Emerging from the City Hall Subway station, Arnold Springer was momentarily blinded by the bright sun. After the dank air of the rush hour train, the crisp cold air stung his face. He lifted the collar of his overcoat as he sought to get his bearings from the street signs at the nearest intersection and walked briskly to the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of average height and build, Springer blended in with other men, similarly attired, heading to their jobs along the cavernous streets of lower Manhattan. At his destination, he scanned the wall directory in the lobby for the name and room number of the agent who had been assigned to follow-up his complaint, took the elevator to the floor of his office, and knocked on the agent’s door punctually at 10 A.M., January 12, 1953.
Agent Larry Crane opened the door himself, shook hands with his visitor, hung up his coat, and waved him to a straight-backed wooden chair. Seating himself behind his simple wooden desk he picked up Springer’s folder, the only paper on its surface. “You have remarkable credentials, Dr. Springer: Director of the Saranac Laboratory of the Trudeau Foundation, before that, during your stint in the Navy, medical attaché to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.”
“He was a great American whose end was untimely. But he was right about the communist menace.”
Crane looked up, directly at Springer, when he uttered the last two words. Some attributed James Forrestal’s fatal jump from his sixteenth floor room at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1949 to an irrational fear of communists.
When he had joined the FBI after his honorable discharge from the army at the end of World War II, Crane thought he would be investigating bank robberies, murder suspects, and known criminals. He did his job well and before long was promoted to J. Edgar Hoover’s pet project—weeding out Communists. Some of his leads came from reputable sources, like government agencies, and were based on credible evidence, like an employee’s refusal to sign a loyalty oath. His job then was to establish that the employee was or had once been a Communist. Other leads came from private citizens like Dr. Springer. Crane’s first task was to distinguish accusers who had legitimate concerns from those who were carrying out personal vendettas or who had fallen prey to the anti-communist hysteria sweeping the country, seeing a red under every bed. Crane wondered in which category Arnold Springer fit.
He would have preferred investigating bank robberies, murder suspects, and criminals, but weeding out Communists was the path to advancement. Already with wife and young child, he was eager to get ahead. Getting down to Springer’s complaint, Crane asked, “What makes you think the Trudeau Foundation is harboring Communists?”
“They’re out to destroy capitalism,” Springer blurted.
“Who is ‘they’?”
“The Foundation’s Board of Trustees.”
“Have you done anything to stop them?”
“I’ve refused to arrange publication of studies conducted at the Saranac Laboratory and papers from last year’s Saranac Symposium, as they keep asking me to do.”
“And how will publication ‘destroy capitalism’?”
“It will bring some of America’s leading mining and manufacturing companies to financial ruin. What more could communists want?” His voice was louder than necessary.
Crane picked up Springer’s letter and leaned back in his chair. “You wrote to the FBI under the letterhead of the Saranac Laboratory. Your complaint is against the Trudeau Foundation. What’s the relation?”
Pleased that the Agent had read his letter, Springer took a deep breath. More subdued, he continued, explaining to Crane that after the death in 1915 of the Sanatorium’s founder, Dr. Edward Trudeau, the Saranac Laboratory and the Sanatorium were amalgamated under the Trudeau Foundation, “although the Saranac Lab is geographically separate, built adjacent to Trudeau’s home in the village of Saranac Lake while the Sanatorium is outside the village.
“I joined the staff of the Saranac Laboratory after my discharge from the Navy in 1946, and was appointed Lab Director in 1948, succeeding Dr. Leroy Gardner after his death in1946, the position I’ve held for the past five years. Last year, the Trustees rejected my proposal to make the Saranac Laboratory independent of the Foundation.”
“Why did they reject it?”
“I need to give you some more background.” Crane nodded for him to continue. “Since the 1920s the focus of the Trudeau Laboratory has been on tuberculosis while the Saranac Laboratory’s research has been on diseases thought to be caused by inhaling various types of industrial dusts: coal, cotton, silicon, asbestos, and more recently beryllium. The Saranac Laboratory established safe levels of exposure and helped companies monitor dust concentrations and reduce exposures to harmful dusts. Workmen’s Compensation laws, to which the companies contributed, paid workers who could show that their lung disease was work related and prevented them from continuing to work.”
Crane’s father had been a steelworker, and when he was injured and could no longer work, the compensation had been a pittance.
“Mining and manufacturing companies supported much of the Lab’s work,” Springer continued. “With industry support, the Saranac Lab studied low dose and short term exposures to asbestos in animals and found that much lower levels, previously assumed to be harmless, could cause lung disease. My predecessor at Trudeau also discovered that animals exposed to asbestos developed lung and other cancers at a much higher rate than unexposed animals. The papers that I am holding back report these findings.”
Astonished, Crane searched for a rational explanation. “Holding back because the results are different in humans?”
“Quite the contrary. It wasn’t long before asbestos workers began to turn up with the same type of lung cancer. And more workers who had only worked with asbestos for a short time when they were much younger were diagnosed with asbestosis.
“The textbook case occurs in workers who have had a long history of exposure to asbestos, you know, that miracle fiber that will not burn. In the early stages, it’s like T.B., with coughing and shortness of breath. As the lungs get progressively scarred, patients cannot get enough oxygen to their tissues. Eventually, this kills them. These new findings suggest it doesn’t always require prolonged heavy exposure for asbestosis to develop. From the animal studies, it’s not inconceivable that wives and children of asbestos workers could contract asbestosis and asbestos-related cancers through second-hand exposure.”
“What will happen if these findings are published?”
“The courts could allow workers and others to sue on the basis of liability. The companies could go bankrupt.”
“If asbestos is known to be harmful to most people who come in contact with it, the companies that mine or manufacture it could be liable for the harm that it causes no matter how long ago the exposure occurred and even if the exposure was not work-related. So if the wife of an asbestos worker, or his children, or a consumer using a product that contained asbestos, developed signs of asbestosis they could sue the company.”
“Which they can’t do under Workmen’s Compensation. Am I right?”
“Yes, suits based on liability, not on job exposure, do not fall under Workmen’s Compensation. But people can bring liability suits only if their disease occurred after the date when the dangers of the exposure became public.
“Now I see what you’re saying” said Crane. “Once the dangers of asbestos are published, the companies will have a hard time denying that asbestos causes widespread harms. They could be sued out of business. In fact, we’d have to find a substitute for asbestos.”
“Exactly,” confirmed Springer.
“What’s at stake for you if the findings are published?”
“Not for me as much as for the future of the Laboratory and for the village of Saranac Lake.” Crane looked at Springer quizzically. “The companies who support our research will withdraw their support, the Lab will close, more people in the village will lose their jobs. Coming on the heels of the Sanatorium closing”—
—“Is that imminent?”
“Any day. Since anti-tuberculosis drugs have become available, the number of T.B. patients coming to Saranac has dwindled.”
“And if the Lab closes, you lose your job?”
“I have several job offers. My family and I will miss Saranac Lake, but I’ll be earning more elsewhere and still be able to conduct my research.”
“I take it, then, that the Trudeau Board believes the papers should be published in the interests of science”—he paused—“and workers.”
“Yes. They refuse to see the implications for the Saranac Laboratory, for the industries that support it, and for the village of Saranac Lake.”
Crane was sympathetic to the Board’s point of view but did not say so. “Do you have any other evidence of what you see as communist sympathies at Trudeau?”
“My wife told me that Dr. Warner’s wife”—
“Whose Dr. Warner?” Crane interrupted.
“He’s the Executive Director of the Foundation. “Dr. Warner’s wife asked my wife to sign a petition asking for clemency for the Rosenbergs.”
“Did your wife sign it?”
“Are you kidding? Save the life of those commie traitors? I’d give her a good piece of my mind if she did.”
Agent Crane stood. “Well, thank you for coming down to the City, Dr. Springer. You’ve provided some interesting information.”
After Springer left, Agent Crane sat at his desk, reflecting. Dad might have worked with asbestos. He was a member of the United Steelworkers. Yeah, companies go broke, but keeping secrets that can hurt workers…is that the American way? What if I report that Springer is a fanatic and there’s no need to investigate? But then the papers he’s hiding are published and the companies go bust. J. Edgar will want to know why I didn’t follow up, intimidate the Trudeau Foundation to the point maybe of putting it out of business. “No,” Crane said aloud, “I don’t have enough evidence to do that.”
A week after Springer’s visit, Larry Crane was sent on special assignment to the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. to help reduce the backlog of subversive activities cases. One of his first cases was of a high official at the National Institutes of Health who had failed to sign the loyalty oath required of all federal employees. Crane drove out to Bethesda, a Maryland suburb, enjoying the gently rolling countryside in clear, crisp winter weather. Past the town, the scenery changed abruptly, gouged out by NIH’s growing campus. Most of the construction centered around the enormous Clinical Center, Building 10, still a skeleton of steel girders. His FBI badge did not get Crane a parking space; he circled around the Visitor Parking areas until someone left. Then he walked along dirt roads, muddy from recent rains and rutted by heavy construction vehicles, several of which passed him, spattering his briefcase, trouser cuffs and highly polished wingtip shoes. He reached the building housing the National Microbiological Institute just in time for his appointment with Dr. Harold Hungerford, its Deputy Director.
Just under six feet and husky, Hungerford was a few inches taller than Crane. He was working in his shirt sleeves, his rumpled pants held up by broad red suspenders. Taking Crane’s coat, he hung it on the back of the door. “Ahh trust you didn’t have too much traffic comin’ out from the District,” he greeted his guest in a deep southern drawl. Throughout their conversation, Hungerford spoke slowly in a resonant, soothing baritone.
“Not much at all and very pleasant until I reached NIH.” Hungerford followed Crane’s glance as he looked down at his soiled trousers and shoes.
“Pretty messy, but when it’s finished, NIH will be the biggest medical research center in the world.” Hungerford offered Crane a seat and took one opposite. “Ahh hope the matter on which you’ve braved the wild west of Bethesda is an important one. How can I help you?”
Crane snapped open his briefcase and pulled out a single sheet of paper that he flashed in front of Hungerford. “The subversive activities control office at NIH informed the FBI that you have failed to sign the loyalty oath. I know that when you first came to NIH in 1946 no loyalty oath was required, but since then it’s gone into effect retroactively. I believe you were sent the oath to sign?”
“Perhaps you overlooked it or were too busy. If you’ll sign it now, we can cut this visit short and you can go on to more important things.”
“This is an important matter. May Ahh see the oath?”
Assuming that Hungerford’s remark meant he would sign the document, Crane handed it over, agreeing obsequiously. “Yes, it is important.”
When it was first sent to him in the privacy of his office, Hungerford had stared at the oath for several minutes. He could honestly sign it, knowing that if he did, the government would never have grounds for investigating him. Still, he hesitated. A good friend of his, also a prominent physician, had signed the oath, and shortly afterward had signed a petition urging clemency for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, sentenced to death for spying for the Soviet Union. Within weeks after signing the petition he was investigated by the FBI and accused of perjuring himself when he signed the oath. Several leading physicians, including Hungerford, wrote to the Department of Justice insisting on their colleague’s integrity, and the case was dropped. The atmosphere of the country, with Senators like Joseph McCarthy and Karl Mundt and Congressmen like Richard Nixon in full throttle rooting out the “red menace,” was laced with fear. Ten Hollywood writers and directors were fired and went to jail for refusing to say whether they had ever been Communists. Hungerford didn’t like the idea of having to wonder every time he spoke, wrote, or signed his name to a petition, that the government might threaten him. He tossed the unsigned oath in the waste paper basket.
Hungerford studied the document Crane handed him carefully. It was the same as the one he had trashed. “This oath says,” he spoke slowly and calmly, “Ahh am not now nor ever have been a member of the Communist Party or any other organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government by force or violence.”
“Is that not true?”
“Between you and me it is true; I’ve never been. But I’m not going to sign.” He paused. “For a couple of reasons. First, Ahh don’t see what my political beliefs, or affiliations, have to do with my ability to serve loyally as Deputy Director of the National Microbiological Institute. Second, “advocating” is a form of speech, not action. I believe the oath violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, “Congress shall make no law”—
Crane, cut him short. “I know what it says. The courts don’t agree with your interpretation. Let me ask you one question, Dr. Hungerford, give me a straightforward answer, and I’ll be on my way.” Hungerford had anticipated the question. It was another reason he would not sign. “Have you ever known any Communists?”
Hal had friends who were Communists, people who had fought to free the Scottsboro Boys, a cause celebre of the Communist Party, and who feared Hitler’s rise until the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact in 1939 when they became pacifists until Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. They were upright citizens who cherished their constitutional right to speak freely and did not advocate violent revolution. One friend who declared himself to be a Communist in 1937 had died. Hungerford saw no harm in mentioning his name.
He stared up at the ceiling and after a minute or so said, ‘Yes sir, Ahh’ve known one.”
“What’s his name?”
Crane whipped out his notebook, and unscrewed his fountain pen. “That name doesn’t ring a bell,” he said as he jotted it down. ‘
“Well, maybe because he was Canadian.”
Crane looked disappointed. “Is he currently in the United States?”
“No, he’s in China.”
“Conspiring against the United States no doubt.”
“‘No doubt?’” Again Hungerford paused. “Mr. Crane, let me tell you a little about Norman Bethune.” Crane wrote “Norman Bethune” in his notebook, his pen poised to add details.
“Norman Bethune became a friend of mine in 1927 when we met as tuberculosis patients at the Trudeau Sanatorium in New York State.
Instantly, Crane realized this was the sanatorium Arnold Springer had told him about. He wrote “Trudeau 1927” in his notebook.
Hungerford continued. “He was a physician like me. In 1937, Bethune declared he was a Communist. I was surprised, but as I thought about it, it wasn’t so shocking; when Beth—that’s what we called him—felt strongly about something he went whole hog at it. And when Generalissimo Franco attempted to overthrow the democratically elected”—he paused and repeated the last two words, staring straight at Agent Crane—“democratically elected government of Spain, Bethune and a lot of others offered to serve the Spanish Republic. Bethune wasn’t interested in overthrowing our democratically elected government but in preservin’ a democratic government elsewhere.”
Hungerford noticed Crane look at his watch and looked at his own. “Mr. Crane, you asked for half an hour of mah time. Ahh see we have ten minutes left, so let me tell you something else about Norman Bethune.” Realizing he was trapped, Crane sat back and listened. “In 1938, Bethune went to China to help set up medical and surgical units for Mao Tse-Tung’s Army. At that time Mao and Chiang Kai-shek were both repelling the Japanese invasion of China, the same Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor a few short years later. Neither in Spain nor in China did Norman Bethune go to fight; he went to use his medical skills. And when wounded Japanese prisoners were brought to him he operated to save their lives just as he did wounded Chinese. Yes, Agent Crane, Bethune said he was a Communist, but really he was a humanitarian.”
“So, this Bethune is still in China helping the reds?” Crane asked.
“He’s still in China, but he’s buried in a tomb there.” Crane looked up sternly, realizing that Hungerford, knowing Bethune was dead, had intentionally deceived him.
A dead Communist is of no use to the United States government, Crane said to himself.
“Bethune cut his finger while operating on a soldier. The wound got infected, he developed septicemia and died in ten days.” Hungerford got up. “No I’m not going to sign your loyalty oath.”
“Did you keep in touch with Dr. Bethune after 1927?”
Again silence before Hungerford answered. “I’m not going to answer.”
“Do you think Bethune was a Communist when you first met?”
“I’m not going to answer that question either.”
“You realize you are putting your job in jeopardy.”
“So be it,” Hungerford sighed. He went to his bookshelf, picked out a book, and showed it to Crane. “The Scalpel, the Sword,” he read the title out loud. “This is a biography of Norman Bethune written by avowed Communists, published last year. From knowing Bethune, I wouldn’t say it’s completely accurate, but it gives you an idea of the man.”
“I’ll have to get it,” Crane replied as Hungerford helped him on with his coat. They shook hands and Crane left, stopping briefly to see the Director.
With his hands hooked in his suspenders, Hungerford gazed out the tall window of his office that looked over the front entrance of the Microbiology Institute. After a few minutes, Agent Crane emerged and walked down the muddy path toward a distant parking lot. Wallowing in mud, Hungerford thought, with inordinate power to destroy, including me.
A few minutes later, the Director of the Institute knocked, entered, and pulled up a chair alongside Hungerford’s desk without being asked. “I wanted to make sure you survived the visit from the FBI.”
“For the time being, yes. You knew about it?”
“The Agent stopped in my office after he saw you, said you weren’t cooperative.”
Hungerford gave a hearty laugh. “You know me well enough not to be surprised,” he drawled
“Why do you make life difficult for yourself, Hal?”
“I’ve asked myself that a lot since this loyalty oath matter arose.” He paused, debating whether to tell his story. “You know, I grew up in a small town near Selma, Alabama. Mah daddy was a doctor. He came down south with Union troops just after the Civil War and decided to stay. When the Army withdrew in 1876, he didn’t have the good sense to leave. In 1880, he married a nurse, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister. Together, they cared for colored folks as well as whites. I was their third child, born in 1890.
“When I was fourteen and daddy was close to death he called his children to his bedside and told us about a ten-year-old girl brought into his office by her parents—I guess it was in the 1880s. They said she had been molested by a colored boy and wanted his corroboration. Daddy took her into his examining room, without the parents, called my mama in to assist him. He asked the girl what happened. ‘Papa said some of his friends saw the boy touch me,’ the girl said. ‘Did he?’ daddy asked. ‘He brushed against my arm coming out of the general store.’ ‘Is that all?’ daddy asked. She nodded and started to cry. ‘What’s the matter?’ mama asked. ‘Papa said the boy gave me a baby.’ My parents looked at each other. ‘No, he didn’t,’ they said in unison.”
“What happened to the boy?” the Director asked.
Hal looked at him as if it was a foolish question. “He was in jail by that time. Daddy told the parents that their daughter hadn’t been raped. A mob had already gathered in front of the jail and were yelling at the sheriff to release the boy into their custody. ‘You go out there with your daughter,’ daddy told the couple, ‘and tell them she hasn’t been raped.’ For the rest of his life, he regretted not going to the jailhouse and telling the mob himself.”
“Lynched?” the Director asked.
Hal’s look made it clear that if not foolish, the question was superfluous. “After daddy told us the story, he said to us, ‘Promise me, children, when you see injustice, don’t look the other way.’ Does that answer your question?” he asked the Director.
“Look, Hal, all you have to do is sign the loyalty oath. I guarantee you’ll be better off and nobody will be worse off. That’s different than the story you just related.”
“I don’t see it that way. I’m not going to become another sheep. That’s not the way democracy should work.”
“You may not want to join the flock, Hal, but if you don’t sign the oath, you’ll become the sacrificial lamb.” Hal looked at him strangely. “I know where you’re coming from now,” the Director continued, “but I won’t be able to come to your defense.”
“You mean that bastard Crane is blackmailing you?”
“He told me that the House Un-American Activities Committee is thinking of launching an investigation of subversive activities at NIH. They will certainly subpoena you for your refusal to sign the loyalty oath. With appropriations coming up in Congress, the Institute has too much at stake for me to go out on a limb.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Sign the oath.”
“And if I don’t?”
He looked Hungerford straight in the eye. “I’ll have to ask for your resignation.”
“You mean fire me.”
“How ever you want to put it.” The Director got up and left without another word.
Driving back to the Capital after seeing Harold Hungerford in Bethesda, Agent Crane tried to tie Dr. Springer’s information to what Hungerford had told him. If Springer is to be believed, the Trudeau is a hot bed of Communists, and here is the Deputy Director of the National Microbiological Institute, spouting the Communist Party line and saying he and Bethune were patients at Trudeau together—in what year was it? He pulled his notebook from his pocket, flicked it open, and taking his eye off the road for a moment, read 1927. Were there communists on the staff of the Sanatorium or the Saranac Laboratory then and are there still now? Maybe Springer is not such a fanatic. Crane stopped at a bookstore in D.C. to purchase The Scalpel, The Sword. In his temporary office, he wrote up his visit with Dr. Hungerford, mentioning the Trudeau Sanatorium and Dr. Springer’s allegations. His report reached the top echelons of the Bureau and he received permission to return to the New York office to investigate the infiltration of the Trudeau Sanatorium and Foundation by the Communist Party.
When Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, twenty-four-year-old Norman Bethune promptly interrupted his third year of medical school to join the Canadian Army. Enemy shrapnel pierced his left leg in the second battle of Ypres, ending his active duty and allowing him to finish medical school in 1916. He joined the Royal Navy in 1917, serving as medical officer on HMS Pegasus on which over half the crew came down with influenza in October 1918. Even after he contracted the flu, Bethune continued to care for the debilitated sailors until he collapsed and was relieved from duty. The Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Soviet Union’s condemnation of World War I as internecine capitalist conflict, did not seem to affect his loyalty to the Allied cause.
Returning to civilian life, Bethune did internships in several London hospitals, living lavishly on his meager paychecks, throwing splendid parties, but going broke as a result. Handsome, well-dressed, and well-spoken with a Canadian-American accent, he charmed English women who found him attractive, entertaining, and seductive. Immediately taken with a woman who was brought to one of his parties by a friend, Bethune took her arm, and whispered, “It’s too noisy to talk in here, let’s go for a walk.” As they walked to the Thames a few blocks to the south, he asked, “Are you an artist? Most of my friends are, you know.”
“I have a keen interest in the arts, but no, I’m a medical student,”
Walking alongside her, he stopped in his tracks, and turned to face her. “That’s marvelous. I wish more women would use their brains.”
“It’s not easy you know. Trying to fit in classes when I have children who need my love.”
“And a husband?” he asked disappointedly.
“My husband has disappeared. Fortunately, the wealth at my disposal enables me to undertake a career and have nannys to help with my children.”
They reached the Victoria Embankment. Pleased not to be scolded about entering the man’s world of medicine, Isabelle Humphreys-Owen, took Bethune’s arm and they strolled for several blocks before returning to Bethune’s apartment long after midnight, the party in full-swing despite the host’s absence.
In the ensuing months, Beth, as his friends called Bethune, and Isabelle spent their holidays visiting Madrid, Rome, and Vienna ostensibly for business. Traveling largely on her money, Beth had devised a scheme that he was sure would make him rich. “We can’t lose,” he told her. “We’ll hunt antique art dealers and book stores for paintings by the old masters that have been overlooked and buy them for a song. Then we’ll bring them to London, get them appraised and sell at a huge profit.”He never found them, remained heavily in debt to his lover, all the while continuing his high life style and his devotion to the visual arts, also showing promise as an artist.
Eager to become credentialed as a surgeon, Bethune traveled to Scotland in 1921where he studied to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgery of Edinburgh. He fell in love with Frances Campbell Penney, a twenty-nine-year-old intelligent, shy, beauty from a wealthy Scottish family. From his dress and debonair manner, Frances thought Beth was wealthy, but was disabused when he confessed that he had to return to Hammersmith Hospital in London as a house surgeon for £50 a year. Wanting to break away from her domineering, recently widowed mother, Frances went to London as a volunteer social worker and quickly took up with Bethune.
While vacationing at Dover during Frances’s first summer, they got into a terrible row—later neither could remember what it was about—in the midst of a ferocious storm. Beth emerged from the bathroom of their rented bungalow in his bathing trunks. “I’m going for a swim,” he shouted at her.
“It’s frightful out—” He slammed the door in her face. From the window of the bungalow she looked at him as he disappeared into a wave. Fully dressed, Frances ran to the beach searching frantically for him. No one was about. The storm abated and far out she spotted a man swimming desperately to escape the undertow. Beth dragged himself on to the beach and lay gasping at her feet. The gasps turned to laughter and they quickly made up.
Frances was notified that she had received a legacy of £1,250 pounds from her uncle’s estate. Despite the flaws in their relationship, she decided to accept Beth’s marriage proposal. They spent their six-month honeymoon traveling in Europe, living on the legacy until it ran out and Frances had to wire her bank in Edinburgh for more money.
The honeymoon did not begin or end auspiciously On the coast of France on the first day, she put on a new dress that particularly pleased her. Beth expressed his distaste unequivocally. “If you insist on keeping it on, go and walk into the North Sea.” To his amazement, she promptly did. He ran after her, pulled her out before the waves had gotten above her waist. “I still love you,” he said tenderly. She burst out laughing as did he and they hugged.
Six months later in Vienna, they ran into Isabelle Humphreys-Owen who was stunned to learn that Beth was married. He insisted on paying off his debt—although he did not know how he could manage it—but she refused; they never saw each other again. He had told Frances about their relationship, which was, he said, strictly for business, but to placate her jealousy he bought her an expensive vase with part of the money her bank had wired. She unwrapped it, and realizing what he had done, threw it at him. He ducked and the vase broke into several pieces. Frances tried to paste them together.
Having received his fellowship in surgery, Bethune persuaded Frances to come with him to his native Canada, but he was unable to find a medical-surgical practice there that would support them, so they moved across the border in 1924, to Detroit, a city booming because of the expanding automobile industry. He started a medical practice in the apartment in which he and Frances rented in a working class neighborhood flooded by poor whites, Negroes from the south, and immigrants looking for jobs in the nascent industry. They and the city’s prostitutes formed the mainstay of Beth’s practice. Charging only what his patients could afford he barely made enough to pay the rent and put food on the table. His patients loved Bethune and he became popular in the neighborhood. On top of Beth’s irregular hours and erratic behavior, Frances did not appreciate his patients tramping through her living room. Raised in a sedate, upper middle class neighborhood in Edinburgh she shuddered every time she went out.
Beth came down with a severe cold and fever in September 1926, undoubtedly contracted from his patients. His cough grew worse and he developed night sweats. Afraid she would catch whatever he had, Frances refused even to kiss him. In October he saw a doctor who collected a sputum sample. The day he received the report, Beth announced to Frances as they sat down to dinner, “I’ve got T.B.”
Horrified, Frances gasped. Silently, she put down her fork, collecting her thoughts, finally announcing, “Until you’re cured, I’ll sleep on the sofa, and I’m going to boil all your dishes and utensils.”
Infuriated, Beth picked up his dinner plate and threw it across the room. As he stalked out, he screamed, “Sorry I’m such a burden; that’s one less dish you’ll have to boil.” His physician advised Bethune to enter the Trudeau Sanatorium.
The Sanatorium stood on a flank of Mt. Pisgah northeast of the village of Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State, founded by Dr. Edward. L. Trudeau in 1884 for the treatment of tuberculosis. Overcrowding and malnutrition contributed to the spread of tuberculosis and to the pallor—hence the “white plague”—that accompanied it. Though striking them disproportionately, tuberculosis was not limited to the poor. Near death from the disease, Trudeau, a prosperous physician on Long Island, came to the Adirondacks in 1874 where with rest and the bracing air he went into a long-lasting remission that enabled him to study tuberculosis and build the sanatorium, only dying of the disease forty years later.
“What a terrible New Year’s Eve. I can’t stand this enforced bed rest,” Beth wrote to Frances from the Sanatorium’s Ludington Infirmary two weeks after he had been admitted in December 1926. “How I long to be cured and back in your arms.” But Frances’s love for Beth was fraying. She visited him at Trudeau early in 1927, arriving at the front entrance near the statue of Edward Trudeau arriving by taxi from the train station in the village. The temperature had warmed to the low twenties, but a darkening midday sky hinted that snow might be on the way. Frances emerged from the cab as beautiful as ever, wrapped in a black wool coat with a fur collar. “That coat doesn’t suit you,” were Beth’s first words. “And why on earth did you bob your hair?” He had loved to bury his face in her luxuriant chestnut hair. “Your hair was one of your best features.” Then he put her arms around her and started to kiss her.
She turned away and his kiss landed on her cheek. “You know I’m not going to kiss you while your T.B. is active,” Frances said in the husky voice that Beth loved.
He took her gloved hand. “You’re right, of course. I’ve caused you enough trouble. You don’t need this wretched disease as well.”