Life at the Sanitarium

Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium

MTS auditorium, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

What’s now known as the Peterson Park Gymnastics Center served as the backdrop for this 1920s-era patriotic pageant of young tuberculosis patients. Although the interior was gutted to accommodate the gymnasium, the exterior looks exactly the same today. The building originally housed an auditorium used for patient education and entertainment programming, like the charming children’s theatrical production shown in the photograph below.

MTS auditorium stage

Auditorium stage, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

The photographs published in this post are from the album of Mary Lynn, wife of Martin R. Lynn, who served as the Sanitarium supervisor at least through the early 1930s. I don’t know his exact dates of service, but he may have taken over immediately following the death of founding director Dr. Theodore Sachs in 1916.

Mary Lynn preserved photographs showing many sides of the life at the Sanitarium, from medical procedures to vocational training to visiting dignitaries. Some photographs were clearly staged for public relations use. Since there aren’t captions or notes, we don’t have a record of Mary’s impressions of sanitarium life. She include more photographs of children than any other single subject, so it’s a safe bet she felt sympathetic towards the youngest residents.

Light treatment at the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, ca. 1925. Coutesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Light treatment at the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, ca. 1925. Coutesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Mary and her husband lived on the grounds, most likely on the second floor of the Administration Building, which is still standing today and faces the auditorium building. Their daughter, Margaret, attended college during several of the years her parents lived at the Sanitarium.

Mary Lynn

Mary and Margaret Lynn in the residential area of the Sanitarium, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Mary Lynn’s great-granddaughter, Kathleen Schnier, recently discovered Mary’s photo album in a closet at her parents’ home. Many thanks to her and her family for sharing this rare look inside the Sanitarium during the 1920s.

Administrative building, ca 1925. The second floor was a residential living area for the sanitarium supervisor. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Administrative building, ca 1925. The second floor was a residential living area for the sanitarium supervisor. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

The auditorium building’s exterior wasn’t the only familiar scene I recognized among Mary’s photographs. Most buildings and landscapes look remarkably the same now as they did back then. Below, a group of children stand behind an exhibit of their pottery in a corner of one of the main dining halls. The wall sconces are still in place today.

Pottery exhibit, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Pottery exhibit, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium

Patients, Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Martin R. Lynn, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Martin R. Lynn, ca. 1925. Courtesy of Kathleen Schnier.

Related: I wrote about Martin Lynn in an earlier post and included a publicity photograph of him welcoming the summer campers to the Sanitarium.

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3 Responses to Life at the Sanitarium

  1. John Erickson says:

    ….a surprising number of children. I wonder if some were there as nontubercular dependents of adult patients. The crutches suggest some had Potts Disease of the spine. John

    ________________________________

    • Frances says:

      I have only seen one mention of the nontubercular children of adult patients residing at the Sanitarium. In that case the father was a single parent and his children were allowed to live in tents on the site. That sounds rather harsh, but the context is that many children as well as adult patients lived in tents on the site. Year round. In the photographs, there were a huge number of children patients, but the photographs may have been taken during the summer camp season when hundreds of at-risk children were in residence. During the years 1918-1921, for example, 1,191 incipient cases and 3,527 at risk patients were admitted (children only).These patients may have only stayed for a couple months. In that same time period, 4,718 children were admitted as advance cases.
      (Bulletin of the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium April 1922, p 5).

      As far as crutches, the children who arrived during the summer were given medical treatment for all their illnesses. The childrens had check ups twice every day so the medical staff would identify the flu cases or other infectious diseases before they spread. In the reports I’ve reada, usually half of the children had tonsils removed and many other procedures were performed.

  2. Lillian Bilder Cusentino says:

    When I lived at the smnitarium, I guess I was a non tubercular child . I don’t remember tents, but I do remember living on the second floor, above the offices and having my tonsils removed. I have so much to tell–wish I could come out there, but I don’t do too much traveling anymore–I am 95 years old. I lived there from 1922 to 1926, I think. My two sisters lived there also. We were Anna, Lillian and Virginia Bilder. Hope to hear more from somebody. Sincere regards from Lillian Bilder Cusentino of Florence, Kentucky

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