreds of years ago," Arthur replied. "If it amuses you, that's fine. As for me, I don't really care."
Arthur Bishop was a news editor and part owner of the Columbus Tribune, one of several local papers in the growing and very self-confident modern town that was the capital of Ohio and home of the Ohio State University where Andy had decided not to go, much to the dismay of his father, several years ago. The expense of tuition at Notre Dame appalled him, but in a Catholic family like the Bishops, the prestige of their only son attending one of the most eminent Catholic universities in the United States had proved irresistible. Andy had gotten a partial scholarship, but it had still been a financial strain to send him there. Nevertheless, Arthur was delighted when his son elected to major in journalism with a minor in history. It had been a secret hope that his son would follow in his footsteps, and Arthur had never missed a chance to encourage his son in that direction ever since he was a little boy.
However, it was Andy's interest in history, piqued by the revelation that he might be related, however distantly, to a prominent aristocratic family in Europe that proved a second confluence in the river of life that put him on the train that day. It led him to do some research on his own when he got back to Notre Dame. With the help of the school librarian one cold winter's day, Andy had found a small collection of books in the history section that covered central Europe seemingly hidden away from the vast collections on English and French history. It seemed that the farther one strayed from the European countries that bordered the Atlantic Ocean, the fewer and more obscure the books became, but soon Andy found the Windischgrätz name in one of the indexes of a book about the Revolutions of 1848. He checked the book out of the library and read it over the next week.
In 1848, revolutions against the monarchies had boiled over in nearly every capital of Europe. In Paris, the last king of France had been overthrown and a republic declared, at least for a few years, until a Bonaparte coup reinstituted monarchy again for a couple more decades. Farther to the east, however, revolutions had blazed into bloody civil wars and rebellions that lasted much longer but, in the end, had been even less successful.
As he read, he felt his heart skip a beat when he came across Alfred zu Windisch-Grätz. Despite the hyphenated spelling in the book, the name was too similar and the location in Austria, where the port of Trieste was located, could not be a coincidence, Andy thought.
As he read on, it turned out that this man had been instrumental in crushing resistance to the Habsburg monarchy in the Austrian Empire that sprawled over a vast area of central and eastern Europe and half of northern Italy. Andy learned that Alfred had fought against Napoleon in 1813 and became a field marshal in 1833. After his wife was killed by a stray bullet fired by a revolutionary mob in Prague in 1848, he had led the imperial military forces that "restored order" there. He had then been called upon to suppress a rebellion in Vienna that had driven into exile the Habsburg emperor, Ferdinand, together with his family. He led a military siege against the Viennese revolutionaries, bombarding the capital with ruthless efficiency until they surrendered and the Habsburgs could return. In his final campaign, he suppressed a full Hungarian uprising in Budapest until he was relieved of his command and retired from public life. For his service to the crown, he was made a prince. His aristocratic descendents remained to this day in Austria. In a letter to his mother, Andy revealed what he had found.
Excerpted from An American in Vienna by Chip Wagar Copyright © 2011 by Chip Wagar. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Having read a lot about the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including scholarly works and personal memoirs (e.g., Stefan Zweig's "The World of Yesterday"), I found this book to be very accurate in its depiction of both real life and events of the time. The author shows extensive knowledge of Vienna in particular, including many "small" details that someone not truly knowing the city would be unaware of. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
This was a truly interesting perspective of WWI. As someone who knew little of the actual history I found myself equally intrigued by the characters as I was by the war itself.
This book has everything from history to romance to action... It really brings the War to life.