Fromme’s hunting legacy lives on at museumMay 14, 2019
By CANDY NEAL
In March 1969, Frank Fromme Jr. was in Alaska about 100 miles from the Russian border above the Arctic Circle when he spotted a polar bear.
The late Jasper man, an avid hunter, was on Day 3 of a 10-day hunt when he spotted the older bear.
He got out his Kentucky Flintlock long rifle to add gunpowder. The gun was made for him by Cornell Kemper of Ferdinand. But there was just one little problem.
“He couldn’t load the gunpowder in it,” local historian Tom Kellams said Tuesday. “The wind was so high that it kept blowing the gunpowder away.”
Fromme then pulled out his .300 Weatherby Magnum rifle. It was the same rifle he used in September 1968 to shoot an almost-8-foot-tall grizzly bear in Alaska.
He got the 1,400-pound polar bear, called his wife, Shirley, to tell her all about it, and then went back out on the hunt.
Fifty years later, the polar bear stands in the wildlife room at the Dubois County Museum. The room also contains Fromme’s grizzly bear, as well as other animals he got on hunts. Some of the many items from Fromme in the county museum’s collection include a brown bear, black bear, cinnamon bear, wolverine, cougar, marlin fish, golden eagle, bobcat, barbados sheep, wildebeest, greater kudu, baboon, zebra, pheasant, cape buffalo, python and boa constrictor snake skins, and a baby seal. Fromme also collected tribal figurines and ceremonial masks, some of which are on display at the museum.
There are even the two elephant feet that come from the 11-ton pachyderm Fromme killed in Africa.
“I could hear my heart pounding as if it were inside my head,” Fromme told The Herald in a Jan. 7, 1977, story about his adventures. “The elephant broke from the brush and rushed straight toward me. It sounded like a freight train.”
Fromme shot the elephant. It fell so close to him, that the animal’s trunk landed between his feet. He said in the article that he remembered the way the ground shook with the fall.
The natives took the meat, and Fromme took the elephant’s feet, Kellams said. Two of those feet, which Fromme made into stools, now sit in the museum’s Wildlife Adventures Room.
Fromme had all his animals stuffed and mounted to put them on display in two showrooms in his home on 36th Street. He had a sign in his front yard with the word “Safari” on it, to invite the public to view his display. And thousands of people did, according to the hundreds of sign-in books he had. Kellams has a few of those books.
Fromme died May 1, 1994. His family contacted Kellams in 2010 and asked for his help placing Fromme’s taxidermy collection somewhere people could continue to see them. Kellams then came up with the idea for the wildlife room.
“Hunting and fishing are a big part of Dubois County,” he said. “Every item in the room is either native to the county or brought here by someone who is from the county. And that’s important.”
Since a plan for the display was just developing in Kellams’ head, he collected the items — including 26 animal heads — from the family. He documented the items and stored them in the former Dubois Rural Electric Cooperative building, which is now WBDC.
After collecting donations of money, materials and labor, the wildlife room was created and the items were put on display. The room opened in February 2016.
“It’s one of the popular rooms in the museum,” Kellams said. “Someone told me once that something like this should be in a metropolitan museum, not here. But it’s here.”
Kellams says Fromme would be happy to know the public can still see the animals and tribal souvenirs he collected from his adventures.
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