“The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love.” — W. Somerset Maugham.
Before antibiotics, one of the most powerful medicines against tuberculosis was love. Happy patients tended to be more successful in overcoming the disease, so health care providers took every step to improve patients’ state of mind. Patients stayed busy with occupational therapy and social activities. Cure porches were oriented toward the best views to boost patients’ sprits with natural beauty. And then there was cousining — a term for informal romances that developed between patients.
“Cousining” is a curious word. It carries the meaning of a lasting, reassuring, family relationship — something patients were sorely missing during their time away from home. The term also implies, in a tongue-in-cheek way, casual and possibly forbidden love.
The Trudeau Sanatorium was the perfect setting for romance. Many of the patients were single, in their early twenties, and in the early stage of disease. Faced with the reality of death, they felt driven to live life to the fullest. A gazebo at the Trudeau Sanatorium was called the “cousinola,” as it was a favorite spot for cousins to get away to be together.
At the Trudeau San, other area sanatoria, and throughout the cure cottages of Saranac Lake, love flourished between patients. Nurses and doctors were not immune. Some patients found a cousin in someone who was temporarily separated from a spouse left back home. Some cousins just held hands, but others did much more and ended up at the altar. More than one person walking down Main Street in Saranac Lake today is the result of cousining.
While Saranac Lake embraced cousining in various forms, some relationships were still taboo. One remarkable love affair, long hidden in plain sight in our local history, is that of famed author W. Somerset Maugham. In the 1940s, Maugham’s longtime romantic partner Gerald Haxton contracted tuberculosis. The couple came to Saranac Lake seeking a cure in 1944. Maugham stayed at the Hotel Saranac while Haxton cured at the Alta Vista Lodge. Although Haxton’s health improved for a few weeks, he died later that year. Tragically, Somerset Maugham lost his partner of 30 years in an era when their relationship was considered a crime.
Love stoked the will to live, but not all love lasted. Our museum collection contains beautiful photographs of patients gazing at each other on cure porches, madly in love. Some snapshots show couples that spent the rest of their lives together. Others show relationships cut short by death or the complications of life. The images poignantly capture the moment between two people when, against all odds, all was well in the world.
Executive Director, Historic Saranac Lake
- Mary Welday and Duke Huntington, cousining in Saranac Lake. Courtesy of Priscilla Goss.
- Illustrated map of the Trudeau Sanatorium, including #6, the Cousinola. Illustration by M. L. Herold for Wish I Might by Isabel Smith. Historic Saranac Lake Collection.
- Betty Koop and friend. Historic Saranac Lake Collection, courtesy of Theresa Brown.
This June, the graduates of the class of 2020 have walked through Saranac Lake High School one at a time, to receive their diplomas with no other classmates beside them. It might be comforting to know that this is not Saranac Lake’s first lonely graduation ceremony. At the high school’s first graduation in 1896, there was only one graduate, Francis H. Slater.
Mr. Slater went on to work as a lawyer, and he kept a fond place in his heart for his humble academic roots. Later in life, he wrote a letter to the alumni association, saying, “I can think of nothing in my career which would be of any interest to those who have since gone out from the Saranac Lake High School, unless it may possibly be the fact that I am still trying to pay my just debts and with more or less success to apply the Golden Rule in business, as well as personal, affairs…. I have my High School diploma framed and hung in a conspicuous place in my private office, and am proud to have my name in the list of the alumni.”
Today’s students face an uncertain world, but they are in the company of young people in history who also confronted adversity. The first floor at Lake Placid High School is lined with photos of graduating classes. There on the wall are two extra photos for the wartime classes of ’44 and ’45. Eleven boys graduated early in January 1945 to go off to war. Five boys were in the next year’s January class. The June photos for both years are almost all girls.
Almost every boy in the Saranac Lake High School Canaras 1945 yearbook lists his future plans as entering one of the branches of the military. The yearbook lists the names of 36 boys who could not attend graduation, because they were serving overseas.
Three years later, the war was over, and the 1948 yearbook shows a full senior class. Under the photos of the graduating boys and girls are a multitude of plans for the future — engineer, teacher, mechanic, homemaker, farmer, doctor, and a few “undecideds." The young faces of Howard Riley, Natalie Leduc, Art Levy, Hilda Castellon, Manny Bernstein, and Richard Yorkey smile out from the pages with so much determination and promise.
Born during the Great Depression and raised during WWII, the class of 1948 didn’t take things for granted. Through challenging times, they learned the importance of hard work and the value of community. Class of 2020, you are in good company.
Historic Saranac Lake
Class of 1948. Courtesy of Howard Riley.
List of Servicemen, 1945. Courtesy of Saranac Lake High School.
If you're like us, you've done a bit of spring cleaning while you're spending more time at home. If you're also like us, you may be thinking about the best ways to store and care your historic photographs, letters, books, and more that document your family and community history. We hope that you're also thinking about the final home of your family's papers. Donating them to an institution such as Historic Saranac Lake can ensure their preservation and use for generations to come!
No matter what's on your mind about historic objects, we're here to help! Do you have a question about how to store a particular object, or want to ask how to donate or bequeath materials to our collection? You can contact us here on Facebook, or email our Museum Administrator/Archivist, Chessie.
[Photograph: Barbara Baldwin Knapp and Gunnar Knapp meet with Chessie Monks-Kelly to donate papers from the Baldwin Family to Historic Saranac Lake in 2019.]
Today we are celebrating an important day in Saranac Lake history--June 17 is Philip "Bunk" Griffin's 80th birthday! Happy birthday to a Saranac Lake legend!
Here is one of our favorite photos of Bunk as Guest of Honor at our Roaring 20s Gala at the Hotel Saranac in 2018. Bunk, we appreciate your love of our local history. Thank you for your website and Facebook posts that help connect so many people to all of the fascinating events and characters in our past.
If you're not familiar with Bunk's Place, do yourself a favor and read some of the great stories recorded there!
Happy birthday, Bunk!
"Are you a Trotty Veck?" This was the question posed to readers of the first Trotty Veck Messages pamphlet, Good Cheer. These small booklets contained quotes, poetry, jokes, local sayings, and more intended to boost the spirits of their readers. Trotty Veck Messengers were described as people who, “having a wide vision and cheerful disposition themselves, have it in their hearts to give cheer and courage and inspiration to others.”
The publication was started in 1916 by two roommates at Trudeau Sanatorium, Seymour Eaton, Jr., and Charles “Beanie” Swasey Barnet. When the pair complained of feeling down, Eaton’s father, who was an authority on publishing and advertising, suggested they write inspirational messages to one another. They turned this advice into a lifelong career.
Barnet and Eaton based their outlook on the character of Trotty Veck, found in Charles Dickens’ short story, “The Chimes.” In the story, Trotty Veck delivered messages of good cheer to the townspeople, despite his own ill health. This philosophy, and the publication, were both great successes, and Eaton and Barnet sold four thousand copies in the first year alone.
Seymour Eaton sadly died of TB in 1918, but Beanie Barnet continued the publication, publishing at least one edition a year. Over the course of 50 years, Barnet published 55 editions of the Trotty Veck Messages, and sold four million copies that lifted spirits all across the world. The pamphlets were sent to U.S. Troops in both World Wars and the Korean War. The titles included Good Words, Joy, Chuckles, Real Riches, Your Best, Happy Hearts, and more. Barnet eventually opened an office in town and hired staff to support the publication.
Barnet kept a scrapbook of quotes from many sources (which can be found in the Adirondack Room at the Saranac Lake Free Library today). These sources ranged from Shakespeare to Seneca to Thomas Paine, to unknown jokesters and riddlers. The first issue included a quote from a famous Saranac Lake visitor, Robert Louis Stevenson; “Only to trust and do our best, and wear as smiling a face as may be for others and ourselves.”
The Messages were intended to be sent near and far, to fellow patients, their family members, and friends. They provided a way to connect and share joy, most often around the holidays with special “Christmas Greetings” wrappers. So many patients were facing an unknowable future, and finding a source of connection and optimism could literally be life-saving. Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau himself recognized the power of positive thinking and saw an optimistic outlook as an important component of the treatment offered to patients in Saranac Lake.
At the age of 54, Beanie Barnet married Elizabeth Widmer, a TB nurse, at William Morris’ Camp Intermission on Lake Colby. He lived out a long life in Saranac Lake. He died in 1977 at age 90. The optimism he instilled in others lives on.
In the midst of so much uncertainty and “social distance,” we recognize Barnet and Eaton’s wisdom in spreading a message of “Good Cheer” to your loved ones even while far away. We are happy to share that we have issued a reprint of the first issue of the Trotty Veck Messages. You can send a copy of Good Cheer to someone in need of “good tidings;” a friend, family member, or even yourself for just $5 (plus shipping) on our online store. We hope you’ll consider making a small matching donation to support our work in the name of your friend as well. We will also be sharing digital versions of the first ten editions of the Trotty Veck Messages on our website. We will share one a week, so be sure to check in at the end of each Letter from the Porch for the latest.
Today we ask—as Barnet and Eaton once did--Will you be a Trotty Veck?
Be of good cheer,
Historic Saranac Lake
Historic Saranac Lake
Purchase a reproduction copy of Good Cheer to send to a friend, family member, or someone in need of "good tidings!" Your purchase will support Historic Saranac Lake and send good cheer all across the country!
Images from the Historic Saranac Lake Collection.
It's Tuberculosis Thursday, so we thought we'd share more about cure porch design! This week's Letter from the Porch got us thinking about porches and how their design varies, especially locally. This photograph came from a series examining the differences in cure porch architecture, and we thought it was interesting to see a porch under construction. This photograph was taken at Trudeau Sanatorium, or as it would have been called then, Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium, prior to 1904.
Want to learn more about the defining features of cure porches? Visit our wiki! Do you have a cure porch on your home? What features does it have?
[Historic Saranac Lake Collection, courtesy of Ted Comstock.]
Join Chessie--on a colder day last month--for a mini tour about the statue of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau. These days, the statue is located behind the Trudeau Institute. We hope you'll join us in person for a tour in the future!
Learn more about the statue on our wiki.
Long after people die, the buildings where they made their lives often remain. Many visitors to the museum follow the footsteps of a family member who came to Saranac Lake with tuberculosis. Often the only trace that remains is the address of a cure cottage and a porch where their relative once took the fresh air.
Places anchor the past. Together with our partners at Adirondack Architectural Heritage, we work to document the places that anchor the history of the Saranac Lake region — from cure cottages to churches to great camps — these structures stand as lasting memorials to the humans who built and cared for them over generations.
About 40 years ago, one of Historic Saranac Lake’s first projects was to do a survey of the cure cottages of Saranac Lake. The primary feature of a cure cottage is a cure porch, and so volunteers counted up the number of buildings that had evidence of cure porches. They identified over 700 structures!
Over the seventy years that Saranac Lake prospered as a tuberculosis health resort, cure porches were built as part of the design of new cure cottages, and they were added on to existing buildings. Our porches exist in many sizes and forms, upstairs and downstairs, on the grandest of sanatoria like Prescott House, and the most modest home, renting to one patient for extra income. The porch was the key feature of the Saranac Lake treatment — a place where a patient could sit out — and preferably sleep out — to benefit from the fresh air. They were places where sick people who had been banished from society could find community with other patients and with the outside world.
Porches are places where private life and public life safely mingle. Today, as we navigate the solitude of quarantine times, even avowed introverts notice the value of social contact. A porch is a good place to find a balance between private and public life, if just by providing a spot for a casual wave at passers-by.
Porches also contain stories from the past. As I drive past one cure cottage on Lake Flower, I often think of a remarkable man who died nearby over 100 years ago. The house at 245 Lake Flower, along with a neighboring cure cottage, no longer standing, catered to African American patients and boarders. One of those health seekers, Hunter C. Haynes, was born in Alabama, two years after the end of the civil war, to parents who had lived in slavery. In his lifetime he worked as a barber, inventor, manufacturer, entrepreneur, and motion picture producer and director. He invented the Haynes Razor Strop and developed the product into an international business. He died of TB at the age of 51 in Saranac Lake on January 1, 1918. The glassed-in porches of 245 Lake Flower stand today as a quiet memorial to Hunter Haynes and other African American patients whose stories have gone unrecorded.
Across the lake is a house that reminds me of another story. Back in 2003, Howard Riley interviewed Olive Lascore Gardiner, who lived at 56 Riverside Drive (now 135 Kiwassa.) It is a nice old house on the water with a big wrap-around porch. Olive’s father was a carpenter, and he carefully built the house for his family of six daughters. Olive, the youngest child in the family, remembered the night the house was completed in the winter of 1923. She and her mother walked across the ice on Lake Flower to the new house, carrying a Bible and a freshly baked loaf of bread. Olive’s mother placed the bread and the Bible in the attic rafters and said, “This house will never be without faith or bread.” Olive Gardiner lived in the house her whole life, and she died one year after telling Howard that story.
The house, still standing, reminds us of Olive’s story, and Olive’s story brings the house to life.
Historic Saranac Lake
- Priscilla Bergren and Louis Mackay. Courtesy of Priscilla Mackay Goss
- Hunter C. Haynes advertisement
- 245 Lake Flower Avenue (Ramsey Cottage, formerly 24 Lake Flower)
- Olive Gardiner yearbook entry
- 135 Kiwassa Avenue (formerly 56 Riverside Drive)
As we return to sharing local history, we want to highlight some resources that HSL staff are using to inform our discussions and research on Black history in the Saranac Lake area. Sally Svenson's 2017 book, Blacks in the Adirondacks, highlights untold stories of Black individuals throughout the area, including TB Patients coming to Saranac Lake. Her book can be purchased from our museum store, or you can check your local library for a copy! The Adirondack Explorer reviewed Svenson's book in 2017, if you want to learn more.
Other resources for Black history in the region:
-Online exhibits/educational resources from the Adirondack History Museum, including "Dreaming of Timbuctoo" and "On the Trail of John Brown: What Mary Brown Saw"
-Fulton Fryar's Closet at Seagle Music Colony. The "closet" can be seen at the Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake.
-North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association.
-John Brown Lives!
Is there a resource we missed? Let us know in the comments.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture's work includes an Oral History Initiative chronicling the stories of African American history. Visit their website to listen to some stories from the initiative, including the Civil Rights History Project. The Museum worked with the The Library of Congress over five years to record the voices of activists in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. Be sure to check out these important stories today!
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!