Franklin Park Library perseveres on history preservation
Karen Gurski, local history librarian, at the local history room of the Franklin Park Library. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2012 10:36AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Mark Johnson was the local history librarian at the Franklin Park library for at least 25 years, the force behind the local history club.
When he died in August 2011, the effect on the local history collection was immediate and huge.
“It brought it to a standstill,” Librarian Karen Gurski said. “Plus he had lived in this town his whole life and had so much information and knew so many people – (his death) broke so many links. We’re just recuperating from it now.”
Gurski succeeded Johnson as local history librarian, but the history club went on hiatus as Gurski attempted to better understand the library’s collection.
“Every one of those is full of records,” Gurski said, gesturing to dozens of wood drawers in the library’s local history room. “Plus there are 10,000 photos. They’ve been collecting clippings and pictures on library history, village history, Kiwanis history, all the Leyden High School yearbooks going back to the 1940s, school newsletters going back to the 1930s. There are items from the Franklin family. People are constantly giving things.”
There are also glass photo negatives that date back to the late 1800s, an original plat village founder Lesser Franklin used to sell people lots, oral histories, family interviews and the Franklin Park Herald-Journal from 1942 to the present.
Johnson knew the collection, but kept that information in his head. Gurski and volunteers have gone though the collection for the last year, consolidating it and scanning items. The next step is creating a searchable database. That will take time.
“Some of it is not marked with dates and names,” Gurski said. “We have old movies and VHS tapes to transfer to a searchable database. That’s going to take a lot of work.”
Jean Dawson agrees.
“It’s an overwhelming job when you’re first trying to organize,” Dawson said.
A former Library Board member, Dawson has offered her services in the pursuit of preserving local history.
“My family has been here since before the town was incorporated (in 1892),” Dawson said. “My grandsons are seventh generation Franklin Parkers. Our family business (Sax-Tiedemann funeral home) is the oldest in town.”
Daniel Pritchett has co-written a book about the history of Franklin Park, arranged for historic plaques on more than 100 houses and donated items to the local history room.
Though intrigued by local history, he said putting together a local history club “seems like sometimes you’re swimming against the current.”
Pritchett speaks from experience. About 20 years ago, he tried to form a Leyden Historical Society and to buy a building.
“The first few meetings were well attended,” Pritchett said. “Then a few months later, there were only three or four in the room. It seems like you always have a modest groundswell, then it seems like interest tapers off.”
Gurski hopes to start up the local history club in January or February with an event or speaker and then poll members on what they’d like to do. For example, focusing on local sites to be preserved.
Resident Harlan Pace likes that idea.
“Schiller Park has a very active historical society,” Pace said. “They would have an open house and show how people lived back then.”
Pace suggests the Franklin Park local history club seek the advice of successful historical societies in the area – such as Schiller Park and Bensenville.