Saranac Lake’s tuberculosis economy depended on the labor of many essential workers. In honor of today’s heroes, here are a few favorite stories of brave helpers in local history.
Nurses and doctors risked their own health providing care and companionship to tuberculosis patients far from home. Our museum archive is full of hundreds of photos and stories of these courageous women and men. In her book, Wish I Might, Isabel Smith writes warmly about her doctor, Francis B. Trudeau. He is somewhat overshadowed in history by his famous father, founder of Saranac Lake’s TB industry, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau. But Francis was widely respected for his kindness and his fierce dedication to his patients. Ms. Smith described his “inimitable hearty roar of good spirits which, then and always, enveloped me like a blaze of sunlight.”
Many Saranac Lakers find themselves heading outside during these unsettling times. In the woods around us we find a sense of peace, a place where human worries and sickness feel far away. In fact, the natural environment of the Adirondacks is at the heart of our history as a center for tuberculosis treatment. The fresh air and beauty of the region was believed to restore both body and spirit alike, and thousands came here from around the world in search of the fresh air cure.
The old neighborhoods of Saranac Lake are lively these days, as people of all ages take a break from solitude to go out walking at all hours. Like the TB patients of the past, we are eager to stretch our legs, breathe some fresh air, and wave to a friendly face across the street.
During the years Saranac Lake was a health resort, many TB patients filled their time by making arts and crafts. These activities furnished a crucial sense of purpose for people struggling with isolation and boredom.
In the past week I have found such joy in the personal calls and emails shared with so many of you. Thank you for staying in touch. I hope this letter finds you all safe and well.
As a member of our email list, you understand that by paying attention to the lives of those who came before us, we enrich our own experience of the present. I am finding this particularly true right now. I would like to share with you a weekly letter to help us connect with our history and with each other. As a shout-out to our fresh air history, I’m going to call these “letters from the porch.”
Many years ago, Saranac Lake rallied to fight a deadly disease. Today’s news sure has us thinking about our local history.
Tuberculosis killed 1 in 7 people in the late 1800s. Highly contagious and with no known cure, fear and stigma surrounded TB. Unlike the new virus we face today, many of its victims were young people in their 20s. Like today, quarantine was often seen as an appropriate solution, and sometimes people were isolated against their will. A person’s ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic status affected the kinds of treatments available.
From the Porch
We're posting all the latest news, videos, and stories from Historic Saranac Lake's oral history project and Cure Porch on Wheels here. Stay tuned for Talking Points on Sunday, Live from the Porch on Tuesday and Saturdays, and other weekly offerings!