Parents: George Jarvis Mirick and Esther (Tully) Mirick
Died: July 28, 1985
Esther Mirick was secretary to the superintendents of the Saranac Lake Central Schools for 32 years and executive secretary of the Voluntary Health Association for 20 years. Esther also worked as Sidney Blanchet's secretary, and the two families were very close.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, July 29, 1985
Civic leader Esther Mirick dies July 28 at hospital
Miss Mirick was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of George Jarvis and Esther (Tully) Mirick.
She had been a Saranac Lake resident for many years and was secretary to the superintendents of the Saranac Lake Central Schools for 32 years, retiring in 1954.
Her family moved to this area in 1916 and she graduated from the local high school. She first worked for Dr. Sidney Blanchet and then accepted the position as secretary to Howard V. Littell, superintendent of schools.
She also taught dancing to many young people in the community and gave dancing instruction at the Teen Canteen in the mid-1950s.
She was also an active member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas.
Miss Mirick was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of George Jarvis and Esther (Tully) Mirick.
She is survived by three sisters, Mrs. Olin (Elizabeth) TenEyck and Mrs. Elmer (Harriet) Finnegan, both of Saranac Lake, and Mrs. James (Isabelle) Cullen of Rockville Center; and several nieces and nephews.
Calling hours will be held at the Fortune Funeral Home today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. and include a Bible vigil at 8 p.m.
Burial will be in St. Bernard's Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to the Friends of the Library or Meals on Wheels.
This interview is part of the Ree Rickard's oral history interviews conducted in 1987.
T. B. Society
She was old now, but memories from the ‘20s and ‘30s, when she had worked for the T.B. Society of Saranac Lake remained bright.
“We were a closer knit community at that time. Everyone had the same project – to help people get well. Everything in the village was geared to the patients’ needs. They were treated here as human beings. Most didn’t want to go home. In the city, when told someone had T.B., they’d think, “Oh! He’s infectious!” Here, they were accepted as a part of the community. Everyone respected the patients’ schedules. Rest time was from two to four p.m. Why, you wouldn’t think of making a phone call at those times! All of the service and delivery people also respected the quiet time. There was so little activity, it was said that from Helen Street hill, you could hear a tire being changed on Main Street!
We’ve always been a service-oriented community. Tuberculosis made us aware of service to each other. The Lend a Hand Society started in the ‘20s for the patients. There were reading rooms and many benches, for resting, placed all around the town.
The T.B. Society was formed to help with the new arrivals.
To give you an idea of the numbers, there were 300-4—transfers a year in the schools. There was a yearly fluctuation of families coming and going. Our schools were first rate in those days.
Many patients got off the train and were taken to the Riverside Hotel. It was there that the doctors would meet with them for the first time to have a conference and an examination. Then, the doctors would place them in types of cottages they needed. Ambulatory cottages were for those who could come downstairs for meals and needed rest and fresh air. Nursing cottages were for those on bedrest and had a trained nurse on duty twenty-four hours a day. Doctors trained the nurses; some were sent to Gabriels, Onchiota or Trudeau Sanitariums. To get into a sanitaium, you had to have a chance for a cure. If you had an advanced case, it was suggested that you get a cottage in the village or have your own home if you afford to bring along your family. Many affluent families came without using their real names. In those days, T.B. was like leprosy.
Sometimes the doctors, up here, were the first to have to tell patients the truth about the extent of their illness. Often their doctors back home had told them that they needed only be here for six months and they’d be well. Sometimes the truth was startling.
T.B. specialists knew very little in the early days in the way of medicine. They gave codeine and heroin for coughs. As time went on, hemorrhage cases decreased because people were drinking more orange juice. Before surgery, not too much could be done in the very advanced cases. Most medication was psychology. Doctors made cottage and house calls twenty-four hours a day. They taught patients to learn to live with what they had and make the best of it. Exercise, fresh air, good nourishment, and plenty or rest were the prescriptions. People learned that they couldn’t burn the candle at both ends but they still had a good social life. There were always boarding house parties and patients played cards and ate together. They visited the patients next door. Trudeau’s philosophy had been to keep people together and not institutionalized. It was a family-like atmosphere with emotional support.
Doctors tried to put people in cottages who were interested in the same things.
The T.B. Society started in1907 to help out the doctors. They needed a central place to provide for the details. We handled applications to the various sanitariums. We still have the records. On the applications the patients had to give a financial history. We needed to know where the money was coming from to support their stay. Many people arrived without a penny. The village fathers were getting in a panic. We couldn’t turn them away but we weren’t prepared to take care of everybody. We publicized that folks shouldn’t come unless they could support themselves. There were so many people on welfare.
Two young, sick boys supported themselves by writing little pamphlets called “Beanie Bartlett’s Trotty Veck.” They were little tracts with quips and quotes on a wide range of topics including humor and philosophy. They were little treasures and very popular fifty years ago. People looked forward to reading them. I often gave a subscription for gifts and there were well received.
Very few blacks came because they probably just couldn’t afford it. Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Ramsey both had cottages that catered exclusively to blacks. Some lived at Trudeau and Raybrook.
Patients could come to the T.B. Society for all their needs. The nurse registry was kept at our office and we saw to cure cottage inspections. We rented coonskin coats, blankets and cure chairs.
Sometimes all we could provide was a shoulder. There were loads of love affairs. They didn’t call them boyfriends. There were just “cousins”. Lots of “Dear John” letters had to be handled. They were very sad. When a husband or beau was here for two or three years, coming up for a visit was time consuming and expensive. Well, things just happen.
At one time we had a list of “corpse companions.” You see, when someone died the body had to be shipped to their home on the New York train. It has to be accompanied by someone. The railroad people didn’t want to stuck with an unclaimed body at Grand Central so some women made it a business of accompanying the box to its destination. It was said that the railroad made a single fare on you when you came up here and a double fare when you went back home.
There was a positive attitude about the town. They tried to take the bodies out after dark so other patients wouldn’t be upset. Very few funerals were held here. Most corpses were shipped home.
After a patient died, the windows were closed and the Board of Health came to fumigate the room. Everyone observed the health code. Actually, because of the careful hygiene up here, we all felt very safe. In the doctors’ offices the chairs were Lysol-ed every afternoon for protection. Metropolitan Life did a survey in Saranac Lake and found a very low percentage of children affected by tuberculosis compared to the rest of the United States at the time. Local children were x-rayed every year, and colds and sore throats were watched carefully.
I couldn’t say enough about the wonderful doctors. Many had come here to cure and stayed on to start their own practice. Perhaps they were afraid of a relapse if they went home. They became trustees of the village and the school boards and became an integral part of the village.
The doctors taught the patients to live day to day and enjoy their lives. They were marvelous. There was something optimistic about T.B. people. They were always hopeful. They learned to face their trouble and to live with it.
After World War I the Saranac Lake Guild was formed to rehabilitate patients so they could live within their capabilities. Many different courses were offered to teach new skills. This chair [she pointed to the one she was sitting] was upholstered by a guild class. At one time they offered sixty courses. Instructors would go even to bedsides to teach skills and crafts.
Through the years our organizations were supported by grateful patients who had cured in Saranac Lake. They always remembered.
Here is another section of the interview that is part of the Ree Rickard's oral history interviews conducted in 1987 about Esther's father.
PAPA WAS SICK
Esther Merick, born in 1900, spoke of the illness that would alter forever the lives of her family.
We were a family of six children. There were five girls and my brother, Ted. We had a lovely, large home in New Rochelle, New York. Both Papa and Mama led very active and social lives. My two older sisters, Elizabeth and Emily, and I took dance and piano lessons. We were a happy, comfortable family.
Papa commuted every day to the city where he was Circulation Manager for the New York American, a Hearst paper. Mr. Hearst was a marvelous employer.
When Papa first became ill, our family doctor said it was just a cold. After a time, he went to see the best T.B. specialist in New York, Dr. Alex Miller. He gave Papa a death warrant. Dr. Miller told Papa he had cavities in both lungs and he had only six months to live. Papa hated all doctors after that. He said, “No man had the right to talk like that to another man.” The whole world was wrong when he was taken from a very busy job and social life. After that he felt it was just a matter of time so he wanted us to be together. The doctor had recommended the fresh air in both Arizona and Saranac Lake. Originally our parents didn’t want to move to Saranac Lake because it had a stigma. At the time, in 1915, Saranac Lake was becoming known as the major tuberculosis center in the country. Finally, with the shorter distance from relatives as the major consideration, we decided to rent a house in Saranac Lake.
T.B. was like leprosy. People were fearful. My own mother’s family never came here to visit because they were afraid. With sickness, when you have to pack up and leave your home and friends, you think the bottom has dropped out of the world.
Saranac Lake proved to be the most marvelous experience we could have imagined. We shared the common history of everyone in the village. Saranac Lake was run completely for the sick people. A tragedy causes a whole new way of thinking in your life. We came up with two helpers. In those days most families brought help with them. After a time we had to let one, then the other one, go. Mr. Hearst was wonderful to Papa. He sent his paychecks all through this illness and for two years after he died. Even so, when you move bag and baggage, it is just very expensive so we had to tighten our belts. My sisters and I taught dance so in this way we immediately became involved in the life of the community. We were very musical and were always invited to take part in the theatricals in town.
This was the first time that our father could spend much time with us. We had a wonderful family life. So many patients that were separated from their people suffered from a broken family life. We were fortunate that we could all be together.
WHAT WAS THE ROUTINE OF A “NORMAL” TUBERCULAR FAMILY?
Papa had his own room, with a sleeping porch overlooking Mt. Baker. He loved sitting out on that porch, listening to the birds. The view was marvelous. He loved Baker and always called it his mountain. Sometimes when I look up at Mt. Baker, I still think of Papa. It gave him such pleasure. I can’t remember my father, not coughing. Dr. Brown was wonderful to all of us. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t much he could offer except encouragement. Surgery wasn’t done yet and Papa’s case was too far advanced for pneumo treatments. T.B. specialists really did very little but give cough medication.
Papa’s silver, china and laundry were done separately as a preventive measure. None of us ever had any problems and we spent a lot of time in Papa’s room. The older girls used to read to him. We could always find Mama sitting in his room or porch talking to him.
We always considered quiet time very carefully in our house. Everyone in town did. At other times, though, our father wanted us to play the piano.
Dr. Miller was wrong. We had Papa with us for three years before he died and they were good years. He never spoke about his illness and just carried on the best he could. After he died, we all went to work. There was no money for college so none of us went to school. In those days you couldn’t borrow like they do today. Mama took us to New York often so we were given culture as a substitute for college. We loved the theater. We’ve all taken courses through the Guild. I later took up secretarial work. I worked at first in Dr. Brown’s office and then for many years was the secretary to the Superintendent of Schools. He was a lovely man.
I’m proud to say that Mother never worked outside the home a day in her life. We children all earned a good living. Later we did take in some patients. Everybody took in patients. My brother made deliveries for one of the pharmacists.
Mama never got used to Saranac Lake. She might have been lonesome. When you transplant as a family, all social and employment ties are cut. Right after Papa died, Rd. Brown told Mama that since we had all been exposed to T.B., we should stay up here in the fresh air for at least another year. We never left.
Father’s family were worried for a time that they’d be saddled with us. Eventually when they knew that we could make it on our own, they came to visit.
Anything that Mama did, she did with the family. She always went to all the dances as a chaperone. The boys danced with her. So she did get some joy out of sharing our youth. There is a psychological adjustment to being left alone and if you buck it, you’re unhappy. When people asked her why she never married again, she’d say that she was not too desirable a catch because she was left with six “coupons”
We had many friends. Mama felt we shouldn’t be too intimate with sick people. All my sisters married local men but none had sickness. When Emily married Mr. St. Clair, he was a travelling man, but he eventually settled here in the village. Only Ted, my brother, left to work in the newspaper business in New York.
We had a normal life. None of us have gone to jail or gone nuts yet!