The Accidental Historian of Laporte, Indiana
For more than 25 years, Frank Pease was the primary portrait photographer in LaPorte, Ind. — a town of about 20,000 just south of Lake Michigan.
Starting in the mid-1940s, Pease took tens of thousands of black-and-white photos at his Muralcraft Studio. He took engagement photos, baby pictures and family portraits — all of the people of LaPorte.
Pease kept thousands of uncollected proofs in boxes. When he died in 1970, they were forgotten, left to collect dust. The new owner of a restaurant downstairs from the studio inherited the collection when he purchased the building.
The restaurant owner decorated his B & J's American Cafe with some of Pease's photos, and put the rest in a back dining room for customers to browse.
A few years ago, Jason Bitner, co-founder of Found magazine, happened across the photos at B & J's. He sorted through all 18,000 photos and, struck by their beauty and the milestones they marked, compiled some of his favorites into a book called LaPorte, Indiana.
Producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister, of Long Haul Productions, spoke with Bitner, and tracked down some of the subjects of the photos.
Kathy (Richards) and Hugh Tonagal sat for their engagement photo in 1971; they were married in 1972. Hugh Tonagal recalls that the photographer told them how to pose and position their hands.
"It should have been maybe a more joyous occasion," he says, "but it was something that [the photographer] took very serious at the time and I guess he was relaying that we should also."
"We were so young and we didn't have a clue what we were getting into. We just knew we wanted to be married," Kathy Tonagal says, adding, "I am in awe that the two of us are still in love."
Garry "Burrhead" Lenard was 4 when he sat for a photo with Pease. Pease wrote on the back of the photo, "And if I am elected...," referring to Lenard's politician-like posture.
The grown-up Lenard is a dental sales representative.
Patricia Sallwasser was 3 or 4 when her LaPorte, Indiana photo was taken. Now 52, she recalls that she wore her favorite polka-dot dress.
"You were front and center and all eyes on you and the lights on you — it sort of made you fearful, actually," she remembers. "And I think in this picture, actually, I was crying."
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