A winning sports team, like a beautiful ice palace, grows out of a strong community. It’s no surprise that Saranac Lake has a long tradition of athletic achievements. From team sports like bobsledding, baseball, hockey, football, and curling to individual competitions like speed skating and barrel jumping, Saranac Lake history is full of athletic men and women who left their mark.
Today, Covid-19 is disrupting so many traditions, and sporting events are some of the hardest to give up. The cancellation of competitions is heartbreaking for athletes, and it’s hard for the spectators too. In small towns like Saranac Lake, sport brings generations together to enjoy a brief moment when all that matters is the kids on the field or the ice. No matter how fast or slow, each child shines for a moment. Over time, parents come to know each others’ children, and we cheer for their victories too.
It might be easy to see the cancellation of sports as a first world problem. But athletic competition is more than entertainment. It goes back in early human history as a fundamental expression of human culture. From the ball game played by the ancient Maya, to soccer around the world today, sports are a strong social glue across time and place.
This is not the first time global events have swept away the joy of sport. During WWII, athletics went on hold around the world. The Olympics of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled. During the war, there was no Tour de France, no Wimbledon, no U. S. Open, no international speed skating. Instead, young women took to wartime work, and young men went off to war. In 1943, Saranac Lake’s champion bobsledding team, the Red Devils, left their sleds behind for the war effort. Bobsledders who served in WWII included names like Morgan, Latour, Bickford, Fortune, Keough, and Duprey. These men’s athletic careers were interrupted, but their legacy lives on. Just look at rosters of Saranac Lake teams today, and you’ll see many of those same last names.
Sports, like history, connect us to community and provide a broader perspective. No matter what you accomplish, there’s almost always someone better and faster. Most victories and losses will fade with time.
It takes a lot of work and more than one stroke of luck to foster a team that history will remember. In the last few years, a group of standout coaches has steadily built a dynasty of cross country running in Saranac Lake. In the last two years, the boys team won the State Class C title. Now seniors, they were poised to win at state’s again. This time they had a strong chance to come out on top of all classes — all New York schools, big and small, public and private. The Saranac Lake team had their sights on the national race in Oregon. It was a once in a century, if ever, opportunity for a small community. The pandemic has taken it away.
It’s not the first disappointment for the cross country team. Two years ago, they qualified for the NY State Federation meet, something that only one other Saranac Lake team had done before. But a freak snowstorm cancelled the race, and suddenly the season was over. It was a huge disappointment, but what did the boys do? They laced up their sneakers and went out for a run in the snowstorm. Saranac Lakers honked their horns to cheer them on. A shopkeeper bought them hot chocolate. The team ran down to the new Aldi and bought themselves a bag of candy. It turned out to be a pretty good day.
The cancellation of this year’s championships is a big blow, but it’s no surprise that the team is taking it in stride. They know sports are about far more than winning. When asked how he’s feeling about it, one runner said that the team is sad for the coaches. The kids wanted to win for them.
In our hearts, the boys will make it to Oregon. Best of all, we’ll be seeing them around town, running fast in the snow together.
Executive Director, Historic Saranac Lake
(and one of the proud parents of the SLHS cross country team)
- The Saranac Lake Red Devils Bobsledding Team. Historic Saranac Lake collection, courtesy of Natalie Leduc.
- World champion speed skater and barrel jumper, Ed Lamy. Historic Saranac Lake collection,
courtesy of Dick Jarvis.
- Natalie Bombard (left) pictured with Ed Lamy’s daughter, Ruthie. Natalie grew up to win the New York Women's Slalom Championship in 1948.. Historic Saranac Lake collection, courtesy of Natalie Leduc.
- The Saranac Lake Cross Country team running in the snowstorm on the day of the cancelled Federation Race, 2018. Adirondack Daily Enterprise photo.
One of my favorite stories in our local history is about a meteor shower over Mount Baker and a tuberculosis patient named Isabel Smith.
Ms. Smith spent twenty years of her life sick in bed at the Trudeau Sanatorium. She wrote a book about her experience titled Wish I Might. Her book touches upon so many aspects of the cure — the importance of routine, diet, friendships, “cousining,” the natural world, reading, and occupational therapy. So many threads of the story are there.
Most intriguing is Isabel’s description of how she changed as a person during her long illness. She endured disfiguring operations and the removal of ribs to deflate her lung. At times, her case seemed hopeless. As the reality of her sickness settled in, Isabel felt anger, sadness, loneliness, and fear. But one night, on her porch overlooking Mount Baker, she stayed up with her porch mate to watch the Leonid meteor shower. For hours, the young women watched the sky, feeling transported from their sick beds to connect with the vast universe. Suddenly, life was very much worth living.
It was the beginning of an evolution towards a rich interior life. Isabel described, “…although I may have appeared to be merely a still figure in a bed, leading a quiet life in which nothing happened, I did not feel that way, nor did I appear that way to myself….this way of life could hold moments, hours, even days sometimes, of happiness so great.” The quiet and stillness of Isabel’s daily life enabled her to notice great beauty in the world around her. Out of hardship, she found meaning and purpose.
In the late 40s, the antibiotic treatment was perfected, and it saved Isabel Smith’s life. She made plans to marry her boyfriend, Court Malmstrom, who was also a patient at Trudeau. One July day in 1949, Dr. Francis Trudeau escorted Isabel from Ludington Infirmary, down to the Trudeau Chapel where she and Court were married. Sanatorium patients came out of their cottages to cheer for the couple. Following the wedding, Isabel and Court made Saranac Lake their home. They found a small apartment in town, and Isabel took a job at the library.
As Isabel settled into a more active routine, the noise of regular life must have crowded out the stillness she had embraced as a patient. The interior life seems more likely to come alive in people experiencing a long illness or living with old age. It is something we may only see glimpses of during our lifetimes, and something we are lucky to recognize in others.
Soon after Isabel’s departure from Trudeau, the facility closed. Long-term nursing care was no longer necessary with the advent of antibiotic treatment. One by one the cure cottages and other sanatoria closed or were eventually repurposed. Will Rogers Hospital, where TB patients from the vaudeville and entertainment business once cured, is now a retirement community. Ray Brook State Hospital is now a prison, and elderly prisoners have been moved there during the pandemic.
When I drive by these places, I remember past residents, and I think of the people there now. I think about Isabel’s meteor shower and the extraordinary significance in each human life.
Executive Director, Historic Saranac Lake
-An exhibit at the Saranac Laboratory Museum features the story of Isabel Smith.
-Illustration of Baker Chapel by M. L. Herold for Wish I Might.
-Wish I Might by Isabel Smith (signed by the author). Historic Saranac Lake Collection.
In recent months, as the coronavirus jumped from bats to people and spread around the globe, the world suddenly seems much smaller. The situation reminds us of our connectedness to the animal world and to each other. Such an awareness of nature is deeply rooted in the Adirondack traditions of hunting and fishing.
The practice of hunting in the Adirondacks stretches back thousands of years. For countless generations, Native American peoples lived in balance with the natural environment. They took only the resources needed for survival, and they made use of medicinal plants. From the mid-1800s, growing numbers of tourists came to the Adirondacks to experience the wilderness. They relied on Adirondack guides’ deep knowledge of the woods and waters to explore the wilderness in comfort and safety.
With the arrival of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau in the 1870s, the rather paradoxical pursuits of hunting and health care became intertwined in our history. Edward had learned a love of hunting from his father, who was also a medical doctor. Edward first came to the Adirondacks as a young “sport” from the city, to hunt and fish at Paul Smith’s Hotel.
Trudeau returned to Paul Smith’s a few years later, seriously ill with tuberculosis. He hoped that rest in the fresh air of the Adirondacks would improve his health. The guides at Paul Smith’s cushioned a boat with boughs of balsam and took the invalid doctor out shooting. Hunting in the wilderness, Trudeau wrote, “… my sprits were high and I forgot all the misery and sickness I had gone through.” Believing the fresh air and natural beauty of the Adirondacks would benefit other invalids, Trudeau eventually established his sanatorium in Saranac Lake. He built it on land that had been his favorite rabbit hunting grounds, purchased for him by local guides who were his cherished friends.
Trudeau’s passion for hunting brought him to the Adirondacks. It also laid the foundations for his scientific research using animal subjects. In 1886, he devised an experiment using live rabbits to study the effects of environment on TB. The breakthrough Rabbit Island experiment demonstrated the benefits of the fresh air treatment. Trudeau continued his work in science, and in 1894, he established the Saranac Laboratory in the Village to study tuberculosis. There, scientists performed many studies using mice, rabbits, and guinea pigs.
Dr. E. L. Trudeau passed his twin loves of hunting and medicine on to his son, Francis, and his grandson, Frank. Francis served as president of the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club. In 1916, he established the Trudeau Big Buck Contest to honor his father, who had died the year before. Each year, the trophy buck that earned the Trudeau Cup was proudly hung on display in the middle of the village. The successful hunter's name was etched on a silver Honor Roll and displayed in the Post Office Pharmacy building on Main Street. In the 1970s, deer were hung at the Waterhole.
Today, some local people hunt to help feed their families during these difficult economic times. Hunting and fishing continue as customs that build resilience and community ties. These are traditions that instill appreciation for the human connection to the natural world. It is wisdom that served Dr. Trudeau well, and it continues to guide us today.
Executive Director, Historic Saranac Lake
Images- Dr. E. L. Trudeau, Historic Saranac Lake collection.
- Guides at Paul Smith’s, Paul Smith's College Joan Weill Adirondack Library Archives.
- Young Garry Trudeau fishing with his father, Dr. Frank Trudeau, courtesy of Jeanie Trudeau Fenn.
-Two participants proudly display their catch at the Colby Classic Fishing Derby this past winter. The Cure Porch on Wheels was there to record ice fishing history.
“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.
"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.
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)
Graveyards are for the living. It's something I think about every autumn, when Pine Ridge Cemetery comes alive with children on our annual fifth grade field trip. Ahead of time, the students research a person buried there. As we walk down to the graveyard from school, excitement builds. Upon arrival the kids race around, looking excitedly for their person. It’s like a bizarre version of an Easter egg hunt.
With the help of friendly and unflappable volunteer, Jim Clark, the kids eventually find their gravestones. We stop at the resting places of Charlie Green, Julia Miller, Don Duso, and many others. We notice the memorials for veterans, fire fighters, and children. Jim Clark fills in with stories he remembers. The simple lesson of the day is that our lives matter.
We stop to see the memorial to the Norwegian sailors who came for the TB cure after WWII. Eyes open wide when we go inside the vault and see the cabinets where the bodies were stored. In the Jewish section of the cemetery, the kids notice the pebbles left on the headstones. We talk about the tradition of leaving a pebble to show that the person is remembered. The kids each pick up a small stone, and many choose to place one on the memorial to the Ring family who lost 25 family members in the Holocaust.
We climb up rolling hills terraced with old stone walls to visit the graves of Saranac Lake’s prominent doctors. Dr. Edward Baldwin is buried here with his wife Mary. Dr. Baldwin was a scientist of national prominence and a close friend and colleague of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau. He served as the director of the Saranac Laboratory, where we make our museum today. Last year, Dr. Baldwin’s granddaughter and her children brought a treasure trove of family photos for our collection. The family emailed this spring, asking if we know someone who could clean up the headstone and family plot.
Immediately the person who came to mind is a man of the same last name who has been carefully cleaning some of the old stones at the cemetery. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Gary Baldwin retired a few years ago from his career as a standout teacher at Petrova School. Elementary students who came on tours to the laboratory museum would always ask if Dr. Baldwin and Mr. Baldwin were related. They thought it perfectly likely that their Einstein-like teacher would have a close connection to our laboratory and its first director.
So it was only fitting to ask Mr. Baldwin to restore Dr. Baldwin’s stone. He said he would be happy to help and that he would go on over sometime soon as the weather warmed. Now, all I needed was a young person to do the raking. Luckily a certain high schooler, James, needed to earn community service credit for school. So one early spring day, James and I went over to the cemetery. Coincidentally, there was Mr. Baldwin, who had just arrived to clean the stone.
James smiled to see his favorite elementary school teacher, and I left the two of them working together at a safe social distance, happy with each others’ company. As I walked out under the tall pines, I thought about how nice it is to live in a place where people know each other over time and across generations. I thought about how graveyards are for the living. They remind us that what matters is our time on this earth, right now. Plus, sometimes you’ll find someone there you know — living or not — and it’s nice to stop and visit.
Historic Saranac Lake
-Pine Ridge Cemetery in Saranac Lake.
-Saranac Lake High School student, James, and Gary Baldwin stand with the gravestone of Dr. Edward and Mary Baldwin.
Since we first opened our museum doors in 2009, thousands have come to learn about Saranac Lake’s history as a center for tuberculosis research and treatment. Visitors often ask about the cost of care and who was able to afford it. Was Saranac Lake’s fresh air treatment just for rich people? Did people of different ethnic groups and social classes have access to the cure?
These were topics we discussed with a school group this past March. The students were participating in the spring break program of the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at SUNY Potsdam. We were days away from the pandemic shutdown, and Saranac Lake's historic connection to infectious disease felt newly relevant that morning.
In the late 1800s, when Saranac Lake was becoming famous as a health resort, one in seven people in the United States was dying of TB. The disease afflicted people from all walks of life. Public health measures and improved living conditions were beginning to lower the rate of infection in the United States. Still, TB continued to spread. It especially plagued poor people, living and working in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.
Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau founded his sanatorium in Saranac Lake in 1884 with the goal of providing care for the working urban poor. He solicited donations from wealthy friends to support this endeavor.
Two years later, Dr. Trudeau devised an experiment to study the effects of the environment on disease. He infected one group of rabbits with TB and released them to live on a small island in Spitfire Lake. These rabbits fared much better than another infected group kept in a box, mimicking the conditions of the tenements. The Rabbit Island experiment demonstrated that healthy environmental conditions have a positive impact on the incidence and progress of disease. Thousands of people suffering from TB began flocking to Saranac Lake.
Over time, as Trudeau’s sanatorium grew, financial pressure raised the cost of care. Eventually the facility served middle class patients on a sliding scale. Saranac Lake’s TB economy evolved to provide a patchwork of options, ranging from very expensive private facilities, to modest cure cottages, to free care at subsidized public or private institutions.
Patients at the Trudeau San who ran out of funds moved to the free State Hospital at Ray Brook. Many patients at Ray Brook were immigrants or the children of immigrants from urban areas. Some cure cottages catered to Spanish-speaking patients, Jewish patients, African Americans, and Greeks. At some point, black people were admitted to Ray Brook Hospital and Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. Still, there is a lot we do not know about race and inequality in our local history. While we do not know of any overt policy of exclusion at Trudeau, we have not seen photos of black people curing there.
The Saranac Lake fresh air cure offered hope for many, but it was out of reach for the vast majority of Americans with TB. In the early 1900s in New York City, TB mortality was as much as six times higher in overcrowded black and immigrant neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods. Few poor New Yorkers could have afforded a train ticket to Saranac Lake, let alone the cost of room and board at the most modest cure cottage.
The fate of the urban poor, particularly poor minorities, fell to the state. The public health response was inconsistently funded and poorly coordinated. Public TB hospitals in New York City served only a fraction of the urban poor with TB. In 1919, only 14% of New York City’s 32,000 registered cases found treatment in state hospitals. The state institutionalized many tuberculars, particularly the homeless, against their will.
Saranac Lake’s TB industry came to an end in the 1950s with the perfection of the antibiotic treatment. However, the disease is still a major public health problem, particularly in poor countries. The antibiotic treatment is a powerful weapon against TB, but the world has sadly failed to wage a successful war on poverty. TB took the lives of 1.5 million people around the world in 2018. The vast majority of those deaths occurred in Africa. Antibiotic-resistant TB continues to be a major threat to public health.
Like TB past and present, COVID-19 disproportionally affects poor and minority communities. Lack of access to health care, effects of poverty on overall health, the need to work in frontline jobs, a lack of space to quarantine, exposure to environmental pollutants — all these factors seem to contribute to higher rates of infection in poor and minority communities. The pandemic and its economic effects will hit poor Saranac Lakers hard for many of these same reasons.
At the museum that day in March, as the coronavirus loomed, I asked the students how they were feeling about the current situation. They said they were afraid. They were eager to continue their studies to become doctors, nurses, scientists, historians, and filmmakers. But they sensed they would soon be heading back to their families in Brooklyn and the Bronx, where COVID-19, like tuberculosis in the past, is taking such a heavy toll.
Here we are, over 130 years after Trudeau’s Rabbit Island experiment, and health is still a luxury that many cannot afford.
Historic Saranac Lake
During these days of solitude, many of us are finding great comfort in our animal friends. Blissfully unaware of troubles in the world, our pets are thrilled that their humans are spending more time at home.
Pets are a source of companionship and joy for us now, just as they were for the TB patients of the past. During the TB years, many patients spent two years or more, mostly in bed. Cut off from family and friends, patients were often lonely, scared, and anxious. Animals provided friendship and distraction from worry. Some wealthy patients rented entire houses for their cure, and they were able to bring their pets with them to Saranac Lake. John Black came from Mansfield, Ohio, with his dog, Buddy. Sadly, John eventually lost his struggle against TB, and the John Black Room Room at the Saranac Laboratory Museum was built in his memory. In this photo, John looks very frail, but you can see how happy he was to be with his dog.
Sadly, most working class health seekers would have had to leave their pets at home. Dr. Heise, the dignified and serious medical director at the Trudeau Sanatorium, often brought his friendly Newfoundland named Jack on his rounds. Jack must have delivered cheer to patients missing their own dogs. We do not know if Dr. Baldwin’s cat accompanied him on patient visits, but his feline friend did join him for this jaunty photo in the snow. Dr. Baldwin, his wife Mary, and the cat are ready for winter with their warm fur coats!
Wilderness author Martha Reben befriended local wildlife of all kinds. Over the course of many years, Martha cured for TB in the woods with her friend and guide, Fred Rice. She wrote several books about her experience and described in detail the friendships she made with the chipmunks, birds, squirrels, and raccoons that visited her campsite. When Martha moved back to village, she lived with a favorite pet duck, Mr. Dooley, and the two were frequently spotted around town together.
One well known pet around town was Eddie Vogt’s dog, Clarabelle. Eddie came to Saranac Lake in 1937 to cure at the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital, following a career as a stage, vaudeville, and silent film actor. After his recovery, he conducted a Sunday afternoon program on WNBZ, playing old time records. In the 1940s, he began writing a popular column in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise called “Our Town.” Eddie humorously featured Clarabelle in his column, writing, for example,
“Yesterday was another one of those days when living with Clarabelle was, shall I say, just a little difficult. It was all because she had received a post card from Paris on the early mail. It was from Mr. and Mrs. Otto Hayman, formerly at Will Rogers, and they wrote: ‘Dear Clarabelle: Why be a frustrated old maid? Don’t be a dope! Come to Paris. Six dogs to every native — from hummingbird to donkey size.’”
Through “Our Town,” Eddie and Clarabelle were helping to keep Saranac Lake a tight knit community even as the TB industry was coming to an end. Eddie’s column served as an inspiration for later commentary by Bill McLaughlin and Rip Allen.
In phone calls with family and friends during this unusual time, our conversations take a happy turn when we talk about our pets. From one friend’s playful old cat in Ray Brook, to a cuddly black cat at Will Rogers, to Walter the brown dog here with me, it’s a good time to appreciate our four-legged friends. What pets, past or present, do you count as cherished friends? I hope you will drop me a line to let me know.
Historic Saranac Lake
Images: John Black with his dog Buddy, Historic Saranac Lake Collection. Mary Ives Baldwin and Dr. Edward R Baldwin with cat, Historic Saranac Lake Collection, Courtesy of Barbara Baldwin Knapp. “Our Town” logo, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, 1954, Historic Saranac Lake Collection. Walter Catania, courtesy of Amy Catania.
Hello from the four-legged (and finned!) family/bonus staff of Historic Saranac Lake - Walter Catania, Clementine and Edgar Monks-Kelly, Sparky Gochenaur, Nilla Bean Work, and Raphael Gyarados Guillette!
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