The year was 1909. It was a hot sultry morning in late May when three neighborhood teenage boys gathered in the backyard of 208 King William Street, the home of fifteen year-old Arthur Bergstrom. Besides Arthur, there was Walter Giesecke from 218 Washington Street and Willard Berman from 338 Madison Street. Bored and with the prospect of a long summer vacation from Bonham School #10, they began casting about for something to do. According to a written account by Arthur’s younger brother, Walter Bergstrom, it was Walter Giesecke who suggested the idea of forming a boy’s club. Willard Berman is said to have come up with the name for the club – The Merry Knights of King William.
With permission from Arthur’s parents, the upper floor of the Bergstrom’s carriage house would become the Merry Knight’s clubhouse. There was much to be done to make the space suitable for their purpose. The first order of business was to recruit additional members to form a work crew for the task ahead.
Those new recruits were Ernst Schuchard who lived at 221 East Guenther and Percy Clarkson from 213 Washington Street. Next they brought on Albert and Werner Beckmann from 529 Madison (now 222 East Guenther), George Henyan, 202 Madison Street, Harry Ankerson, also from Madison Street, Henry Pancoast at 203 King William and Frederick Bollinger from 236 King William Street.
Sixteen year-old Ernst Schuchard was considered to be the most talented in building construction so he was unanimously elected crew chief. First they rebuilt the rickety stair, then added a porch, anchor- ing it to a big hack- berry tree. Next they cut holes in the walls to make windows for ventilation.
The boys scavenged lumber and other building materials from neighborhood construction sites. They gathered up mismatched rolls of wallpaper which they glued to the inside walls to seal the cracks. For furnishings, each member was charged to search all attics and cellars. After gathering up a good supply of old chairs, benches, tables and rugs, the boys were quite proud of their well furnished clubhouse.
The talented Ernst Schuchard was also put in charge of design and construction of club accoutrements. He fashioned grey and red shields and a wooden sword and spear for each knight.
Arthur Bergstrom’s mother wisely insisted that the boys stop using kerosene lamps and candles in the clubhouse for fear of fire. Dr. Stonewall Van Wie, who lived next door at 210 King William, came to their rescue by running an electrical line from his back porch to the clubhouse which kept the lights glowing for several years.
As time went on and the popularity of the club grew, their membership began to extend outside the King William neighborhood. Monthly activities also became more diversified to include weekend excursions to member family and friends’ weekend homes in such places as Helotes, Medina Lake and Boerne. Another addition to the club’s activities was the annual game dinner. For such special occasions, girlfriends were invited to the otherwise strictly male gatherings.
All too soon, the boys were growing up and heading off to college. Then in 1917 when the United States entered World War I, many joined the armed services leaving the clubhouse deserted. After the war was over, the boys began returning home and many of them resumed their old club ties. By then, the Merry Knights had outgrown their old clubhouse on King William Street so they began holding their monthly meetings in the homes of members.
In spite of the club’s lofty motto, songs, secret handshakes and strict membership rules, the only reason for its existence was for fun and camaraderie. Friendships formed in the Bergstrom carriage house lasted all their lives. Obituaries of early club members always proudly mention the deceased’s membership in the Merry Knights along with other organizational ties and life accomplishments. The list of pallbearers almost always included two, sometimes three fellow Merry Knights, proof that membership in the old club had produced life-long bonds. The club continues to exist to this day.
The four Beckmann brothers; Adolph, Albert, Werner and Kurt were all Merry Knights. Albert and Werner were founding members; Adolph and Kurt joined later. They were grandsons of Carl Helmer Guenther, the Pioneer Flour Mill founder. They were all born and raised in the Beckmann home at the corner of Guenther and Madison Streets.
Adolph, after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, returned to San Antonio and the Pioneer Flour Mill where he worked in every phase of the business for the next forty-seven years. After the death of Erhard Guenther in 1945, he became the mill’s third president and general manager. He died in 1954. After graduating from Texas A&M in 1912, Albert became a rancher-farmer near Charlotte, TX in Atascosa County where he lived until his death in 1951.
Werner graduated from the University of Texas with a law degree in 1914. After serving in WWI in the Judge Advocate’s office at Fort Sam Houston, he established a successful law practice in San Antonio. He died in 1962.
The youngest brother, Kurt, received his architectural degree from the University of Texas in 1921. He was first associated with the firm of Giles and Beckmann then later with Ed Steves and Sons Lumber Company. He was the architect for his cousin Ernst Schuchard’s house at 516 King William Street. He went on to design many of San Antonio’s churches. He died in 1976. Ernst Schuchard was also a grandson of the mill founder. After receiving his degree in mechanical engineering in 1917, Ernst returned to San Antonio to work in the Pioneer Flour Mill as Mill Engineer and later as a Director. In 1927, when he built his family’s home at 516 King William Street, he designed it so his home office would be on the second floor front “so he could keep an eye on the mill”. In 1954, he became the mill’s fourth president after the death of Adolph Guenther Beckmann. Ernst Schuchard died in 1972.
Percy Clarkson began his career in the U. S. Army serving first in WWI. In WWII, as a Major General, he became commandant of the 33rd Infantry Division in the Pacific Theatre. He took command of the division in 1943 in Hawaii and led the unit in the battles of New Guinea and Luzon in the Philippines. His unit was the first to enter Japan after the surrender in 1945 where he remained as Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Chief of Staff. In the early 1950’s, Gen. Clarkson was appointed director of atomic testing which included the H-bomb series in the Pacific in 1952 and 1954. After retirement, he returned to San Antonio where he died in 1962.