Springfield, Ohio

History and Genealogy



Frankenstein Family


From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 493


By Oscar T. Martin

In 1831, John A. Frankenstein and Anna C. Frankenstein, the parents of John, Godfrey N., Marie M. C., George L., Gustavus and Eliza, emigrated from Germany to America. They were shipwrecked on the coast of Virginia, but were more fortunate than some others in saving all of their valuables. An exceedingly kind and wealthy family gave the parents and children shelter during their trials, until they were able to resume their journey Westward. Some time during the year, they arrived at Cincinnati, Ohio, their future home. John A. Frankenstein was a teacher and professor of languages, also a thorough musician, and who possessed a voice of exceeding sweetness. In those days, at Cincinnati, teaching was not remunerative, and few cared to learn either German, French or Latin, and so on, so Mr. Frankenstein turned his attention to cabinet-making. He invented many beautiful designs. Anna C. Frankenstein, the mother, was a woman of great personal beauty, superior intellect and most lovely Christian virtues. John, the oldest child, at the age of fifteen, painted portraits, the coloring of which is pronounced by competent judges to be unsurpassed. He also became celebrated as an historical painter and sculptor. The pictures, "Christ Mocked in the Prætorium," "Isaiah and the Infant Saviour,: and others, are works of great power and beauty. The busts of Judge McLean, Dr. R. D. Mussey, "The Dawn of Life," place him in the front rank of scupltors. Godfrey N. Frankenstein, the second son, was born September 8, 1820. The passion for drawing developed itself in young Godfrey at a very early age. some of his boyish expedients in reference to artists' materials were amusing. It is related of him that, when quite a little boy, upon an occasion of hog slaughtering, he got a quantity of blood with which to color some of his drawings. The butcher, discovering what he was about, kindly informed him that coffee made a very good yellow. The little artist coaxed his mother to make some for him, and in a short time he had painted a whole village, church and all, using coffee for the straw-colored houses, the blood for the red tiles of the roofs of the dwellings, and diluted ink for the slate-colored roof of the church. During the year 1832, at the age of twelve, he worked for a few months with a sign-painter. At the age of thirteen, he carried on the business of sign-painting on his own account. Persons wishing work done, and asking for the proprietor of the establishment, were, as we may well suppose, considerably astonished when the boyish Frankenstein presented himself in that character. He often related, with great pleasure and amusement, the number of incidents that happened to him in those youthful days. He sometimes found some difficulty in convincing persons who came to the paint-room that he was the proprietor. At one time, a man came and wanted a sign painted. "My lad, where is the boss? I want a sign painted right away." "He stands before you." "Now, my lad, don't fool me. I'm in a hurry; tell me quickly, where's the boss?" "He stands before you." "Well, now, you have too honest a face not to tell the truth." Young Godfrey asked him to be seated and watch him make some letters. Accordingly, while he was getting ready to letter, the man jumped up and said: "Here's your order. I see by your maneuvers that you can paint a sign, and I'll bet, if you live long enough, you'll do some wonderful things." He won a great reputation for the beauty of his lettering, then a mere boy. He was accustomed, at this time, to go out early in the morning, among the hills near the city, to draw from nature, returning before business hours. He now also practiced painting heads, and met with great success. He soon became so absorbed in painting pictures that he began to neglect his sign-painting, and it was obvious to him that he must abandon either the one or the other. After much reflection and deliberation, and a consultation with his parents, who left the matter entirely to him, he decided to give up his business, though it bade fair to be very lucrative, and devote himself entirely to art. In June, 1839, he opened his studio in Cincinnati, and made quite a brilliant debut. His health, however, soon became seriously affected by the extreme dampness of his room, and he did not fully recover for several years. During the years of 1839, 1840 and 1841, he made sketches in the vicinity of Cincinnati, chiefly on Mill Creek, then and for several years after a beautiful stream; on Bank Lick, Kentucky; on the Little Miami, near Clifton, Ohio; about Yellow Springs, Ohio; in the vicinity of Madison, Ind.; and many other places. On the death of his father, which occurred in 1842, his elder brother being absent, he became "head of the family," which position he held until death. In June, 1844, he visited Niagra Falls for the first time. He was so charmed with their grandeur and beauty that he spent the greater part of the time between 1844 and 1866 depicting them on canvas in all seasons of the year, by day and by night, from every conceivable point. All these scenes he portrayed on canvas with a fidelity and delicacy of touch which have never been equaled or surpassed by any artist, living or dead. He was the first to call attention to the great beauty of Niagra Falls, and the first to make it apparent. He also, between the years 1844 and 1851, painted a large number of pictures, and visited various sections of the country in the pursuit of his art. Among his pictures at this period were portraits of William Cullen Bryant, Hon. Albert Lawrence, and the White Mountain scenes, the Lawrence homestead, Groton, Mass., the Adams residence, Quincy, Mass., the birth-place of John Adams and John Q. Adams, Braintree, Mass., and many other places of interest. William S. Sampson, Esq., of Cincinnati, purchased one of the artist's first landscapes — one above Cincinnati, on the Ohio River; the other below Cincinnati, on the Ohio. He manifested great interest in him, and proved a most invaluable friend to him until death. The late Dr. John Lock, a scientist, took a very great interest in Frankenstein's paintings, and, during the artist's youth, did verything in his power to encourage the growth of his genius. John D. Park, of cincinnati, has a gallery of the Frankenstein paintings. His judgment in nature's beauties is keen and correct. We could enumerate many others, but space forbids; and we ought not to omit mentioning the friendship existing between John L. Whetstone, of Cincinnati, and the artist, from boyhood until death, that was as beautiful as it was rare. In 1849, he removed with his mother and sister to Springfield, Ohio. Between the years of 1851 and 1861, when not at Niagra, he painted some lovely scenes on the Lagonda Creek, Mad River — all in the vicinity of Springfield, Ohio. The quiet beauty of some of these views is matchless. In 1849, he conceived the idea of painting a panorama of Niagra, one of the principal motives being to bring the great wonder of the world before all people, to induce many who might not otherwise do so to make a journey to the great original; to present for those who could not do this as faithful a representationas could be given, and to renew the pleasure of those who had made the pilgrimage. How fully he has succeeded is attested by the spontaneous and enthusiastic language of the press throughout the country, and of the thousands from all parts of the globe who have seen the work. In 1867, he visited Europe, sojourning awhile in England, painting some English scenes, and spent a season, in company with his younger brother, Gustavus Frankenstein, among the Alps. On their return to London, it was acknowledged that Mont Blanc and Chamouni Valley had never before been painted with such power and beauty. After an absence of two years, he returned to America in April, 1869, and in the following autumn he went to one of his cherished streams, Little Miami River, near Foster's Crossings, twenty-two miles above Cincinnati, and painted Gov. Morrow's old mill, two views of it — one looking up the stream, the other down the stream. The loveliness of these two scenes is indescribable. The following season, 1870, finds him again in the same vicinity, fairly throwing the sunshine on the canvas. In the month of January, 1871, the artist met with a sever loss in the death of his mother, from the effect of which he never fully recovered.

In the autumn of the same year, he went to the White Mountains, accompanied by his sister Eliza, where they both painted from nature. In November, 1872, the artist painted his last scene from nature — Mad River, Fern Cliffs, three miles from Springfield, Ohio. He contracted a cold, which culminated in a very brief, severe illness in the following February, lasting ten days, and, on the morning of February 24, 1873, he breathed his last. His industry was wonderful, and he possessed one of the largest collections of landscape paintings in the world, never having parted with any of his original pictures, but one. He was a great and good man. He had the strictest regard for truth and right, in whatever he said or did. His word and his honor as a man he valued above all price. He died in the prime of life, and, as a Louisville writer well said: "He applied all his energies to the duties of his profession with the devotion of an enthusiast. He had a great range of knowledge, and a wonderful perception of the qualities and relations of things. His learning was both thorough and profound. He was a philosopher, a reasoner and an observer. A laborious student, not wedded to any dogmas; was constant, methodical and unremitting in the performance of his duties. He was none the less distinguished for his exemplary conduct in all the relations of private life. The beautiful and child-like simplicity of his character, the unobtrusive modesty of his manners, and the refinement and purity of his principles, won for him love, honor, obedience, and troops of friends."

Marie M. C. Frankenstein, a sister, equally gifted with pencil and brush, and a rare talent for modeling, has also received the highest testimonials for having been a most successful teacher in the primary department of the public schools in Cincinnati, Ohio.

George L. Frankenstein has command of pencil and brush, and wields the pen with equal force and grace.

Gustavus Frankenstein very early evinced his talent ofr drawing and painting, and has become a great mathematician, writer and scientist, the author of the Magic Reciprocals, whose exquisite beauty has called forth the highest praise.

Eliza Frankenstein, the youngest of the family, often accompanied her brother Godfrey in his sketching tours. It afforded him exceedingly great pleasure to have her paint, and he often said the most peaceful and happiest moments of his life were those when he and she together went to paint from nature. Still busy with her brush, she continues her favorite studies in botany and music.