Born: July 1872, Ratibor, Germany (now Racibórz, Poland).
Died: July 15, 1904, of cerebrospinal meningitis, in the Presbyterian Hospital, New York City.
Buried: Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, Middle Village, New York.
Son of a Polish father and French mother, Benke emigrated to America at age 21.
His story was as stirring as a romance, and a great deal has been written about him. His father was a musician and gave his two sons a thorough musical education. Victor also trained to be a civil engineer.
He came to the United States after his parents’ death with his share of the family fortune which he soon spent.
After his money was gone, unable to find employment, he drifted into the Bowery [New York City], and managed to earn his bread by playing the piano in all sorts of disreputable resorts.
Like others of his class he began to frequent the Bowery Mission for shelter and warmth. One Sunday morning Mrs. Sarah Bird, the leader, announced that there could be no accompaniment to the singing unless someone would volunteer to play, as the pianist was absent.
Victor Benke, dirty, unkempt, and half drunk, staggered to the piano in spite of the efforts of several men to restrain him. Glancing at the hymn he played the accompaniment as no one had ever heard it played before.
From that time Victor Benke quit his old haunts. Mrs. Bird became his faithful friend, and made a permanent place for him, and he became one of the most successful mission evangelists. He was organist for Dwight L. Moody during his last visits to New York, and frequently went with him to neighboring cities.
Volume 48, number 2021, August 4, 1904, page 119
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