Otto Kratzer (1886-1971) moved to Volland in 1905, establishing Kratzer Bros. Mercantile in partnership with his oldest brother, Bill. The brothers’ business prospered, and in 1913 the Kratzers built a large two-story brick store across the street from their first building. Kratzer married Mabel Meseke in 1918, and the couple raised two sons at Volland while operating the store until the early 1970s. Otto documented every aspect of this Flint Hills town along the way.
Always the first to have the latest gadget, Otto became fascinated with photography when he first moved to Volland, and he obtained a camera that used 4×5-inch glass-plate negatives. Around 1908 Kratzer purchased a Kodak “postcard” camera that produced a negative the size of a penny postcard. Merchants and photographers cashed in on the postcard craze that swept the nation, and Otto Kratzer sold real photo postcard views of Volland in his store. In the early 1950s, Otto Kratzer purchased an eight-millimeter movie camera and began filming with the same enthusiasm that he exhibited for still photography. For a dozen years Kratzer filmed life at Volland and often entertained friends with the films he produced.
The enormous volume of Kratzer’s work is an important contribution to Kansas history. Not only does the work reflect the progression of one man’s personal life, it also describes the full spectrum of the culture of a particular place in the Flint Hills during the first half of the 20th century.
Greg Hoots, project director and curator of the exhibition, has digitized more than 1,000 of Otto Kratzer’s negatives and almost six hours of his movies. Karen Durso, Otto Kratzer’s granddaughter, dug into her closets and recovered many of her grandfather’s negatives and films that had never been publicly displayed before. She loaned them to Hoots who spent a couple of years scanning the original negatives and digitizing the films in order to fulfill her request of preserving and sharing them. They are now available to future generations.
Under the sponsorship of the Wabaunsee County Historical Society which he serves as a board member, Greg received a Kansas Humanities Council grant to help fund the exhibition and the accompanying documentary film “Volland Memories: The Kratzer Films.” Citizens and friends of the Flint Hills understood the significance of this effort and generously provided matching funds for the project.
Exhibition Presenting Sponsors: Stockgrowers State Bank, George Terbovich, The Volland Store, and the Kansas Humanities Council