Author: Guest blogger
By David Herlihy, author of The Lost Cyclist and Bicycle: The History
My new book, The Lost Cyclist, germinated over a dozen years ago. A journalist approached me to find out what I knew about Frank Lenz, an American cyclist who disappeared in Turkey in 1894 while trying to complete a round-the-world journey on a new-fangled “safety” bicycle with inflatable tires. I was already known as a bicycle historian, thanks to my research on the early development of the bicycle. The inquirer, John Kelly, explained that he was writing a book about this forgotten pioneer while on leave from the Washington Post.
At that time, I didn’t have much to offer Kelly, but I made a point of gathering information on Lenz whenever I came across his name while reading late 19th century cycling literature. I also connected with a young man near Boston who had a scrapbook of unpublished photographs taken by Lenz during his world tour. After I completed my first book, Bicycle: The History, in 2004, I decided to write a book on Lenz myself, the Kelly book having never materialized.
I already had copies of Lenz’s articles from Outing magazine, his sponsor, but I wanted to supplement those with newspaper reports that might add details or revealing interviews. I found that newspapers frequently reported on Lenz’s visits. So I traced his first two summer high-wheel tours with Petticord, from Pittsburgh to St. Louis in 1890 and to New Orleans in 1891, and then the start of his world tour across North America in 1892. I used digital databases, and I emailed librarians with specific research requests. I also traveled to the key state libraries where I mined newspapers on microfilm. I did the same to track Allen & Sachtleben’s ride across the US, and employed similar tactics to document both parties’ foreign travels (William Sachtleben would eventually travel to Turkey in search of the lost Lenz).
Thanks to Kelly, I knew that the State Department had files on the Lenz case, but I had no idea how extensive they were. Altogether I spent several weeks at our National Archives II in College Park, Maryland, photocopying hundreds of pages. I also spent some time in Pittsburgh digging up information on Lenz’s early years.
Using Internet-based tools, I traced several people with papers of interest, including Ann Irvine, the granddaughter of the missionary in Turkey who hosted Sachtleben in 1895, and John Lenz, a great-grandson of one of Lenz’s step-uncles. Lenz had a number of unpublished photographs taken by Frank Lenz, mostly from his high-wheeling days.
Shortly after I visited John at his home in Florida, he informed me that another journalist had contacted him with a view toward writing a book on Lenz. This was of course a surprise to me, given that no one had ever written a book on Lenz. I would eventually meet that individual, Geoff Koss, who revealed to me that he had gotten the idea from my first book, after seeing a photo of Lenz in China. Surprisingly, I would come across a few more people who had similar intentions.
I finally sealed my book deal in late 2007. Although my manuscript was due in a year, it would take me two. That second year enabled me to visit Istanbul. My researcher there, Candan Badem, found some real gems in the Ottoman Archives, including the transcript of a meeting between the American minister and the Sultan himself to discuss the Lenz case. I was also able to consult a number of Sachtleben papers stored in Los Angeles.
Of course, even though my book is now out, I’m still eager to find new elements. I recently connected with a relative of Sachtleben who had a few interesting things to show me. Maybe someday I’ll find a chest full of letters from Lenz to his mother. Then it will be time for second edition.
Video of David Herlihy talking about Frank Lenz.