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.
Sunday was National Friends Day, so this Tuberculosis Thursday we're sharing a photograph of TB patients at Stony Wold. These young women, including Eileen Leavitt (right) and Carol Smith (second from the right) all cured at the Sanatorium on Lake Kushaqua in the late 1940s. It was common for patients taking the cure to form close friendships, and their shared experience often led to lifelong friendships. While we don't know if these ladies kept in touch, it's clear in the photographs that they enjoyed each other's company at Stony Wold.
[Photograph courtesy of Kevin Leavitt.]
This Tuberculosis Thursday, we want to share about some interesting TB history from elsewhere in the country. About 40 years before Dr. Trudeau's development of the "fresh air cure" in Saranac Lake, Dr. John Croghan experimented with using caves to treat TB patients. Dr. Croghan purchased Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, hoping that the cool, still air in the caves would improve the health of patients. He brought 16 patients to the cave in the winter of 1842, to live in two stone cabins and eight wooden buildings.
Dr. Croghan's cave sanatorium was unsuccessful, as the damp, dark, unventilated conditions worsened the patients conditions, and five of the sixteen patients died. After just five months, Dr. Croghan returned to the surface with the remaining patients, and abandoned the treatment buildings.
This attempted treatment method is of course in stark contrast to the method developed in Saranac Lake, where patients would spend as much time as possible in the fresh air and sunlight. This postcard (c. 1912) was recently acquired by Historic Saranac Lake and shows tourists outside one of the remaining stone cabins in Mammoth Cave.
If you want to learn more about Dr. Croghan's sanatorium in Mammoth Cave, check out this fascinating article from Mammoth Cave National Park.
[Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR 666.]
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!
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!