The mysterious signature — Fran K.? Frank? —was found over the summer when workers were replacing old slate chalkboards in Hathorn Hall classrooms with new ones.
(The old boards had a variety of problems, including being too low, too small, and too smooth — all making them hard to write on.)
Project manager Paul Farnsworth snapped a quick photo and shared it with Campus Construction Update. CCU published the photo in its July 1 edition and deciphered the words as “Thank you” and “May 16, 1892.”
Proving that CCU is for young and old alike, Emma Gay ’25 of Herndon. Va., not yet matriculated at Bates, sent an email later in July saying that she thought the words are a signature, “Fran K.”
CCU promptly corrected the mistake, saying, “Thanks, Emma G., and welcome to Bates!”
Got a Guess?
Want to try your hand at matching a Bates name to the signature? The images are on this page, and here’s the 1915 General Catalogue of Bates College, which includes names of every Bates person up to that point — including, presumably, “Fran K.” or “Frank.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an idea.
But that wasn’t the end.
Thinking it would be interesting to know who Fran K. was — and what may have happened on May 16, 1892 — I put the image into an office Slack channel the other day, asking folks if they thought it was indeed Fran K. or perhaps Frank.
If we could settle on a first name, then perhaps we could find the last name, which is partially seen at the top of the image. (Farnsworth being a busy guy, he didn’t capture the whole name in his photo — all the better for a good Bates mystery.)
And while it’s not quite as juicy as the alleged Bates connection to the notorious Isabella Gardner Museum art heist in 1990, we’ll take what we can get.
The Case For It Being Fran K.
BCO colleague Nick O’Brien says, “My money would be on Fran K., because of the period-looking thing after the ‘K.'” And as someone well-taught in the art of cursive, O’Brien believes it unlikely that a Frank would separate their K from their Fran.
The Case For It Being ‘Frank’
We asked Pat Webber, director of the Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library.
“In my opinion, the first name is ‘Frank,” Webber said. “I know the letter K is separated from the rest of the letters — and appears to be a capital — “but I think that’s just the way the person signed their name.”
Webber believes the first letter of the last name, seen at top, “is either F, P, or T, followed by an ‘o’ and an ‘r.’
With various “Frank plus two” possibilities, Webber located three Franks in the 1891–92 college catalog. “The first two, Frank Everett Perkins and Frank Clifford Thompson, are both Class of 1894,” he said. “But I doubt our signer is either of those, as the letters don’t quite match up.”
But there’s one more that fits Webber’s theory: Frank Torr Wingate, Class of 1895. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a photo album for that class year.” Occasionally, photos in class albums are signed. “But that would be too easy!”
The Case Against It Being ‘Frank’
But is the name really Frank? No, maintains O’Brien. “No way someone’s handwriting would be that good and put a space in between ‘n’ and ‘K,'” says O’Brien, who consulted a relative who’s a typography expert. “He says Fran K.”
The Problem With It Being ‘Fran K.’
If the name is indeed “Fran K. [Something],” the mystery remains unsolved, because there is no name in the old Bates catalogs (that we can find, at least) along the lines of Frances K. or Francis K.
Which also raises the question of whether the signature actually belongs to a student or faculty member. Could it have been a worker who scribbled their name before installing a slate chalkboard more than a century ago?