Friday, September 01, 2006

Where there's smoke, there's fire

There is a lot of smoke in the air on Marquam Hill today; with extremely low humidity, hot sunshine, and strong winds, it's definitely fire weather. It puts me in mind of the fire that destroyed the downtown school building, necessitating a rapid relocation to the brand new space atop Marquam Hill (commonly known as Mackenzie's Folly back then).

Olof Larsell gives the brief history: "The old building, on Twenty-Third and Lovejoy Streets, was destroyed by fire on May 29, 1919, during the process of moving to the new structure. This building had been a fire-trap for many years, and the school had maintained considerable insurance against loss. The money collected helped materially in buying equipment for the new plant." (The Doctor in Oregon, p. 375)

One of our oral histories actually captures an alumnus' recollection of this nearly ninety-year-old event. Dr. Eugene Gettelman was born in 1908 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but relocated to Portland with his parents when he was quite young. He reminisces about May 29, 1919:

"I had become interested in medicine through an incident that happened in my boyhood, so I never doubted that I wanted to be a doctor. One day, when I was maybe seven or eight years of age, I heard a big noise, heard a lot of fire trucks passing by; and, as was the occasion, as young kids did, we always followed the fire trucks, and right around the corner there was a very big blaze.

In Portland, on the corner of Twenty-third and Lovejoy Street was a very old, old building, a red, wooden building, that was known as the University of Oregon Medical School, and that building was just awash in flames and fire equipment and water spurting all over the place; and they had taken out of the anatomy lab all of the tables with the bodies covered over, and hundreds of anatomical specimens lining the streets. There were brains and there were livers and there were fetuses. It was really an exhibition that the whole neighborhood enjoyed for several hours, until the officials got things cleaned up and the fire put out. I trace my interest in being a doctor to that particular day, and it has never wavered."

If you're interested in what else Dr. Gettelman had to say about his eventual schooling at UOMS or his career in medicine during the first half of the 20th century, you can check it out--literally--from the Main Library. See the catalog record for more information.

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