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Otto Funk

Professor Otto Funk
Occupation Violinist, composer
Nationality USA
Genres Classical and folk music
Spouse(s) Della Edwards
Children Viola, Clara Del, Rosa, Ben, Myrtle and Otto Jr.

Otto Funk (born in St. Louis, Missouri, 6 October 1868, died in Hillsboro, Illinois, 6 February 1934), was a German-American violinist who gained fame (including an entry in the Guinness Book of Records in 1977) for playing the fiddle while walking every step of the way from New York to San Francisco in 1928-29. He was 60 years old at the time of his marathon walk. He stood five feet two inches tall, and weighed approximately one hundred pounds.

In the era of roller derbies, 30-day dance contests and walkathons, Otto Funk’s whimsical journey was an attempt to draw attention to his abilities as an old-time fiddler and durable walker. On 29 April 1928, he had been featured in a cover story in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s rotogravure Magazine section (complete with a rare color photograph), and this publicity sparked his interest in making a national name for himself. His hope was that his fame might exceed that of his musical rival, the Austrian-American violinist Fritz Kreisler.

Funk’s parents had migrated to America from West Prussia in the mid-19th century, and were married in Pilot Knob, Missouri in 1859. Following the ravishing of their 80 acre family farm by Confederate soldiers, they moved to St. Louis, where Otto (one of seven children) was born in 1868. In 1881, the family bought a 360-acre (1.5 km2) farm in Montgomery County, Illinois, and relocated there.

Otto Funk's early musical training was in piano and violin. In his teens, he was sent by his parents to study with some of Germany’s finest music teachers (including Max Brodl, Robert Goldbeck, and Teodore Oesten). He returned to the St. Louis area to perform as a concert violinist, and later re-located with his wife, the pianist Della Edwards, to the Funk family form in Illinois. For many years, he managed a popular music and recreational venue known as “Funk’s Lake” in rural Montgomery County, having created a large fishing pond by digging out a cornfield with a mule and plow.

Otto Funk’s cross-country trek began in New York on 28 June 1928, when he was seen off by Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith on the steps of City Hall. He reached San Francisco on 25 July, 1929, where he was received by Mayor (and future California governor) James Rolph, together with the cameras of Fox Movietone News.

His journey had taken him 4,165 miles (6,703 km), and involved playing 142 theatre performances, hundreds of street concerts, and 18 live radio concerts. He wore out several dozen bows and twenty pairs of shoes (provided by one of his sponsors, the Brown Shoe Company). He was accompanied on his trip by his son-in-law, Lester Grundy, who drove behind in a Ford motor car that served as dressing room, storage facility and sleeping quarters.

Following Otto Funk’s death at the age of 65, he was accorded the biggest funeral in the history of Montgomery County.

Otto Funk in Navajo Country, 1929

Otto Funk described his epic walk as follows: “I have seen God’s country, every foot of it that I walked over. You can’t see it right from a car or a train. Sole leather express is the only way.” His trip had taken him through America’s Indian reservations, cities, small towns, forests, and deserts.

References

  • “Otto Funk Admits He’s as Good as the Best Fiddler and Better than Most of Them,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 29 April 1928 (magazine section).
  • “Prof. Otto Funk, Troubadour of the World: He Walked, Fiddling All the Way from New York to California,” The Montgomery County News (Hillsboro, IL), 24 July 2004, p. 1.
  • “Out West With the Walking Fiddler: From Amarillo to San Francisco, Prof. Funk’s Final 1689 Miles,” The Montgomery County News (Hillsboro, IL), 31 July 2004, p. 1.
  • “The Walking Fiddler,” Modern Woodman magazine, Vol. LXXVI, No. 5, October 1959, p. 10.

External links

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