Today we’re sharing this article from earlier this year, which offers an in-depth look at the work being done to preserve African-American historic sites. The article also addresses the complicated history of race and historic preservation.
“Since its founding, the N.H.P.A. has identified nearly two million locations worthy of preservation and has engaged tens of millions of Americans in the work of doing so. It has helped to generate an estimated two million jobs and more than a hundred billion dollars in private investments. But, because many biases were written into the criteria that determine how sites are selected, those benefits have gone mostly to white Americans. One of the criteria for preservation is architectural significance, meaning that modest buildings like slave cabins and tenement houses were long excluded from consideration. By the time preservationists took notice of structures like those, many lacked the physical integrity to merit protection. Destruction abetted decay, and some historically black neighborhoods were actively erased—deliberately targeted by arson in the years after Reconstruction or displaced in later decades by highway construction, gentrification, and urban renewal.
While state and federal institutions were largely neglecting these areas, communities of color began protecting them on their own.”
For our weekly Wednesday tour, we're sharing this interactive tour of Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York. Villa Lewaro was home to Madam C.J. Walker, an American businesswoman, philanthropist, and activist. Walker made her fortune with a line of hair care products and cosmetics for black women, and was the first female self-made millionaire in America. This fascinating tour is narrated by Walker's great-great granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles, and offers a rare behind-the-scenes view of this important property.Take the tour by clicking the button below!
Thanks to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for sharing this tour as part of their Virtual Preservation Month series. To learn more about the National Trust's initiatives, including their African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, visit their website: www.savingplaces.org
Today we want to share this helpful new resource created by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to help individuals, families, and communities talk about racism and racial identity. The "Talking About Race" portal is free to access online, and includes digital tools, videos, scholarly articles, and over 100 multimedia resources.
Spencer Crew, the interim director of NMAAHC said, "Since opening the museum, the number one question we are asked is how to talk about race, especially with children. We recognize how difficult it is to start that conversation. But in a nation still struggling with the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and white supremacy, we must have these tough conversations if we have any hope of turning the page and healing. This new portal is a step in that direction."
You can access the portal for free by clicking the button below.
In recognition of the national situation of protest following the death of George Floyd, we would like to share this statement from Lonnie G. Bunch, III, the Smithsonian's 14th Secretary and the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture: "It Is Time for America to Confront Its Tortured Racial Past.”
This week, following the lead of other museums around the nation, instead of our usual local history programming, we will be sharing content from other historical organizations that amplify the voices and stories of African American and minority communities in history. We will be taking the time to step back and educate ourselves about the history of marginalized groups in the Saranac Lake region and think about ways that we can work to better present and document those stories.
Historic Saranac Lake
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.]
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.
It's Mini Tour time! Today Chessie is bringing you inside of Little Red, which is now on the grounds of Trudeau Institute. Watch to learn more about the big history of this little building!
Thanks to Trudeau Institute for being great stewards of this historic building, and for helping us to bring its history to you!
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
This Tuberculosis Thursday, we are excited to share for the first time ever online, "This was Heaven, Really..." This film was produced for Historic Saranac Lake in 1988, and visitors to the Saranac Laboratory Museum can view it as part of their tour. While we are closed we are excited to share it with you to watch from the comfort of your own homes! DVDs of the "This was Heaven, Really..." and "Unlocking the Wilderness" are available for purchase at www.historicsaranaclake.org/store to support Historic Saranac Lake.
Learn about the history of the tuberculosis industry in Saranac Lake as started by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, and the experience of "curing." Includes narration by former TB patients, Bea Sprague Edward and Elise Chapin. To learn more about the Fresh Air Cure and the TB industry in Saranac Lake, visit our wiki at www.localwiki.org/hsl.
Commissioned by Historic Saranac Lake in 1988. Directed and photographed by James Forsyth Bleecker. Written by Rachel Bliven. Remastered by Jim Griebsch in 2018. For more information please visit www.historicsaranaclake.org.
It's Wednesday, and today's Mini Tour subject is Little Red! Watch to learn more about this icon of Trudeau Sanatorium and the Fresh Air Cure. Don't worry, we'll take you inside on a future Mini Tour!
Read more about Little Red on our wiki, too: https://localwiki.org/hsl/Little_Red
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!