Category Archives: 1930-1949

Citizens Hired as Guards for Patients and Prisoners

I got an interesting email yesterday from John Drews, who relayed a part of the Morningside story I’d never heard before.

“Many years ago I interviewed a gentleman in Fairbanks who had worked as a Deputy Marshall in Alaska during the territorial days. He told me about criminals and “others” that would be held in the jail until court hearings could be held. This could take up to a year at times because of the traveling justice.

When they had folks that were to be transported out of Alaska, they would advertise that any honest civilian wanting to go to Seattle could hire on as a temporary deputy to assist on the trip. They would transport criminals and the “insane” together and many times had to keep them all in restraints. He told of one man who had to be strapped to a cot for the entire trip because of his insanity and violence. The trips were made from Fairbanks by stage or later by train and then onto a steamer bound for Seattle. He never mentioned Morningside by name but it is pretty clear now.

The fellow I interviewed was a Deputy Marshall there in the 30’s & early 40’s, he later joined the Fairbanks Police Department. I was employed at FPD from 1975-95 and was interested in the early history of the department and did the interview for that reason.”

After doing a little research on, it was apparent that this practice started very early on. The following article is from December 17, 1908 edition of the Fairbanks Daily News.

FDN 12171908


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More Death Certificates Online


Nearly 300 more death certificates are now available in the Morningside Hospital Research Archive. Once again, we have Eric Cordingley and David Anderson of Portland to thank for these invaluable records. I’m sure they’re on a first name basis with everyone who works at the State of Oregon Archives. Thanks to Eric and David’s dedication and persistence, there are now approximately 500 death certificates posted in the Research Archive.


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Mamie Ball

[image title=”nome_1900″ size=”full” id=”1117″ align=”right” ]The city of Nome was founded on April 9, 1901. By the end of the decade, there were 20,000 residents, most of whom were starry-eyed optimists convinced they were going to strike gold on the beaches of Norton Sound.

Mamie Ball and her husband Harry were two of the gold-seekers. Harry died in 1927 but Mamie lived in Nome until she was committed to Morningside in 1941.

Her death certificate was among those posted on the Records Archive earlier this month. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, there was a note written on the back of the Oregon Death certificate that detailed her death soon after her arrival in Portland.

[image title=”Ball, Mamie Note 2″ size=”full” id=”1124″ align=”center” ]

The other interesting aspect is that there are two death certificates, one from Oregon and the other from Washington. It appears that the Oregon certificate, filled out soon after her death, was corrected by Eliza Scott, her sister. Mrs. Scott lived in Seattle and took Mamie’s body there for burial. Apparently, the Washington death certificate was needed to do that. The death certificates and note can be found here. [Download not found].

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Death Certificates Posted on Records Archive

[image title=”Carlson, Gustave-1″ size=”full” id=”1107″ align=”left” ]More than 200 Oregon death certificates for Morningside patients are now available in the Morningside Hospital Record Archive. You can find them here.

Thanks to Portland residents Eric Cordingley and David Anderson for their many trips to the Oregon State Archives in Salem and for scanning all of these documents. Their continued commitment provides a rich source of information for families of Alaskans sent to Morningside.

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Morningside Hospital Record Archive

Morningside Hospital sent monthly and quarterly reports to the US Department of the Interior that contain a wealth of information about the patients. Our goal from the beginning was to make this information available to families and researchers.

The first installment, which includes 200+ monthly and quarterly reports, can be found here: Morningside Hospital Document Archive

Some basic information about this set of records:

[image title=”Pages from 17-citing-records” size=”full” id=”1093″ align=”right” ]

  • The Archive is in Google Docs and you will need a google/gmail account to access them.
  • These records are from the National Archives II in College Park, MD. If you use them in an article or book, they are from Record Group 126 and please use the NA II standards of attribution: [Download not found]
  • The files are indexed by year and month.

And let’s all take a moment to thank Marylou Elton for her countless hours scanning these documents, and many more. Thanks, Marylou!

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What to do with the criminally insane…

Article by Marylou Elton

Downloadable documents related to this post can be found at the end of the article.

Morningside Hospital was not a prison.  In 1917, Dr. Henry Waldo Coe was proud to note that the new “Parole Home” had “neither bolts, bars or restraining screens”.  “Without doubt”, wrote Coe, “the humane phase of our non-restraint at Morningside, aids greatly in the large percentage of recoveries at Morningside, the records showing, as on file in the Department (of Interior), the largest percentage of recoveries of any institution in the United States, the value of the change of climate, of course, being the greatest factor therein.”

But what was to be done with the criminally insane?  Those who were repeat violent offenders or committed multiple murders?  The law at that time was clear that someone found insane at the time they committed a crime could not be convicted of the offense.  The law also stated those found insane in the Territory of Alaska should be sent to an institution designated by the secretary of interior (Morningside Hospital) – where there was a danger of them being discharged upon recovery or eloping.

By 1917 the issue was coming to a head.  Several individuals convicted of criminal offenses and sent to Morningside escaped and then went on to commit additional crimes.  A discussion of the problem can be found in letters between Dr. Coe, Alaska district judges in Valdez and Juneau, and the departments of Justice and Interior.  Dr. Coe’s letters deny any carelessness on the part of Morningside and note that criminals escape everywhere.  The judges lobby for a change in the law that would send those found criminally insane to facilities where adequate lock-up could be provided.  Read More »

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Native Tubercular Children

Three children were admitted to Morningside on September 16, 1930 from Riverton Sanitarium in Seattle. They all had tuberculosis and no mental illness or other disability. They were sent to Morningside by the US Department of Education and arrived with no records of any kind.

The picture below is from 1931. The caption sayes, “Native tubercular children. These children are cared for in their own department at Morningside Hospital.”

[image title=”tubercular children” size=”full” id=”1065″ align=”right” ][Download not found] from 1932 indicate that Bertha Koenig was 9 when she arrived at Morningside after spending 4 years in Seattle hospitals. Her family was from McGrath and the record notes that her father was white and her mother Native Alaskan. Her prognosis was, “poor for recovery. Duration of life uncertain, perhaps a few years.”

John Mosquito was 5 when he was admitted. His record noted, “We have never learned from what part of Alaska this child came, nor the names or where-abouts of his relatives, if any.” He had the same prognosis as Bertha.

In 1933, the National and Alaska American Legion demanded that the children be moved elsewhere. F.S. Fellows, the medical director of the Alaska Medical services, summarized their criticisms and demands in a [Download not found] to John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Dr. Fellows recommended that the children remain at Morningside. We have no information on the eventual outcome.

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Ivor and Nancy Johnson

[image title=”nikiski churchjpg” size=”full” id=”761″ align=”right” ]Nanwalek resident Nancy Yeaton contacted me wondering if we had information on her grandparents, Ivor and Nancy Johnson. She said that they had breakdowns after watching helplessly as two of their children died in a horrific fire in Nikiski. After the fire, Ivor and Nancy were sent to Morningside Hospital and the children (2 boys and a girl) were sent to the Jesse Lee Home, an orphanage in Alaska, and then to California during the war. Nancy, named after her grandmother, never knew her grandparents.

[image title=”Ninilchik School” size=”full” id=”759″ align=”right” alt=”Ninilchik School” ]Nancy’s uncle, Alan Johnson or Lindstrom, was also sent to Morningside for a short period for evaluation. Nancy would greatly appreciate any photos or information on Ivor, Nancy and Alan.

Here’s what we know (from Department of the Interior administrative records) about Ivor and Nancy:

Nancy Johnson (patient #1785) was committed from Seldovia on January 27, 1939 and admitted to Morningside on February 10, 1939. She was born in Alaska and of Russian and Alaska Native heritage. Nancy was 31 when admitted and was diagnosed as having dementia praecox and depression. One record noted that she had insulin therapy at some point during her stay at Morningside Hospital.

lvor Johnson (patient # 1952) was committed at Kodiak on October 14, 1941 and admitted to Morningside on November 14, 1941. Ivor was born in Sweden and was a carpenter. He wasn’t a citizen but had been in the US for 20 years, 10 of them in Alaska. He was committed because of loss of memory and an inability to care for himself. He had positive blood and spinal Wassermans and an advanced case of general paresis.

They were both listed as still being at Morningside in 1955.

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Patient Court Records

Researchers Niesje Steinkruger and Meg Greene, both of whom are retired Superior Court judges,  have made incredible progress is locating and documenting Morningside patient court records. Below are photos of some of the things they’ve found with descriptions provided by Niesje.


[image title=”Subpoena” size=”full” id=”705″ align=”left” ] This photo (L) is of a subpoena given to the Federal Marshall by the Judge. Subpoenas were issued for the alleged insane person and the witnesses. Summons were also  issued for six jurors. All persons alleged to be “insane and at large” had a 6 person jury trial.



[image title=”Probate Docket Book” size=”full” id=”712″ align=”right” ]This (R) is an example of a Probate Docket book from Ketchikan. Inside are records of Estates, Guardianships, Adoptions and Sanity court cases.


[image title=”Ketchikan Docket Book” size=”full” id=”725″ align=”left” ]This photo (L) is an example of a page from a Ketchikan docket book from 1953. The amount of information varies from date to date and location to location. Some have entries with basic information only. Others have complete verbatim documents and testimony summary.


[image title=”Nome Court Vault” size=”full” id=”729″ align=”right” ]This photo (R) is of the vault in the Clerk of Court Office in Nome, Alaska. The vault was barged to Nome during the Gold Rush.

We found the Probate Docket books in this vault. The Probate Docket books have entries for the sanity proceedings from the late 1800’s to 1960.



[image title=”Inside Nome Vault” size=”full” id=”732″ align=”left” ]This (L) is the inside of the vault in Nome where historical files, journals and dockets were kept. In early days, gold was also kept here.

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Clara Simpson

Tom Ralphs contacted the blog wondering if we had any records indicating that his grandfather, Tom Shea, was at Morningside. When I wrote back that I didn’t find anything, he mentioned that his grandmother, Clara Simpson, was sent there in the 1940’s, and he had information on her life that he was willing to share. Here’s Clara’s story…

[image title=”claratom1″ size=”full” id=”672″ align=”right” alt=”Clara Halferty Shea and Thomas Robert Shea, about 1907″ linkto=”” ]Clara Halferty was born in March 1887 in Brighton, Iowa. She married Tom Shea in 1907 and they adopted a daughter, Myrtle. In 1915, the family moved to Alaska where Tom took a job working on the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Clara immediately fell in love with Alaska.

(Photo Right: Clara and Tom Shea, circa 1907)

Tom and Clara divorced in 1916 and, over the next 20 years, she worked as a prospector and mail carrier, and she married three more times (including once more to Tom Shea). In May 1929, she visited family in Iowa and regaled family and friends with stories about her life in Alaska. A story about her in The Newton Daily News illustrates her adventurous spirit and self-reliance:

[image title=”bear2″ size=”full” id=”676″ align=”left” alt=””Clara Shea with Humpback Grizzley, Alaska”” linkto=”” ]“My first experience driving a dog team turned out badly. I hitched 7 dogs to a sled. A quarter of a mile later, the dogs, sled and myself rolled 150 feet off the side hill. I attempted to straighten the tangled harness when the dogs broke loose and headed to camp.”

(Photo Left: Clara with Humpback Grizzly, Alaska)

Read More »

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