Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Manfred von Richthofen - A Short Biography

So, as many of you know, Manfred von Richthofen--the Red Baron--is my greatest hero, my distant relative, and after months and months of extensive (and borderline obsessive) research, I decided to regurgitate it all in a short biography for you all to read. Everything included i n the biography is factual and leaning towards the side of what my family believes to have happened in his life (because much of the 'facts' about him online and in books is merely speculation). Our family, not surprisingly, knows some more 'secretive' aspects of his life. Here is my view of my hero and cousin--forever and always....

(I am not so competent with English, so my friend helped me write this)

Manfred von Richthofen's family (my family ^^) was part of the lower German aristocracy. He had a normal childhood, being good at sports rather than school. He and his brothers were notorious for such tricks as climbing church steeples or stealing sugar from the local bakery. Besides his mischevious personality, he was always admired for his very striking appearance, notably his bright blond hair and piercing blue eyes. When he finished school he joined the German cavalry and his first encounter with the enemy was with some Russians. Manfred escaped but had to find his way home alone. Meanwhile he was presumed dead and an obituary was published by his parents in the local paper. Luckily, he turned up at home soon after.
Shortly after this he decided to become a pilot, and his training took place with a mad, suicidal pilot in a big, heavy Junkers bomber. Manfred joked about this, saying that his nerves were so deadened by the terrifying experience that he found fighting easy.
The Flying Circus, Manfred's famous flying squadron, was called Jasta 11. This Jasta was the elite unit, and quite a ‘good-show-chaps’ sort of boys club. Recounting details of the dogfights between the British and Jasta elf, Manfred treats the whole thing as a game. I suppose he would have gone mad if he took it seriously. Manfred's planes were painted red at first, and then when he became The Red Baron, or Der Rote Kampfflieger, and was the focus of all the enemy aces in the air, the rest of his Jasta painted their planes red, too. The Baron tells the story as a practical joke on some friends, the punchline being that when the British aces flew out to meet the famous red plane, they couldn't tell which was which.
Manfred's best friend was his dog Moritz. This dog was spoilt by the whole Jasta, made a sort of unofficial mascot and according to his owner, rather liked flying at Manfred's feet. Unfortunately he was too big to take out on long flights, planes being what they were in those days. Just like modern dogs who like to chase the postman, Moritz liked to chase large birds - triplanes, bombers, that sort of thing. He lost an ear doing this - but he destroyed the propellor.
Many aces collected bits of their 'kills' as souvenirs - number plates and other identifying pieces. Manfred was serious about this, and his room was decorated with plane parts. Number plates covered the walls and he had a huge chunk of engine turned into a light fitting and hung from the ceiling.
Fans were also a big part of the life of a flying ace. Richthofen had fan mail and made public appearances. One letter from a convent girl said that because she was not allowed to have his photo on her wall, she cut the face out of a photo of a convent friend and stuck Manfred's face in the hole. Now that's devotion! But seriously, look at a real photo of him. Very cute, especially in a military-hero kind of way.
Manfred had two brothers who followed him into the Air Force and became aces. Lothar (my gg grandfather), was almost as good as Manfred, with 40 official kills. Another brother, Bolko, also made it onto the official list of aces, but near the bottom. Lothar was a different kettle of fish entirely. Manfred describes himself as a sort of hunter, who enjoys the thrill of the chase and is satisfied by it afterwards, and compares that to Lothar, whom he says is a butcher. Each of the Richthofen brothers was Freiherr and Ace in his turn, hence the presence of three Freiherr Richthofen's in the list of aces.
In July 1917, Manfred was shot down but survived. The head wound he received changed him. Photos started to show the ‘fated-to-die’ look that took all the great flying aces before they died. He experienced a change in temperament, and some of his friends described him as being rather depressive and obsessed with death, disappearing into his quarters and not wanting to talk to anyone after his flights. In a letter he wrote to his mother, he commented, “I am in wretched spirits after every battle….I think of this war as it really is…it is very serious, very grim." During his recovery, he wrote his autobiography, which was published the same year in both Germany and England. This book is delightful, you should read it! Sadly (but unsurprisingly) the original editions were doctored by the Germans before publication. This seems to have been for propaganda purposes, and later translations of the text reveal that lots of ‘Fatherland’ was tacked onto it. For example, after a very nasty incident, Manfred writes "and I would never go through that again", but in the 1917 editions, German and English, is added the phrase "unless the Vaterland were to ask it of me."
The controversy around Manfred's death in April 1918 is still alive today.
For unclear reasons, on his final flight, Manfred suddenly and inexplicably strayed from several of the strict rules of aerial combat that he himself had devised and obeyed throughout his career. Some believe this was due to his previous head injury impairing his judgment, while others (including me) believe that it was an indirect suicide (as I said, he was experiencing depression at the time). Also, moments before he took off for his final flight, a young boy from a nearby village asked for his autograph (or it was the boy's father or something). Manfred complied, but sharply added “aren’t you like the rest of them? Don’t you too believe that I’ll live forever?”. Unfortunately, he did not live for more than an hour or so after that.
Who exactly fired the fatal shot that killed Manfred is still undecided, but most believe it was from an anti-aircraft gun fired by the Australians below. I would imagine it would be highly esteemed for someone to claim the death of the Red Baron, but nobody ever came forward and claimed it. Some who witnessed him being shot down or those who were there when he died slowly, drowning in the blood that filled his punctured lungs, commented later that they would be ashamed in killing such a revered and virtuous soldier. His last words were “All is broken…”. I believe that is so powerful!  Roy Brown, the Canadian pilot credited with killing Richthofen, refuted the claim, and later stated “Unless he had been my dearest friend, I could not have felt greater sorrow." He was overwhelmed with sadness upon viewing the corpse of the handsome young pilot before his burial, and commented to the other pilots near him that they should show nothing but the utmost respect to this fallen hero.

The next day, Manfred was buried by the Australians with full military honors, and hundreds of pilots and mechanics left notes and flowers for him, all with deep admiration and reverence. What a man! I can’t imagine soldiers nowadays doing anything like that. They thought of him as an amazing man, soldier, and hero, and he was their enemy!
There’s my hero’s life story! I love him!!!

von Richthofen Castle in Denver

Disclaimer: I did not write this! This is an article that I foun! I just added some of my comments in.


Europeans might be surprised to find that one true castle exists in America and it happens to be right here in Denver ! I was super surprised! Don't let the fact that it was not built in the Middle Ages deter you from understanding the verity of my claim. Richthofen Castle, which was built by Baron Walter von Richthofen (a distant relative of mine) around 1882, was designed along the same architectural lines as his ancestral home. With great hand-chiseled stone blocks quarried from Castle Rock, Colorado. Built in the Romanesque style initially it has a Tudor-style addition, boasts of 35 rooms, a great tower and is completely surrounded with outer walls and a gatehouse with embellishments to the keep such as a Barbarossa gargoyle and the von Richthofen schildmauer (coat-of-arms) high in the tower above the front entrance. It was apparently meant to be a replica of the original castle which was in the vicinity of Silesia, now Poland territory. Richthofen was born in Kriesenitz in 1848 which was German territory then but is also now within Poland borders.

In the beginning, the Denver estate boasted 320 acres of ground, a portion of which the Baron turned into a health and recreational resort with backing from German and English funds available to him. The full building proposal was never completed and the abstract is on file at the State Historical Society of Colorado as the Colorado Carlsbad Kur-Garten. To understand how this came about you would have to know that the Baron came from Prussian nobility, was a soldier and had done common labor such as being a one-time section hand. He also was the kind of man who believed in making his dreams come true.

 This uncle of the world-famous Baron Manfred von Richthofen (the WWI Flying Ace, The Red Baron, the brother of my great great grandfather) fought in the Franco-Prussian and Austro-German wars himself and escaped to America to leave behind the regimented life of military to pursue other aspirations. One of those aspirations was to strike it rich. He arrived in Colorado with a construction crew in the 1870s with pick and shovel in hand and later invested his money in several mining properties with his own money. 

  Like many of these miners, he moved his home to Denver- albeit in the non-fashionable Montclair district (the fashionable district was the historic Quality Hill area which is now part of downtown Denver)- bought hundreds of acres so that he could own horses and really spread out. For his resort he laid out a park, transplanted trees and shrubs from the mountains (Denver started out almost barren of trees and foliage) and built a greenhouse. He also stocked the area with deer, antelope and bears, dug a moat around the property plus placed bridle paths around the property.

Since the Baron was an expert horseman and hunter he purchased entire stables of thoroughbreds and built his own stables, plus a racetrack and imported dogs for hunting ! Next, a 300-foot underground passageway was built to annex the stables, a milk house with expensive dairy cows (it was believed, at the time, that special Jersey cows supplied the proper milk cure for TB), a 300-room hotel and spa (complete with swimming pools and bathhouses) and an art gallery. (The art gallery was later turned into a casino and residential development since his half-million dollar collection of art was considered lewd by the public!)
   After his divorce he met and married his second wife, Louise Ferguson, in Denver although she was born in England. Reluctant to move into his castle at first, she was won over by his romantic generosity. They became very devoted to each other and together feted Denver and royalty quite lavishly. Unfortunately, his happiness with his true love didn't last very long. By 1893, when the silver mines took a plunge, he tried desperately to save his multi-million dollar development but couldn't stop the tide of troubles created by the silver crash. All those who invested or had stakes in the mines suffered without exception and took heavy monetary losses.

However, Walter was undaunted and when he saw that the usual avenues wouldn't work he took  jobs of various kinds, at one point traveling all over Colorado with a wagon selling books. By 1898 he was broken in health and his spirits- dying at the age of fifty ! Even so, his dreams didn't completely die. The Phipps sanitarium took over his plans for the health resort and built their hospital in that section of the city.
  Baroness Louise had no children from the marriage and lived quietly in a Denver hotel seeking volunteer civic and patriotic work and lived to a good old age- dying in 1934. What fortune was left was given to a brother who had helped her after Walter's death. A German syndicate had saved Richthofen Castle but it was sold several times to be used as a club until early in the 1900s.
 Around 1903, Edwin B. Hendrie, a mining foundry joint heir, took it over for $40,000 and remodeled it putting about $200,000 into the structure refining the interior into a more palatial home but mindful of keeping the German architectural integrity. Specifically he finished the stairway in dark oak with walls of bronze and gold hand-tooled leather. The dining room was finished in natural light oak adding lead-barred windows and additional French doors. The library was finished in ivory and both dining room and library opened onto spacious, separate sun porches. His final touch there was to hang huge, bronze chandeliers. Because of his extensive and simple but elegant additions Richthofen may be the only royal castle in existence which is completely finished inside as well as outside. He is responsible for the Tudor west wing and tile roofing on the towers and parapets using the same Castle Rock quarry to match the original stone which the Baron used with the initial building. In addition, he moved the carved sandstone Barbarossa bust to the new wing. He finished his work by adding the gatehouse to accommodate servants.
 Hendrie's son-in-law, William W. Grant moved into the house in 1910 and resided there until Edwin Hendrie passed away in 1937. William added a modern south wing addition with the help of a notable Denver architect by the name of Jules Jacques Benois Benedict in 1924. ( Benedict, born in Chicago, attended the E'cole des Beaux Arts and built many nationally registered historical buildings in Denver and  Colorado including Highlands Ranch and Littleton Town Hall.)
   One year after William took over Richthofen Castle a sensationalized murder took place outside of its walls and three passing eyewitnesses saw the female defendant, Gertrude Patterson, leaning over Charles Patterson, her husband. Even though she told a stableman and servant at Richthofen that he had shot himself, it was found later that the entrance of the gunshot wounds were all in his back. Well covered by the newspapers in the early 20th century, a book was written about the incident and trial by a Denver lawyer in 2003 titled, "Alienation of Affection" which has a fictionalized flavor to it expounded on with titles from newspaper headlines.
Around 1945 the John Thams family, who already owned land (the Elephant Corral) took the castle on and then sold it to another titled owner, Etienne Pereyni, (a Hungarian) once again entertaining royal guests clear into the mid-20th century with his wife Katharine nee' Morrell (daughter of a pioneer Leadville family). During the 1940s they sold off much of the original grounds which was parceled out to homebuilders but lived there until 1971.
   The milk house that Richthofen had constructed a short distance away, was built in the fashion of a German health spa and this molkerei was retained long after being surrounded by Montclair Park, now a city park with a small playground and tennis court. There is believed to be a tunnel leading from the Molkerei to Richthofen Castle but no evidence has been found of it. Today it is the Montclair Civic Building serving as a multipurpose hall to the surrounding community. 
   Thus the history of this still magnificent castle has kept to its origins with complimentary additions. At present no further expansion inside the complex is possible because of the proliferation of trees which has grown up within the outer walls. Today it is surrounded by a residential section built on a different grid and so well hidden from view that you can only see it if you stand just outside its walls. The square tower, however, can be seen from a few blocks away in any direction of its perimeter. Presently it is privately owned. Tours were given decades ago but are rare and only given to a privileged few. I hope to get one soon!