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updated: 4/21/2014 1:17 PM

Conant High School develops old glass-plate images of Schaumburg

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  • Video: New photos, glass negatives

  • Conant High School teachers Denise Mitchell, left, and Linda Patino-Goergen, with some of the more than 100 glass plate images.

       Conant High School teachers Denise Mitchell, left, and Linda Patino-Goergen, with some of the more than 100 glass plate images.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Conant students work on archiving some of the 100-plus glass-plate images they obtained depicting life in Schaumburg more than a century ago. The images will go on display today at the high school.

      Conant students work on archiving some of the 100-plus glass-plate images they obtained depicting life in Schaumburg more than a century ago. The images will go on display today at the high school.
    Photo Courtesy of Conant High School

  • Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.

      Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.
    Courtesy of Conant High School

  • Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.

      Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.
    Photo Courtesy of Conant High School

  • Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.

      Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.
    Photo Courtesy of Conant High School

  • Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.

      Dozens of photos depicting life in what is now Schaumburg around the turn of the 20th century will make their public debut tonight at Conant High School. The recently rediscovered images were researched and developed by Conant students and faculty.
    Photo Courtesy of Conant High School

 
 

Women working in the farm fields, hats billowing in the breeze. A ramrod-straight couple driving a horse and buggy. A hog being butchered. Children playing on the floor of a turn-of-the-century kitchen.

These simple images reflect the life stories of the early suburbs, when today's familiar street names -- Pfingsten, Rohlwing -- belonged to living souls who farmed and sweated over the land we now shop, drive and live on.

And thanks to the fortuitous discovery of more than 100 glass-plate negatives from the early 1900s and a local teacher's ability to develop them, Schaumburg -- which, like other suburbs incorporated in the mid-1900s, does not have the lengthy historical record of older communities -- has a new trove of historical documents to treasure.

These slices of life, including rare candid photos, were preserved in the recently rediscovered glass-plate negatives of local farmer and budding photographer Fred W. Pfingsten. After nearly a year's research and preparation, approximately 100 developed images will be debuted publicly during a reception at 6:30 p.m. today in the atrium of Conant High School, 700 E. Cougar Trail.

The Rev. Michael D. Pfingsten, Fred Pfingsten's great-grandson, discovered the glass-plate negatives in late 2012 while scanning more recent family photos.

Recognizing that many of the negatives involved St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schaumburg, the Rev. Pfingsten, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Harvard, passed them along to Doug Flett, a teacher at St. Peter School.

Flett told the Schaumburg Township Historical Society and Schaumburg Township District Library of the find, but neither had the resources to develop the approximately 120 glass plates.

Then Flett remembered Linda Patino-Goergen, an art and photography teacher at Conant. She continues to teach film photography, believing it to be a true fine-arts discipline in today's digital age.

After further researching the negatives, Patino-Goergen and her photography club students used their skills and the school's darkroom to develop them.

Glass-plate photography replaced the use of metal plates in the 19th century and was the first technology that allowed multiple prints from the same shot, Patino-Goergen said. Glass plates were replaced only when the invention of plastic allowed for film.

Patino-Goergen was the perfect person to lead the project in more ways than one.

"I grew up in this area on a farm," she said. "This is personally meaningful to me."

Her mother is a personal friend of fellow Schaumburg native and local historian LaVonne Presley, who helped identify not only specific people in some of the photos, but the particular farming chores, equipment and even card games seen in the images.

The research of the developed images became a cross-curricular activity for Conant students through the involvement of social studies and history teacher Denise Mitchell.

Much help was provided by surviving correspondence between two of the original Pfingsten family members from the turn of the century, Mitchell said.

The historic importance of the images is obvious, she said.

"It's right at the time Schaumburg becomes a city," she said. "This is more of the transitional period from farms to houses."

The education and values of the evolving farming community can be seen through the images and in simple signs -- like horses named after figures in the Spanish-American War, Mitchell said.

"This little Midwestern community is so connected to America in general," she said.

As well, the images are unique for their portrayal of day-to-day life in an age when having a portrait taken was a rare and expensive affair for most families. Fred Pfingsten, it appears, was ahead of his time.

The students involved in the project -- most of whom graduated last year -- found the discoveries eye-opening, Patino-Goergen said.

"I kept trying to tell them that it seems like a long time ago, but it really isn't," she said. "My grandmother was born in the 1890s and lived 100 years."

While the people Fred Pfingsten photographed appear proud of their prizewinning Holstein cow, tall farm silo or new potbelly stove from the Sears Roebuck catalog, the sense of community and common purpose among them is undeniable, Mitchell said.

In fact, one of the biggest events photographed was Pfingsten's Sept. 3, 1903, nuptials to Emma Rohlwing -- a near royal wedding by the standards of the time, joining together two families who've since lent their names to the area's roadways.

Everyone from what today is Schaumburg and Roselle were invited, and giant tents were set up in the farm fields.

Several members of the local community, including longtime residents now living at Friendship Village, have been specially invited to today's presentation of the photos. But the event is open to the public, too, and is expected to appeal to any photography or local history buffs, Patino-Goergen said.

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