Julius Marks Sanatorium: Reminiscing my childhood years 1944-1946

Julius Marks Sanatorium

Reminiscing my childhood years 1944-1946

by Edward C. Shaw, Jr.

Our country's involvement during WW2 meant nothing to the little 5 year old boy living with his parents, an older sister, and a baby brother. The year of 1944 seemed no different than the one before as far as he was concerned. He cared only about his neighborhood pre-school playmates and the activities they shared on Pensacola Court in Lexington, Kentucky. His parents' home was one near railroad tracks which were on a slight hill just behind the backyard. He cannot remember any bothersome noises, but does remember seeing flatcars being pulled in long strings behind steam locomotives, each laden with war materiel. The tanks, jeeps and trucks, even wingless aircraft fuselages were stacked piggy-back fashion as the flatcars sped by .. clickety-clack, clickety-clack. That little boy was me, and I remember much. Now, in those days I had only just started to school. Because I was not yet of public school age, and because one of my best playmates was of Catholic family, it was arranged for me to attend school at Ste. Catherine's Academy with Johnny Gray. The religious notions of attending a parochial school weighed lightly on my parents' minds apparently, for they probably thought that all schools must be more or less the same. As it happened I was not differentiated as far as I can remember, and I was taught to act and perform the same as all the others. I recited, 'Hail, Mary' along with the rest, and dipped and genuflected with the best of them, and at my tender age of 5 years I felt not a worry in the world. The basement cafeteria at Ste. Catherine's is well remembered, with the smell of fresh bread, steamed food. And, I recall the strawberry, chocolate, or banana flavored B-B-Bat taffy suckers. I recall Sister Edna Maria enunciating the Alphabet Cards .. K-K-K sound for Kite. Whenever we heard a siren in the streets, down we knelt beside our desks to utter our pleas for the safety of any in danger of fire. It didn't help in the case of one classmate, Ernie Welch, son of a prominent Lexington physician. The boy had foolishly been playing with matches with another friend, and was caught up in tragedy that cost his life. Our class attended his funeral at St. Peter's within walking distance. It was my first experience in seeing a kneeling bench and smelling the fragrance of the swinging sensor. But, within the first few months at Ste. Catherine's, I was whisked away to Julius Marks Sanatorium. So, I will not dwell further on my school days among the Catholics.

The weather was cold. Thanksgiving had come and gone. My family had no car at the time, but daddy once rented a pea-green coupe automobile for a short period. It was about this time that mother sat me down in the kitchen to talk about a health problem discovered in me. I felt fine as I recall, but it seems there was something called Tuberculosis, and I was being considered for admission to one of two places for treatment. The term 'Fresh Air Camp' was meaningless to me, but I pictured something with tents. Reasoning that it was too cold for camping out, I recall that mother spoke of another alternative - a sanatorium, or sort of hospital, where I would be indoors with other children. So, I jumped on that when she asked which would I prefer. It was a place called "Julius Marks Sanatorium," and I was being considered for admission there. I had not the slightest conception of what it was all about, but it wasn't long before my mother and daddy drove me to this new place, and taking my hands in theirs we walked up to the front entrance and were admitted into a waiting room. After some preliminary talk with a nice old lady nurse, I was let out of doors to play on the front walkway while my parents continued to talk with the nurse and the doctor inside. It seemed an interminable length of time, and I was getting cold. The date was sometime in early December. I can recall that because we had already seen Thanksgiving, but there were no Christmas decorations up at our house. In those days people only started their decorations a week or ten days before the actual arrival of Christmas Day; not nearly so crass and commercial as today. Snow had fallen heavily earlier on the walkway out in front of the large residential hallwhere I was to live. It didn't really look like a hospital, but rather a largish mansion. The cold was biting although it was a bright clear day now. The rental car was parked immediately out front in the great curved driveway that approached from one entrance into the grounds down by the highway, passing in front of the children's residence, then continuing on past Doctor Murray's quarters to another gateway letting out onto the same higway. My parents were still in consultation inside, and I felt quite alone and forgotten while stomping around in my leggings and galoshes, with mittens, and ear-flapped cap pulled down snugly and snapped securely under my chin. I could see and hear other children yelling and playing way out in back of the building. But, I could see no walkway toward them, only deep snow across the spacious field-like yard. It was a dejected little boy that wandered about while waiting for his parents to remember him. But, suddenly there came from around the opposite side of the residence on an unnoticed sidewalk a smallish boy about my own age by the name of Billy. He asked if I was going to be a 'new boy', to which I answered that I was. Then, he said that I may as well follow him to the backyard where all the others were playing. I did, and Billy led me a circuitous path around the building and down a long walk which had been cleared of snow all the way to the far outback of the property where the other kids were located. There were lots of big pin oak and black walnut trees, and one was a gigantic dead hollow bole, rising about 25 feet above the ground. Later in warmer weather, that hollow tree would be the source of much child's play and adventure. I cannot recall noting all the features about the snow-covered yard at the time of my first arrival, but I recall that it was later we were all called in from playing. My mother was still there, but my father had gone back to work, later to return for picking her up. It was a “Great Room” where all the kids played. I was taken by Nurse Coates, and accompanied by mother, to the lower floor dormitory and shown where I would sleep. There were eleven boys and eleven girls as patients at Julius Marks. Since each room could accommodate only ten beds in the room, one of them had to be a double bunk bed, one over the other. It was to this 'other' that I was assigned, and it rested above the bed which was against the front wall of the dorm closest to the Nurse's own private room. My bed, therefore, was immediately adjacent a plate glass window of her room from which she could peer into the boy's dormitory from time to time. Many were the times that I found myself startled at the face of Mrs. Jones when suddenly the curtain would be jerked aside not a foot from my nose. The boy's dressing room was lined with lockers for each one, and fronted with a long bench. Next door to that was the bathroom with two toilets, two lavatories, and one large shower stall having spray heads on opposite walls to accommodate two-at-a-time. It was a frosty few steps in winter between the shower and the dressing room with only one's bathrobe about him. It amazes me that I recall one of those toilet rims was rather sharp around the inner edge, and it tended to bite a slight ring around my backside and rear of my thighs. I never liked sitting on it, and I always tried to get there while the other was available for use.

Now, I had completed a cursory process of 'checking in', and was directed back to the Great Room, from where all the children were now called for supper into the dining room, just straight down the hallway from the front door, and past the kitchen. The door to the rear of the house was also there, as was the door to the basement. But, now supper awaited and the children were seated at four tables, two for boys and two for girls. The nurses and any guests dined at their own table beside a window. That first evening meal was stewed chicken and dumplings. How could I possibly remember that?! My mother was there, and had to explain to the cook that my food preferences for the 'birdie' of the chicken ... meant the white meat. By the time supper was over mother was gone and we children were removed once again to the Great Room for listening to radio programs for kids ... Firefighters, Dick Tracy, and Superman. The Great Room was real entertainment. How easily it comes back to my mind's olfactory senses the smell of steam radiator heat. There was actually much to do. Although I was not exposed to the entire assortment of activities during my first days, I recall the brown linoleum floor, the two large tables, but no chairs for us kids. We sat on the floor. There was one rocking chair for the nurse on duty, and the piano bench. Mrs. Jones was the boys' nurse, and Mrs. Coates was the girls' nurse. They alternated nights on duty. One or the other was always there, except I can recall the occasional substitute and visitations of doctors and nurses from the mainhospital later on. These were the ones who administered whatever shots and regimen of medicines we required. Mrs. Jones read stories to us, and Mrs. Coates occasionally played the piano for us while we skipped animatedly around the linoleum hallways to the lilting melodies of Arkansas Traveler and Going Home to Indiana. There were always jigsaw puzzles, comic books, coloring books and crayons, checkers and jacks. I recall girls braiding hair for one another, boys followed the leader over tops of tables and through the rocking chair arms, balancing on one foot then one foot and one hand, and pitching wadded paper balls through a hole cut out of cardboard over a trash can. Can you imagine then, the capture of great water bugs along the baseboards of the walls, and keeping them in a box until discovered by the nurses. We got whacked on the palm with a foot ruler for stunts like that. Once a week, each child was issued a nickel from a small manila change envelopes from home with which he could extract a candy bar from the lever-action Canteen candy dispenser machine. It had a mirror on the front, and separate windows for about eight or ten varieties of candy bars. My favorite choice at the time was Oh Henry, but I recall Snickers, Milky Way, Power House, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, Bit-O-Honey, Forever Yours, Hershey, and Almond Joy. The Canteen man came to refill every month, and we cajoled him into other varieties just to have something different. It was a matter of great concern and interest for the boys at least, since we got to see the inner workings of this wondrous machine. Margaret was not an especially pretty little girl, but she liked Oh Henry candy bars the same as I did. It was after school and after lunch on a Wednesday that we were allowed to purchase a candy bar before taking our naps, after which our parents and visitors would be arriving. For some reason I was up in the cloak room of our school before the parents arrived. Sitting on a side shelf beside Margaret's tablet was the remains of a partially-eaten Oh Henry. I had not elected to buy a candy bar of my own, and suddenly I was stricken with dire hunger. I quickly finished off the half-eaten bar left by Margaret and concealed the wadded wrapper in back of some books on a shelf, then retired back downstairs to the Great Room to await my parents. It wasn't too much longer during their visit that I spied Margaret talking to Nurse Jones with a sad look on her face. As it happened, Margaret's family was not able to visit that day, and so she was invited to 'share a Mommy", as was common practice in such case. Was I ever miffed to watch while the adoptive Mommy pulled out a whole dime to permit Margaret to extract TWO Oh Henry candy bars, one in each hand, and to go parading around the room while wielding the two candies in the faces of all the boys (knowing that no girl would filch another's candy). I wheedled another nickel from my own Mommy for the purpose of getting another bar later after she had gone. But, when I reached up to insert the coin, it fell straight through to the coin box inside without allowing me to make a choice. Nobody saw it happen, and no amount of complaint to Nurse Jones would convince her toissue another nickel from my own manila envelope. I was too little then to rationalize that the good Lord had just thwacked me one with a ruler. In this same Great Room we were treated to Sunday School in the morning after breakfast. One woman always played accordion, and we sang all the well remembered children's songs .. Wide, Wide as the Ocean, Jacob's Ladder, and This is My Father's World. I think it was an evangelical troupe from something akin to the Layman's Committee of Lexington Churches. Yet, it sufficed for eleven boys and eleven girls to try maintaining themselves within the good graces of Our Maker ... or else. 

The occasional fractious boy, or even a rebellious girl, found themselves before the inquisition in the form of Nurse Coates. Today, such a treatment by a nurse toward a child would result in instant dismissal, no doubt. But, in those days it did not hurt a child who was resident in Julius Marks Sanatorium to be placed on the top steps of the dark stairway behind closed doors, leading down to the mysteries of the basement where it was rumored that ... alligators were loose. I learned my first four-letter words at Julius Marks, much to my parents' chagrin, but it didn't matter by the time I left the place. Four-letter words were forgotten and unexplained anyway. But, thanks to my lucky stars I was never put behind that closed basement door for using bad words like Carl once had. He was there a whole half-hour, so whatever he said must have been a doozy.

Schooling was a major part of our lifestyle at Julius Marks. All twenty-two of us children between the ages of 5 and 12 (1-6 grades) were taught by Mrs. Caldwell, a darkhaired lady of about 30 years of age I should guess in retrospect, and she wore glasses. She was wonderful. She read us stories; George McDonald stories about Curdie and the Princess, and the Goblins. I searched for years to rediscover those stories. Our school was a proverbial one-room school. The pencil sharpener was affixed to the desktop of the oldest boy, John. It was always he that helped us younger ones to put a point on our broken tips. We acted out plays in class, stories from literature. We had class projects and murals, each being assigned some portion to complete. Mrs. Caldwell was still living in the early 1980's, and it was she, or one of the nurses, perhaps all of them at once, that took us on field trips out into the real world beyond our residence hall. I recall a hike down Price Road to Leestown Road and back. We were taken to Transylvania College at least once to see student stage productions of Jack and the Beanstalk, and I think The Wizard of Oz. We went to see the Barnum and Bailey Circus set up in the stock yards nearby off Thompson Road. We occasionally would take walks down Georgetown Road to Douglass Park to play with other kids. We had our own play yard, sand box, swings, and seesaws. There was even a swimming pool we anxiously awaited for opening in warm weather. The pool had to be swept clean of scum and algae, and the myriad frogs which had gathered before we could be admitted to splash around. We stole pears and apples and peaches from the fruit trees on Dr. Murray's compound. A wild cherry tree in one far corner of the property was a favorite haunt for the kids to sit around under, a bit out of sight of the nurse's window of our residence. But, soon she would send a cook or the gardener down to see what was going on. In fall all of us kids gathered every acorn we could manage, and filled nearly three bush-els. Not the puny little things they call bushels today, but real bushels with wire handles, and they overflowed with the acorns we gathered. These were for the squirrels to feed on during winter, and we were rewarded with a huge sack of candy to share in return for our thoughtful Labors. Summer once again, and one of Mrs. Jones' favorite enterprises was shelling fresh peas from the hospital garden, and we all helped. Or, we snapped and stringed beans, or husked ears of corn. A great black maple provided a spreading umbrella of shade, so cool under the beating heat rays of the summer sun. We experienced a season of cicadas during my stay at Julius Marks. The hard and brittle split shells of the emerging cicadas from the ground could be found clinging to the barks of the trees. The noisy buzzing was a mystery to us all, but the grounds-keeper caught one and showed us. It looked just like a giant housefly. 

One building adjacent to our own residence was the staff nursing cottage. It was really a dormitory of rooms for the nurses who maintained the main hospital at Julius Marks. The summer of 1945 one nurse was being married, and we all witnessed her dressed in white gown with her friends and attendants around her on the lawn out front. She gave roses to all the little girls of our group, and chocolate bars to all the little boys. Many ofthe boys made friends with many of the girls over sharing of those chocolate bars later on that afternoon. Meals must have been regular sort of fare that kids readily ate. Our cook's name was Maud, a black lady that today would fit the description of Aunt Jemima. She often had extra boiled eggs, or boiled potatoes left over from meals, and which Mrs. Jones would permit doled out for snacks if anyone was sort of hungry. Mrs. Coates wouldn't do that. It was not so much that Mrs. Coates was a strict nurse, but she seemed an entirely too by-the-book sort, and had a lower tolerance level for a boy's enthusiasm.. as if the girls were any more sedate. But, she could really play the piano well, and would let us do chopsticks with her. Doctor Edward J. Murray was the superintendent and chief physician of Julius Marks, having a home of his own nearby on the grounds. He served in that capacity for 38 years. It was he that came occasionally to visit, to listen with a stethoscope while thumping our chests, to have us stretch in certain fashions, and to peer into our eyes, ears, and throats, and examine the copious notes kept on each of us in our records by the duty nurses. We were innoculated occasionally for whatever, and also dosed with medicines and tonics. By and by, some kids left earlier than others, but mainly it went by seniority, and we inched our way from locker to locker until we got close to the number ONE locker. As one kid left, another would arrive. Some were a problem right away; homesick, resentful, or arrogant, but it all seemed to work out. Jerry was a new arrival, and he brought with him a big model airplane, complete with a big wind-up propeller. It was too bad that the plane was not permitted for keeping. Big things were not allowed, and I recall that I couldn't bring a large teddy bear either, yet I did have a smaller olive-green stuffed monkey with a long tail. I lost it out of doors once, but it was found in the bushes after several rainy days. Maud had to wash it and let it dry before giving it back to me.

Our parents, as well as other family and friends, were able to come each Wednesday and Sunday. I can always remember Mama coming, and most Sundays Daddy would also come, as would my sister Betty Jo. I cannot remember my baby brother ever having been brought, but he had to have been there. The couple of times that Mama could not come on Wednesday for some reason were always filled in by a visit from Aunt Callie or Aunt Mamie. Sunday visits with all of us present invariably would take us to a nearby restaurant for a hamburger when Daddy did not have access to a car. During the war years gas was rationed, and a lot of people used the bus. Two close-by roadhouses are fondly remembered, both for having jukebox music, and I especially liked playing "Down Yonder" a couple of times or more. At one of the places I became familiar with a novelty toy called a Dancing Dan. It was a jointed wooden doll figure suspended by a long handle from out its back, and he danced on a spatulate long wood slat, one end you sat on, and the other which you tapped under the doll's feet to the rhythm of whatever music you had available. I've never seen one of those toys again since. One of these restaurants also had a few sundries and notions, and there my Mama bought for me a bottle of red hair oil, a comb, and a cheap metal ring with a red stone in it .. the kind which could be fitted by adjusting the bands. Another possession I had was a small New Testament red- letter edition Bible, and it is still in my possession to this day. It may, though, have been presented by the church troupe which served us. Holidays especially were much anticipated and fondly remembered. We had great Easter Egg hunts, with real dyed boiled eggs, cellophane wrapped baskets with paper-mache bunnies standing up in the middle, and visiting friends and parents. Valentine's Day came with cake and ice cream and homemade valentines stuffed in a square cracker boxcut with a slot to stuff in the envelopes. At Halloween, we got to Trick or Treat Dr. Murray's home, the nurses residence, and the groundskeeper's house. Christmas was a special delight, of course. Our one-room school teacher coached us all in the annual Christmas play which we acted out on visitor's day, although this time it was after supper and dark outside. I got to be an elf dressed in a brown costume for both the Christmases I was there. Katie was Mary, and John was Joseph, and we sang Angels We Have Heard On High. We had a gigantic tree which we decorated all by ourselves, with wadded tinfoil balls, colored construction paper chains, threaded popcorn strands, lead icicles, and some of those bubbly Christmas lights now making a comeback. Everyone got presents, at least 2-3, but I have no idea whether from home or a more local source. After the parents were gone, we were hastened quickly off to bed, and each night would find us uttering our prayers in unison. Yet, it would be another half hour before our whispered calls to one another would finally go unanswered as one by one we drifted off to sleep. Yet, adventures of derring-do abounded among us, and I can remember several episodes of cringing under my covers, hoping not to be caught participating in such shenanigans. Billy Anderson, Elsie's brother, once climbed out one of our dormitory windows in his underwear after we had gone to bed. He had the intent of gathering up several snowballs for throwing to one another. He got caught trying to come back in, not being tall enough to reach the window from the ground. Someone had to call the nurse. Another boy exited the one-way fire escape to make his way to the ladder, and thus to the second floor girl's dormitory. There, he was admitted and then fled downstairs to his own bed before the giggles and hub-bub upstairs roused the nurse from her own room. Still another kind of smart aleck kid, Carl by name, thought that mooning his neighbors was great sport, until the duty nurse stole up behind him and thwacked him across his derriere with an aforementioned ruler. Jimmy Lewis got homesick. So much so that he ran away and somehow managed to catch a bus by telling the driver he was lost from his parents and didn't have a nickel to get across town to where he lived. It worked insofar as getting downtown for a transfer to a neighborhood bus. But, he was missed at muster and an allpoints-bulletin was issued by the duty nurse. By the time Jimmy was about to step off the bus for home, the police .. accompanied by his mother .. were waiting at the bus stop. Jimmy was hustled straight back to the residence hall, and was not permitted to listen to the radio adventure stories that afternoon. Listening to the radio adventure programs also gained for us a knowledge of what cereals and soaps were most desired. Kellogg's Pep was a war time cereal that sponsored some of our kiddie programs. All us boys were constantly inquiring if any new cereals contained 'premiums' within them. One of the favorites was punch-out paper airplanes that would fly, or metal buttons with faces of Dick Tracy or Captain Marvel to be pinned on our shirts. Then, there were paper tattoo transfers that came off in the shower. We were occasionally permitted to send away for 10c or 15c code rings, or secret magnifying glasses. Even my own sister had got her very own Whistling Ring from sending in aHot Ralston box top to Tom Mix radio program. I can remember singing the jingle theme of that program to this Day: .."Shredded Ralston for your breakfast, starts the day off shining bright .." For other entertainment besides the radio programs we listened to, our school teacher arranged for the occasional feature movie. Buffalo Bill was one I recall. We also had a magician come to visit one time. Norma Jean Cheak was a tallish girl, wearing high-top brown leather shoes, not at all vogue wear for a lass of 6 or 7, even back during the war. She stole Elsie's shoes, and hid them up in our school room out of sheer jealousy. Elsie's parents had to bring another pair of shoes before the others were found. I can't recall who finally snitched on Norma Jean, but she got to sit on the basement stairs. The war years at Julius Marks played well upon 22 oblivious children. The only actual recollection of wartime matters involved the time when newspapers blaringly reported dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, we saw the big black headlines, and realized something momentous had happened. Then later came the armistice, and the wars were over. The adults were actually dancing around in circles. The nurses next door were cavorting about the lawns. Horns were honking in the streets. The next day all our parents were there, and it was a party. The only thing we kids new about war came from comic books, and the villains depicted therein. But, Captain Marvel and Superman and the others dealt firmly with the likes of those. All we knew was, something awful had come to an end and our parents were ecstatically happy. Everyone went about with smiles on their faces, and the sun shined brighter. Our daily routines continued, however, and our temperatures were taken and recorded each morning before breakfast. Occasionally someone would break a thermometer by accident or design. Off they would be marched with 50-cents in their pocket from their personal fund envelope, to the main hospital building for locating the supply room superintendent. A new thermometer was thus issued, and the errant child got to see some of the outside world away from under the watchful eyes of Nurse Coates. Thirty minutes to a kid was a lifetime of joy. But, sooner or later came the day of liberation. After a child worked his way from locker to locker, finally to achieve position of Locker Number ONE .. or close thereto, Doctor Murray would go through the rigmarole of examining all children, then return to one or the other, a girl here, a boy there, and say , "I think you are just about ready for dismissal back to your home." There was no party, no special farewell addresses. I can recall others leaving, and my own leaving. It was no more than emptying my locker out into a paper bag, dressing up as best as I could and combing my hair, then being taken out to the Great Room where my parents were waiting. I can't recall at all having said goodbye to any of the children .. just walking out the front door holding daddy's hand. He had borrowed a Model A Ford car, the possession of students living with my parents athome. This was common during the war years. Their names were Jack Twyman and Wally Morgan. But, they weren't to be there very much longer since U.K. would be letting out the next month. Of all the kids I knew at Julius Marks, I can recall having seen just a couple that I was schoolmates with later .. John Lewis and Mary Jo Carter. I wonder what happened to them?; Lady, Robert, Katie, Billy, and all the rest whose names escape me now. Might any of them remember me, or the place we lived and played together for awhile? I recall, still as a youngster, the death obit of Nurse Jones, but cannot remember when it occurred. It seemed within a year or so of my leaving there. Julius Marks Sanatorium! Why is it that I retain such fond memories of that place? It remained active as a Tuberculosis facility for children up until the mid-1950's. My own brother Billy also was assigned there for treatment for a few months. But, my parents were averse to going through such a long separation as in my case. Medical procedures were much improved anyway. To this day, when taking a deliberate side trip to visit the grounds of that old hospital, waves of nostalgia ripple through me and I can hear the children hard at play in the far back yard. After the demise of Julius Marks as a tuberculosis facility, and due at least in part to financial strictures, it was closed by the early 1960's, the property then used variously for a home for unwed mothers, for disadvantaged children services, and sold to a religious foundation. I spent all of December 1944 through April 1946 at Julius Marks Sanatorium, and I once attended a one-room school there.


Edward C. Shaw December 2003