November 2, 2015

A victim of the Great War

It turns out that my grandfather, who died when I was a small child, was an artist.  I only recently learned this and after a summer of research and help from many friends and family members, plus a just-uncovered cache of stunning art work from his twenties, I attempted to sum up his life for the Maguire Gallery website:

Frank "Duke" Diehl
April 19, 1892 - August 21, 1944

Life was not kind to Duke Diehl. 

Born in 1892, he was an artistic child who drew and drew and practiced and drew some more, using old accounting ledgers and notebooks for sketch books, drawing and pasting over lists of business expenditures or class notes, copying illustrations from popular magazines, painting glamourous little watercolor vignettes on scraps of cardboard, front and back.

In 1912 he married Edith Lueders, from a well-to-do family and five years older than he was. Edith was also an artist who, orphaned at a young age, was being raised by relatives in their elegant home at the corner of 43rd and Spruce St. in West Philadelphia.

When the war came, Duke enlisted and in September of 1918 at the age of 26 he was sent to France as an Ambulance attendant at the front. While fulfilling his gruesome job he was a victim of German Mustard Gas attacks and when he returned home in June of 1919 he was addicted to alcohol and morphine, and suffering from “Shell Shock,” what we now call PTSD. 

Through the 20s and the Great Depression, he worked as a salesman for cigarette, automobile and other companies, a series of short-lived jobs, that kept him away from home for extended periods, and when he came home drunk, his children hid in the attic. Through it all he was a dreamer, and his scrapbooks are filled with ideas for advertisements or new products, new businesses and such. But he was never able to overcome his alchoholism. When in 1942, at the age of 50, he registered for the army again, his application stated, “unemployed.” 

An artist by nature, a dreamer, a delayed casualty of the Great War, Duke died at age 52 from a sudden heart attack on a peaceful country road, walking home from a night spent with his mistress, a former WWI nurse whom he had met in a French hospital and who lived in a rented house just a mile or two away from the small Berks County farmhouse he shared with his long-suffering wife, Edith (Mimi, to her grandchildren).

After his funeral, Mimi sat on the bed in her granddaughter Bonnie's room and cried and cried. “He was a bad boy,” she sobbed, “but I loved him.”


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