December 6, 2023

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Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society wants to match names to faces in old photographs | Local News

WHITING — Gayle Kosalko is hoping to meet a 75-year-old woman who once served as a flower girl at a wedding in Whiting.

That woman might help her identify some of the people in about 1,000 photos donated to the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society.

From 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, the historical society is holding a Photo ID Day at Studio 659, 1413 119th St., hoping to learn the names of people in the photos left behind at George Vrabel’s photography studio.

“We were looking at a batch when we first got them, and I immediately recognized my high school gym teacher from her first communion photo when she was little,” Kosalko said. “That was exciting, and I hope visitors have similar experiences at our Vrabel Studio ID Day.”

At past photo ID days over the last 10 years, more than 400 people have been identified in all kinds of photos, she said.

The Vrabel photos include graduations, first communions, weddings and more, Kosalko said. Many are individual photos of women, which appear to be senior photos.

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“These are beautiful, professional photos,” she said. “The only problem is that nobody knows who they are.”

People in their 70s and 80s will enjoy looking at the photos because they might have known the people back in their 20s and 30s.

Kids will be amazed to see photos that aren’t on a cellphone, Facebook or Instagram, she said.

“These photos haven’t been seen in years,” Kosalko said.

Can you match names to faces?

The Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society has about 1,000 photos from the Vrabel Studio but no identification of the people in the photos. On Feb. 12, the public is invited to help ID the people in the images.

Vrabel’s son Jim was helping the historical society with a project when he told Kosalko about the boxes of photos left behind at his father’s photo studio, which opened in the early 1940s and closed around 1960, she said.

The wedding photos were taken at the studio because the Catholic churches in Whiting didn’t allow wedding photos in the sanctuary, she said.

On a Saturday, Vrabel could photograph as many as three wedding parties. His wife, Ann, would help him, making sure the dresses looked perfect and the shoes were just right.

Professional photos were 42 cents for an 8×10 and 50 cents for a 5×7 back in the day.

According to family history, Vrabel worked for the government in labs at the University of Chicago. He also photographed the site that would become Cape Canaveral, served as a trusted government courier and reliable Russian translator, and worked on the atom bomb and the lunar probe.

Often, the family would have to make themselves scarce while FBI agents visited Vrabel’s studio for special government photos. He reportedly held a high security clearance.

Vrabel’s studio, at 1830 Indianapolis Blvd., was later home to P&H Printing.

When his wife died, it took their sons a dozen dumpsters to clear out the studio.

“Over the years, the darkroom in the studio building basement had become something else: an accidental archive of the city of Whiting in the 20th century, containing a collection of prints and film and negatives that documented decades’ worth of wedding photos, historical documents, local histories and documents of the day-to-day lives of residents of a steel mill town in Northwest Indiana,” son Jeff Vrabel wrote.

Many of the prints and negatives were distributed through St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Whiting. Others were given to the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society.