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Politics

"Waggish Imp" Of Yesteryear Still Holds "The Mirror Up To Nature"
Part One

By Owen Grundy

Originally appeared in the Villager on November 8, 1945

Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord what fools these mortals be!

* * *

And those things do best please me
That befall preposterously.

A Midsummer-Night's Dream

Keppler borrowed Puck from Shakespeare. From 1877 to 1918 this waggish imp stood at the masthead of the weekly which bore his name. A unique comic journal in the tradition of the British Punch, it influenced American life for over forty years. Puck, the magazine has ceased to pay its weekly visit to out homes these 27 years, but the sprightly little figure, which symbolized it, fresh as ever in a new coat of gilt, still stands above the entrance to the mellow brick structure at the southeast corner of Lafayette and E. Houston Streets, where the paper was edited and published during its most influential period. Head bent as though reflecting, he holds in one hand a mirror, in which he saw our foibles and follies, and in the other a long pen endowed with "some power the giftie gie us – To see oursel's as others see us."

Joseph Keppler, the founder, was a Viennese, who had tried his hand at acting, photography, and painting theatrical scenery, besides studying art for awhile in his native land. He came to America in 1868, where in St. Louis two years later, he started a German language paper called Puck. It was a short-lived.

In 1873, he arrived in New York, and began to draw cartoons for the then famous "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper." Three years later, in conjunction with Adolph Schwarzmann, he tried his luck with another German weekly, bearing the same provocative title. After twenty-four numbers had appeared in his native tongue, it became apparent that success lay only in its simultaneous publication in English. The German edition continued for some years parallel with the English one. Both became famous for their political cartoons.

The little figure of Puck, which still stands on the edge of the Village over the door of the old Puck building, is from the hand of Henry Baerer, the sculptor, whose statue of Beethoven is on the Central Park Mall. Baerer's son, in later years, ran the Village Tea Room in Commerce Street next to the Cherry Lane Theater. Formerly a stable, oats from the loft would trickle down between the beams to be caught and hoarded in saucers below. It is said that Joseph Keppler's small daughter, Irma, served as the model for the head of Baerer's conception of the little Shakespearian mischief-maker.

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