Eeklo's most famous son by far is Karel Lodewijk Ledeganck. He was born in Eeklo on 9 November 1805. The year 1805 was in the middle of one of those French periods of our history and the officials no doubt registered the birth of one Charles Louis Ledeganck. Eeklo had become the capital of an "arrondissement" which comprised 56 towns. It also found itself in a strategic position and that meant it had become a "ville de gîte", a garrison town with its own military hospital. It was also a "ville d'étape", a city where travelling military units could stop for rest and provisions.
For almost 20 years (from August 1794 till the beginning of 1814) every week hundreds of soldiers passed through the streets of Eeklo, some on their way to the front, wherever that might be and others, licking their wounds, on their way back from the front.
When Ledeganck was born, Eeklo had about 6300 inhabitants. There was agriculture, there were factories but there was also unemployment, poverty and famine: that's what happens when the eternal and universal law of respect for private proverty is not enforced. In this particular case at hand the quartering of soldiers was quite literally depressing.
Then in February 1814 the French, their administration, gendarmes and soldiers fled. There was a power vacuum for a while, there was some looting but the new burgomaster set up a civil guard and soon they were all in our very last Dutch period. Eeklo lost a lot of the towns that had made up the "arrondissement" but the textile industry was also in a grave crisis. After 1815 (when that impostor called Napoleon lost his last fight), not only was the French market lost but there was also growing competition from England. In 1817 more than 15% of the population lived off charity.
For the bigger families such as that of John and Joanna Ledeganck these were hard times. Jan (John) was born in Ursel on 21 September 1771 and Joanna Coddens was born in Adegem on 22 February 1773. They were married in Adegem on 4 July 1795 and lived first in Ursel where they farmed. About 1801 the couple came to Eeklo. They already had 3 children, Pieter (1796), Sophie (1798) and Anna (1800). Soon there were also Jean (1802) and Marie (1804) but Anna and Marie died in 1804. Jean would die in 1816.
It is thought they lived at the top of the Brugsestraat (Bruges Road) now the King Albert Road, when Karel Lodewijk was born. (The translation of Karel is Charles and Lodewijk is Louis.) John and Joanna soon moved to Mill Road where they had a small shop. But John wanted to be a schoolteacher. And he graduated in 1821.
In the meantime his parents had plenty of mouths to feed. After Karel Lodewijk came Ferdinand (1807), Leonard (1810—he died that same year), Eduard (1813), Leon (1814—died in 1815) and Delphine (1817).
Karel was fun to be with. He was a lively lad and his handwriting was marvelous. It is not certain whether he worked for a while (at an early age) as a weaver in the linen factory of Karel August Vervier. Neither do we know for certain how he got to know Mr Vervier who was an art lover and who encouraged young Ledeganck.
It was no doubt also Mr. Vervier who spoke to the newly elected burgomaster, Joseph Dhuyvetter and on 13 July 1820 young Ledeganck became assistant clerk in Eeklo's city hall.
In 1821 Karel's dad, Jan received his teacher's certificate. He started a school and we don't know where Karel found the time to also teach there.
On 21 June 1834 he won a national prize for a patriotic poem. In August 1835 he graduated cum laude as Juris Doctor at the University of Ghent and the next year he was appointed Justice of the Peace in Kaprijke but that same year he left to settle down as Justice of the Peace in Zomergem.
On 7 November 1836 his father died and less than 3 years later he was back in Eeklo's cemetery for the burial of his mother who had died on 10 May 1939. His grief was immense, like for his father's death.
In 1837 he had entered politics and was elected a provincial councillor. He took the oath of 4 July and on 17 July 1840 he was the first councillor to address the house in Flemish.
In March 1839 a first collection of his poems was published under the title "Bloemen mijner Lente" Flowers of my Spring. One of the poems in this book was "The tomb of my father".
On 4 February 1840 Ledeganck was married to Virginie De Hoorn, the eldest daughter of Judocus Frans De Hoorn, a Medical Doctor and poet from Kaprijke. Virginie was born there on 11 May 1816. And from some of his poems dedicated to her it appears theirs was a happy marriage. Less than a year after the wedding on 2 February 1841 their son Herman was born. He would become a top diplomat in the service of King Leopold II with postings i.a. in Bangkok and Tunis or as consul general in Java.
On 8 October 1842 Ledeganck was appointed provincial inspector of the primary education. And the family left Zomergem for Ghent. On 20 April 1843 their son Casimir was born. He became a medical doctor and student of literature. On 16 August 1845 Clara Ledeganck was born. She also became a literary woman and author.
In July 1846 Ledeganck's epic poem "Drie Zustersteden" Three Sister Cities" was published. This trilogy about Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp was, according to Max Rooses "the poetic gospel of the Flemish Movement". Mr. Rooses was a well known writer and literature critic from Antwerp.
On 15 and 16 August Ledeganck was received in triumph in Antwerp. But his health was broken.
On 12 December 1846 a Mr. W. Sigart, a Walloon Member of Parliament asked in the Chamber "Could the Flemish race be of an inferior nature like the african and american races?" ("La race flamande serait-elle d'une nature inférieure comme les races africaine et américaine ?) He claimed he was in a hurry to reply in the negative but the Flemish press reacted furiously. Ledeganck on his deathbed started a poem in reply but never finished it.
He died on 19 March 1847. He was only 41 years old. His wife and their three small children survived him: Herman was six, Casimir four and Clara barely 18 months. On 23 March an enormous crowd came to see him off to his last resting place, the Campo Santo Cemetery in St.-Amandsberg. The Ghent University was closed that day so all professors would be able to attend his funeral. There were no less than ten funeral orations and poems, two of them in French.
Ledeganck's statue was ready on Sunday 29 August 1897, the Sunday of the annual fair, 50 years after his death. On that Sunday the festivities started shortly after midday with the arrival of Crown Prince Albert in a special train at Eeklo's station. Burgomaster De Wachter welcomed the Prince in Dutch and received a reply in the same language. The parade brought the prince to the Ledeganck Place where the statue stood covered with a green and white cloth, the colors of Eeklo.
The prince was introduced to the family of the poet and to other important guests. There was an ovation by the civil guard. For the very first time their commander gave his orders in "Flemish": "Geef acht !" (Attention !) and all this under the attentive eye of the crown prince ! There was a Ledeganck cantata specially composed for the occasion by Peter Benoit, a well known composer on a text by Ledeganck admirer Jan Boucherij. They say there were more than a thousand people and two hundred musicians implicated in this cantata, all under the able direction of Bernard Steyaert, the conductor.
Men, women and children sang the praises of Ledeganck while "a hundred
young virgins" strewed flowers round the base of the statue.
Source: "Karel Lodewijk LEDEGANCK, his life and work" by Marc Van Hulle, Uitgeverij Taptoe, 1996.