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.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


I love it when a plan comes together--or in this case, a nagging question gets answered.

One of the items in
the Herbert Merton Greene Collection is a photograph of the 50th reunion of the Class of 1904. There stands Herbert, back row left, staring off into the distance with his haunting eyes. The rest of the people in the photo are identified by title and last name: Mr. Russell, Mr. Couch, Mr. Shelley, Dr. Wilson D.D.S., Mrs. Plumer, Miss Jones, Mrs. Walton.
When we first looked at the list of graduates from University of Oregon Medical School in 1904, only Greene's name matched up. Once we realized that one was clearly identified as a dentist, we were able to confirm that Ellis O. Willson did indeed graduate, from the North Pacific Dental College, in 1904. NPDC went on to become, eventually, the University of Oregon Dental School.

But what about the others? If one was a dentist, perhaps some were nurses? Unfortunately, the Multnomah Training School for Nurses, predecessor to today's School of Nursing, did not begin until 1910. Master's students? The UOMS catalogs did not list any master's students during those early years.

I thought this was a dead-end until I remembered that we have early alumni lists from the University of Oregon itself, original parent institution to our university. Bingo! Mr. J.O. Russell received his B.A. in 1904 and went on to work at YMCA; Mr. Leslie E. Crouch earned his LL.B. degree from UO in 1904; Ralph S. Shelley parlayed his 1904 B.S. into a Forest Service job; Mrs. Lulu Holmes Plummer earned her B.A. but went on to a (presumably contented) life as a housewife; Miss Louise Jones and Mrs. Pauline Walton both received B.A. degrees and then went into teaching.

One mystery down. What is infinity minus one? :-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Modern perspective

I think a lot of people forget that we here in HC&A handle not only the old stuff, but current OHSU history as well--today's breaking news may be tomorrow's research paper. Yesterday afternoon, we received a fabulous donation: a VHS tape of planning information for the South Waterfront property (complete with a color label featuring an artist's rendering of the tram). We have a small collection of materials related to the Waterfront Campus and the tram, mostly ephemeral pieces like news clippings and flyers (including the anonymous April Fool's Day flyer announcing that tram funding would be furnished by beer sales at either terminus).

If you think about it, how do we know about McLean's will and the splash it made (see yesterday's post)? It's because a contemporary saved those news items and donated them to the collections here, where they were organized into searchable categories, stabilized through preservation photocopying, and made accessible to interested researchers. How do we know the years he worked at the Medical School and in what capacity? Because we have the complete run of school catalogs from that period of time--1887 through what should be the present, but isn't, mainly because the School of Medicine has gone to an electronic-only catalog.

How will the researchers of 2056 be able to reconstruct events of 2006? We're doing all we can to make sure that the materials donated to us are saved for future generations. We count on donors to help us in that endeavor. So, a hearty thanks to all you who have given and you who may yet give!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More McLean

Apparently, A.J. McLean was as interesting to his contemporaries as he is to us (well, us in HC&A). The disclosure of his will after his premature death in 1938 resulted in what the Oregonian called "nationwide publicity." The Oregonian itself felt the need to publish a full-page spread on February 5, 1939, titled "Story Behind the Strange Will of Dr. McLean." The will read, in part:

"To 95 percent of Portland's medical practitioners and their ethics and the whole local organized medical profession, [I leave] a lusty, rousing belch;
To Portland's thieving patients , the haphazard care they will receive for their chiseling tawdriness;
To my name, oblivion..."

The reporter on the 1939 story felt that he had debunked the rumor of McLean's suicide through his own research and interviews with people who knew McLean. Although McLean may have willed his name to obscurity, the rumors continue to swirl.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Working on a mystery

Last Friday, August 25, Library staff had the opportunity to see some of the glass lantern slides from the collections projected on our recently donated Bausch & Lomb Balopticon. We all saw for the first time some images that remain unidentified and undated. One of these was a view from the top of (probably) Emma Jones Hall, looking southwest to the crest of Portland's West Hills. On the hilltop: huge, Hollywood-esque letters spelling out RICHFIELD. One of the audience members has been doing a little research to see if she can solve the mystery, so stay tuned!

Other never-before-seen (at least not by us) images included three shots of what seems to have been early disaster response training: actors with medical conditions pencilled on their foreheads being attended to by earnest young men and women of the medical professions, all set in actual (or exceedingly life-like) rubble. The clothes and vehicles suggest a date of 1940s or 1950s, but where would the rubble have been? Was this a Medical School exercise? In cooperation with the City of Portland? Or were these merely training shots which accompanied a speaker's lecture on how-we-did-it-good-elsewhere? If anyone is interested in taking a look at these to see if they can crack this mystery, just let us know!