Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Love in the Ypsilanti Tuberculosis Sanitarium

It seems an unlikely setting for romance--a huge halfway house for recovering consumptives. Yet Bertha Wiederhoft's daughter Rosena met her intended here, whom she later married.

The Ypsilanti After Cure sanitarium, a branch of a big Detroit tuberculosis sanitarium, sat four miles outside the city on Geddes Road. Local historian James Mann recalls seeing it. "I would be driving to Detroit with my father, and there was that big white building we'd always pass."

Inside its walls, consumptives had a chance to rest and help with the hospital's farms, one of 80 and one of 190 acres. Fresh air and healthy exercise were thought to be beneficial to recovery, and residents planted vegetables, tended chickens, and helped make the hospital-farm self-sufficient. Meals included delicious fresh beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables tended by the patients and often picked the same day.

Built in 1927, the facility was intended not as a hospital to cure tuberculosis but as an after-cure facility, where patients who'd already undergone more aggressive medical intervention could rest and recover before rejoining the world. The hospital had a capacity of just over 100, and 2,386 patients were treated over its lifetime.

It's likely that of that number, not everyone recovered, but succumbed to the disease. And certainly every patient there knew of tuberculosis's deadliness--for years it was the leading killer in Washtenaw County. Yet against this grim backdrop, Rosena and a male patient, Thomas Green, found each other and later built a life together.

The facility closed May 7, 1954, as improved public health reduced the specter of TB. The remaining patients were sent to other institutions and the farmland was put up for sale. After 27 years, the "San" was, thankfully, no longer needed. Rosena went on to have a daughter, Diane, and died in 1998 after a life spanning almost all of the 20th century.

In its clean, fresh environment, the San had not only restored Rosena's life, but given her the opportunity to join it with another.


Dusty D said...

Please note that this story suggestion was contributed by Bertha's granddaughter Diane, in the "skribit" thingie in the sidebar, which is a suggestion box. Please feel free to leave a story idea there if you'd like me to research something.

Also, Diane and her relative Carol have left additional and quite vivid and charming stories about Bertha in the original Bertha post, linked in the 1st paragraph above. I don't want anyone to miss those.

Thanks to Diane for kindly visiting and for her story idea. I pray with crossed fingers that I didn't get anything wrong, but I might have and welcome any corrections.

Diane said...

Thank you for your wonderful background information on the Leland Sanitarium, or the "San" as my mom always referred to it. I am not sure my Dad was ever a patient there, he did have TB, but he was a maintance man at the San. (I will have to ask my Aunt Carol, Bertha's daughter, if she knows. My Mom, Rosena, and her sister, Carol, were born almost 18 years apart.) I have photos taken outside the San in 1933 when my Mom was a patient. She is with my Dad and other patients, and maybe a doctor and one of the nurses. (I will have to scan the photos from my Mom's album for your archives.) There is also a photo of my Dad taken in 1938 in his coveralls. My parents were married on August 20, 1938. Dad was fired the next day! My Mom refused to lived at the San. Part of my Dad's job was to carry out the patients who died and I guess his boss was very unhappy that he would not be living on the grounds, so he could carry out the patients who died during the night.

I don't know exactly how long my Mom was at the hospital, maybe a few years. Dad was working there, I think, when they met in 1933 or maybe he was a patient at that time too. I do know he spent time in 1937 in Montana with his dad working old gold mines, then he returned to Michigan and my Mom. Apparently, he got his job back, because he was definitely working there in 1938 according to photos and family stories.

Another mystery is why my Dad even came to the Ypsilanti area. He was born in Montana, spent time there and in Detroit.

Jennifer Redfern said...

hey D,

do you know anything abut the ypsi state hospital?

Dusty D said...

Jennifer: No, that's one topic I haven't really explored thus far, 'cause it's kinda out of town. Might you have any tidbits about it, or is there some aspect about it you'd like me to pursue? I'd be pleased to.

Jennifer Redfern said...

I was wondering who owned the land now? We are very interested in it. So therefore if you can find that out, that be cool. thank you.

Dusty D said...

Jennifer: Hm, usually to determine ownership I check ewashtenaw. They have a "property lookup" feature. I assume you have the address; is it telling you who the owner currently is?

Jennifer Redfern said...

Ok i will check into it. thank you.

Dusty D said...

Yeah, ewashtenaw is great. A ton of information in there. It would be interesting to hear about anything you found out!

jdelaneyh said...

I realize this story is from a few years ago, but I just happened upon it by Googling Leland Farms Santitarium. My parents met there also, but early in 1953 and I came to be from that meeting. My mother died before I was one and I was given up for adoption. Father gone as well. Curious about what became of records and such. Any ideas where to look?

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