Norman Bethune created these Murals on laundry wrapping paper while he was a patient at the Trudeau Sanatorium in 1927. Titled The T.B.'s Progress, A Drama in one act and nine painful scenes, the original work was five feet high and sixty feet long, and had cutouts for the doors and windows of Lea Cottage, where he was living with four other patients, Nan Li, Dr. John Barnwell, and Dr. Lincoln Fisher, and Dr Alfred Blalock1. The panels imaginatively render scenes from Bethune's life as a tuberculosis patient, with a good deal of humor and fantasy.
Bethune was a larger than life figure, a pioneering thoracic surgeon, artist, bon vivant, and an early communist who fought in World War I and the Spanish Civil War, and later worked as a field surgeon with Mao's Red Army in China, where he died of blood poisoning acquired from a cut while operating.
The original murals disappeared in the 1970s. These images were made from prints that were made by Trudeau Institute from glass slides of the murals; they were acquired in 2011 by Historic Saranac Lake, courtesy of the Institute.
According to a 2014 JAMA article, "The murals were brought to the University of Michigan by Bethune’s physician and friend at the Trudeau Sanatorium, Dr John Blair Barnwell. Barnwell facilitated the transfer of these murals to the University of Michigan Fluoroscopy Room in approximately 1930 when the Lea Cottage was destroyed, for reasons unknown. The Bethune murals remained there until 1960 when they were returned to Saranac, New York. In the 1970s they were shipped to Fort Bragg in North Carolina for study by the Department of the Army’s experts on China. Although copies exist, the original murals have been unaccounted for and are considered lost at this time."2
Writing in the journal, The Fluoroscope, August 15, 1932, Bethune described the murals and quoted the captions; based on this text, it appears that we are missing the first image, a drawing of his "prenatal existence", the caption of which read:
Look, O Stranger at the danger
To our hero, embryonic.
T. B. bats, so red, ferocious,
In the breast of our Precocious
Laddie, do him in just like his daddy.
His dark cave no barrier knows,
Against this worst of mankind's foes.
Scene I, Dawn. The lower panel appears to have been cut off at the right, and originally read "The angels at his birth, Foreseeing all his years, Restrained not, nor should we, The tribute of their tears. The TB's Progress, a
Comedy Drama in One [Act] Fight [??] Scenes." A figure holds a scroll headed "Norman Bethune, Born ... Died..." A good deal of the drawing and some of the text is missing or obscured.
"Scene VII. The City. Lured by that Siren, Spurious Fame, Who has no heart or pity, Our hero strives to win a name, In the canyons of the city. Temptations flourish thickly there, But TB Bats are thicker. They swarm about the foetid air, While he grew sick and sicker." A "TB Bat" hovers high over the avenue. The castle, Heart's Desire, (Hollywood set #10) is said to sit atop the cliff that our hero falls from in Scene V. Climbing to the Castle of Heart's Delight, our hero is beset by TB Bats and falls. "Scene V. The Break. Down, down, he falls from that high mount, success so near at hand, His foes triumphant, see him reel, Down to that bloody strand." "Scenes III and IV. Early Manhood. On adolescence's troubled seas, The sails of Argosy are set. Alas! He hears the Siren's song, His fate is sealed, His course is chnaged, his bark a wreck. Each [??] Jade's seductive charms, We [???] arts and spurious fame, [???] ret foes, [???] his frame." [The last lines, after "his bark a wreck", do not appear in the piece in The Fluoroscope.] The Sirens: Art plays a lyre, Fame holds aloft a laurel wreathe, Love aims an arrow, and Wealth reclines upon the shore. It is not clear what relationship this rainbow bears to the work. "Scene VI. Mirage. Once more laid flat upon his back, Our victim pulls a boner, Instead of back to Saranac, He's off to Arizona. And so the plains got his remains, For his disease deceased him, He coughed and spat, lost all his fat, Kind death at last released him" The figures are labeled Health and Happiness. The object worn around his neck that looks rather like a camera has been identified as a sputum cup. "At Pisgah's Heights stands Trudeau strong, Bright sanctuary high, Where Heise, [Lawrason Brown" Brown], Amberson his enemy defy." Various signs around the Sanatorium read "Terms Reasonable", "Room and Board", "Lea Shack", and "Free Gasoline". From a house labeled "John's" come the words "There's something nice about everyone, but there's everything nice about you" The Gutzon Borglum statue of Trudeau reclines before the gate, and Little Red is above the gate, with the date of its construction (1884) in red just above. On the tower at left is the symbol of the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, founded by Trudeau; it became the American Lung Association. Monsters are labeled Scaley Scarlatina, Diphtheria, Infantile Paralysis, Rheumatic Fever, Whooping Cough, Measles, and the numerous "TB Bats". Sir Shick is named for American pediatrician Bela Shick, who developed a test for Diptheria. The caption reads "Scene II, Childhood. From Dragon Diphth, Sir Shick defends, From other beasts he cannot save, The wounds and scars of their attack, He'll carry to his grave." "Sweet death, thou kindest angel of them all, In thy soft arms, at last, oh let me fall, Bright stars are out, long gone the burning sun, My little act is over, the tiresome play is done." The churchyard tombstones include "Meyer Halpern, died 1938; Frank Cherry, died 1930; Dan Boyce, died 1935[?], Norman Bethune, died 1932, Jack Telmosse, died 1945, Alfred Blalock, died 1929, James McCue, died 1928[?]" all presumably fellow TB patients; patients were prone to speculation about how long each would last. Bethune outlived his predicted death date by seven years. At lower right, the drawing is dated "October 1927. Bethune Pinx! [?]"
Jody Kemp Judge, "Henry Norman Bethune, M.D. (1890-1939) The T.B.'s Progress", Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, July 1987
Preeti N. Malani, MD, MSJ; Richard L. Prager, MD, "Journey in Thick Wood: The Childhood of Henry Norman Bethune", JAMA, October 8, 2014, Volume 312, Number 14.
1. Preeti N. Malani, MD, MSJ; Richard L. Prager, MD, "Journey in Thick Wood: The Childhood of Henry Norman Bethune", JAMA, October 8, 2014, Volume 312, Number 14.