Forbidden Places–Part Three

Tuberculosis_sanitarium

(c) Jennifer Stix

More than the sight of my old house, this takes me back. The corner of Peterson and Central Park avenues, the unused service entrance to the sanitarium.

That white square sign hanging on the left-hand side of the gate? Directions to the main entrance, I’m sure of it.  A corner of the guard house, pictured in my first post of the series, hidden among the shadows along the right edge of the photograph.

The city removed the sign when they closed the sanitarium in the early 1970s.  I received this photograph from a friend last week and it surprised me. The curve of the arch, the simple but lovely type font, the symbol at the top  illuminated in pink neon–all exactly as I remembered.

Others, like me, are still haunted by memories of the sanitarium. Some reminiscences appeared in comments to the earlier posts and some I received via email.

Alan Spector also grew up on North Central Park Avenue, two blocks south of my house.

I used to play softball with the Rapoports and the Blacks on the corner of Central Park and Ardmore. We used to see guys climbing (escaping?) over the fence and stagger back a few hours later with a bottle of liquor in their hands. At the time, we were all pretty scared. A few times, our ball would go over that green fence and we would have to go retrieve it. I’m pretty good at climbing fences FAST to this day because of the fright of not returning back to Central Park Avenue in one piece.

I drive past your old house and the new park all the time. I think how different our lives would have been, for better or for worse, if the park was there for us when we were small.

Denise Bell Thomas grew up the same block as Alan.

My parents were only the 2nd owners of their house and lived there for 39 years. I hated it when they sold the house even though all my life–even as an adult I was scared out of my wits by the shadows cast on the front hall walls when cars drove by at night. My sister and I never got over the feeling that when we went up the front hall stairs that something was going to reach out and grab us.

Later on in life in the early 80s I actually worked for the City for the department that took care of the grounds. I was lucky to see the private bird sanctuary areas and was able to actually go into the building –this was before all the renovation was done.

I’ve walked around the grounds and inside the buildings, searched the Internet, and at last I know what was inside the forbidden place of my childhood. But several comments made me realize I didn’t learn anything about the people who had been on the inside. The physician who spoke of his memories of misery. Denise mentioning that directly across from her house, there was a groundskeeper’s house and a child lived there. Another former classmate who wrote that his father had been born at the sanitarium. It said so, my friend wrote, right on his father’s birth certificate.

My interest in the sanitarium’s history is just beginning, but this series is ending. Join me again next Monday as I go back to the West Side.

Credits: Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Stix.

Sources: Wikipedia.

Interested in more photos? Look in the Forbidden Places under the Photos tab on this blog.

Update! As if the sanitarium hadn’t been frightening enough, this just came in. My thanks to Susan Miller Tweedy for her photograph.

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Kitchen sign, Municipal TB Sanitarium

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19 Responses to Forbidden Places–Part Three

  1. Gilberto Gonzalez,MD February 15, 2010 at 1:58 am #

    May I use the picture of the entrance to the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium to head my writen memories? I am almost ready to post it.
    Gil Gonzalez, MD

  2. Gilberto Gonzalez,MD February 15, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    My email is : gilberto.gonzalez4@gmail.com

  3. Judi VanMeerten February 18, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    Thank you for the info about the sanitarium. Our father was a patient there for about 18 months, somewhere around 1932-1934. I am wondering if there are any records left, especially the dates a patient was in the sanitarium. I have no idea as where to begin to look. Any ideas will be appreciated.
    Thank you.

  4. frances728 February 18, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Judi, the Sanitarium was run by the city of Chicago, so the Chicago Dept. of Health might know if there are archived records.

  5. Rosie Blandford February 18, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    Thanks again, Frances, for the great writing and glimpse into history. My mother was TB patient who spent some time in a saniatrium in the ealry 60’s. She had just recently started dating my father and he was the only non-family member who dared to visit her. Shortly after her release, they married with only a couple of people in attendance since so many were frightened by her cured TB status. I’ll have to ask my mom more about her stay.

  6. frances728 February 18, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Thanks, Rosie. Was she in Chicago at that time? People were very much afraid of catching disease. As I mentioned in the first part, people who lived outside the proposed grounds in 1911 protested the city’s plans because of fear of contagion.

  7. Rosie Blandford February 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    Hi Frances, Yes, my mom was in a Chicago TB Sanitarium. It seemed as though everyone, expect my dad – her boyfriend, was aftraid of catching the disease. She was asymptomatic and only learned that she had TB because of a chest x-ray but it didn’t matter and she was forced into the sanitarium where she took medications and was later released. Even though she was treated and not a threat to public health, people including close friends stayed away. In all, I think 8-12 people attended the wedding.

  8. Judi VanMeerten February 19, 2010 at 7:57 am #

    Thank you, I’ll try there.

  9. Gilberto Gonzalez,MD February 19, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Frances, I tried several time, without success, to post my memories. I hope you can do it.
    Gil Gonzalez

  10. Richard Jacobson July 20, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    I remember vividly the TB Sanitarium, and this gate in particular, as we passed it frequently while headed up or down Peterson Ave. I always thought it was haunted, because of a weird association I made as a very young child. I remember reading some kind of informational pamphlet about Chicago that was around the house, that talked about “a lost river.” Undoubtedly this was referring to the Chicago River being made to run backwards in the 19th century. However, this pamphlet had a picture of this very gate on the front page–God alone knows why–and in my 6 year old mind the two became linked. I thought there was a “lost river” IN the TB Sanitarium. I didn’t really know what a “lost river” meant, but it sounded spooky.

    At about the same time there was a series running on the WGN-TV show “Garfield Goose” about a group of boys who take a rowboat on the lagoon in Central Park, enter a mysterious cave, and go down a river that takes them back in time. They see mammoths and dinosaurs. It was called “Journey to the Beginning of Time.” It seemed to me that they were travelling on a lost river, too, and so I began to think that there were prehistoric animals in the TB Sanitarium. Now when I see this picture, those images come rushing back to me, of a river running into a cave, and wooly mammoths and Tyrannosaurus Rex wandering around. Talk about a Proustian moment!

  11. Richard Jacobson July 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Also, I always wondered, what is that “Circle-Y” symbol in the middle? I think I knew this at one time but can’t remember. It’s the logo of some organization but I can’t recall exactly which.

  12. Frances Archer July 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    It stands for the Chicago River. North and South branches. Maybe something else as well?

  13. Frances Archer July 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    For one reason or another, everyone I’ve been in touch with from the old neighborhood remembers the TB sanitarium as “haunted.” Ironically, once the sanitarium was closed, the Chicago Park District has put on a Halloween Haunted House event annually. I wonder if they had any idea what all the locals thought. There were several similar plots of land: remember the Chicago Parental School on St. Louis just south of Foster? It was for “bad” kids and they had to work on the farmland there. And yes, that TB gate was a very vivid landmark for our neighborhood.

  14. Charles Dan Moore November 7, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    I was a patient at municipal tuberculosis sanitarium in 1955,and I attended their laboratory training program, and upon my discharge, I began to work in the bacteriology laboratory remaining there for 10 years. It turn out to be a very important time in my life,maybe the tunning point.

  15. Frances Archer November 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by to mention your experience. Did you see the writeup from Dr. Gonzalez, who was a resident in 1960 at the TB Sanitarium? I’ll send you an email separately to check out whether you’re willing to be interviewed about your experience. Thanks.

  16. Lori Fitzgerald September 5, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    I stumbled across this site during research on the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium. I discovered my great-grandfather died there as a patient in 1943 and am so curious what it was like to live there.

  17. Frances Archer September 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Lori, thanks for stopping by and saying hello. I am also curious what it was like to have been a patient, and I guess it depends on the patient’s condition and age, and what year it was. Some people have surprisingly good memories of their time as a patient at MTS and of course others never recovered their health. I think the stories I received from adults who recall a parent was hospitalized are truly sad, as they could only see their parent from a window. I am hoping to launch a separate site just for the MTS and I think that will make it easier to get more information. soon.

  18. June gallagher February 9, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    My mother spent several months at this sanitarium when she was a young child in the 1920’s. The only comment she ever made was that it was fun; an adventure! I would like to get official dates that she was there and of the living conditions of the children. Thank you for your research.

  19. Frances Archer February 11, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Thank you June for stopping by. Unfortunately, I have no idea of where you could get dates. I don’t know where the records were kept and since the Sanitarium closed so long ago, they would not be on computer. But from the photographs I’ve seen, it might have been fun for children who were healthy enough to be active.

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