Category Archives: Patient Stories

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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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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Lubova Pontelaief

[image title=”Luba” size=”full” id=”644″ align=”right” linkto=”viewer” ]Aleksandr Hazanov, who lives in Finland, contacted us wondering if we had information about his mother’s cousin, Lubova Pontelaief. She was the daughter of Aleksandr Pontelaief, a Russian Orthodox priest who brought his family from Russia to Unalaska in the early 1900s. The photo  to the right is believed to be the Pontelaief family in Unalaska when Lubova was a child. The Pontelaiefs later moved to Sitka where he served as the Bishop of Alaska from 1934 to 1944.

Lubova Pontelaief was born in 1907 and was admitted to Morningside Hospital from Sitka on June 24, 1934. A hospital quarterly report from 1935 included this information about her:

1550 (Patient Number) Lubova Pontelaiev: admitted June 24, 1934  White.  Russian.  Alaska born.  Female, Single.  Age 27.  No occupation. Dementia precox, hebephrinic form.  History indicates mental disorder existed for about 10 years.  Pc. (Physical Condition) fair.

[image title=”luba grave” size=”full” id=”633″ align=”left” linkto=”viewer” ]Her name appears in a list of patients from 1955, but from there all we know is that she acquired a Social Security Number in Alaska in 1965 and died in October, 1977. At the time of her death, she was living in area code 97217, the Bridgeton neighborhood in Portland. She’s buried in the Portland’s Rose City Cemetery.

Aleksandr wants to know what happened to her after Morningside and who buried her. Please contact the blog if you have any information about Lubova or ideas for information sources we should pursue.

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“Eddie the Pig”

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:

[image title=”BFMH_Denali_Exterior_homepage_web” size=”full” id=”543″ align=”left” alt=”Denali Center, Fairbanks, AK” linkto=”viewer” ]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. Read More »

Also posted in Oral Histories | Leave a comment

Before Morningside

[image title=”220px-Oregon_State_Hospital_1920″ size=”full” id=”531″ align=”left” linkto=”viewer” ]Prior to the Morningside Hospital years, the Department of the Interior contracted for care of Alaskans at the Oregon State Insane Asylum, now known as Oregon State Hospital (Salem).

Between 1901 and 1903, 69 Alaskans were sent to there, 31 of whom were later transferred to Morningside. Six men died while in Salem, including:

  • William Johnson, d.23 Aug 1901 (age 30, b. England)
  • Thomas A. Wilson, d. 9 Jan 1902 (age ___, b. England)
  • Alexander H Carpenter, d. 30 Mar 1902 ( age ___, b. ___)
  • Robert Sweet, d. 9 Nov 1902 (age 48, b. American)
  • Wm. Ukas, d. 24 Jun 1903 (age ___, b. Alaska)
  • Louis Bronson, d. 27 Jun 1903 (age 68, b. Germany)

On January 11, 1902, the Oregon Statesman published Thomas A. Wilson’s obituary. They reported that he committed suicide by jumping from a third floor window. The article went on to say:

“Wilson was committed to the Insane Asylum from Alaska, and he had recently shown marked signs of improvement. When realizing that he was in an insane asylum, he was very much distressed. He had thus far shown no signs of suicidal tendencies, and was generally considered a model patient.”

One of the interesting aspects of this is that the six men who died at the Oregon State Insane Asylum may be among those whose remains are in the copper canisters I wrote about on September 15. Another lead to follow the next time I’m in Oregon.

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Virtual Cemetery

[image title=”grave marker 2″ size=”full” id=”538″ align=”left” linkto=”viewer” ]The Friends of Multnomah Park Cemetery have set up a Virtual Cemetery listing the patients of Morningside Hospital (8 so far).  The links from the name or the burial marker take you to additional information about the person.

The director of Morningside sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior each time a patient died. On March 1, 1937, Wayne Coe sent the following letter to Secretary of the Interior about Joe Falardeau, whose grave is included in the Virtual Cemetary:


Permit us to inform you herewith that our patient, Joe Falardeau No. 1269 who was admitted into our hospital, June 14, 1929 from Cordova died February 26th, 1937. The cause of death was Cerebral Thrombosis. The body was turned over to Holman & Lutz of this city for burial in Multnomah Cemetery.

Respectfully yours,

Wayne W. Coe

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More Patient Burial Clues

A while ago, Robin Renfroe sent us James Ebana’s story, which was posted in May on this blog.  James had epilepsy and was sent to Morningside Hospital when he was 17 years old. He died there on March 21, 1942 when he was 27. She thought he was buried at the Multnomah Park Pioneer Cemetery, but had no way to confirm it or locate James’s grave.

Last weekend, she emailed with good news:

“I will be heading to Portland on Nov 20.  I hope I have found James Ebana’s grave.  I have talked to the cemetery staff and found their website that has a map and searchable database.  So I have found the location of the grave.  I have asked their staff to pull any records related to this and to call me.  Will see what happens.

Here is the website for 14 Oregon Pioneer Cemeteries and where I found the location of James Ebana (Ebeno) at Multnomah Pioneer Cemetery.  You may be able to search here for names.  May also need to use alternative spellings.”

Good luck, Robin! And thanks for the valuable research tool.

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Patient Stories: Pennies From Heaven

By Karen Perdue

The family lore about my uncle said he was taken from a small village on the Yukon River in his childhood because he was acting funny. Actually, my aunt Minnie told me he was hit over the head with a frying pan and was never the same again.  Where did he go, I always wondered?

As I have gotten older, I have begun to appreciate the value of history.  After spending many enjoyable years involved with projects that celebrated the history of Statehood in Alaska, I volunteered to lead a project on gathering the oral histories and documents that pertained to Alaska’s developing mental health services.

The journey of discovery has been fascinating, but I wasn’t prepared for the deep and powerful impact the project would have on me.  I didn’t anticipate we would learn about the people.

Our first discovery was a hand-written list of names of patients at Morningside from the 1920 U.S. Census and, shortly after that, a list of patients prepared for Delegate James Wickersham who, as far as I can see, was a tireless mental health advocate throughout his career.

Then the 1955 list.  I began to recognize family names. One day at a meeting, while on break, I called a friend over to my laptop and pulled up the list, pointed my finger at a name and said “this guy has your last name—ever hear of him?”   What was I thinking!  The reaction of my colleague was immediate and profound.  “That is my brother—and we have been looking for him for decades, said my friend tears streaming down his face.  Later, recovered and thoughtful, my friend asked two questions- when did he die and where is he buried? He and his wife plan to make a trip to Portland to the cemetery where he might find his little brother’s grave. Read More »

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UAF Project Jukebox

The University of Alaska Oral History Program is doing interviews with people involved in the closure of Morningside Hospital, the court battles that lead to the establishment of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and the development of  mental health, substance abuse, developmental disability and Alzheimer’s Disease services. The interviews, plus a lot more, can be found on their website. The following is from the UAF Jukebox site.

“The Mental Health Trust History Project Jukebox offers insight into the long struggle to provide quality mental health services in Alaska from the perspective of people who participated. There is discussion about how the mentally ill were treated prior to Statehood when they were sent to Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon; how in 1956 Alaska Read More »

Also posted in 1950-1960s, 1970-1980s, Morningside Hospital, Oral Histories | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Patient Stories: James Ebana

Contributed by Robin Renfroe, Fairbanks, AK

“James Ebana was sent to Morningside Hospital when he was about 17 years of age.   It appears he had epilepsy and that was the reason he was sent away, a decision probably by the missionaries at the Church Christ Mission.  His death certificate indicates he passed away on March 21, 1942 at the age of 27 years.  The death certificate shows his immediate cause of death is as “Tuberculosis of the Lungs” which he had for 5 months and “Psychosis due to Epileptic Deterioration” for 11 years.  Holman and Lutz was the funeral home and he is buried at the Multnomah Cemetery which is now the Multnomah Park Pioneer Cemetery located at S. E. 82nd and Holgate Blvd in Portland, Oregon.

Kate was unsure where her brother was sent.  She knew the name Morningside Hospital, but thought it was in Washington.  Searches for Morningside Hospital were non-existent.  In 2005 through Ancestry we located his death certificate.

The following is what little we know about James Ebana… Read More »

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