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Model of scientific history

July 16, 2010
By PETER CROWLEY, Enterprise Managing Editor

SARANAC LAKE - Historic Saranac Lake's reception Wednesday evening was an occasion to celebrate the transformation of the Saranac Laboratory into a model of an early science laboratory - the first in the U.S. for the study of tuberculosis.

Some professional-looking museum displays are up, but HSL - which celebrated its 30th anniversary at Wednesday's lively social occasion - is most excited about the new cabinets. They are replicas of ones that held beakers and test tubes when the pioneering Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who founded this village as a TB cure center, worked there in the late 19th century.

Wednesday's event also served to unveil a wall in the front entrance with bricks bearing the names of patients who came to Saranac Lake with TB. Donors dedicated the 44 bricks in memory of the patients. Some descendants of those patients attended Wednesday's event. Priscilla Goss of Ray Brook and Gerry Waterson of Chestertown, Md. (raised in Saranac Lake) recently discovered, through a convoluted process, that his uncle, Duke Huntington, knew her father, Louis Mackay, while they were curing in this village.

Article Photos

From left, Gerry Waterson, Chris Rdzandek, Priscilla Goss and Emily Fogarty talk at a reception Wednesday in the restored Saranac Laboratory on Church Street, Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Susan Chambre, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York, said she is impressed with what HSL has done with the old laboratory on Church Street, next-door to the doctors' office that was once Dr. Trudeau's home. Hers is a professional interest: After having a book published about AIDS, titled "Fighting For Our Lives: New York's AIDS Community and the Politics of Disease," she discovered that the AIDS community's feeling of "fighting for their lives" against a disease then-incurable had precedent in tuberculosis. Now she is writing a book about TB, and Saranac Lake will play a big part.

She will also write about TB sanatoria in places like Denver and Los Angeles, but Saranac Lake's was the first in the U.S., she says. This village also may have been home to the nation's first modern medical center (unless Johns Hopkins in Baltimore preceded it), with research and treatment as well as training of doctors and nurses.

Another premiere: Dr. Trudeau was the first U.S. scientist to adapt the TB research of European scientists. He was curing from TB himself at the time, which meant he was studying for his life as well as his patients' lives. That factor especially interests Chambre.

"Some percentage of the people who came here (to cure) were doctors and nurses, because TB was a major occupational disease for doctors and nurses," she said. Like Trudeau, many of those who cured found themselves with a new career - to spread the cure to others plagued with TB. Many stayed and worked here in Saranac Lake while others went out and started or worked at other sanatoria. Documenting that mission is the primary subject of Chambre's research.

To spread the word about the Saranac Laboratory's significance in national science history, HSL recently hosted a workshop there with science teachers from Tri-Lakes area schools and scientists from Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, which emerged from the ashes of the sanatorium and continues to be a world leader in research of TB and other diseases of the lungs.

 
 

 

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