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By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Jacob Rosdail had a difficult time deciding which part of the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture’s past to focus on in his new documentary.
The 128-year-old building was a masterpiece when it served as the home of George Sr. and Phoebe Frank in the late 1890s, and its significance continued during the 60-year stretch when it was part of the Nebraska State Hospital for Tuberculosis.
Torn between the two eras, Rosdail opted to detail both time periods in “Stone Mansion on the Prairie.”
The assistant communication professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney spent about two years creating the documentary that tells this historic building’s story.
“Ultimately, I am proud of the film and curious about the conversations people will have after viewing it,” Rosdail said, “not just about the look back at our city’s evolution and identity, but also the comparisons I hope people can draw between the last century and our current times in terms of capitalism and health care, among other things.”
The first half of the 50-minute film focuses on the rise and fall of the Frank family and their vision for Kearney.
Local architect George William Frank Jr. designed the house – one of the earliest in the Great Plains with electricity – for his parents, George Sr. and Phoebe Frank. It was completed in 1890 and featured a pink Colorado sandstone exterior, several fireplaces made with imported tile, handcarved oak woodwork and a large stained-glass window.
George Sr. earned his fortune investing in real estate. His company built the Kearney Canal, which began producing electricity in 1887 and triggered an industrial boom in the community.
However, the depression and financial panic of 1893, followed by a severe drought in 1894, bankrupted the Franks and many of the industries in Kearney. George Sr. moved out of the extravagant house following his wife’s death in 1900. He died six years later at the age of 76.
The second half of Rosdail’s documentary features stories from the Nebraska State Hospital for Tuberculosis, which operated in Kearney from 1912 until 1972 and included the Frank house and several other buildings on what is now UNK’s west campus.
Rosdail worked alongside Frank Museum Director Will Stoutamire to collect firsthand accounts from people impacted by the hospital. His film also captured the process as Stoutamire led a project that “reinvented” the museum by tackling much-needed restoration work, adding new displays and technology and reviving the building’s history as part of the state hospital through a permanent exhibit and other changes.
“I hope this documentary helps tell the museum’s story to new audiences, both in Kearney and beyond our community,” said Stoutamire. “Like Jacob, I’m extremely proud of the final product and think it is a pivotal part of breathing fresh life into the Frank Museum.”
UNK students in Rosdail’s TV workshop and advanced video production classes also chipped in by shooting museum b-roll for the documentary. About 14 students assisted with filming and Elise Troyer, who graduated from UNK in December, provided narration for the film.
“I enjoy being able to get the students out of the classroom and that provided a real hands-on experience where I could supervise their work while still allowing them free rein,” Rosdail said. “Shooting static objects in a museum pushed the students to think creatively about their shots and work on their camera techniques.”
“I know the students have enjoyed seeing their shots put into a final project that is going to be seen by people in a much more public way than most student projects,” Rosdail added.
CHECK IT OUT
A screening of “Stone Mansion on the Prairie” is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday (April 12) at the Merryman Performing Arts Center, 225 W. 22nd St. in Kearney, followed by a question-and-answer session with Stoutamire and Rosdail.
The event, hosted in partnership with the Buffalo County Historical Society, is free and open to the public.
Copies of the documentary DVD will be available for purchase at the museum, located at 2010 University Drive on the UNK campus.
An open house showcasing the new exhibits and improvements is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. Saturday (April 14) at the Frank Museum. That event is also free and open to the public.