This is the first installment in our occasional series, "Art Around the Corner." For ideas of works of art "around the corner" in your neighborhood, E-Mail Brad.
The first thing you notice when walking into Frankfort's post office is the stately 1940s architecture. There are dark wood walls, marble floors and high ceilings. But there's also a mural that you just might miss if you don't happen to look above the postmaster's office door.
The mural is about the size of a family dining table and it depicts an Ann Arbor car ferry as its crew battles a fierce winter storm on Lake Michigan. The painting shows the stern of the car ferry as crew members struggle in high winds to secure the cargo.
A Part of Maritime History
Pete Sandman has written a number of books about Frankfort's history.
Sandman says, "From (the) 1890s to 1940 most people in the Frankfort-Elberta area were involved with the railroad or the car ferries and that was one of the most dramatic or tragic times was the storm on Valentine's Day of 1923."
The ferry lost one freight car and the painting shows that car slipping into the icy Lake Michigan water. On the car's side is painted the word, "Automobiles." Some crew members were banged up but none were seriously injured or killed. The day after the incident, the Benzie County Patriot ran a headline that read, "Escape Of Crew Without Loss Of Life Or Serious Injury Is An Unexplained Miracle."
The mural came out of the Depression. The artist was Henry Bernstein. Bernstein had graduated from the Detroit Society of Arts just when the Depression was at its worst. Sandman says the WPA paid for hundreds of post offices to be built around the country.
Sandman says, "One percent of all the monies that were allotted for post office buildings had to go to the arts."
The WPA paid artists 28-dollars a week in exchange for one painting a month. Bernstein painted the Frankfort mural in 1941.
Bea Stone has been around Frankfort almost since the mural was first painted.
She and her husband moved to Frankfort in 1949.
Bea says, "Anything that shows snow and ice thrills me because I grew up in the northland."
Back in the 1920s the Ann Arbor car ferry made regular stops in Frankfort, Manistique and Manitwoc. The fleet carried heavy loads like cars and big gondolas of coal. Area resident Doug McHugh likes the mural because it reminds him of Frankfort's history of putting Lake Michigan to work.
Doug says, "It reminds me, of course, of the whole car ferry fleet and the history of town and this was a seafaring town once upon a time so it brings that all back."