Sunday, May 29, 2022


The Harff castle was built  in the 1300's and was standing until the year 1977 when it was sold by the family to a German coal strip mining company.   Several family members have visited the castle and have written some of what they saw.

The following narative was written by Richard P. Hurff.

     On 8 November 1953 Elizabeth Glover, cousin to Samuel P. Hagerman, Jr., visited the castle and photographed the buildings and grounds with a half-frame 35mm camera using Kodachrome film. Richard Hurff borrowed the slides and duplicated them in August 1971 and they are one of the few sets of color pictures of Schloss Harff, as it must have existed before 1945. On 7 June, 1970, Wayne and Christine Friedrich visited the castle, probably as the last members of the family in the United States to see the historic landmark, part of which had stood for 900 years. Wayne explained that Antonius Graf von Mirbach-Harff met them in Cologne and took them to Harff. There they met his uncle, the Count Mirbach who had corresponded with George B. Hurff in the 1920s. For a man in his 90s, Wayne explained, the count was in good health, and with help in English from his nephew, spoke with them in his office. Wayne continues that: It was a great disappointment not to be allowed to explore through the building. Only a few rooms were in use for the uncle’s private living quarters. The rest were in such a dangerous state that we were told we would probably fall through the floor. However, when we had come in through the entrance hall it was very interesting to see crossed pikes and other weapons on the walls and stag heads all around the top of the walls and ceiling. After the visit inside, we walked all around the outside. The servants were living in the upper floors of an adjacent outbuilding. Most of the grounds were park-like. There were also some vegetable gardens. I believe the adjacent stream, which fed the moat, must have been a feeder to the Erft River and not the river itself because it was only about 15 to 20 feet wide, as I remember it.  

     In 1972, Sam and Sue Hagerman, Jr., also visited Cologne, met Count Antonius, and traveled in and around the town of Harff. Sam explained that the Schloss Harff, the Harff Castle, subject of this article, was gone. The area around and apparently under the castle is rich in coal and was developed as coal strip mines. Sam explained how the use of dynamite caused cracks to develop in the already weak and decaying brick and stonework and that the whole building was torn down a few months prior to their visit in 1972. “The whole area is gone and is strictly a strip mine for coal now.”

     Both Sam and Wayne also described a large brick “little” castle, or Schlösschen, about a half kilometer away from the main castle, on the outskirts of Harff. A mansion of about 25 rooms, it is presently the home of Count Mirbach’s nephew Antonius. Sam also mentions that he visited another Harff castle at Dreiborn that Wayne Friedrich said was owned by Clemens Freiherr von Harff. The 1945 article in the New York Times described this castle. When the castle pictured in Elizabeth Glover’s slides and described in Count Mirbach’s letters was destroyed, we may ask what happened to the contents? According to Wayne, the historical items, as well as others from the area, were to be sent to a “new castle (built in the 1700s), but I don’t know which one or where it is.”

     Sam described a visit in 1994 to Gut Inngenfeld (“In the fields”) near Grevenbroich, close to the original Harff castle, where he and his wife again met Count Antonius. The estate is expansive, with an indoor swimming pool, huge barn, various suites, and an impressive library of 50,000 volumes. This archive storage area is air-conditioned and holds “records, deeds and manuscripts from as far back as the Medieval Period. Many Older maps showing the former location of Schloss Harff. Castle is at the letters Schl above the Harff name.  History and Genealogy of the Hurff Family  have the old wax seals on them.” In addition to the documents, many pieces are preserved at Gut Inngenfeld from the original castle. “They include huge stone grinders, urns, stairways, stone decorations and troughs, the original gate and pillars, coats of arms, large oil paintings, [wall] hangings, suits of armor, and antique furniture. They even moved the family cemetery from under the original chapel to the back yard.” Sam hagarman was given an actual tile from the walls of the castle

Actual tile from the demolished Harff castle  given to Samuel P. Hagerman

     Preserved today in the library Sam described above, and seen earlier by Wayne, is a work mentioned in the maroon History , the Sachsenspiegel , or “Saxon Mirror” or “Mirror of the Saxons.” The story behind this treasured document is interesting, even if little known except to German historians. Eike von Repgow (1180-1235), a confidant to several princes and a legal advisor, was encouraged by his overlord, Hoyer von Falkenstein, to translate certain Latin legal documents into German in an attempt to regularize what had been, up to this point, an oral record of law. The original text was titled Spegel von Sassen when it appeared in Saxony between 1220 and 1235. It codifies in a rather rambling manner penal law, domestic matters, property law, and regulations applicable to farming and hunting; the popularity of this codex was ensured with translations over the following 150 years into at least four other languages, presumably for use as far as Russia. Of the seven original manuscripts, each hand copied and with illuminated figures in the wide margins, four survive and are named for their present locations: Heidelberg (1300), Oldenberg (1336), Dresden (1350), and Wolfenbuttel (1350). There are today, in addition to these four main original manuscripts, approximately 400 partial copies and fragments. A complete English translation was first published in 1999 and 580 copies of the Dresden copy were reproduced, bound in leather and wood, in 2002.8  Wayne Friedrich described his experience in the Harff Castle with this very rare book: At one point I asked about the famous book in the library. After much German and two keys, a glass-front bookcase was opened and I was handed a book. It had been rebound, but it was the Sachsenspiegel ... I was told it was from 1260 ... and was the first German law book, an accumulation of the existing laws of the time. So, as I sat there flipping the pages of a book that had been hand copied by monks 710 years before, I asked about the parchment pages and was told that they were sheepskin and, sure enough, I found a page that had been mended with stitches. The skin had been sliced so thin that it looked and felt like heavy paper. On some pages there were drawings of a hand with the fingers pointing to a particular paragraph.

     Another famous late-medieval book was actually written by a German member of the Harff family and contains one of the earliest references to a person with this family name. Known as Arnold von Harff, the writer and traveler was a knight who published a book entitled The Pilgrimage of Arnold von Harff, Knight, from Cologne through Italy, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia, Nubia, Palestine, Turkey, France and Spain, which pilgrimage he accomplished in the years 1496 to 1499.  The maroon History  explains that The Pilgrimage  was probably hand copied, before general printing and that 10 manuscripts, one once in the Harff Castle, are known. The existing copies are in small folio of about 150 pages and in a dialect of the Lower Rhine. The entire work is available in an admirable translation in English by Malcolm Letts, and is available from dealers in obscure books.

    The translation retains the original’s rather odd usage of the word Item to begin each paragraph. Arnold von Harff must have been like a modern tourist, for instance, who has visited the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice. From his timeless description, we discover that, [From the Rialto] we went to the chief church of St. Mark through many narrow streets, in some of which were apothecaries, in some bookbinders, in others all kinds of merchants driving a thriving trade. St. Mark’s is a very beautiful but low church, above which are many round vaults covered with lead. This church, below and above and on both sides, is covered with marble stones, and in addition above and on both sides it is covered with gold. As one enters the [church] from the square there is, on the left hand, an altar enclosed with a railing against a pillar, upon which stands a wooden crucifix which was struck by a disappointed gambler and which has performed many miracles. Woodcut from an 1860 copy notes the similarity to the Harff coat of arms in the History and Genealogy of the Hurff Family. In front of the church westwards is a very fine square [and] over the church doors stand four gilded metal horses.  Arnold von Harff’s book is remarkable in that it was made when travel was almost always limited to trade or for wars of conquest or discovery. This was a book of travel for its own sake and was quoted by authors and referred to by prospective traders wanting to know something about an additional country in which to trade. Its publication evidences the fact that Arnold must have been not only a man of financial means, but of advanced education to travel and to become a successful author. Born about 1471, Arnold was the son of Adam von Harff,  a nobleman of considerable wealth and position at the court of the Dukes of Julich and Gelders, whose ancestral seat was at Harff, near the Erft River (a tributary of which may be seen in pictures of the castle). A journey such as this could only have been undertaken by a man of fortune, and indeed the family seems to have been richly endowed. On his return, von Harff’s possessions were increased by purchase and inheritance. An uncle left to him the castle of Nieshoven, close to Lovenich, and other estates fell to him on his father’s death. In 1504 he married Margareth von dem Bongart.

     He died in 1505 and was buried in the crypt at Pfornkirch Cathedral at Lovenich near Aachen, in a tomb adorned with 32 coats of arms. His widow bore him a posthumous daughter who died in infancy and was buried in the same grave. Since he left no issue, the American families do not come from his branch of the family. However, he evidently was a brother, or uncle, or perhaps cousin, to the progenitor of Johann Balthaser Harff, from whom the American branch is descended.