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New book highlights Valmora Sanatorium

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By Editha Bartley

One of the lesser luxuries of life way out here in the country is getting a Sunday newspaper on Sunday. A friend and neighbor knows this and often drops off his copy of the Albuquerque Journal on a Sunday afternoon. I am reading the book section and discovered a “hot off the press” book signing was about to take place in Albuquerque. “Images of America, Sanatoriums of New Mexico” by Richard Melzer and a forward by Jake Spidel Jr. is dear to my heart, naturally.

Yes, I was born and raised in a tuberculosis sanatorium, as many of you readers know. I hurried into Tome on the Range and Judy ordered me a copy, which came within a week. And each of my three kids now get a copy, because yet again this is a historical record of your heritage, kids.

The paperback book is 128 pages of photographs and text that very accurately describe this eventful era in our history.

The 10 chapters are black and white photographs rich, with text that record the routines, the treatments, and a picture of the patients’ daily life as he or she “took the cure.” I turned to page 88 and there is a picture of W.T. Brown, my grandfather, and Carl Gellenthien, my father. In just six pages of photographs and descriptive texts our Valmora Sanatorium history is written. Yes, that is the Valmora you see on road maps, just four miles east of Watrous. One of my favorite photographs is of the Santa Fe Super Chief, stopped by our Valmora Railroad station, with the Valmora sign on top of this little station/building. This was a flag stop on the busy railroad, with many patients of ours brought to Valmora by train from Chicago or Los Angeles.

“Hovels, Haciendas and Housecalls” by Dorothy Simpson Beimer is quite a tribute to my father, and this book is a great reference about tuberculosis and much more. Melzer and Spidel give her credit, along with many others in the acknowledgement page:  “A large army of incredibly helpful historians, archivists, and librarians assisted in the writing of this brief history of TB sanatoriums in New Mexico.”

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only published history, with so many photographs of doctors, nurses, staff, patients, and the great buildings, including cabins and big hospital buildings that made up these towns, communities of consumptives, lungers, TB patients.

I’ll bet most high school students anywhere in this country today don’t even know what tuberculosis is. Yes, sweet brother Bill and I could spell tuberculosis by the time we hit third grade. That is what happens when one grows up right in the middle of a TB sanatorium complex.

Remember, always, aseptic technique is more important today than it ever was. TB sanatoriums are now only history, but the dreaded tubercle bacillus is still alive and well. Every third world country has pockets of tubercular patients and they do come to this country. Wash your hands, kids, and don’t share cups, eating utensils, or towels. That’s my lecture for today!

Editha Bartley lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.