People In Our Past
It is fitting that the next two inductees to the Osborne County Hall of Fame be honored together, for not only were they husband and wife but they are also responsible for the preservation of seventy years of the visual history of Osborne County and the surrounding region.
Moulton A. Kleckner was born August 16, 1844, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He spent his early years there, completing his education in the Moravian parochial school system developing an interest in photography into a full-time profession. He got his first taste of Osborne County when he came west in 1878 as a representative for Harper’s Weekly magazine. To their disapproval, he stayed. His partner, Harry Perkins, came west also and on November 11, 1878, they opened in Osborne the first permanent photograph gallery in the county.
“Kleckner & Perkins, the photographers who went out from Bethlehem, put up a fine building which they rushed through to get the first patronage. Kleckner manufactured a huge sign representing a camera, and pointing the way to his studio, and also a new background for sitters; both of these attractions drew customers for him.” -- Bethlehem (PA) Globe-Times, April 1, 1926.
The partnership soon dissolved in the new land and Kleckner was joined in the photo gallery by George B. Frickhart. On March 19, 1880, Moulton married Elizabeth Leibensperger in Osborne. Soon after the wedding the couple moved east to Atchison, Kansas, where the Kleckner Photograph Studio was opened once more.
Meanwhile, a little girl with dreams of photography was growing upon her parents’ homestead in Hancock Township a few miles southeast of Osborne. Rose Rochford was born September 1, 1869, in Nebraska City, Nebraska. In 1871 her parents, Thomas and Mary (Connely) Rochford, moved their seven children to Osborne County. Rose had two strong interests: poetry and photography. Her first photographs were pictures of family gatherings and neighborhood parties at the homes of the people in her area. Later she worked as an apprentice in the studios of Mr. Buell and Mrs. Hoyle, two other early-day Osborne photographers. After the death of her father, Rose and her mother moved into Osborne, where Rose leased the Buell photograph gallery and opened her Rochford Photograph Studio on March 5, 1896, coincidentally the same spot where eighteen years before the little building housing Kleckner & Perkins had stood.
In 1897 Lizzie Kleckner died in Atchison. Moulton Kleckner made a few trips back to Osborne over the next few years to visit old friends, and struck up a friendship with Miss Rochford. In 1901 he spent a month instructing “one of our local artists, Miss Rose Rochford, in the most improved methods of photography” (Osborne County Farmer, May 30, 1901).
The next year Moulton moved his business back to Osborne and formed a partnership with Rose, their new gallery being called the Rochford-Kleckner Studio. Friendship grew into love and on November 19, 1902, the couple were married in Osborne in a Catholic ceremony at the bride’s home. The fame of the two photographers spread over Osborne and the surrounding counties to such an extent that the couple were seldom able to take a brief vacation. Patrons came long distances to have work done by them. Rose later estimated that in her lifetime she had taken over 15,000 professional photographs. Moulton was an active member of the Osborne community and in the Masonic Lodge. He died March 23, 1922, in Osborne and was buried in the Mount Vernon Cemetery in Atchison beside his first wife.
After Moulton’s death Rose shortened the gallery’s name to Kleckner’s Studio and carried on her trade. Another generation of Osborne County citizens had their photographs taken by her before ill health forced her to permanently close the studio in 1946.
“There is much we could say about the invaluable service Mrs. Kleckner’s work has been to the community as well as that of her late husband. Much of historic interest will be preserved for future generations through their work as well as many treasured photographs and pictures of loved ones in the homes of countless families in this section of the state.” - Osborne County Farmer, March 28, 1946.
In the same edition Rose penned a goodbye to her patrons. “After 48 years of photographing the people of Osborne and vicinity, from the fourth, and frequently the fifth generation, down to the tots of today, Kleckner’s Studio is quitting business. And it is with a certain degree of satisfaction I quote the photographer’s national slogan, ‘Photographs Live Forever’ . . . I want to thank one and all for their splendid patronage, and though I will not be doing business the ‘latch string will always be out’ at the old home as long as I am here. Come in, let’s visit. Sincerely, Rose F. Kleckner.”
For a time Rose did live quietly at her home in Osborne, until she was moved into the Cosy Corner Nursing Home in Corinth Township where she received the care she needed. She died there March 31, 1961, and was buried in the St. Aloysius Cemetery near Osborne. From Indians and buffalo hunters to parades and family portraits, the Kleckner photographs will indeed live forever.
SOURCES: Bethlehem (PA) Globe-Times--April 1, 1926; Osborne (KS) County Farmer--December 22, 1898, May 30, 1901, April 4, 1922, March 5, 1946, March 28, 1946, September 3, 1959; Rosalie Witt, Fairbury, Nebraska.
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