· Western Kansas Photo Club ·
I’m a postcard collector and historian who loves reading, research, and writing. As a result, I’ve been curious about some early-day Kansas photographers who created some of the postcards in my collection. Now that I know these people better, I’m ready to share some of the conversations they might have had.
The following is a story with real people and events. The meeting actually took place.
Let me set the scene for you.
Photographers from Kansas during late 1914 are gathering at Larned to organize the Western Kansas Photo Club.
You’ll meet the young and talented Sydney Ulsh, new owner of the Conard Studio who is hosting the meeting. Later, but beyond this portion of the essay, Syd Ulsh and Frank Conard will talk about advertising before the group discusses lighting, posing, and operating.
Lt. William J. Wood, Kansas National Guard recruiter from Great Bend, is in charge of the club business.
Will Kirch and his wife Mae live in Bucklin, and since their marriage three years earlier, are working together to grow their business.
Two characters mentioned, but who have no lines in this entry, are brothers W.B. Conard and Frank Conard. W.B. recently sold the gallery where the meeting is taking place. He and his family are in California. Brother Frank, who has just purchased his own photography studio in Garden City, rounds out the half-dozen characters.
Western Kansas Photo Club, October 1914
Will and his wife Mae were early for the meeting, having made the trip from Bucklin to Larned a day earlier.
“I like what Syd has done with the studio,” said Mae, as she continued scanning the room, smelling the fresh paint, and touching the smooth, colorful wallpaper.
“Yes, he’s investing in his future,” agreed Will. “The public may think that W.B. and Syd are still partners, but it’s pretty clear that this place won’t be called Conard Studio forever.”
“I still can’t believe that W.B. and Predetta decided on moving to California,” said Mae. “Once they made up their minds, it didn’t take long for them to sell their beautiful house and furniture. I wonder how Little Carl is handling the big city and a new school.”
“Babe, that boy’s got to be fifteen,” said Will. “In my day, he would have been out on a harvest crew already. School would be a distant memory. But, I haven’t heard anything about the boy; maybe Frank will have an update. W.B. and Predetta did this once before, long before you met them. They took off for Colorado Springs. For a time, W.B. clerked in a hardware store.”
“Yes, he told me. Do you think they’ll ever move back?” asked Mae, remembering the kindness Predetta had shown her.
“Oh, sure; he’ll be alright for a couple of years, but I can’t see how investing in an insurance agency compares to photography. I guess he could start a photo business out there. That might satisfy him.”
“Here comes Sydney,” said Mae, patting her hair.
“Be nice,” said Will, “but not too nice.”
“Honey, I’m always nice.”
“Welcome Mae,” said Sydney; “hello again Will. Lovely hat, Mae.”
“Thank you, Syd,” replied Mae, as she touched the silk velvet of her modern hat with both hands. “It was half-price at Landawer’s Mercantile.”
Did you stay at the L’Grande?” continued Sydney.
“Yes, we had good service, thanks,” said Mae. “I love what you’ve done with the studio, especially the operation room.”
“Thanks, we should have new scenery within a couple of weeks to go along with the newest portfolio.”
“Syd, congratulations,” said Will. “After Frank hired me in February to take some home portraiture’s for a while, I knew you were the real thing, despite your age.”
“Listen old man, how old are you, anyway?”
“He just turned thirty-six!” said Mae, giggling. “Like my mother, I like ‘em old.”
“Thirty-six!” exclaimed Sydney, “you must be a war veteran. Did you fight with Colonel Roosevelt at San Juan Hill or get any good photographs of him leading the charge? If not, there’s always trick photography. It could become a popular stamp picture.”
“Pardon me,” said Lt. William J. Wood. “Did I hear someone say they’re ready to join the Rough Riders? We need more men so we can be better prepared to protect our southern border and to fight our next war.”
“Hello lieutenant, or should I call you president?” said Will.
“I’m not club president yet,” said Wood. “We’ll see soon enough.”
“You know my wife, Mae, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, I’ve had the pleasure. Mrs. Kirch, you may recall telling me of your fine engagement at the opera house.”
“You sing?” asked Sydney.
“Heavens no!” replied Mae. “Mr. Wood is displaying his sense of humor. In 1907, Pawnee County held their commencement exercises at the opera house. I gave a speech.”
“Will, you know how to pick’em,” said Wood. “Top of her academic class.”
“Thank you, Mr. Wood,” offered Mae. “You’re very kind and you have an excellent memory.”
“She’s also skilled with children’s portraiture,” offered Will. “Having been a school teacher makes her more comfortable with the little ones. I’m better with houses and farms.”
“My, you’re multi-talented! We could use you to help with Army recruitment,” said Wood.
“How’s the recruiting going, lieutenant?” asked Sydney.
“I’m afraid we’ve got a long way to go before we can get a regiment together,” answered Wood. “We need more men and we need them soon. We want to get organized before another regiment gets ahead of us. It’s more than pride; it affects the quality of our equipment and orders.”
“How safe is our border?” asked Will.
“That depends on the border town and the day of the week. I’m not sure which is worse, the Mexican government troops or the rebels. Whether you want to think about it or not, we’ve got to get control of this. Europe is heating up and we shouldn’t be distracted.”
“Thanks Lt. Wood, sorry I brought it up just before our meeting,” said Will.
“It’s important,” said Wood. “I could talk all day about the Kansas National Guard, but I promised Syd and Frank we’d get started promptly since they’re presenting today.” Wood nodded to both Kirches and said, “Like you two, people have traveled some distance. And thanks for agreeing to hold office. You’ll make fine club officers, I’m sure.”
“There’s my good friend, Frank,” said Will. “He might get the award for traveling the furthest distance. Garden City’s not across the street.”
Just then the blast of another Santa Fe train whistle announced an imminent departure from the city.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” said Lt. Wood.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
Thanks to Ruby Dutoit Martin, Director of the Lane County Library, for sharing the reproduced book photograph of a young Will Kirch, Dighton, KS.