Unearthing the history of a Minneapolis sanatorium

A little less than 100 years ago, this group of unsmiling jesters and grim-looking clowns gathered at Hopewell Hospital for this haunting Halloween photo. Any celebration that followed was likely fairly somber. Because it was held on a quarantine ward.

Hopewell Hospital was the Minneapolis tuberculosis sanatorium. Situated in an isolated industrial quarter of the Camden neighborhood, the hospital looked out over city workhouse, the garbage “crematorium” and the brickworks on the Mississippi River.

Established in 1907, the facility housed the city’s tuberculosis sufferers, who were seen as an acute threat to the community. A bacterial infection that attacks the lungs and is easily transmitted through air droplets, tuberculosis was a common and deadly killer in these days before life-saving antibiotics. It spread easily in the overcrowded quarters of American urban neighborhoods; tens of thousands of Minnesotans died from tuberculosis.

Thanks to the recent outbreak of Ebola, Americans are grappling anew with the question of quarantine. Though less common today thanks to widespread vaccinations and highly effective antibiotic treatments, the practice of quarantine was widespread in 1917, when this image was likely created. In the United States, local governments had imposed quarantines since the 18th century. Starting in the late 19th century, federal authorities had played an ever-larger role in this process, focusing their efforts on quarantining individuals with tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, plague and yellow fever.

These patients were separated according to their malady. Minneapolitans with smallpox were brought to a facility located in present-day St. Louis Park. Hopewell treated tuberculosis patients until 1924, when Hennepin County decided to bring all sufferers of this disease under the same roof at Glen Lake Sanatorium in modern-day Eden Prairie. The Camden facility was re-christened Parkview Sanatorium and continued service as a public charity hospital until the building was eventually razed.

A Halloween photo from the closed ward of a TB sanatorium may be the stuff of nightmares. Or inspiration for a new gothic novel by Ransom Riggs set in the post-industrial landscape of the city’s North Side.

But this image ultimately seems more poignant than terrifying. We have no way to know the fate of these revelers and whether they survived their encounters with this deadly bacteria.

Hopewell Hospital is gone, is foundations buried under North Mississippi Regional Park. Next time you amble along this part of the river, think about these forgotten Minneapolitans and the myriad connections between the living and the dead in our city.

The photo is from the Hennepin Medical History Center at Hennepin County Medical Center via the Minnesota Digital Library. The detail from the 1914 plat map of Minneapolis is from the Minneapolis Collection at Hennepin County Libraries Special Collections. Special thanks to librarian Ted Hathaway for providing Historyapolis with a high-resolution version of this image. 

Kirsten Delegard is director of the Historyapolis Project, which is part of the history department at Augsburg College. The Historyapolis Project seeks to bring fresh attention to the history of Minneapolis and is working to unearth stories that can explain how the city took shape. During 2014, Delegard is compiling an inventory of historical resources pertinent to Minneapolis with the help of a team of students and citizen-researchers associated with the Historyapolis Lab. For more details visit our website at www.historyapolis.com. This project has been made possible by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which is administered by the Minnesota Historical Society. Find it on FB at www.facebook.com/TheHistoryapolisProject