Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes,
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.
Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
A whole year has gone by since we first heard the word “Covid.” We are coming full circle, and soon the hermit thrush will sing again.
Last March, on the brink of the pandemic, I spent a weekend in Potsdam at my son’s basketball tournament. I remembering wondering when I would next spend time in a crowd of people. Between games, I worked on the first of what would become a year of essays, drawing parallels between the pandemic and Saranac Lake’s tuberculosis era.
One year later, I returned with a family member to the Potsdam gym, not for a basketball tournament but for a vaccine. The gym, once teeming with players and fans, was now full of busy nurses, national guard soldiers, and grateful community members.
That day at Potsdam a year ago things felt so uncertain. With no vaccine and no effective treatment for the new coronavirus, we were facing a situation similar to the time of tuberculosis in Saranac Lake. Dr. Trudeau’s treatment model was our best hope — prevention, diagnosis, rest, fresh air, and healthy food. During the pandemic, the world quieted down. Those of us who could, stayed in one place. We found the time to think more about the world and our place in it. We worried about our health and the well-being of our neighbors.
Interviews and written accounts of former TB patients show a range of experiences. Some people were lonely, in pain, sad, and anxious. Others fell in love, made friends, and discovered new talents and passions. People with better health, wealth, strong support systems, or upbeat personalities were more likely to enjoy their time curing. Surviving the fresh air cure, let alone learning from the experience, was a luxury not everyone had.
Although each experience was different, many people who regained their health in Saranac Lake report learning lessons that they carried throughout their lives. Many patients learned to value and care for their physical and mental health. They found new appreciation for friends and family. They discovered an appreciation of nature, a love of learning, and creative talents.
One former patient described in a letter how his time curing shaped his life. Whitney North Seymour, Jr., was one of the last patients to cure at Trudeau, when the antibiotic therapy was coming into use. He completed his cure at 89 Park Ave, staying there with his wife Catryna. Following his cure, he became a New York State Senator and served as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Mr. Seymour wrote, “We walked for an hour every morning and afternoon, including in the deep snow, and learned important lessons about the role of nature in speeding return to good health.... When I was in Saranac Lake, I listened to a lot of classical recordings and developed a strong interest in Brahms and Mendelssohn.... I still listen for the hermit thrush and look for the witch-hobble in the early spring.”
Last March, I thought often of Whitney and Catryna as I watched people following their footsteps down Park Ave. They walked slowly, in ones and twos, to the sanatorium gates and back again. They were worried about their health and scared about the future, but they were learning some lessons worth keeping.
With best wishes for healthy days ahead,
For Tuberculosis Thursday, we want to tell a bit of the story of Jean Monaghan, and share an exciting new donation to the collection in her honor. Jean was a patient at Stony Wold Sanatorium in the 1940s. She was a talented artist, and her time as a patient instilled in her a love of nature and an appreciation for its healing benefits. After her successful cure, she pursued a career in apparel design, and continued to create art for pleasure. When she died, she left behind more than 100 paintings, drawings, and photographs from her lifelong love of the arts.
While Jean did not discuss the details of her illness while she was alive, her nephew Philip recognized her in a photograph at Stony Wold in the American Experience documentary, the Forgotten Plague. This chance moment led to a visit in 2018 to the Saranac Laboratory Museum to find out more about her time as a patient, and a connection with Historic Saranac Lake. This winter, Philip generously donated a portfolio of 10 pieces that Jean painted while curing, including this self-portrait at right. We are hard at work rehousing and cataloging these fascinating paintings, but we couldn't wait to share a peek at them. Stay tuned for more on Jean's life and the works she produced at Stony Wold!
[Photograph of two of Jean Monaghan's paintings; one landscape showing the water tower at Stony Wold, and one self-portrait. Photograph of Jean Monaghan and her parents and siblings during a visit at Stony Wold, 1940s. Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR 671. Courtesy of Philip Monaghan, in memory of Jean Monaghan, 1923-2011.]
Adelaide Crapsey was a fascinating poet who came to Saranac Lake for the cure in 1913. To hear a reading of one of the poems she wrote while taking the cure, check out this video from Curiously Adirondack!
To learn more about Adelaide, visit our wiki!
March is Women's History Month, so we're going to share images that tell the stories of women in local history. This image shows the 1931 graduating class of the D. Ogden Mills Training School for Nurses at Trudeau Sanatorium. This training school was originally established in 1913 with support from Mrs. Whitelaw Reid, and had an unusual requirement for admission--an arrested case of tuberculosis. Dr. Trudeau believed that young women who had endured tuberculosis and regained their health would have a greater understanding of patients' needs and care.
[1931 graduating class, D. Ogden Mills Training School for Nurses. Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR 582. Courtesy of Jan Dudones.]
We want to say "welcome aboard!" to our new Transcription Technician, Mikayla Ploof! Mikayla is joining us for the next 6 months to transcribe approximately 13,000 patient and cure cottage information cards from the T.B. Society, donated to us earlier in the year by the Voluntary Health Association. These records date from approximately 1913 to 1956, and include applications for treatment at Trudeau Sanatorium, registries of nurses and cure cottages, and records items loaned to patients.
The transcription of these incredibly important records is made possible by a generous grant from the Northern New York Library Network, and will allow HSL staff to quickly search for records for genealogists and researchers. This grant will also fund the eventual launch of our online collections database.
We also want to say thank you to our awesome volunteers who are helping with the transcription of these and other patient records!
Did you know that September is National Happy Cat Month? It's Tuberculosis Thursday, but we're not sure how happy the cat is in this photograph of Dr. Edward R. Baldwin, Mary Ives Baldwin, and an unidentified friend (and unidentified cat!). Dr. Baldwin came to Trudeau Sanatorium with TB in the mid-1900s, and eventually became a close personal friend and colleague of Dr. Trudeau. The Baldwins lived across the street from the Saranac Laboratory on Church Street, and Dr. Baldwin was eventually Director of the Laboratory.
We received an amazing gift of the Baldwin Family archives from Dr. Baldwin's great-granddaughter Barbara Baldwin Knapp in 2018, and we're enjoying learning more about their history and sharing it with you! Visit our wiki to learn more.
Last week, we brought our “Letters from the Porch” series to a close. It was a fun way to stay in touch during quarantine times. Now we are starting a new weekly article series called “History Matters” that will present history on a wide range of topics relating to the rich history of the Saranac Lake region. The articles will run each week in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and we will share them here on our blog. We welcome your help with this project! Our good friend and local history expert, Phil “Bunk” Griffin has agreed to be a regular contributor, starting with an essay on bootlegging next week, so stay tuned…. We promise, you will learn something new each week!
The decade of the 1940s was a dramatic time in Saranac Lake. Emerging from the Great Depression, the TB economy was booming again as the world geared up for war. Saranac Lakers flocked to the Pontiac Theatre to watch motion pictures like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and It’s a Wonderful Life. The horrors of WWII came to an end in September of 1945, and it was time to celebrate. Big Band Dances were all the rage. New romances flourished while dancing the Lindy Hop.
The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra played in the Harrietstown Town Hall for the “Post Ball” in 1949. It was the climax of the four-day encampment of the New York Veterans of Foreign Wars. Eight hundred people danced until 1:30 a.m. The orchestra played a number of request selections and introduced "I've got that New Look" written by Ernie Burnett and Thomas Sheridan of Saranac Lake. As the dance concluded at 1:30, Mrs. Dorsey, mother of the two nationally known band leaders, was introduced to the dancers.
The Latin American Connection
Big band dances in Saranac Lake during the 1940s weren’t all swing music. There was quite a lot of Latin American music played too. Music from Cuba was all the rage, and thousands of people came to Saranac Lake from countries all over Latin America for the fresh air cure.
Many Spanish-speaking people in Saranac Lake were guests of Alfredo and Alicia Gonzalez. Alfredo Gonzalez was born Puerto Rico in 1903. He came to Saranac Lake with TB at age 17. Alicia was from Havana. The couple met and married in 1926. Together, they operated cure cottages in Saranac Lake for some forty years. Alfredo and Alicia established Saranac Lake as a destination for patients across Latin America. Walking through town, you would have heard Spanish being spoken at many cure cottages throughout the village.
Alfredo Gonzalez was active in the Saranac Lake Study and Craft Guild, founded in 1935 to bring the benefits of occupational therapy to the community and to patients outside of the Trudeau Sanatorium. Mr. Gonzalez taught Spanish at the guild from 1941-45 and 1954-57. He helped to get a Time Magazine radio series called “Let us Learn Spanish” onto local radio station WNBZ. He also established an active Spanish Club which met for regular parties in the 40s and 50s at peoples’ homes and area sanatoria. Alfredo’s Spanish Club and classes laid the groundwork for some fabulous dances at the Hotel Saranac.
Dances at the Hotel Saranac
From 1942 to 1952, Alfredo Gonzalez organized a major annual fundraiser for the Guild, the Harvest Hop dance. For the 1942 Harvest Hop, the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. loaned a complete set of large flags from all 21 Latin American countries, which were used to decorate the hotel. The event included a pageant in which “21 beautiful girls” participated, each representing a different country. There was a Latin dance contest. Entertainment was provided by the band Señor Uvanni and his Caballeros, and the singer, Louisa Paván Hennessey.
In 1948, the annual dance was renamed the “Fiesta Hop.” The head of the Armed Forces of Venezuela, Mario Vargas, who was a patient at Gonzalez Cottage, served as honorary chairman of the dance. Old timers recalled Vargas’ uniform weighted down with medals. The general arranged for shipment by air from Venezuela of 100 native orchids for the female guests. The hotel was decorated with Latin American murals. Mr. and Mrs. PJ Seralles of the Don Q. Rum Company did a Samba exhibition. Alfredo's friends from the El Chico nightclub in New York City, Rosita Rios, and Benito Collada, were the star performers, along with the music of Raul Barragán and his five-piece orchestra.
The End of an Era
With the advent of the antibiotic treatment in Saranac Lake, the cure cottages emptied out, and suddenly very little Spanish was spoken in Saranac Lake. The big band dances at the Hotel Saranac became a thing of the past.
We were looking forward to bringing the decade to life again, with plans for a 1940s Big Band Gala at the hotel this summer. Like so many events, it has been postponed due to the virus. But we look forward to the day when we can put on our dancing shoes and dance the Lindy Hop and the Mambo again.
-Latin American Patients and family members at the Saranac Lake Union Depot. Alfredo Gonzalez is second from left. His wife Alicia is third from left. Courtesy of Joe Benero.
-Advertisement for Gonzalez Cottage, Journal of the Outdoor Life, Historic Saranac Lake Collection.
This footage of Richard "Dick" H. Ray was filmed at the August 1987 TB Reunion held by Historic Saranac Lake. The video shows Dick giving a tour of his memories of his time as a patient at Trudeau Sanatorium and Ray Brook State Hospital in the 1930s. Watch for a fascinating first-hand account of "the cure." You can learn more about Richard Ray on our wiki.
Dick Ray went on to write a book highlighting his memories of his time in Saranac Lake through the photographs he took here. The book was published by HSL, and it and the DVD of this interview can be purchased online in our store.
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!