Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mystery with a surprising conclusion!

Walking into the Old Library Building on my way into work this morning, I stopped to examine the Scientia Medica Continuet motto--about which I now know so much more than I did last week. Standing there atop the steps, I saw something I had never noticed before: the faint outline of letters once affixed to the facade, just below the motto and a band of patterned stone. If you look very carefully at the bottom left of this photograph, you can just make out some of the traces left by the signage.

After a long period of staring at it, I decided that the old sign must have read: "University Child Clinic." What??!! I thought. When was this building ever used as a children's clinic?? And who would have called it the University Child Clinic, rather than the University Children's Clinic? That's just bad grammar....

To get independent verification (because my eyes are getting old, really), I dragged the Archivist and our volunteer out there to squint up at the spot. Sure enough, they saw what I had seen. Now, the hunt was on: I need to determine when the clinic existed and where.

I started with the Historical Image Collection: Did any of our photographs of the building exterior show the sign when it was in use? Not a single one, even though we have two folders of such photos. I had to abandon the search to turn my attention to other things, and assumed I'd pick up the trail later.

Shortly before noon, however, a rather exceptional thing happened. We got a visit from the chair of Medicine here at OHSU, Dr. Lynn Loriaux, who was showing his young son around campus. As they were leaving the History of Medicine Room, I offered to walk them out, to show them this ghostly lettering. Dr. Loriaux says to me, "Oh, yeah, you know what that's from?" And I said that no, I didn't know, and it was driving me crazy!

Well, as we walked out to see it, Dr. Loriaux explained that in the 1990s, OHSU rented out the entire Old Library/Auditorium Building to a film crew, who used it as a hospital exterior. The sign they posted read "University Child Clinic." I asked the obvious: What was the movie called? Loriaux couldn't remember; "Must not have been very good," he said.

So, that's a reminder for me and historians out there everywhere: just because it looks old and mysterious doesn't mean it is!

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