Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester, New York
Sunday, October 12, 2003
Carl Manning, The Associated Press
Franklin, Kan. - When a massive tornado hit this small town in May, about
50 homes were destroyed in seconds. One person died and a dozen were
injured. The post office and community center were leveled.
Residents worried that Franklin, which had been losing population for decades
anyway, would never recover.
But that was before the "Franklin Forever" motto started showing up on T-shirts
and the Internet, with supporters hatching big dreams for this little town
in southeastern Kansas.
Not only are people rebuilding their homes, but they're lobbying for a new
post office and planning a new community center where they hope celebrations
will be held for years to come.
"We have a common goal, to rebuild Franklin and get it back on its feet.
We're all trying to keep the small-town spirit," said Phyllis Bitner,
who grew up in Franklin and still lives in the area.
In the 1930s, Franklin was a Crawford County coal-mining town of nearly
1,700 people, with shops, a school, a church and even a saloon.
Seven decades later, all that remained were 500 people living in about 150
homes, along with the town's last two public buildings, the post office and
Those two buildings and a third of the town's private homes were wiped out
on the afternoon on May 4. That's when the twister tore through, with
winds up to 250 mph and a path of destruction a quarter-mile wide.
But instead of leading to the town's demise, the disaster has made the locals
appreciate what they have.
"It opened up a lot of eyes to see what they lost. If any good comes
from this, it's the reuniting of people and the desire to get it back," said
Veda Maxwell, who moved to Franklin from Chicago a decade ago.
Bitner set up a Web site that chronicles the community's history and hopes.
The home page proclaims, "Franklin has a future, and the future is Franklin..Franklin
She also designed two pins to sell, along with T-shirts to help raise money
for reconstruction. Donations are sought through the web site from those
with family ties to the area and alumni of it's now-defunct school; a bulletin
board contains good wishes from as far away as Australia.
Rebuilding the post office and the community center are top priorities.
"Without them, we'll probably just dry up and blow away," said Catherine
Lovelady, who has lived in Franklin for 15 years and has no plans to move.
A drop box was installed at the site of the post office so people can deposit
Postal officials haven't written off Franklin -ZIP code 66734.
"We want to maintain a presence in Franklin, but we don't know what the
time frame will be," said Richard Watkins, spokesman for the Postal Service's
Mid-America District in Kansas City, Mo. "We aren't looking to abandon
any of our small offices, particularly when they are damaged."
Hank Pichler, 77, lost the house where he had lived for 47 years, but wooden
stakes outline where his new house will be.
"It's a great neighborhood, maybe a little too quiet now," said Pichler.
"People think we're crazy to rebuild because we're so old, but to us