Last week, research team member Niesje Steinkruger visited Denali Center, pursuing a lead from the Elders and Youth Conference. She provided the following report on her visit:
Eddie R., patient #1524, admitted 9/26/33 to Morningside from Ruby, Alaska, also known as “Eddie the Pig” was the reason for my visit to Denali Center today. The name “Eddie the Pig” was related to us when someone from Ruby recognized his name at the AFN conference and said they remembered calling him that as a child. When asked why the elder said it was because his mother used to always watch the pigs and then she had a baby that looked like a pig! The same person said that Eddie’s brother was living in the Denali Center (a nursing home in Fairbanks).
Don Thibideau, a saint, is the social worker there and he helped me. He talked to L.R. and arranged a visit for me today. L.R. is 89 years old. He has been in Denali Center for 37 years! His speech is difficult to understand but he is very alert when he listens and talks.
When I asked him about his brother “Eddie” he told me that Eddie went to the hospital in Portland before he did! So you were in the hospital there? Yes. Don said he thinks that this is true. L.R. had polio and says he was raised by the doctors and nurses. He carries an “MR” diagnosis and was at Morningside, Harborview (a now closed facility for people with developmental disabilities) in Valdez and in Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API).
When asked who took his brother Eddie he said “the cops came and took him”. He said that Eddie stayed home with his mom and she didn’t want him to go. He said that “Eddie was ahead of me at the hospital” and “he died there”. He said “I was a paperboy at the hospital” and “there were lots of fights there”. He told us that in fact there were horses and pigs in Ruby when he was a child. When I asked L.R. how he went to Portland to the hospital, by airplane or boat, he said “by airplane, boat takes too long”. Then he asked me what happened to the steamship “Nenana”? I told him that it was now in a park and kids could visit on it.
L.R. said that Donald Stickman took him to Galena when he went to Portland to the hospital. He said “how come you asked me those questions” and I told him that I had read about Eddie and was interested to know if he knew about him. He said yes, he was one of his brothers and named the others. He said that when he was at Valdez he got mad and threw a broom. Then he asked me if I had brothers and I told him about my brothers.
Don was wonderful and helped me understand L.R. when he talked. I told L.R. I was going to Portland and asked him if he would like a picture of Eddie’s grave if I could find it. He held out his hand and said “give me the picture”. I told him I would come back and visit and he said “when”?
Eddie R. we thought perhaps had Downes Syndrome because of the cruel nickname. The December 1941 Quarterly Report from Morningside provided the following information on Eddie: “Age 10, Mongolian idiot. Shows rather typical mental make-up and physical signs of above form of idiocy. Is vivacious and active but very difficult to care for. Has developed active pulmonary tuberculosis.” He died on November 8, 1941 at age 20 and is buried at Greenwood Hills Cemetery.
Don said that there was another patient at Denali Center that had been at Morningside hospital and he died a couple of years ago. Don said that he has a stack of his drawings. He was from Shismeriff. Don said he recalled some of the drawings were of animals, some of revival meetings when missionary types went there and he remembered them, and some of the drawings were of a hospital he had been in. Don said he would find them and show them to me.
L.R. and Eddie’s sister is still alive. I will find her and chat with her to see what she remembers and if she ever went to visit.
What a day.