The Journal of Liwwat Bocke

Liwwat Bocke was a German woman who moved to Ohio as a young woman during the nineteenth century. From the 1820s until the 1880s she kept a journal of her experiences... a journal that eventually spanned 1100 pages, all of which is written in a dialect of northern Germany known as Plattdeutsch. When historians discovered her journal during the 1970s they thought it was a remarkable find, sure to shed valuable light on the history of the settlement of Ohio. But now they're not so sure. Analysis of the document has revealed that it's a fake, plagiarized from other sources and containing numerous anachronisms. What no one can figure out is who created this forgery, and why they did it. As this article in The Plain Dealer notes, why would someone "go to such great effort to fake a journal about life in the 19th century and then attribute it to a German-speaking farm woman who is buried in a rural church cemetery in Auglaize County... Who would go to the trouble of hand-writing more than a thousand pages in Plattdeutsch - a low German dialect spoken mostly by older, rural people - to describe the settlement of Ohio?"

History Literature/Language

Posted on Tue Jun 15, 2004


One has to add, that the name "Liwwat" is no usual german name, not even in "Plattdeutsch" which is closely related to dutch (as in the language of the netherlands, contrary to the Yankee usage of the word for all things german) and not quite unlike english (at least its often closer to english then to "high" or mainstream german).

Is the very existance of that woman actually a fact? Under that name?
Posted by Michael Ortmann  in  Germany  on  Tue Jun 15, 2004  at  07:46 PM
I googled the name "Liwwat" just to see if it matched up to the name of anyone else or even if I got a hit from baby name sites. I got only three pages of hits, and all of them were for Liwwat Bocke (or Boke, Or Bock, or Boeke, or Boek), and all of the hits were either about the journals or about the hoax (and a couple were from here). Even if it was an unusual name, you'd think somewhere in the vastness of the Internet you could find someone or something else with that name, or even some kind of record that a real person in that Ohio town by that name lived there.
Posted by Goo  in  Dexter, Maine  on  Thu Jun 17, 2004  at  05:59 AM
"Liwwat" might come from "Linwat", the ancient German word for linen or canvas. Something quite valuable in the past. Maybe even used as a girls' name. Of course the story itself can still be a hoax.
Posted by Jay Sauerkraut  on  Thu Jun 17, 2004  at  09:55 AM
Well Andy Kauffman would be proud if he was still alive.

This type of a hoax so subtle and sublime and yet utterly preposterous in its execution is his gift to our world.

And while we stand there scratching our heads muttering, but why...

Someone somewhere is laughing their head(s) off at our expense.

I love it.
Posted by BKS  in  Canada  on  Fri Jun 18, 2004  at  09:51 AM
Creating fake journals in obscure languages...that's how people wasted their time before the Internet! LOL
Posted by Brie  on  Wed Jun 30, 2004  at  07:04 PM
Why so caught up in the name? Living in this very German part of Ohio I can attest to hundreds of unusual names, mostly surnames, but some Christian names also.
(Liwwat Boeke is pronounced Livit Boh-key, the first name rhyming with "give it')
I don't believe anyone questions that Liwwit Boeke was an actual person. The question seems to be did she write the journal pages. Many local newspaper articles have been written over the past decade about the book published by the Minster Historical Society and none have questioned the authenticity of the journals, nor do we now.
Posted by JCS  on  Wed Jul 21, 2004  at  08:13 AM
As a direct descendent of Liwwat Boeke(as my relatives spell the name today), it is my understanding that this was a sort of nickname, her given name being a German form Elizabeth (Elisabet, if I can remember correctly from family genealogy books).
I only recently learned of this dispute regarding the authenticity of the journal. I have yet to see any specific examples of forgeries or plagarisms cited in any of the articles on the subject.
I don't understand why it is so hard to believe that an immigrant could and would want to keep such a journal, much less a female immigrant. There are exceptions to the stereotypes throughout history, although fewer of them seem to be female. Even into the 20th Century, many women felt compelled to use male pseudonyms to have their work recognized.
If anyone can direct me to some of the specifics of the dispute, please email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). My family and I would be very much interested in what is acutally out there.
Posted by Connie Pax  on  Mon Aug 02, 2004  at  12:43 PM
Liwwat Boke is my ancestor. Arnold Bernard Boke was my grandfather (who passed this April). He was Liwwat's great-grandson. She was, in fact, a real person. One of her sketches hangs in my living room.

She was real. Her journals are real. They are not forgeries or fakes. I have personally seen the journals and various 20" x 30" pieces of art she drew. I know the person who found them among her things in the attic.

For those who question whether or not she existed, and for those who do not understand the name "Liwwat", here me now: You should not throw around such accusations without doing a little research.

"Liwwat" is the equivalent of "Elizabeth". Her maiden name was "Knapke", born in 1807 and died in 1882. She was well educated in Algebra, History, Latin, Music, and the Humanities at a cathedral school in Osnabruck. She married BERNARD BOEKE (note where my grandfather got his name).

She was a poet, writer, accomplished folk artist, community leader, innovator, and midwife.

All who make wild accusations about something of which they know nothing should take the time to do a little research before opening their mouths.
Posted by Kramer  in  Ohio  on  Tue Aug 10, 2004  at  03:18 PM
Dear Mr. Kramer,dear Mr. Pax,
my review of the Liww
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  in  Oldenburg, Germany  on  Wed Aug 11, 2004  at  12:48 PM
There is no doubt that some of the drawings were not originally conceived in the brain of Liwwat as some are traced or copied by Liwwat from previously existing sketches--but that doesn't make them 'forgeries' or 'fakes' (she didn't copy a DaVinci and sign 'DaVinci') as she did produce these with her own hand (it was not a modern day person who drew them and then attributed them to Boke--those sketches, origionally conceived or not, are done by Liwwat). There is no doubt that some of Liwwat's text in the journals were sourced from other material--but that does not make the journals 'forgeries'or 'fakes'.

For the journals and drawings to have been 'forged'or 'faked', one would have to accuse a modern-day person of having attributed them to a source from which they did not come. That collection WAS, in fact, put together by Liwwat Boke (whether some parts are from her original ideas, and some from the ideas of previously produced material is irrelevant)during her lifetime in the 19th Century. Luke Knapke merely found the materials in the attic of Liwwat's home (which was lost to fire in 1999). He (nor any other modern-day person) did not manufacture the journal or modify the texts or the drawings (which is the implication of The Cleveland Plain Dealer article).

No modern day person, including Luke, can definitively know Liwwat's intent in producing the journals or drawings during her lifetime. It can quite reasonably be assumed, however, that she never intended them to be discovered and subsequently published as her own entirely originally conceived works. It is a very far reaching stretch to say this pioneer women would spend years of her life writing and sketching (whether all her own material or not) with the intent of a 20th Century publication attributing her handiwork as entirely all her own original thoughts and skill.

There is little doubt that she was, in fact, a talented artist, poet, and writer, and that she, as a female, was unusually well educated. Her artworks and journals, in my opinion, are part study of existing published works and study of language/translation, and part original. They are not 'fakes' or 'forgeries'. It is inconceivable that her intent was to make persons in the 20th-21st Century believe all the works were 100% her own thoughts. It is also inconceivable that a contemporary of Liwwat would manufacture these works and subsequently attribute them to Liwwat, and leave them in her attic--that would make no sense whatsoever. It is possbile that someone else worked with Liwwat on her journals--perhaps dictating to her. Again, a rather innocuous task with no intent to deceive the 20th century population.

There is little doubt these works are created in Liwwat's hand. With this in mind, the idea that the journals and drawings are forgeries/fakes by a third party who is falsly attributing them to Liwwat is dismissed.
Posted by Kramer  in  Ohio  on  Wed Aug 11, 2004  at  02:31 PM
Some fakes as examples:

1. The "Liww
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  in  Oldenburg, Germany  on  Sun Aug 15, 2004  at  05:31 AM

Thanks for the information. So it looks like there are unexplainable anachronisms in Liww
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Sun Aug 15, 2004  at  10:56 AM

I have to say that I stand corrected regarding the drawings.

I obviously could not read the German links you earlier provided and thus could not garner much detail (aside from your summary). I appreciate your English translation. I can order a beer in German, but that is the limit of my skill.

What seems clear, at this point, is that Liwwat could NOT have drawn the majority of these images, if any at all. She was long deceased when the Winter's drawings were published.

What I cannot understand is why someone would go through an elaborate construction and present it as Liwwat's work. There is no logical explanation for it, and I can personally attest that there is no family member that I know who would have the skill to craft such work.

Liwwat was an exceptional woman, journal and drawings aside. What a shame that a true pioneer of the Ohio frontier is now a victim, as all of us are, of these deceptions.
Posted by Kramer  on  Sun Aug 15, 2004  at  11:06 AM
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  in  Oldenburg, Germany  on  Tue Aug 17, 2004  at  12:07 PM

I own several of these sketches. One very large sketch is currently being restored by the Chicago Conservation Center. I am considering asking them to test the paper for when it was manufactured.

Do you have any other suggestions on where I could have some of these sketches tested and compared? I appreciate your assistance.
Posted by Kramer  on  Tue Aug 17, 2004  at  01:16 PM
I have no suggestions. The Chicago Conservation Center will know institutions doing this research for libraries, art museums, archaeologists, etc..
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  in  Oldenburg, Germany  on  Sun Aug 22, 2004  at  10:42 AM
Mr. Kramer,
some of the writings I inquired are fakes also. See the English translation of my review published by the the Palatines to America Society, 611 East Weber Road, Columbus, OH 43211-1097, in the series Pages From the The Past, Number 7.
Phone: 614-267-4700
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  in  Oldenburg, Germany  on  Sun Aug 22, 2004  at  10:59 AM
Posted by j. (BOCKE) BUCKEY  on  Fri Oct 08, 2004  at  04:49 PM
My grandpa is Luke Knapke...the person who translated Liwwat's journal. I think you all should know a few things about my grandpa. He was in WWII, he taught math, he has nine kids, a wonderful wife who was a librarian for a very long time, and twenty-six grandkids. He is without a doubt the most honest person I know, and EXTREMELY devoted to history. He loves studying about the past. Now, just because I'm his grandchild, doesnt mean I'm simply defending him, or trying to say something that isn't true. I know he didn't make up Liwwat's journal, he had no reason to...Now as to why this whole mess of a fraud came about, I don't know, but how can you say it is a fraud if you didn't know Liwwat, and you didn't live in her time?
Posted by knapke27  on  Mon Sep 05, 2005  at  05:54 PM
I never wrote that Luke Knapke made up Liwwaet`s journal! See my critical remarks at our homepage (in German) and the brochure (in English) sold by the "Palatines to America" in Columbus/Ohio (No Masterpiece, or: How "Liww
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  in  Oldenburg/Germany  on  Thu Oct 20, 2005  at  03:44 AM
Hi.My name is Holly Rieger.My grandmother was a stuckenborg and I have kramers is my family.My relatives are from mercer and auglaize county and fort recovery and greenville.I have other relatives on other sides of my family from other areas.
Posted by holly  on  Mon Oct 23, 2006  at  10:47 AM
What a heart break -reading this thread. I was 'researching around' on the Library of Congress' web site and stumbled upon the journal compilation of my direct relative; and now discover the whole bit could be the work of an imposter. The Liwwat paintings hanging in my parent
Posted by Mi(Texas) Boeke  in  Dallas  on  Wed Jun 13, 2007  at  12:08 AM
Ok, so maybe Liwwat did plagerize, OR perhaps maybe, she was the one who was plagerized?? I haven't seen that arguement presented.
Posted by El-David  in  Ohio  on  Sun Jun 24, 2007  at  01:24 AM
I just came across a copy of "Liwwat Boke" and was thoroughly amazed at the content. Now I read (with dismay) the varying opinions on validity of "Liwwat Boke" and I am wondering if anyone has followed through to have any of the drawings or writings tested for provenance and age?

And if they have had testing done, would they please share the results?

If a Boke relation has an original Boke document available and could share the story of how they came upon it, it might add some insight into the material and explain some of the questions about it.

Posted by J. Imhoff  in  Cincinnati  on  Tue Oct 02, 2007  at  10:57 AM
Dear Mr. Imhoff,
Antonius Holtmann: no Masterpiece or: How "Liww
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  in  Oldenburg/Germany  on  Tue Oct 02, 2007  at  01:59 PM
Thank you, Dr. Holtmann, for the link to your article.

I reviewed the comparative drawings with some interest and I expect to have the article translated soon so that I can gain more insight.

I am curious about the age of the documents.

Thank you again.
Posted by J. Imhoff  in  Cincinnati  on  Tue Oct 02, 2007  at  03:14 PM
I am very surprised by the comments posted here. I thought that Liwwat would only interest direct decendents...apparently she's more popular than I thought!

My grandmother's brother, Luke, dedicated years of his life to translating Liwwat's writings from low German to English. (If you are familiar with low German, this is no easy task!)

In case you have not seen the book, her illustrations are beautifully detailed, and I was particularly drawn to her illustrations of tools that she and her husband utilized. Liwwat also illustrated maps from the home country.

My Uncle Luke's translations provide a rare glimpse into life in the early Ohio wilderness. Liwwat and her family settled and endured various hardships (loss of several children) but survived.

I understand that there will always be skeptics, but having lived in the extended family for 30+ years, I knew of Uncle Luke's dedication to the translation of the documents from low German...Uncle Luke sacrificed time with his own family in order to share Liwwat's story. I was aware of the work well before the time of its publication. There is no doubt in my mind of its authenticity.

Parting thouhgt...if Liwwat passed along the 'strong woman' gene, I can personally identify a slew of us that caught that one. (We don't hunt squirrels, but we're still pretty tough!)

grin Emily
Posted by Emily  in  Cincinnati, Ohio  on  Sat Oct 06, 2007  at  04:38 AM
dear Emily,

I never wrote that Luke Knapke was the plagiarist.

See my brochure:
Antonius Holtmann: No Masterpiece or: How "Liww
Posted by Antonius Holtmann  on  Sat Oct 06, 2007  at  08:19 AM
Hi, Emily,

Indeed, the "Liwwat Boke" compilation is a fascinating look at early Ohio pioneer life. Whether or not the material is authentic as a first person account, or even accurate, the story is most interesting and compelling (to more than Liwwat Boke descendants I think) and deserves more study.

And of course, Luke K.'s translation from the low german was an immense task and key to the revelation of the text material. And Luke's introduction to the story, his unwitting yet apt quotations from Vincent Boeke (a foreshadow of our discussion?) and personal end notes are invaluable to begin to understand how the book came to be.

I have two 2nd edition copies of the book found while sorting out my mother's library this fall. I read the book in two days and my interest was piqued. So I googled, hoping to find additional mention of the pioneer woman and her story in women's history, Ohio, or American history academic listings. (Or maybe even a documentary or screen play.) I didn't find any significant mention of the book (which I thought was unusual given the amazing collection of essays) and only after reading Dr. Holtmann's research article linked to this site and doing additional research on my own,(for example, reading other diaries from the same time period and checking the Holtmann citations at the library) did I realize valid questions do arise.

I agree with others that whether or not the material is authentic, the Boke story is fascinating and the whole story, yet to be told, is even more fascinating.

That is why I wondered if any Boke/Knapke relatives have sourced, dated or authenticated the drawings they possess. Having heard only anecdotal support for the book, however, I can understand, after learning a bit more about your great uncle and other persons unwittingly involved, that the story has reached it's temporary ending for now and we will have to be patient and wait until the real story reveals itself. And that will be a fascinating one, too.

Best regards, j.
Posted by j. imhoff  in  cincinnati  on  Sat Oct 06, 2007  at  10:37 AM
Most of her journal is real. But the translator (a modern-day relative of hers) faked some of the pictures by copying them from old but real works of artand re-titling them. He also wrote some of the essays, the ones that are long-winded. He sounds a little mentally ill, when you read the forged essays.
Liwwat Boeke did not do anything wrong here. She was writing and drawing for her own pleasure.

I have spoken with people at the Mercer County Historical Society and researchers in Europe. The forgeries are in a different handwriting and the forged drawings are clearly traced in a poor manner.
Posted by Peggy  on  Thu Feb 28, 2008  at  04:44 PM
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