Issuu on Google+

The Last Ride of Frank Lenz In 1892, by Geof Koss one of America’s early cyclists set out for the trip of a lifetime, seeking fame and adventure. He found both — and paid with his life. In the fall of 1894, Alexander W. Terrell, a grizzled Civil War veteran serving as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, received a curious letter. Writing from the faraway Pittsburg suburb of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the sender was desperately seeking word of a young American traveler named Frank Lenz. “If possible kindly advise me if Mr. Lenz has arrived in your city,” wrote T. P. Langhans, whose letter identified him as the treasurer for a lumber company. “I am anxious to know something about my friend, as I have not received any word from him since he left Bunder Abbas, Persia.” Terrell was about to be drawn into a mystery that would captivate the American public for more than a year and echo through the halls of Congress and the White House for even longer. But only an unusual postscript in Langhan’s note foreshadowed events to come: “P.S.: Mr. Lenz is attempting to make a complete circuit of the Globe, on a bicycle.” In the early 1890s, Americans and Europeans went wild over the introduction of the modern “safety” bicycle, so-called because its equally-sized wheels provided more stability than the high-wheel models that had dominated the previous decade, and newly-invented inflatable tires added a more cushioned ride than earlier designs. Although the quality of the era’s roads left much to be desired, the early cyclists began to push the limits via long-distance races and pleasure rides organized by “wheelman” clubs that sprang up from coast to coast. Among the legion of early bicycle fanatics was Frank Lenz, a clerk and amateur photographer from Pittsburgh. The son of German immigrants, Lenz took up cycling at the age of 17 and spent much of his free time exploring the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania with other members of his home club, the Allegheny Cyclers. Driven by a powerful case of wanderlust, Lenz’s cycling journeys soon led him farther and farther from home. In 1889 he made a solo trip to New York City and the next year visited St. Louis with a friend. In 1891 the pair journeyed through the Deep South to New Orleans on their high-wheelers, and Lenz also traveled as far west as Chicago. Notably, he recorded these early tours with a heavy camera carried in a special backpack he designed himself. In surviving photos from this era, Lenz is seen in a cap and a tight black outfit as he and his friends posed with their high-wheelers. “I had become so familiar with my ‘bike,’ that to ride it, laden like a packhorse, had become second nature,” he wrote. “Still, I yearned, like Alexander, for new fields to conquer.”

The Last Ride of Frank Lenz

Related publications