When the day comes — and may it be far away — it wouldn’t surprise any of Joseph Erny’s friends to hear him say, “Never mind tooting that trumpet of yours, Mr. Gabriel, I’ll do it myself.”
And he will. Joseph Erny is 84 now, and it was just a day or so ago that he was shaking the walls of the solid Berkshire Museum with hunting and military calls blasted out of three horns he had given to the Museum.
The horns have a history only slightly less colorful than that of Mr. Erny himself. One of them, he got at the end of the Franco-Prussian war, in 1871, when he was 15. He was out in the fields in his native Alsace-Lorraine, and a little band of French soldiers straggled by on their way home from the war they lost. Young Joseph watched them go by and noticed that one carried a trumpet. How much, young Joseph asked the bugler, did he want for his trumpet.
“A quart of wine and five francs.”
Young Joseph said, “Ill see you tonight.” He found out where the soldier was to be billeted and that evening, by dint of honeyed sales talk directed at his father, was able to go into the village with the quart of wine and the five francs. He has treasured that horn ever since.
For four years after he got the horn, he continued to live in Alsace, now German-owned and occupied. It wasn’t bad, he says, but no one should ever make the mistake of thinking the Alsatians liked it. They’re French, he insists, and their intermittent occupation by Germany have been merely interludes. His own career is convincing proof of his contention. In 1875, he and a group of young neighbors went to France and joined the French Army. They didn’t have any difficulty crossing the border, he says. They just got on a train and got off in Paris.
It was only natural that young Joseph should become an army bugler. He served with several regiments, among them the 35th Reserves. He kept his uniform coat and cap from this hitch and has included it in his gifts to the Museum. And he got a lot of trumpeting practice. On really busy days, he would blow 60 to 70 calls. When not in the army, he would keep his hand — or better, his lips — in by tooting for hunting parties. He tried the special call for wild boar during his Museum visit but was able to flush only one puzzled member of the janitorial staff.