One soldier stayed behind after the Siege of 1848
One of the most pleasant ways to spend an afternoon is whiling away the time in Prague’s Stromovka Park. But that wasn’t always the case. In 1848, there was a popular uprising in the city, and martial law was imposed.
General Alfred Candidus Ferdinand, Prince of Windisch-Grätz, kept strict control over the peasants in the city. Unfortunately, he did not monitor his own troops so well. One of his captains, who came from a noble family somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains, was decidedly peculiar. Some accounts say he could trace his family history to House of Basarab, which also included Vlad Țepeș — better known as Dracula.
The captain displayed signs of the supernatural. He could command the fish in one of the artificial lakes in the park. In the evenings, he would take off his uniform and get in the water with his fish army, forgetting that there was a real peasant uprising taking place. The captain would make the poor fish line up in formation, swim in a rank and file as if they were marching, and even take part in combat exercises. Like all soldiers, the fish didn’t like it.
One night, after he put his uniform back on, he was walking through Stromovka alone and encountered a patriotic miller named Vondra, who attacked him with a threshing flail. Vondra dumped the captain’s battered body in the lake, where the fish, free of his spell, pushed his remains deep into the mud at the bottom. But due to his bloodline perhaps, he wasn’t really dead, though his powers were too weak for him to become a full-fledged vampire. Instead, he became a sort of ghoul or zombie — neither dead nor alive, and neither ghost nor vampire.
The captain digs himself out of the mud from time to time and tries to catch someone near the shore, but he moves so slowly that he seldom gets near anyone. He is even too slow to catch a live fish in the pond. So since 1848, he has been subsisting on dead and rotting fish and mosquito larvae. The fish still hold a grudge, and bury him deeply again every time he returns to his watery home.
According to legend, he is mainly seen on moonlit nights, still in the battered remnants of an Austro-Hungarian officer’s uniform.
There were peasant uprisings across Europe in 1848. They started in Palermo and quickly spread to Paris and then the rest of the Continent. Peasants largely sought to end the feudal system and replace it with democratic reforms. Fighting broke out in Prague from June 12 to 17, 1848.
Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz was a field marshal in the Austrian army. He helped to put down the uprising in Vienna in March 1848, and then made his way to Prague, where his wife was killed by a stray bullet. As a result, he declared martial law in Bohemia. The Prague rebels were poorly organized and had little military training. They attempted to negotiate for the creation of an independent state, but were not successful. The Prague rebels surrendered after an artillery siege on June 17.
Stromovka Park was established as a royal game preserve as far back as 1268 by Přemysl Otakar II. In 1547, the first artificial lake was added. Emperor Rudolf II took an interest in the park starting in 1584, adding more artificial lakes and importing all kinds of trees not native to the area. The entry to a tunnel used to bring in water from the Vltava River to fill one of the lakes can still be seen, with the royal “R” inscribed on the stonework.
The park at that time also contained a mill, which Rudolf rebuilt into a place for mystical contemplation, with baths and a grotto, called Císařský mlýn. It fell into ruins and the salvageable elements including some stone arches were incorporated into a new housing development at the start of the 21st century.
Stromovka opened to the public in 1804, and a fair ground called Výstaviště was added in 1891 for the General Land Centennial Exhibition.