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.
"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.
This Tuberculosis Thursday, we want to share more about one of the women whose voice is featured in "This Was Heaven, Really..." (check our videos here on FB to watch!). Elise's is the second female voice in the video, and she describes what the days were like as a patient.
Elise came to Saranac Lake for the cure in 1935, and after she recovered, she married Mott Chapin. The Chapins operated the Pot Shop on Main Street from 1950 to 1959, selling Mott's pottery with Elise's designs. Elise was active in the community throughout her life, including as a founding member of Historic Saranac Lake.
This photograph shows Elise and Mott at work in the Pot Shop. To learn more about Elise Chapin, visit our wiki: https://localwiki.org/hsl/Elise_Kalb_Chapin
[Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR 446. Courtesy of David Chapin and Sarah Wardner.]
It's Tuberculosis Thursday, so we're wishing you a Happy Halloween from Trudeau Sanatorium and all of us at Historic Saranac Lake! It looks like these patients were celebrating in 1950 with a spooky performance and some frightful jack o'lanterns. Have a safe and fun Halloween, and be sure to pay us a visit during downtown trick or treating today!
[Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR 240. Courtesy of the Eckmann Family]
This week's Tuberculosis Thursday feature comes from our Art of the Cure exhibit! This photograph shows William Kollecker helping a customer in his shop on Main Street. Kollecker came to Saranac Lake at age 16 for his health, and stayed on to photograph life in Saranac Lake for nearly 50 years! He opened Kollecker Kodak and Gift Shop where he sold prints, stationery, and gifts and handled film processing.
To learn more about William Kollecker, his store, and his photography work, visit our wiki! And be sure to visit our Art of the Cure exhibit, open now!
[Historic Saranac Lake Collection - TCR 331]
April is Occupational Therapy Month, and our Art of the Cure Exhibit opens in just two months! Did you know that the Scholfield Memorial Workshop at Trudeau Sanatorium may have been the first time that occupational therapy was used for mentally well patients? Dr. Lawrason Brown implemented the use of occupational therapy for TB patients at Trudeau Sanatorium, and patients had the opportunity to study a range of handicrafts from leatherwork, bookbinding, photography, basket-weaving, decorative work, and more!
The Scholfield Memorial Workshop was built in 1909 as a gift of Mrs. Walter L. Goodwin. It was named for Herbert L. Scholfield, a patient and skilled craftsperson. In this image, patients in the Workshop practice weaving as part of their treatment at the Sanatorium.
In “Portrait of Healing,” Victoria Rhinehart described the possible origins of occupational therapy as such: “The true origin of occupational therapy remains open for some dispute. Numerous sources credit Dr. Brown for its birth at the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium in 1904. A more accurate statement would be to credit Dr. Brown, certainly as the first who created the concept of outdoor occupational therapy, and likely the first to utilize occupational therapy with tuberculosis patients, and perhaps the first to use occupational therapy with patients who were mentally well. The actual origin of using this type of therapy on a patient population came well before Dr. Brown's time. . . . Susan E. Tracy, who organized occupational therapy classes in her training school for nurses at the Adams Nervine Asylum in 1906, was considered to be the first occupational therapist. However, as the work of Dr. Brown, with his occupational therapy experiment with tuberculosis patients in 1903 to 1904, predates the work of Susan Tracy and others, there is some merit to sources that credit Brown with the birth of modern occupational therapy.”
To learn more about the Workshop, visit our wiki!
And be sure to stay tuned for more on our upcoming special exhibit, Art of the Cure, which highlights TB patient artists, writers, musicians, architects, and more! Art of the Cure will open in late June 2019.
Among his many other accomplishments, Baldwin was appointed Assistant, and later Director, of the new Saranac Laboratory. After Trudeau's death, he was elected chair of the executive committee of the Trudeau Sanatorium. In 1916, he started the Trudeau School of Tuberculosis; later the same year he founded the Edward Livingston Trudeau Foundation with Dr. Walter B. James, an endowment for tuberculosis research.
To learn more about Dr. Baldwin, visit our wiki!
And stay tuned on Monday for news of an exciting donation!
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!