11 October 2002

Young Australian visits Mayo Clinic in 1924. Lost letters found!

In 1924, my 24 year old maternal grandfather was asked to accompany a family friend to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Australian doctors advised the trip for an illness plaguing his friend, Bill Treloar of Tamworth, NSW.

Drs William and Charles Mayo were among the first to use a team approach in medical treatment. Having pioneered the medical specialties and the sharing of medical records, the Mayo Clinic's fame had spread, even downunder.

The young Australians' trip of 5 months took in Tahiti, California, Rochester, New York and London, returning via Suez and Perth. The letters excerpted below lay ignored for almost 80 years until I sought them from my uncle Bill Gracie in Muwillumbah, near the Queensland border. A bank teller, Harry Gordon Gracie later became ANZ manager in the Riverina, Hunter and New England regions. The letters are addressed to his family in Artarmon, just north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (which had yet to be built). They will interest modern medicos, being a young man's observations of a famous medical institution in a period of great change in our profession.

Hotel Campbell, Rochester, Minnesota

23 Sept 1924

My dear mother,

Rochester, Minnesota is where the Mayo Bros are and where I hope Bill will get fixed up. The first part of our long journey from Sydney now over, we are resting for a little while. Bill is attending the clinic, so far with good results. He was up at the Clinic again this morning and when he returned we took a car without a driver to see the sights around the town. The total cost for the hire of a Ford Coupe, nearly new was 9/- so we consider that is dirt cheap.

The Mayo Clinic here just keeps the town. It is a marvellous place with 300 doctors employed all under the direct control of the Mayos. The people flock to them in thousands every day. The town lists its population at 13,000 while there are always at least 25,000 in the place. Of course it is full of hotels and hospitals and cripples of all sorts abound. It is a pitiful sight to stand outside the clinic and watch the hundreds pouring in and out, the whole time suffering from every known form of disease - and some, I suppose, unknown. And they line up in queues to wait their turn. It puts one in mind of Hickson's Mission but on a much larger scale.

The American scenery is very fine their cities large and convenient - their people are all only too willing to explain anything to you and take you about when you come to their home town. But everything in the place is artificial. They talk and think of nothing else but the almighty $ and the shortest way to pack up a stack of them. There is nothing substantial about the places we have so far seen in San Francisco and Los Angeles. They are all jerrybuilt homes and buildings, put up in quick time.

We are both well. Bill is brighter than previously by a long way - while I have put on 5lbs since leaving Sydney!

Often I would give a pound for a long iced lager. One can get lots of spirits in this place - and good stuff too I believe - but not for me, thanks! Everyone laughs at the Prohibition laws here and they drink hard.

[and a subsequent letter ...] after a little over a week Bill is ever so much better - the doctors have now finished their examinations of him. They put him on a diet and he finishes the course today. On Friday next he goes back to the Clinic and has his final instructions. We are hoping to leave then to continue our trip on to Buffalo and New York.

Yesterday called into a stud farm of Holstein cattle owned by the State Hospital. It is a wonderful affair. The patients are all mental cases and they milk 150 cows twice a day by hand. The milk is used in the hospitals around. The bails are enormous as they bail all the cows at the same time and they always go to the same bail. Their milk is tested every time. Last night I went to a village dance in town with some girls from the hotel. They are nurses from the clinic. Bill went to bed.

We have just about seen all there is to see in this place as an old chap who devotes his life to wheeling patients about for the love of it has taken a great fancy to us. Johnny McBride, the "Angel of the Wheelchairs" at Rochester has shown us all over the town. One day he took us to the basement of the Colonial Hospital and from there through a subway to the Kahler Hotel. We went up to the top and saw all over the city from the 14th floor. The Kahler is a combination affair. The basement is set apart for nurses, rest rooms, etc. The first floor is lobby and offices the next six are hotel then to the roof is hospital. In a corner of the roof garden are four operating theatres and while we were up there one of the theatres was in full swing and was full of doctors watching the operation. From the roof we went back to the basement and then more subways to the Damon Hotel across the street. It is practically wholly devoted to hospital uses. More subways from there to the Clinic which is 3 blocks away from the Colonial Hospital where we entered so you can imagine how far we travelled underground.

In Italy all roads lead to Rome but in Rochester all subways lead to the Clinic. From the Clinic I went to St Mary's Hospital by jitney. This is the largest surgical hospital in the world under one roof. You can imagine the size of the place when there are fourteen operating theatres in it. They are all fitted with a gallery for onlookers and the largest of these theatres has a gallery built of marble leading up from the main floor and operating table, that will hold 240 people - and which cost $60,000. One doctor alone did 20 goitre operations in a single day.

St Mary's is run by Catholic sisters and it is here the Mayos' do all their own operations. In fact they refuse to operate elsewhere. They are Protestants but when they first commenced practice in this place these Sisters helped them so much that they stick to them now.

Then there is Worrell Hospital where a lot of the X ray work is done and also the contagious diseases. There are 9,000 cases in one month of one disease alone. These are only a few of the hospitals that keep this place alive. There are also the Curie, Samaritan, Zambro and many others. In fact the town is full of hospitals, drug stores (as they call chemists shops) and undertakers ... not forgetting hotels.

The country around here is the best and prettiest we have yet seen in the States and the weather is all one could wish for.

We are having a great time here and Bill is the best he has yet been although he still has to keep to the vegetarian diet. He does not think he is coming home with me but will stay in England for 3 or 4 months and then come home.

[and a subsequent letter after reaching London ...] I am having a good time here in London but Bill is in dock again. It is nothing serious but he was not improving as rapidly as he thought he should. He attributed it to the old trouble with his nose and so saw a specialist here who advised an operation to remove a septum from the back of his nose. This prevented the normal use of his nostrils and matter was being swallowed and perhaps poisoning his stomach. He went into a private hospital on Sunday last and was operated on last Monday morning. He was pretty sick for a couple of days but yesterday and today has been as fit again as ever. He thinks so too which makes a lot more noise than what I think as now it is only a matter of his mind over his ailment. Hospitals do not exist in the heart of London and I have a long way to go to see him.

Yesterday we had a London fog. It is all we have heard of it and more. To see anything you have to get right on top of it. I went out to lunch at 1.45 and the street lights were on and also the electric signs and the lights of vehicles. It was just like night with gusts of the soupy stuff called fog all around. Bill has been advised to get out of the cities until his nose is quite healed again so he will not now come to Paris with me but go straight to Cornwall. I shall join him down there after seeing Paris and the battlefields of Flanders and Belgium. I will then stay in Cornwall for Xmas and N. Year and come back to London to catch the "Ormonde" on 3rd.

Bill is slowly improving I think but will take some time to regain his normal health and I do not think he will return much before our summer next year, 1925.

Submitted by Andrew Byrne ..

View full text of Harry's letters here