Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium Grounds Tour Highlights

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We had a great time yesterday on the tour of the grounds of the former Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium on the North Side of Chicago. Perfect day for walking in the footsteps of local history and discovering the beauty that was hidden behind the green fence from 1915 to 1974. Our group included some longtime blog readers, plus former residents of the area who contributed their recollections. It was a lot of fun and we’ll do it again in the spring, if you missed this one. The MTS grounds tour is a free program offered through the North Park Village Nature Center. We appreciate using their cozy meeting room to gather our group.

Some good questions came up. One participant asked how long did people stay at the sanitarium. I was told by one former patient that she stayed for two years. A doctor told me that one patient in 1960 had lived there for 30 years.

administration building

The administration building is in the background as we view the men’s dining hall from the south-facing side of the building. Today these buildings are connected by an above-ground tunnel, an addition made after the sanitarium was renovated for its current use for senior apartments.

We confirmed that patients could not leave voluntarily if they tested positive for TB. One participant mentioned that even today, local (not sure if that is Chicago or Cook County) hospitals have the legal right to retain patients who test positive for TB.

deer_on_walkway

We had to take a detour and pass by one of the highlights of the tour, a remnant of the covered tunnel that connected all the buildings. This buck was chasing a doe and looked like he meant business. He’s standing right next to the paved walkway that covered the underground tunnel. You can see the decorative brick border just under the buck’s head. These tunnels connected all the main buildings of the sanitarium and were used by staff to travel  between buildings in bad weather and to transport laundry and food carts.

Peterson_Park_fieldhouse

The Peterson Park fieldhouse was added after the sanitarium opened in 1915.  It served as the morgue. I don’t know what year this was built, but I wonder if it was built around the same time as the auditorium.  Both buildings have a white decorative border just under the roof, and no other surviving buildings have this treatment. Again, note all the windows; every structure at the sanitarium was designed to provide fresh air for the benefit of both staff and patients.

service building

This is the south-facing side of the service building, where the receiving dock was located.

We also commented on the expert craftsmenship so clearly visible on these buildings. Although the architects’ plan was considered simple at the time, in efforts to appear that they were not wasting taxpayers’ money on a fancy design, to our eyes the buildings look beautiful and highly detailed. Decorative terra cotta tiles, seen above the door on the left, are used on many of the buildings. Some of the tiles depict the Chicago “Y” symbol, while others show animals. The rounded window on the left looks out from the former men’s dining hall.

Unless families of deceased patients made other arrangements, all burials took place at Montrose Cemetery, across from the Sanitarium’s entrance at Pulaski and Bryn Mawr. Coincidentally, the landscape designer for both the Sanitarium and Montrose Cemetery was O.C. Simonds & Company. Simonds also designed much of Graceland Cemetery and Morton Arboretum.

Infirmary buildings

In the background is the H-shaped infirmary buildings. The building on the right side was the hospital, which provided all types of medical and surgical treatments to TB patients, and included a maternity ward and nursery. On the left is the men’s wing, where patients who were confined to bedrest were housed. The above-ground tunnel was added after the sanitarium was closed.

It’s amazing that this corner of Chicago has so many connections with major events and people in Chicago history.

Frances_and_Jim_Cash

Frances Archer and Jim Cash on the tour of the former Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium grounds.

Photography credits: Thank you to Jim Cash, pictured here with me, for documenting the tour and giving me permission to share his photographs. All photographs except the first one are courtesy of Jim.

Acknowledgements: I greatly appreciate all of you who attended the tour and those of you who take time to participate in this blog. It is a group effort. By sharing our individual memories, we all learn more about the place where we came from.

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38 Responses to Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium Grounds Tour Highlights

  1. Christine Hancock November 6, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    I cannot wait to take this tour in the spring!

  2. Frances Archer November 6, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    Thanks, Chris. Looking forward to doing it again.

  3. Judith Stetina November 6, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Sorry to have missed the tour. I am very interested in learning of the history.
    Is there any way of learning the names of the patients? Years 1945-1946.

    Thank you—hope to take part in the next tour !

  4. Frances Archer November 6, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Judith, Sorry, I don’t know if the records were stored or where. I hope you can join us on the next tour. I will add your name to my list to notify you when we set a date.

  5. Roger Cohn December 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    In the mid 1980’s my mother won a lottery for an apartment in the Petersen Park Fieldhouse. The walkout doors to her apartment are visible at the right edge of the picture. She lived there until she died in 1996. At one point she was the vice president of her floor & had a lot of fun doing that job. We visited her on Sundays, but never got to see the nature center because it was closed on Sundays. A friend of mine lives a short distance from the complex, & on several occasions has called me while walking his Beagles through the woods. He is ever on the alert for Coyotes, as I’m sure my mother would have been.

  6. Jacqueline February 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I really appreciate your blog posts about the MTS. My father was in one of their facilities in the mid 1950s when he was 8 years old, but not this main one because he was too young. His facility was at California and 31st Streets. He said it was a horrible place and that the top 3 floors of the 5 floor facility were abandoned. It sounds more like a prison than a children’s hospital. I am having trouble finding any information or pictures of that location. He said that as of about 10 years ago it was still standing and doesn’t know if it still is. Have you come across anything referring to that place?

  7. Frances Archer February 28, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi, Jacqueline. I don’t have the information on hand right now, but I can look it up and I will post information on my blog that is devoted just to remembering the Municipal TB Sanitarium. http://chicagomts.wordpress.com/ There were a number of facilities around the city. However, this sanitarium did take babies and infants and was the first facility in the United States to have a nursery. But it may have been fully occupied when you father was young. There was often a waiting list.

  8. Carrie March 26, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Before they tore down the guardhouse (which was about a quarter of a mile from the now-fieldhouse on what was turned into a trail in the nature center) I explored it with a few friends. In retrospect 11-year-old kids should not have been wandering in, the place was filled with graffiti and probably none too stable. I found a petrified rat and what looked like a large pile of hair trimmings. We were too scared to try the stairs to the second floor, which is surely for the best.

  9. Frances Archer March 26, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Carrie, a number of people have told me about exploring the grounds after the Sanitarium was closed. You’re right, it should have been better secured. They did have a barber shop on the premises; I wonder if that’s what you found.

  10. Margaret Goins April 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Ms. Archer – You are my first point of contact. I am trying to get information about my one and only first cousin. Her name was Mable Armstrong and she was at the Tuberculosis hospital in the mid-1960’s. I’m attempting a geneology of our family and can find neither hide nor hair of her existence. I believe she passed away in the late 1960’s. All of her maternal parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles (my dad, James Milam, and uncle, Robert Milan) are deceased. Her mother’s name was Lilly Love (nee Milam), I believe Mable’s birth name was Sterling. Can you just direct me as to where I can find information about her. All I have of her is an old polaroid snapshot and a letter or two where she had written to me on April 7, 1967 from the Sanitarium.

  11. Frances Archer April 14, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Margaret, I’m unable to provide much help. One of the areas that I haven’t been able to cover relating to the Sanitarium’s history is what happened to patient records. Given that it closed in 1974, the records would all have been paper files. The Chicago Department of Health might be a better first step, although keep in mind they did not run the Sanitarium. Good luck with your search.

  12. Margaret Goins April 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Thank you so much. At least it’s a start. I’m now close to the 65 mark, retired and have time to start my searches.

    If you’d like, I can keep you abreast of any information I get.

    Again, my thanks to you.

  13. Frances Archer April 15, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Yes, please stay in touch and I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

  14. Kathleen Gibson July 3, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    My grandmother, Bridget Carroll, was placed in the sanitorium in 1932 where she remained until her death in 1943. This was a terrible tragedy for the family. her husband had already lost his first wife to TB and Bridget’s diagnsis left 6 children at home, the youngest who was 5, and another who was disabled. My Dad would talk about taking the streetcar from his south side neighborhood, often alone, to visit his “Ma” on Sundays– when she was well enough to have visitors. She was not there voluntarily but, given the potential for spread of infection and lack of treatment, they understood why she had to go. This was not unheard of in their crowded, south side neighborhood. Even children were removed from homes and placed in this quarantine facility.

    The year following her death, effective antibiotic treatment was developed and soon the need for such facilities dramatically decreased. How blessed we are.

  15. Frances Archer July 7, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    Kathleen,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear that your grandmother had such a long stay and apparently never recovered enough to be discharged from the sanitarium. Stories like your remind us what a terrible disease this was. I’ll send you an email to get permission to write a post with your story. Look for an email in a few days.

  16. Marena July 7, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    Hi, I believe my parents met working at the Sanitarium in the 1940’s. My father had duties related to the grounds and my mother took a nurses aide or practical nursing course there. They met on the grounds and married within two years (perhaps earlier) in 1947. They then left Chicago. I would love to get employee records to help document their earlier years. They have both now passed away but I listened as I grew up to the story of them meeting at the “San” and of work there and the good people who worked there . My mother was very fond of the patients. Do you know where those employee records might be? I would love to take a tour of the grounds if we are able to get there next time. We are not in Illinois now, but do get there – Your blog has been the richest source of this bit of Chicago History I’ve found electronically. Thanks. It has been very special seeing pictures of part of my parents story.

  17. Frances Archer July 7, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    Marena, thanks for finding me. I don’t know of the city having employee records dating back that far, but I do offer tours a couple times of year through the North Park Village Nature Center, and it’s possible I could meet you there at your next visit. Let’s stay in touch — you can reach me through the contact form on this site. Have you seen the website I created just for the Sanitarium? If not, here is the address for it: http://chicagomts.wordpress.com/. I will follow up with an email to you.

  18. Carol Darlington Boberg November 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    The grounds were very beautiful and in my younger days, once the hospital was renovated into housing units, I took several bike rides through the grounds. Being a “sensitive” I unfortunately picked up some very dark feelings! It may have been the thoughts and feelings of those who passed on the grounds. A darkness surrounded me and I left as quickly as possible? Some people may find this strange but I know there must be others who picked up the same thing. This is not a negative comment because my experience is unique. The grounds are spectacular and definitely worth seeing! I would highly recommend it for most people!

  19. Frances Archer November 14, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    Thanks Carol. I have heard similar comments from others about the Sanitarium. It’s ironic that the Chicago Park District actually made it the site of the annual Halloweeen Haunted House for many years. It’s as though they were taking seriously all the fears neighborhood kids had for years.

  20. Michael Kowalski February 20, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    In the early eighties I explored a large building on the South side of the property. In the basement I found hundreds of cardboard boxes filled with patient records.
    I found medical history & treatment plans all hand written dating back to the 40’s. It was really creepy down there and smelled of wet cardboard .
    From there I went into the attic only to find disassembled hospital beds & a functional owl’s nest.
    I also explored every room in the building. It was a good place to scare the heck out of you.

  21. Patricia Marino Pluta October 21, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    Very interesting. I was born there on Feb. 2nd, 1949. My Birth Cert. says that my Mother was there for 7 months before my birth. I would love to know when the next tour is happening.

  22. Frances Archer October 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    Patricia, I will post an announcement for the next tour, but it will be April 25, 2015. I will probably do more than one tour in 2015.

  23. Dan Moore December 13, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    Hello Frances,
    I am very sorry it took me so long to get back to you. In case you have forgotten me, I spoke with you several years ago and I shared some of my experiences with you. As a refresher, I was a patient at the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium from June 1955 until August 1956. On the same day I was discharged, I started working in the Bacteriology Lab under Mr. Yosh Takamuri and Dr. Robert Thompson. I worked in the lab for 10 years
    (1967).

    I’d like to be notified about the next tour. I am very interested in resistering for that event.

  24. Pam Scanlon February 10, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

    Hello Frances, I’ve read through this very educational/interesting site, after watching, on PBS, a new documentary titled “Tuberculosis, the Forgotton Plague”.
    My grandmother passed away at MTS about 1942. I would love to attend the next tour April 25. Please e-mail me info (at your convenience). Thank You Much! Pam Scanlon

  25. Frances Archer February 11, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    Pam, thanks for visiting and telling me about the PBS doc. I hadn’t heard about it and will try to track it down. We will make the announcement about the MTS eevnt sometime in March.

  26. Margot Aguayo March 24, 2015 at 1:37 am #

    I had some dealings with the MTS and none were medical. My aunt had been a patient there in the early 1960’s. I wasn’t allowed to visit her, because, at the time, I was too young. She recovered and was discharged. The second time (s) was between 1969 and 1972. I had gone to Loop College (now Harold Washington) and was a Speech and Drama major. The students, several times a year, put on plays for the patients, usually musical comedies or variety shows, in the auditorium. We all enjoyed putting on the shows and it broke our hearts to see so many people as sick as they were. The last was I had worked for the City Department of Health, in Social Hygiene, in the early 1980’s. The lab tech I worked the most with, was named Virginia and had been a lab tech at the MTS. She and a number of the older doctors told me that there were a number of positions that you had to have been exposed and survived TB, in order to work there. Hers wasn’t in her lungs but in the bones and muscle tissue in her back. She had surgery to remove the diseased areas and was one of the early patients that used antibiotics. A lot of patients worked at the MTS after their cure, because not too many places would hire them.

  27. Frances Archer March 25, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    Hi, Margot. Thanks for stopping by and providing this background. I’m very interested in hearing your experiences, as many of the people I’ve interviewed recalled much earlier years. I will follow up with you via email.

  28. Phineas Moore August 22, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    I was a patient at M T S from September of 1957 to April of 1959. I was looking at my old news paper and saw the article. I do not how I missed it. I would love to take the tour. Let me know when the next one is scheduled. I great memories about the Hospital.

    Thank You
    Phineas Moore

  29. Frances Archer August 30, 2015 at 10:05 pm #

    Sorry for the delay in responding to your message. I will be sure to send you a message when the next tour is. Also, I will send you a note shortly to request an interview about your recollections of the MTS. Thanks for visiting.

  30. Robert faber September 6, 2015 at 7:28 pm #

    I would also like to know when the next tour is….

  31. Gregory Redfeairn December 7, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    Thank you for doing this blog. I was born at M.T.S. in 1961. My father also was there in the early 1980s. For many years I’ve taken my family to the Nature Center and walked with a friend and his dog on the grounds surrounding the condo development. I’ve told people what little I know about the history. However, I never knew about the tour. Please let me know when you are doing another tour.

  32. Frances Archer December 10, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    Thanks Gregory for visiting my blog. Would love to have you on our next tour. It will be sometime in the spring.

  33. Joan Cisneros October 8, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    My grandmother Marie O’Dea spent many years in the “Sani” in the late 30’s and early 40’s. She died in 1946 leaving behind 3 young children, one being my daddy who would take us to the “gate” and tell us stories of her. I would welcome information about any events/tours that are offered. Thank you

  34. Frances Archer October 9, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    Hi, Joan, I currently don’t have any tours planned but I will certainly let you know when I do.

  35. Jim Czerwinski October 21, 2016 at 7:24 pm #

    My wife and I would be interested in taking the TB sanitarium tour.Are you conducting any more tours this year? We’ve seen the old buildings and the nurses quarters when the old building was vandalized and set on fire. Contact me please.

  36. Frances Archer October 27, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    Jim, no plans for tours this year but I hope to offer one in the spring.

  37. Jim Czerwinski October 27, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    Dear Ms. Archer, We’ve seen the green houses back there where the patients gardened. We are members of the NPVG and remember the painters shack, the underground tunnels and the entrance that was buried by the greenhouses. It was a sloped wide pathway going down on a 45 ° angle. We remember the file cabinets with the index cards scattered all over the floor in the nurses building. Just to mention a few memories of MTBS. Jim Czerwinski.

  38. Frances Archer October 30, 2016 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi, Jim: I’ve heard that there was a root cellar under or near where the greenhouses were located — maybe that is the entrance pathway that sloped downwards?

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