Picture this: Frankfort’s history displayed in new book
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org August 29, 2012 3:44PM
Author Rachel Gilmore (left) and Judy Herder, president of the Frankfort Area Historical Society, talk about the new book about Frankfort that they produced for Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 1, 2012 6:15AM
Frankfort long has been committed to its historical roots, but now the village’s past is documented in book form for what is believed to be the first time.
“Images of America: Frankfort,” part of a series from Arcadia Publishing, depicts the evolution of this community of 1890s charm into the 21st Century, from the cover photo of the O-Aces Drive In (an old gathering place for farmers) to Fort Frankfort (a kids playground) in 2000.
Author Rachel Gilmore teamed up with the Frankfort Area Historical Society to compile 200 vintage photographs in 128 pages and four chapters. The book will be publicly released at a publishing and book-signing open house from 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 30 at the historical museum, 132 Kansas St.
“The photos represent pieces of life,” said Gilmore, who spent two months verifying names, dates and locations in the nostalgic photographs. “I hope people will look at it and say, ‘This is really cool. I didn’t know that.’ ”
Historical society president Judy Herder said the book “absolutely” captures the essence of Frankfort.
“Many of the photos have been recorded, but now we have a story to go with each one that people will love reading about,” she said.
Heretofore, Frankfort’s history had been recorded on 14 copied pages, and in a 2001 book, “Fragments of Frankfort,” which was more like a photo album that featured photos submitted by residents in a historical society photo contest.
Gilmore said 90 percent of her book’s photos came from the historical society’s archives, and she will share proceeds from sales of the book with the society.
She dedicated the book to the late Dan Hattan, founder of the Frankfort Preservation Foundation, which lobbied to save the historic water tower that still stands tall in the downtown area.
He was passionate about preserving the past for the sake of the future, and about the value of community, Gilmore said.
“It’s gratifying that people want to preserve history. They could have said, ‘Why bother?’ ” said museum volunteer Judy Schultz, who helped Gilmore track down historical documents and details.
The new book preserves Frankfort’s history in photos and captions organized into four chapters. Chapter 1 — “From Generation to Generation” — depicts many of Frankfort’s influential families, such as the Kohlhagens, Folkers, Elsners, Baumgartners and Balchowskys.
Gilmore learned that not all of Frankfort’s early residents were German. There were also English, Scottish and Swiss.
Schultz’s favorite photo is a wedding photo of Dorothy Elsner and Robert Porter, a photographer whose pictures also appear in the book.
“History is about people, not just buildings,” she said.
The couple shared a World War II love story, and Dorothy continues to volunteer at the historical museum, she said.
Gilmore’s personal favorite is a photo in the last chapter, “Ties that Bind,” of Dick Lambrecht’s birthday in the mid-1930s. The five boys in that photo, including then-future U.S. Congressman George E. Sangmeister, remained friends and kept in touch, which was proof to Gilmore that ties developed in Frankfort have a way of enduring.
The other chapters are filled with historic buildings, including the famous water tower, and photos of everyday working life.
“So much of this town is about community spirit,” Gilmore said, and she carefully selected photos that represent that spirit.
She also timed the book’s release to coincide with Frankfort’s largest community event, the Fall Festival on Labor Day weekend.
Given that so many of the stories that went with the old photos were anecdotal, the author had a lot of late-night hours at the museum and spent weeks verifying information and interviewing people, including descendants of founding families.
“We feared that someone would see the picture and say, ‘That’s not how it was,’ ” Herder said.
Some photos had to be left out of the book because no one could identify the people or location.
“I had a lot of back-and-forth exchanges with Judy (Herder), asking her, ‘Did you know this?’ ” Gilmore said. “I spent so much time with these photos that I began to recognize people.”
Compared with some folks depicted in the book, Gilmore is a relative newcomer to Frankfort, having moved there in 1991. She is connected to the village’s history as a member of the Frankfort Area Historical Society and the Frankfort Preservation Foundation and author of four other books, including, “Upon Which Everything Depends,” a nonfiction work that tells how Gen. William T. Sherman’s war horse Sam came to live in Frankfort.
“I love old photos and I like history, especially historical fiction,” she said.