Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
William (Bill) David Durkee
The following story was sent to me on September 2010 by Stephen Durkee.
Contact Steve at :

Dear Chuck,


After searching out ghost towns of Pa. for some time I did a search on the Cresson TB hospital and found your site. Have to say it's very interesting and thank you for your efforts.


Around 1958 when my father William David Durkee was about 42, he began to lose weight and get quite sick. He was diagnosed with advanced TB and was sent to Cresson. For the first few months it was not known if he would survive. At the time I was 10 years old.  Some of my memories were the chest X-Rays that we all had and the news that we tested positive for being exposed to the TB virus.  We were told that we didn't have TB but we had to be checked regularly to insure we didn't get the illness. Living in Williamsport Pa. in the 50s and early 60s they would bring chest X-Ray machines into town on converted buses and give X-Rays to many of the citizens.


My dad was a WW II and Korea vet.  He never talked a lot of the wars he was in but he did share some of his memories of being a patient at Cresson with me.  Of course I was quite young so I'm sure he didn't tell me a lot of things. One of his stories was when he first went in he was put in a ward with very sick men and he recounted to me how some of these men would develop a "death rattle" and soon pass away. He told me that at times he felt himself slip down into darkness and had to deliberately make an effort to fight through it.  I think he really did have a will to survive.


Later as my dad’s condition improved I would be allowed to go with my mother when she went to visit my dad at Cresson. It was a two hour ride one way from our house to Cresson and the last few miles up that steep mountain on old Route 22 in our ‘55 Ford was interesting. Sometimes we would stop and eat at the Cresson Ridge Diner truck stop near the entrance to the hospital. The first time I got to actually visit my dad was about a year after he had been admitted. When we saw each other we hugged and it is a moment that has stayed with me all these years.


My father also told me some stories about men and their desire for alcohol.  He told me that the patients would be given fresh fruit and some of them would gather fruit together and kind of crush it into a mash and then put it into a sock and I'm not sure if they added water or just let it ferment in a jar, but after a time they would drink what they had made.  Sounds kind of desperate to me.  Seems to me he may have told me that some men who were soon to be discharged would be given a pass into town and then visit a local tavern and sometimes bring alcohol back in.  Don't know if these examples were stories or if they really happened.  It's just what I remember him telling me.


Interesting you bring up about TB being a social stigma.  I never really thought about it that way but now remembering back I think you’re probably right.  My dad had worked at the Williamsport Post Office and when he was diagnosed with TB  I heard everyone at the post office had to be tested and many had to have chest X-Rays. My dad was well liked but I'm sure that his illness caused some concern among his fellow workers. To my memory no others at the Post Office had a case of active TB.  Later on I remember my dad blaming his illness on working around the mail that he handled every day.


My dad’s stay at the hospital lasted over two years. During that time I was only able to visit him a few times. He eventually had to have an operation and have part of a lung removed to be finally cured. He was released sometime in late 1960 or early 1961. Unfortunately the TB had scarred his lungs and he was for the rest of his life crippled by lung ailments. He passed away in 1966. One thing I always wondered was as these patients were recovering from TB they were all allowed to smoke?  My dad use to say he made a few bucks on the side by selling bets on the baseball games to buy cigarettes. Sounds strange in today's world.


The most pleasant memory I have of that time was on one of my last visits to see my dad he told me that the Pittsburgh Pirates were in the World Series.  Not being a baseball fan at the time I hadn't known.  The next day when I got home from school I saw Bill Mazeroski's home run that won the series for the Pirates. Thanks to my dad, I have been a Pirates fan ever since.


Thanks for sharing your memories and your efforts,

Stephen Durkee



1.  Bill bedside with a patients typical sparse possessions:  2-channel radio attached to the bedframe, water glass, paper cups, tea and instant coffee, pill bottles and sputum cup in the back.
3.  A family photo with Stephen, his father Bill, mother Charlotte and younger brother Mike.
5.  The Durkee men, Bill, Stephen and Mike.  Children were never allowed inside the ward around patients who were still positive for TB, which is why this family visit took place outside.
2.  Bill outside the men's West Wing Ward on a nice sunny day.  Photos 2 through 5 were taken in May 1960 during a family visit.
4.  Mike, Bill, Charlotte and Marian, Bill's sister.  As we said at the san, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em".

Marian was also the main baby-sitter for Stephen and Mike.  On most Sunday visiting days the children did not accompany their mother and Aunt Mar (as they called her ) would stay with Stephen and his brother.  Her help to the family during those difficult times was greatly appreciated.