This Tuberculosis Thursday, we have an exciting new group of digitized materials on our online catalog! The Tarsilla and William J. Schuster Collection documents the couple's experiences as patients at the New York State Hospital at Ray Brook (AKA Ray Brook Sanatorium).
William first arrived as a patient at Ray Brook in 1908 while he and Tarsilla were engaged to be married. He returned home to Schenectady after a year, and they married. They had welcomed two children by the time he was readmitted as a patient in 1913, and he did not return home until 1916. Tarsilla was admitted as a patient for a short period in 1914 as well. William documented life at Ray Brook with his Brownie camera, and often sold his photographs as postcards to make some pocket money.
These photographs, postcards, and letters document their relationship, their experiences, and the connections they made with fellow patients during these years. We are grateful to the Cromie family for loaning us this rich collection to scan and make available to the public.
Browse the collection on our PastPerfect Online database.
[Tarsilla and William Schuster in Ray Brook, c. 1914. Historic Saranac Lake Collection, 2021.1.93. Courtesy of John Cromie.]
Did you know that the 1950 census is now available to the public and searchable online?! Census records are one of the tools we use to help locate tuberculosis patients and important local residents throughout history, so we're very excited and grateful to explore this awesome resource!
Check out the National Archives' website for the census for tips on how to search for your family members. We've already found some matches for research requests! This page shows patients at the New York State Hospital at Ray Brook, for example.
Find an exciting match, or need some help looking for someone who lived or cured in Saranac Lake? Drop us a line!
In honor of World TB Day and Tuberculosis Thursday, we are proud to share the news about an important collection now available to browse in our online collections database. The Florence Wright Tuberculosis Postcard Collection provides an intimate look at the lives of the TB patients who came to Saranac Lake in search of a cure between the 1880s and 1950s. The first half of this 130+ card collection has been cataloged, transcribed, and digitized, and is now available to browse for free on our PastPerfect Online Collections Database.
Patients were often only allowed to write a single postcard a day in order to maintain their strength, so these cards contain intensely personal news about their physical and mental health. These cards report on accommodations, weight gain, activities, relationships, and even deaths. They contain messages of hope, excitement, sadness, and of course, loneliness, like this 1906 card with the simple message, "Rather lonesome."
The Florence Wright Tuberculosis Postcard Collection is a passion project assembled by Florence Wright over more than 20 years, and donated to Historic Saranac Lake in 2021! Florence became an avid stamp and Christmas Seal collector in retirement, and started to notice these missives from TB patients and their families at stamp shows. She began collecting cards that showed TB sanatoria and cure cottages, especially ones with messages relating to TB treatment. We are so grateful to Florence for her thoughtful donation to our organization, and hope that you learn as much as we have by exploring them. The second half of the collection should be completed and up online by the end of next week!
Have a question about our collections or our online database? Send us a message on social media or email us!
[Front side of postcard showing village of Saranac Lake with message, "Rather lonesome" written at bottom, 1906. Historic Saranac Lake Collection, 2021.3.24. Courtesy of the Florence Wright Tuberculosis Postcard Collection.]
Have you ever celebrated Presidents Day with a special meal? Maybe you just need some inspiration! This menu was served to patients at Trudeau Sanatorium to mark George Washington's birthday in 1941. We could go for some cherry ice cream and liberty cakes!
This week Manuel Benero III visited Saranac Lake for the first time, traveling all the way from Mexico City. Manuel's grandparents, Pilar and Manuel, were two of the thousands of people from all over Latin America who came to Saranac Lake because of tuberculosis. Pilar came from Cuba with her sister who was ill with TB. Manuel came from Puerto Rico for the cure. They met and married in Saranac Lake and settled in a brick house on Virginia Street, where they raised their two boys, Manny and Joe. Pilar was a beloved piano teacher for hundreds of Saranac Lake children. Her husband worked at the Troy Laundry and was a pillar of the community.
Our Executive Director, Amy Catania, researched the Spanish-speaking patients of Saranac Lake years ago. Read more on our wiki. She was thrilled to meet Manuel and his friend Susanne Dahl, and to make a connection to another generation of the Benero family. Saranac Lake history is certainly full of fascinating connections!
This week’s Tuberculosis Thursday feature are the murals of Dr. Norman Bethune. Dr. Bethune created the works while curing at Trudeau Sanatorium in the mid-1920s; they depict the journey to defeat tuberculosis. A portion of the murals is pictured here. The murals were five by sixty feet long, and drawn on brown paper mounted on the walls of his cure cottage. The black area is where a doorway interrupted the work.
The Monsters are labeled Scaley Scarlatina, Diphtheria, Infantile Paralysis, Rheumatic Fever, Whooping Cough, Measles, and the numerous "TB Bats". Sir Shick is named for American pediatrician Bela Shick, who developed a test for Diptheria. The caption reads "Scene II, Childhood. From Dragon Diph. Sir Shick defends, From other beasts he cannot save, The wounds and scars of their attacks, He'll carry to his grave."
Unfortunately, the murals have been lost throughout the years and only photographs remain. To learn more about the fascinating life of Dr. Bethune, head to our wiki.
Or, check out the book “the Bethune Murals” by Tony Holtzman, which was inspired by the hunt for the missing murals.
Friday, September 17, 6:00PM -- Historic Saranac Lake Archivist/Curator Chessie Monks-Kelly will talk about the history of occupational therapy in Saranac Lake and its use with tuberculosis patients. Monks-Kelly will highlight some of the artists and craftspeople featured in the exhibit and talk about the public response to the exhibit. This presentation will take place in person in the John Black Room of the Saranac Laboratory Museum, and masks are required for attendees. This presentation will be recorded and shared online at a later date.
Note: the Art of the Cure exhibit will close in November 2021. Catch it while you can!
[Photograph: Martin Koop (center) and other patients making jewelry in the workshop. Historic Saranac Lake Collection.]
This week's Tuberculosis Thursday is a special one. Yesterday we were honored to spend the morning with Betty Gaffney talking about her time as a patient at Trudeau Sanatorium in 1947-1949. Betty came to Saranac Lake after she contracted tuberculosis at the end of her nurse's training at Bellevue. We sat down to record an oral history with Betty and her sister Pauline, and we really enjoyed hearing about their memories of that time.
Betty graciously donated some photographs to our collection, and said she had nothing but good feelings about her time here. We also took a ride over to Trudeau Sanatorium so Betty could tour the campus for the first time in more than 72 years! We had a great morning with Betty and her family, and we can't wait to share more. Thanks for visiting us and sharing your story!
[Images: Betty Kelly [Gaffney] about age 21 on the steps of Baker Memorial Chapel, c. 1947. Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR 712. Courtesy of Betty Gaffney. Betty Gaffney at age 95 in front of Baker Chapel, August 25, 2021]
This Tuberculosis Thursday, we’re celebrating the belated birthday of a baseball great and big-name TB patient, Christy Mathewson! But who was Christy, and why was he such a big name in Saranac Lake? Christy was considered one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time, and he contracted TB after WWI. He came to Saranac Lake in 1920 to seek the cure, and originally stayed at the Santanoni under the care of Dr. Edward Packard. In 1924, Christy, his wife, and son moved into the house on Park Avenue that is now known as Christy Mathewson Cottage.
Over the years, Christy’s health slowly improved to the point that he became a part owner of the Boston Braves and got involved with charity efforts to support tuberculosis patients and research. Unfortunately, he was involved in a car accident in 1924 that injured his arm, and by the end of the year his health had deteriorated again. He caught a cold that wouldn’t go away while at spring training with the Braves in April of 1925, and returned to Saranac Lake for bed rest. The baseball world was stunned when he passed away on October 7, 1925. His wife remained in the house on Park Avenue until the 1950s, when she returned to Pennsylvania. Christy was one of the first five inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson.
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!