William Fredrick Gingrich (December 22, 1874 – January 31, 1959)

Within the collection of the Historical Society of Ogden Dunes are sixty-two, 3”*4” glass slides of photographs of the dunes.   William F. Gingrich is the photographer.  His name or initials appear on almost all the slides.   These slides were taken in the 1920s, perhaps the early 1930s;   some may be images of the Marquette Park lagoon; others of the Prairie Club cottages and/or the cottages in Porter Beach.   They may date from the time when the Prairie Club was active in the dunes, approximately 1915 to 1925.  However, a search of the Prairie Club’s Archives at the Westchester Township History Museum has not discovered any relationship between Gingrich and the Prairie Club.  In addition, the Society has an antique slide projector (unworkable) that once was used to show these slides.

Through the efforts of Eva Hopkins of the Westchester Museum and my search on Ancestry.com, we now know something about William F. Gingrich.   He was born in 1874 to a German immigrant family in Bentonville, Posey Township, Fayette County, Indiana.   Bentonville is located east of Indianapolis, about twenty miles west of the Ohio line and ten  miles northwest of Connersville.  His parents, Frederick Gingrich, born in 1828, and Eliza Schmidt (1831), emigrated from Hesse-Darmstadt in Germany about 1849 and settled in Franklin, Warren County, Ohio.  He was a wagon maker.  By 1860, they had two children, Anna and Louis.  The family’s real estate was valued at $1,800.   Ten years later, they had moved west to Bentonville, Indiana.  The value of their property had decreased to $700.  Three more children were born: Emma (1865), Amy (1867), and Minnie (1870).   William was born in 1874; his father was 46 and his mother 43.

By 1900, William was a school teacher, living in Bentonville with his father and siblings, Anna, Louis, and Emma.   Anna kept house; Louis was a house painter; and Emma was also a teacher.  We have been unable to track two of the sisters, Amy and Minnie.   Louis and Annie appear not to have married.   Louis is listed in the 1920 and 1930 censuses in Bentonville, living alone with an occupation of house painter.

By 1910 William had left Fayette County and was employed as a teacher in the Chicago Public School System.  He was a boarder, along with four others, in a home at 1245 W. Jackson.   In his passport application in 1914 he is described as 5’9” with black hair, a receding hairline, and brown eyes.  At some point between 1914 and 1920 he married Betty (Betsy, Bessie), also a school teacher.  It is likely that during this time he began to photograph the natural beauty of the Midwest, especially the Indiana dunes.

The 1920 census lists Betty and William as renting an apartment in a two-flat apartment building at 3248 Wilson in Chicago.  He is a principal of a Chicago elementary school and Betsy is a teacher.   In the summer of 1923, William and his wife spent time in Europe.   They returned from Liverpool via Quebec in August of that year.   During the summer of 1928 William and his brother Louis spent time in Europe, returning from Cherbourg to New York on the S.S. Dresden on August 17.   The manifest lists William’s home as 4545 N. Campbell.  The 1930 Census also shows Betsy and William as living at this address in a three-flat.  They pay $72.50 a month rent, a goodly sum at that time.  He is still a principal and she a teacher.  Their neighbors include a surgeon and his family and the chief clerk of a farm machinery company.

Eva Hopkins discovered an obituary in the Palo Alto Times for William F. Gingrich.  He died on January 31, 1959 in the San Jose Hospital following a short period of failing health.  Funeral services were held on February 3 at the Roller and Hapgood Chapel in Palo Alto with burial in Alta Mesa Memorial Park.   William was survived by his wife, Betty D., and a nephew, Fred Lamberson, and a niece, Mrs. Oakley Haskett, both of Indiana.   Betty and William had lived since 1950 at 642 Greer Road in Palo Alto.   According to the Times they retired in 1940 and moved to California shortly thereafter.  With his retirement William began to paint the wonders of nature.   He had a number of one-man shows in and around Palo Alto and was a member of the Palo Alto Art Club.  William Gingrich is also listed in Edan Hughes’ Artists in California, 1786-1940.  This reference indicates that he made many trips to scenic spots in northern California.

William’s wife Betty or Betsy was born in Chicago on August 31, 1890.  Her father was born in Massachusetts and her mother in British Canada.  Betty died on June 6, 1977 in Palo Alto at 86.   We know little about his nephew and niece.  One of William’s sisters most likely married into the large Lamberson family in Posey Township, Indiana.   And an Ethel Haskett is listed as the wife of Oakley Haskett in a New Castle, Indiana city directory in the 1930s.

This is a wonderful collection.  And we are beginning to know something about William Gingrich, man who had a great love and respect for the Indiana dunes.  However, we do not know how these slides came into the possession of the Historical Society.  We have one reference that the late George Svihla donated or facilitated the donation of the antique slide projector.  Can anyone shed light on the donor of these slides, as well as any possible relationship between Gingrich and Ogden Dunes?  The Calumet Archives of Indiana University Northwest has digitized the slides.   We plan to preserve these rare images of the dunes in the early 20th century for future generations.  (2/27/2011)

–   Dick Meister