Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mam-maw and Aunt No-No Write Home from the Sanitorium

In January 1912, our scrapbooker Sarah Eva Howe Salyers was a busy woman. She was caring for her family of five (including husband William Levi "Will" Salyers, 5-year-old Robert King Salyers, and twins James Richard and Mary Alice, who were a few months shy of 2 years old). Apparently, Sarah also was caring for two ailing relatives: her mother Alice Ada Cost Howe and 15-year-old sister Leonora Alice Howe. In the scrapbooks are references to Alice and Leonora having rooms upstairs at the Salyers house. At first I thought they were staying there because they were ill and needed Sarah's care, but various notes in the scrapbooks make me think they lived there with Sarah and her family.

(from left) Mary Alice, Bob, and Jim Salyers, 1911-1912
The children were sad when Daddy and big brother Bob took Alice (called both "Mam-maw" and "Grandma") and Leonora ("Aunt No-No") to the Carrollton depot to board a train bound for Louisville. From letters Sarah pasted or transcribed into her scrapbooks, we learn that the two women went to a sanitorium. References to "Dr. Pope" suggest that they checked in at the Pope Sanitorium, established in 1890 by Dr. Curran Pope on Chestnut Street in downtown Louisville. According to Louisville Encyclopedia by John E. Kleber (University Press of Kentucky, 2001), Page 785, "sanitoriums were popular in those days for treatment of chronic diseases and disorders such as tuberculosis and nervous/mental disorders." I have not yet discovered the ailment that sent them there.

Letters from Alice and Leonora to Sarah in Carrollton, and letters Sarah sent to them in response, offer insights into social customs, medical care, and transportation trials and tribulations of that time. There's also an amusing story or two.

 February 1 (Letter from Leonora to Sarah)
Dear Sister,
It is snowing "like pitchforks" here.  . . . We received your letter just a few minutes ago and were certainly glad to hear from you. I got the letter down at the office in the back of the building. Mr. Thruston Pope is just as fat as ever. [This statement makes me think that the Pope family had Carrollton ties and that the Howe and Salyers families were acquainted with them.] I had a pleasant time on the train coming up except that the train was too warm and I got the headache. When we got here, it still ached so I lay down and slept about two hours. About that time Dr. Pope sent for me. He looks about the same but his hair is a little grayer. Dr. Pope did not keep us so very long. I do not know anything about how long I shall have to stay.

February 1 (Letter from Alice to her daughter Sarah)
"We are rapidly getting acquainted and find the crowed very friendly and agreeable. One lady, Miss Tillie Baer of Owensboro, is one of the lively ones. She knew "Harry" McGinnis and knew "Artee" Griffith . . .  Haven't drunk cocoa but have had milk every meal. Doctor questioned us both closely yesterday, and I took the "mestatic" yesterday but Leonora's headache was so bad, she did not. . . . [I have searched for the term "mestatic" but have not found a meaning or explanation.]

February 2 (Letter from Alice to her daughter Sarah)
Dr. Pope says for us to take a morning walk for 20 minutes before our treatments, so we have just come in from our "braces" which felt very "tonic" as it was colder than I thought. Please send me 1 black silk waist [which I think is a blouse or under-blouse], 1 pr gray kid gloves no. 6, one gingham apron.

February 28 [Letter from Sarah to her sister Leonora]
. . . As for Madge [the Salyers family horse], we can't drive her yet on account of the terrible roads _ the hundreds – I was about to say thousands – of tobacco wagons that are constantly criss-crossing the streets into a hollow checkerboard of mud (if you can take in such a figure). The last time I had her out it was almost impossible for her to drag the
Sarah's transcription of her letter to Leonora. The scrapbooks contain some actual letters but many transcriptions of letters, possibly so the originals could be returned to the people who received them.
surrey through the streets, light as her load was (your humble servant was the sole passenger).  . . . Will said he had a fine time on his visit to you and a mighty good dinner at Doctor Pope's and could see a lot of improvement in "our" two patients. I must tell you the joke –– Bob wanted to go down with his daddy, and I suggested that maybe he could go and stay with you all while Will attended to business, as you did have two beds, and he could sleep with Grandma. Will said, "I wonder if I could stay one night at the Sanatorium, too," and Bob said readily, "Why yes, Daddy, you could sleep with Aunt No-No while I sleep with Grandma!" But his daddy blushed and said he was "afraid Aunt No-no would object!"

Several observations about this excerpt:
  • The Salyers family of Carrollton was still using a horse and buggy for transportation in 1912. A previous post reports that only five automobiles were registered in Carrollton in 1910-1911.  
  • Sarah's reference to dinner at Dr. Pope's reinforces my thinking that the Salyers family was connected at least socially with that family. 
  • Little Bob's innocent suggestion that his daddy sleep with his mother's sister made his daddy blush, which I find endearing. Other scrapbook passages mention that Will stayed at the Seelbach hotel when he traveled to Louisville on business or to visit his mother-in-law and sister-in law. The hotel would have been within a few blocks of the sanitorium at 115 W. Chestnut Street.

March 25 [Letter from Leonora to Sarah]
Leonora Alice Howe without her glasses, circa 1918
By March 25, it appears, Leonora's health has improved. In a letter to Sarah, she speaks of going to
places beyond the sanitorium grounds:
I am going to see Girl of My Dreams [a play] Saturday with Miss June Walker at Macauley's. This morning we went downtown. We went to the New York Store and then to Dr. Ledeman's. . . . I just wanted to see if my glasses were all right. I wish you could see the doctor. He is attractive. He has a keen sense of humor and is fascinating because he is so funny. He is a man of almost thirty years, I suppose. Now you will think I am talking a great deal about him, but I assure you he is perfectly harmless and besides he is Hebrew and is married "already yet."
How typical of a 15-year-old girl to write home about her social engagements and the handsome doctor. Less typical, perhaps, is her frequent request that Sarah send butter:
Do tell me if you find any fresh butter, for you know my weakness for that article. Dr. Pope has good butter, but it is not quite so fresh as I like. I like the fresh country butter.

Sarah's letters from Carrollton reply that she was unable to get fresh butter at an affordable price. Research on why that was so will have to wait for another day.

The pages and papers in this scrapbook are loose and not in consecutive order. A look through the whole book failed to turn up evidence of how long Sarah's mother and sister stayed at Pope Sanitorium. We know they recovered from their ailments, because both lived decades beyond 1912.

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