Mary Krugerud's Blog

May 25, 2020

Huber the Tuber

Harry A. Wilmer, M.D., believed there was a lack of educational material about tuberculosis written specifically for children. He rectified that by writing and illustrating a book while he recovered from tuberculosis at Glen Lake Sanatorium in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

The National Tuberculosis Association published Dr. Wilmer’s book, The Lives and Loves of Huber the Tuber, in 1942. It was so popular that it went into two more editions and three printings with a simplified title, Huber the Tuber. People of all ages found that they were being entertained while learning about tuberculosis. Young children could interpret the message from the drawings, without reading the book’s narrative or the brief descriptions meant for more advanced readers.

The plot, described as a “riotously gay tale” by a reviewer, follows Huber and his troops as they invade “Lungland,” the bronchial tube of a human. The book’s publication year explains the cast of characters — Nasty von Sputum (German chancellors), Gobbles (Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda), Gorring (Hermann Goerring who established the Nazi police), and Tojotuber (Hideki Tojo, Japanese general). The hero and leader of the Monosights is Corpuscle Lipsky. At the time of the book’s writing in pre-World War II, Ambassador Josef Lipski of Poland was seen as a good guy who was trying to avoid conflict with Chancellor Hitler of Germany. Hitler wanted Poland to align with him and invade the Soviet Union.

The book’s preface notes that wars breed tuberculosis. It refers only to reports from Europe, indicating that the manuscript was submitted before the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Dr. Wilmer may have been solely responsible for the book he produced, or he may have collaborated with Feike Feikema, one of his roommates. Feike, who later wrote under the name Frederick Manfred, published a poem, “Hubert the Tuber Complains,” in the January 1941 issue of the sanatorium’s newsletter. [Terrace Topics, p. 16] If you can find a copy of Huber the Tuber, I recommend it as a good source of information on how Mycobacterium tuberculosis moves into and through the human body. The illustrations are dated, but the facts haven’t changed.

April 17, 2020

Glen Lake Sanatorium 1955 Telephone Directory

The 1955 telephone directory of Glen Lake Sanatorium in Hennepin County, Minnesota can be mined for a short history lesson. The East and West Cottages had closed and were crossed out. They were used for almost 40 years as half-way housing for patients who were healed but not ready to return to work or home. Glen Lake San still had a Research Laboratory listed and a Streptomycin Nurse because it was participating in national TB drug testing, which it had done since the late 1930’s. The Glen Lake Store and the Oak Terrace Post Office were still open, although the post office was under the supervision of Hopkins by then. There was a Veterans Service Office because Glen Lake was taking overflow of Korean veterans from the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Hospital. It had done the same during World War II.

Dr. Frost was the medical director and administrator at this time. He had contracted tuberculosis during his medical student residency in 1927. Frost then served as the medical superintendent and only full-time physician at Buena Vista Sanatorium in Wabasha from 1928 to 1939. He served in World War II, worked at the VA Hospital, and then came to Glen Lake in 1950.

Several others on the list were long-time employees, including some who had arrived at Glen Lake as patients and remained as employees. The stigma of tuberculosis was strong, and people sometimes had a problem finding employment in the “real world.”

Doctors Shih Tsai (1947-1959) and Wen Yue (1954-1962) had come from China on fellowships and stayed in the United States when political issues in China made it unwise to return.

Doctors Dorothy Hutchinson (1930-1962) and Frances King (1941-1960) were primarily assigned to female patients. Dr. King had been a missionary doctor in China and left when the world war began. Because she had cared for women in rice paddies and huts, she did not coddle her patients and some considered her to be unsympathetic. Dr. Hutchinson was an early advocate of birth control and counseled discharged female patients on family planning. This was fairly radical in the early 1930’s. The American Medical Association didn’t incorporate conception-related instruction in curriculum until 1937.

Some employees still lived on campus, paying for room and board that was a bargain considering that laundry and cleaning services were included. Male employees lived across the road in the Men’s Building, near the power plant. Females lived in either the nurses’ wing or the staff wing of what was commonly called the Nurses’ Home.

The internal radio station was still operating, under the call letters WGLS. It was begun by a patient who had hijacked the sanatorium’s public address system to broadcast records in the 1920’s. The confiscation of his equipment resulted in 350 letters to the administrator. The sanatorium applied for and received a license under the call letters KNUT. Patients were trained to run the station equipment, which was located by the building’s auditorium. The system was also wired to provide bed patients with a choice of three local radio stations. Glen Lake was the first hospital in the U.S. to run a radio station of this capacity.

More information about Glen Lake Sanatorium is in my book, Interrupted Lives: The History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and Glen Lake Sanatorium. It is available at northstarpress.com or on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Interrupted-Lives-Tuberculosis-Minnesota-Sanitorium/dp/1682010651 Contact me at emkaywrites@gmail.com for a signed copy.

March 26, 2020

Bernie Finds Hope

Glen Lake Sanatorium’s philosophy was one of hope – not a place to die, but a place to heal. Part of that philosophy was the occupational therapy and vocational rehabilitation provided for all patients. Hope was offered to everyone; no one was considered a hopeless case. And when Dr. Victor Funk said “Bernie has quite a few strikes against him,” it was an understatement.

Bernard was born to Harvey and Elsie Chapman in 1925. He had a brother born in 1926. Elsie died in 1928. Harvey married Agnes, and they had a son in 1929. By the 1940 census, Bernie was living with an unrelated family, and his two brothers were at the Owatonna Orphanage, although none of them were orphans. Harvey was an inmate in St. Cloud, and Agnes was at the Fergus Fall State Hospital. The middle brother spent part of WWII in Japan and died in 1947. The youngest joined the Marine Corps, moved away from Minnesota, and lived to age 62.

Bernie had muscular atrophy, causing a progressive weakening of his muscles. By the mid-1950’s, he had tuberculosis, too. Glen Lake Sanatorium offered him an art course supported by Christmas Seal funds. He did well enough to enter a painting in the National Arts Contest for the Handicapped. He also learned how to do photo retouching through the Minnesota Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Bernie was allowed to run his own little business to earn some money, doing intricate retouching work. A 1956 newspaper article, “Glen Lake Patient Painting Despite Enormous Handicap,” described him as waging a furious battle against odds to live a useful, constructive life. At Glen Lake, there were many caring people helping him in that battle. He lost the fight in 1959, but he had gained some of the dignity in usefulness he was looking for.

The Interrupted Lives series is based on interviews with, or stories about, people who spent part of their lives in tuberculosis sanatoriums. Some regarded them as “lost years.” Other said their confinement might have changed their lives for the better. Most of them are mentioned briefly in my book Interrupted Lives: A History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and Glen Lake Sanatorium (North Star Press, 2017).  This series is the rest of the story, in their own words when possible, with interview excerpts edited for length or clarity. None of the interviewee’s words have been changed.

Thank you for reading. Mary Krugerud

November 11, 2019

TB and Vaudeville, #4 in Interrupted Lives series

Poor nutrition and long hours of work contributed to the development of active tuberculosis. Add damp, unsanitary dressing rooms and crowded train rides to those conditions, and it’s apparent why vaudeville performers often fell victim to the dreaded disease.

Many simply worked until they couldn’t perform any longer, and they were left to fend for themselves wherever they last appeared. If the dancers, actors, and singers were in Minneapolis, the place they landed could be Glen Lake Sanatorium. Although there were county residency requirements, those were sometimes waived if there were empty beds available.

Fawn Lynn, born Florence Morse, was billed as a “stepper” in the “Paris Revue of 1922” in which her husband, Emmett Lynn, was the “principal comedy.” In the 1920s, they traveled the East Coast and Midwest, including at least one show in Manitoba, Canada.  By 1929, they had their own troupe – the Emmett Lynn Players.  In about 1933, Fawn was on tour with Jack Mulhall when, instead of going on to Chicago, she later recalled that she was sent “to open at Glen Lake for an ‘indefinite run’.”  Indefinite turned out to be three years at the sanatorium, plus three years recovering with family in Minnesota. By the time she was well, Emmett had stopped touring and made a career change to the movie business.  He appeared in many B westerns as the bumbling sidekick. Although it appears that Fawn joined him for a while in California, his 1958 death certificate notes that he was divorced. Fawn passed away in Richfield MN in 1990, at age 87.

Worthy Turner was the featured star of a black jazz band led by white bandleader Henry Thompson. This allowed them to play in the south at black clubs such as Griffis’ Negro Pleasure Garden – where seats could be provided “for white spectators who wish to listen to the orchestra” – and at white venues such as the Ritz Ballroom in Oklahoma City. A tour of one-night stands through the upper Midwest in the late 1930s landed Worthy at Glen Lake. As one of only three blacks in the sanatorium, he wrote an article for the newsletter in which he described his encounters with other patients as civil, but indifferent. He thought that most of them were victims of a feeling bred into them as a complex. He asked readers if they believed in democracy for all races, excluding the Negro. Turner returned to his home state of Texas and died there in 1993.

 Gilbert Reichert, who claimed to be 8’4” for his sideshow appearances, was officially measured at 7’ 6”.  He was on tour with an unnamed circus when he became ill and was brought to Glen Lake in 1938.  Two beds were cut and welded together to accommodate his size. He stayed only about a month, riding on double cots in a train’s baggage car in order to return to his home in Cleveland to recover there.  He died in 1961 at age 49.

Irving Sandler was a tap dancer on the vaudeville circuit in the early 1930s. While at Glen Lake from 1936 to 1939, he used his connections to persuade entertainers passing through Minnesota to stop in the sanatorium’s auditorium. One was Lawrence Welk, who was playing at the Orpheum with his orchestra. Sandler stayed involved in the entertainment business, advertising Sandler Distributing in 1960s Billboard magazines.

For more information about TB and vaudeville, read this Atlantic article about the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in “The Tuberculosis Hospital that Treated America’s Vaudeville Stars” https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/05/vaudeville-tuberculosis/526875/

The Interrupted Lives series is based on interviews with, or stories about, people who spent part of their lives in tuberculosis sanatoriums. Some regarded them as “lost years.” Other said their confinement might have changed their lives for the better. Most of them are mentioned briefly in my book Interrupted Lives: A History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and Glen Lake Sanatorium (North Star Press, 2017).  This series is the rest of the story, in their own words when possible, with minor edits for clarity.

October 24, 2019

Interrupted Lives #3: Doctors with Tuberculosis

Question: “Did sanatorium doctors and nurses contract TB from patients?” The short answer is “yes,” but there is a longer answer, of course.

Surprisingly few medical workers contracted tuberculosis at sanatoriums. The infection control techniques were posted and strictly enforced. The greater danger was to interns and nursing students who were required to do a rotation at a sanatorium. They sometimes did not follow the rules — either as a rebellion or through a belief that they were too healthy to catch a germ.

Beginning in 1927, the University of Minnesota School of Medicine began studying the incidence of tuberculosis among its graduates. In ten years, they found that from 4 to 10 percent of graduates had contracted active tuberculosis. Schools of nursing were reporting that from 5 to 19 percent of their graduates became ill. In some schools, 100 percent of graduates reacted positively to tuberculin tests, indicating that they had become contaminated during their service in TB hospitals. This was a serious problem. At the U of M School of Medicine, TB rotations became suggested instead of compulsory in 1937. This change in attitude was also prompted by a successful lawsuit brought against the U’s nursing school and some sanatoriums for TB contracted during an assigned course of study.

Because of exposure to tuberculosis germs during training, many staff came to the institutions as survivors of TB themselves. In fact, having a positive tuberculin test (not active tuberculosis) was a requirement of employment at most sanatoriums. It was believed that it conveyed a level of immunity, which seems to have been true.

Working at a TB hospital was an ideal job for someone who needed to keep healthy and guard against a relapse. Food was healthful, abundant, and part of the employment package. Afternoon naps were required of staff as well as patients. All employees had regular Mantoux tests and x-ray screenings to catch TB in its early stages. Several Glen Lake physicians were survivors. Dr. Russell Frost had TB as a medical student and later served as superintendent at both Buena Vista and Glen Lake sanatoriums. Dr. Frank Jennings had been a TB patient in New York. Dr. Peter Mattill had TB before working at Glen Lake from 1924-1957. Dr. Thomas Kinsella and his wife underwent the cure in Colorado, and he became Minnesota’s foremost thoracic surgeon specializing in tuberculosis. Dr. Victor Funk did not contract TB, but his marriage to Myrtle was delayed when she transitioned from being a nurse at Glen Lake to being a patient.

Other doctors acquired TB from the public during their general medical practices. Dr. William Maloney was a patient at Glen Lake for four years and was allowed to attend medical meetings. Dr. Earl Opstad also attended medical meetings as a patient and was hired to be on staff from 1948-1955. Dr. Harry A. Wilmer decided that there was a need for an educational book about TB that was written specifically for children, and while a patient he wrote Huber the Tuber, which was published by the National Tuberculosis Association in 1942.

Many patients were happy to learn that their doctor was someone who understood tuberculosis first hand and had recovered enough to resume a career. It didn’t necessarily make the physicians into pushovers, though. They knew that it took patience and discipline to regain health, and many of them were even stricter because of their own experience.

October 10, 2019

Interrupted Lives, #1, LuDean Harmsen Pontius

This series is based on interviews with people who spent part of their lives in tuberculosis sanatoriums. Some regarded them as “lost years.” Other said their confinement might have changed their lives for the better. Most of them are mentioned briefly in my book “Interrupted Lives: A History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and Glen Lake Sanatorium” (North Star Press, 2017).  This series is the rest of the story, in their own words, with minor edits for clarity.

LuDean Harmsen Pontius, interviewed 1990 and 2012 by Steve Perkins, Colleen Spadaccini, and Mary Krugerud

I came to Glen Lake Sanatorium in 1936 at the age of four. I was here until 1944 in the Children’s Building. I was discharged in ‘44 and came back in about a year with pulmonary tuberculosis. I was here for a year and then discharged again, probably about ‘46. My mother and father came with me in that same year [1936]. They were put in the main building. They both had advanced tuberculosis. I was here mainly for observation. I was quarantined for six years. My dad was really pretty bad. I was exposed to it, that’s why I was in quarantine, but I didn’t really get tuberculosis of the hip until about a year later when I fell on a hill by the West Cottage on the slide. I slit my side and that’s when the problem started to surface.

I was very unhappy when I first came. I can remember them putting me in the bathtub and scrubbing me and washing my hair, and I screamed the whole time. Then they carted me into this room. The kids talked to me and then finally I was able to get out and mingle with the kids. I think that six weeks was probably pretty traumatic because I can remember a lot of things. I wasn’t really happy then. But once I got in with all the kids, we had activities. We did what every child does. We went sliding. We had picnics. We had a dog, Pal. We had a horse, Hutchie. We had school.

The dog, Pal, was just a big, old, fat terrier. He had a doghouse on the premises someplace. He would always come to the back door at suppertime, and they’d feed him the scraps. They fed him really good, just like they fed all of us. We were all little chubbies. The more you feed, the healthier you are. That isn’t always the case anymore, but that was their theory.

The horse’s name was Hutchie. Dr. Hutchinson had won Hutchie, her namesake, at a fair. I don’t know if was the state fair or a fair around here, but she won this horse. Now what are you going to do with a horse? She brought it out here, and he was tied down in the play area there. Can you imagine? Out here, hospitalized more or less, and having animals? I think that’s really something.

We had regular classrooms. We were tutored. We went down in our wheelchairs or on foot or on our litters. The schooling was very good. When I finally left Glen Lake and went into public school, it was hard because it wasn’t institutionalized. I wasn’t catered to as much. But I was certainly on the same level with everyone. The school was excellent. The only teacher I remember is Miss Hauger, though. I’m sure there were many others that were around.

Our nurses here came and went. We had one nurse that I can remember, Miss Stenseth. She was the head nurse here for many years. Outside of that we had a lot of young graduate nurses who were sent out here. If they were positive Mantoux, they could work here. Everyone working here was positive, as far as I knew. But as far as a lot of the nurses — I had one nurse – she made me rag dolls out of big stockings. The big old hunting stockings. She’d make the head and the button eyes and the arms. Every time she’d come to work, she’d bring a new set of clothes for this doll.

After I fell down the hill and the tuberculosis showed its little face in my hips, I went through quite a few surgeries. The infection kept reappearing; they couldn’t get it cleared up. They were going to amputate my leg. Finally they did what they called the Brittany surgery in 1943. The Brittany was taking a bone out of here and putting it into the hip joint so it kept it from moving. They had to heal the incision from the inside out so they left it open. Several times a day they would treat it with silver nitrate on a stick.

Bed rest was about all they knew what to do back then. Of course, with my being so active, I wasn’t letting it heal either. I was agitating it constantly. I had a body cast from here [chest] down so just the toes stuck out of my right leg, which was my bad leg, and the other cast came down to here [below knee]. There was a rod in between where they could pull me up and down to put me on the bed pan. I used to get up out of the bed and walk in that cast. And fall and break it. I was kind of a problem. They did restrain me in the bed. We had a sewing lady here. She was just a super, super sewing lady. She made one of neatest straight-jackets you’ve ever seen. It covered the whole entire bed, and there was a place for my leg. It held my body down. I was free here [arms]. But I was supposed to lay flat to get healed. I got really good with the toes on my left foot. I could reach around and unstrap those hooks. Finally the incision closed up, and it was healed. The tuberculosis left. It was a miracle. There was no streptomycin, there was nothing back then. They had nothing. It was really a miracle, what they did. Particularly in the times of TB. That was really something.

I had to learn to walk. I have a fused hip today, but I’ve done everything. The only thing I can’t do is ride a bicycle and I have no desire to do that anymore anyway. I’ve had three children normally and have no problems. I’m pretty grateful.

My father’s name was John Harmsen, and my mother’s name was Mary. Father died only a couple of years after we came out here. He had pulmonary tuberculosis, and the report was that it had gone into his kidneys. It had gone all through his system. Nowadays they could certainly have done something with that. He passed away in 1938 at the age of 28 years old. My mother once ran away from Glen Lake because she didn’t want to die there. She returned and passed away at Glen Lake in 1945 at age 31.

I cried when I left in 1944. “You’re taking me away from my home.” I really cried. That was a sad day. It was worse than when I came. It really was, because the sanatorium was home. When I left Glen Lake, my mother was still my guardian because she was still living, but I was put into foster homes. When she died, I was sent to New York to an aunt – her sister. That didn’t work out. I ran away a couple of times. Then they shipped me back here and put me in an orphanage. Pretty soon I ended up with the family that raised me. I was pretty lucky. I got into a good family. My new dad was a school teacher and had a lot of tolerance with children who were spoiled. And I was very spoiled out here. I don’t tell a lot of people, but when I do mention it, people say, “You poor thing.” I say, “Don’t feel sorry for me, I had a better life than a lot of kids. I was so spoiled.”

Update:

LuDean Pontius passed away on July 16, 2018, at age 86. She and her husband, Al, retired to Arizona in 2003. Her obituary notes that “LuDean lived with the effects of the disease and surgery throughout her life but never let it slow her down.”

August 16, 2019

Author and Book Events 2020

The April 7, 2020 book presentation at the Gaylord MN public library has been postponed due to the virus and social isolation. It will be rescheduled.

2019 Author and Book Events — thank you to all who attended!

August 20, 2019, Tuesday, 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Fergus Falls Public Library. Minnesota Historical Sanatoriums. I talked a bit about the Otter Tail County Sanatorium, which wasn’t very far from Fergus Falls.

September 24, 2019, 2 p.m., at the Detroit Lakes Public Library.

October 16, 2019 – 9:00 a.m. – Clearbrook, Minnesota at Elim Lutheran Brethren Church

July 31, 2019

No footnotes

A reader asked: Why aren’t there many footnotes in The Girl in Building C: The True Story of a Teenage Tuberculosis Patient? It’s a non-fiction book — shouldn’t it be full of footnotes?

There are two reasons that footnotes are scarce in the book. One, it’s a collection of letters, and two, my friend Jerry won’t read books with footnotes. (He’s not the only person to tell me that, just the first.)

I am credited as the editor of The Girl in Building C, but my work was in turn reviewed by an editor at the Minnesota Historical Society Press. I wanted readers to experience the letters as if Marilyn were writing to them. That approach had to be balanced with the need for explanations of unfamiliar terms and procedures. We didn’t want a reader to be looking to the bottom of the page or using Google in order to understand content, so we decided to provide information using brief matter-of-fact paragraphs when needed. It seemed to be the least intrusive solution, and, judging from readers’ reactions, it was a good decision.

If you like footnotes, I recommend to you my first book, Interrupted Lives: The History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and Glen Lake Sanatorium. I spent more than 20 years interviewing people and searching through about 50 boxes of Glen Lake’s archival material. The book has 719 footnotes. Enjoy!

The Girl in Building C: The True Story of a Teenage Tuberculosis Patient, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018.

Interrupted Lives:The History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and Glen Lake Sanatorium. North Star Press, 2017.

July 4, 2019

Tuberculosis Books

A lot has happened since my last post in August 2018. My second book about tuberculosis, The Girl in Building C: The True Story of a Teenage Tuberculosis Patient, was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in September 2018. It consists of a collection of letters written by Marilyn Barnes, a patient at the Ah-gwah-ching State Sanatorium near Walker from 1943-46. Marilyn wrote frequently to her family — they were separated by 225 miles in a time when a long-distance phone call was expensive. Her letters offer a rare and unique view into a disease and its treatment. I discovered the letters in the Minnesota Historical Society archives, edited them for length, and annotated them to provide context.

The book has garnered several positive reviews and is especially popular in book clubs. The letters offer many topics for discussion: isolation, coming of age, World War II, medical treatments, and death.

Its publication also revived interest in my previous book, Interrupted Lives: The History of Tuberculosis in Minnesota and Glen Lake Sanatorium. The two books make a nice set. Interrupted Lives is a well-researched documentation of how one large sanatorium operated and how patients experienced what was essentially a quarantine. The Girl in Building C tells about that experience, too, but through the eyes of a homesick young girl who goes from high school activities to fighting for her life. The former is heavy with footnotes; the latter is not.

I have had the pleasure of speaking about The Girl in Building C at libraries, museums, and book clubs. Many people who visited with me afterward have mentioned that someone in their family was in a sanatorium, but no one ever really talked about it. That is exactly my motivation for gathering the stories and telling them. The dreaded disease tuberculosis, once the leading cause of infectious deaths in the U.S., became a forgotten disease because it acquired a stigma. The sanatoriums are gone, and few former patients are still alive (Marilyn is 91), but my two books are now part of a saved history.

August 4, 2018

Book Ideas

Book ideas come to those who look for them.  When I was researching Minnesota’s tuberculosis sanatoriums in 2016, I was particularly interested in the state sanatorium, Ah-gwah-ching in Walker.  It was the oldest, second largest, and especially isolated due to its location in northern Minnesota.  I had looked through many boxes of government records from the sanatorium that were in the Minnesota Historical Society’s archives. I was hoping to find something I could use for blog posts or maybe a magazine article. For my previous book, Interrupted Lives, I had been able to interview former sanatorium patients during the 1990’s, when many were still alive.  There were some oral histories in the Ah-gwah-ching files, but many were from former employees.  What I didn’t find was a diary or something personal that would give me better insight into its operation from a patient’s point of view.

I expanded my search beyond the government files and found something better than a diary — a treasure trove of letters written by a teenage patient at Ah-gwah-ching during World War II.  She was more than 200 miles away from her family and wrote 303 letters home during her three-year stay.  As I read further into the collection, I realized its value as a candid memoir and an educational  human interest story. I wrote a proposal to the Minnesota History Press. It was accepted.  The Girl in Building C: The True Story of a Teenage Tuberculosis Patient will be available from the press and other book vendors in September. I didn’t go looking for the letters, but because I broadened the scope of my search and wandered a bit, I found gold.

 

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