Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered

Joseph and Louise (Pfeister) Fritsche

I received the following story from Karen Fritsche in July 2011. Karen is currently collecting photos of her parents, which will be added later.  Her email address is:

Note:  Joseph Fritsche and Louise Pfeister (later Fritsche) are both listed in the 1930 census taken at the san on April 23  Joseph is listed as 17 years old and Louise is listed as 20.      (Chuck Felton)



My father was Joseph (Joe) Fritsche, born 1912 in Philadelphia, PA, died in West Hartford, CT in 1993.  He was at the San in Cresson from 1930-32. He was a senior at Altoona Catholic High when taken ill.  The nuns told his sister, when they found out, that they would pray for a speedy recovery or a happy death, to which his mother replied, “Tell them to cut out the happy death”. Good thing that she did.  My dad was in a cabin, and he was the only one in his cabin to survive.  The others were older and smoked and played cards to all hours almost every night, but made him go to bed and, luckily, he didn't smoke, so he survived.  He taught first grade at the elementary school that the San ran.  As far as I know, there was no high school, so that he never officially finished high school, but eventually got a diploma. 

My mother, Louise Pfeister (really the German spelling is Pfister, but her father changed the spelling) was born in 1908 in Carrolltown, PA and died in West Hartford, CT in 2008, four days short of her hundredth birthday.  To date, she is the oldest living Pfister, dating all the way back to the 1600s in Germany.  My cousin, John, can explain all that to you. Most of the Pfisters died much younger.  My mother was an exception, even more so since she was a premie with jaundice and was not expected to survive at all.  She was also at the San from 1930-32. 

My father was the oldest of 7 children, my mother was 5th of 7 children.  My mother's father was a tenant farmer for the Benedictine monks in Carrolltown.  Her mother was a homemaker who sang in the church choir and was scouted by the Metropolitan Opera and offered a contract, but she stayed in Carrolltown.  My father's mother was a homemaker and his father started on a bread wagon for Freihofer baking company and eventually became vice president and general sales manager of Freihofer.  

My mother was in nurse's training at Mercy Hospital in Johnstown and was assigned to a TB unit, which is how she got TB.  She desperately wanted to finish training, but was not allowed.  At the time, TB was considered like leprosy, so she said.  She eventually got a job with an osteopath, Dr. Oliver, in Johnstown, after leaving the San.  My mother had previously worked in the post office in Johnstown in order to earn enough to pay for nurse's training, so she was assigned to work in the post office at the San. My father went into the post office at the San one day and saw her there in a red sweater. He said, "Pretty hot.," a line that worked with the high school girls, but not with my mother, who answered, "Very amusing." and refused to talk to him for several months.  However, since they were some of the youngest young adults there, they were thrown together.  Also, one of my dad's cabin mates knew someone in my mother's family, so mother found out Dad's good qualities.  They dated for about a year and one half at the San.  

Dad left the San first, then mother.  He promised that he would call her, but didn't, so she sent him a dime, writing "Maybe you didn't have the money to call."  So he called her.  He always said that she was the most beautiful female that he had ever seen.  Her engagement picture actually led the photographer to ask her to be a model for him.  She did some modeling for him, while continuing her nursing duties for the osteopath.  

My Dad worked for most of his life for Quaker Oats Company, and spent most of his career in Pittsburgh, PA, although he was transferred in his 50s to CT.  My mother was a school nurse and a chairside assistant to a children's dentist.  My parents had two children, Karen and Nancy. 

When my mother was in her late 80s or early 90s, she wanted to go back to PA in the worst way, so I took her.  One of the places that she wanted to see again was the San.  At that time, it was a maximum security prison.  I first took a picture of her in front of the sign in front that said prison.  Then she wanted a picture in front of the long building in which her ward was located.  So we pulled in, and she got out and posed in front of the main building.  As I took the picture, whistles and sirens went off, and about 5 guards rushed out with guns aimed at us.  One grabbed my camera.  They accused us of taking pictures to plan a prison break.  We tried to explain that it used to be a San, and that my mother and dad had been patients there and had met there.  They refused to believe me.  One even said, "Yeah, right."  My mother was shaking and could hardly talk, and she usually wasn't afraid of anything.  An older guard rushed out and saved the day.   He explained to the others that it had been a San, and that my mother could well have been a patient.  "Besides," he added, "does she really look like a criminal?"  They let us keep the pictures and the camera, but told us that we could never publish them. 

My parents met in the San in 1930 and were married in 1939.  It took them a while. They kept trying to save money, but given that it was at the time of the depression, they never did save much money, so they decided to marry with no money.  When they came back from their honeymoon in Florida, they had one quarter left to get home.  Because of TB, they never felt that they would live long.  They were amazed when they made it to their 50th wedding anniversary in 1989.  We had a big party and they were  doubly happy to have survived TB and to have lived to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. 

They both had pneumothorax.  They had opposite collapsed lungs, so Dad always slept on the right side of the bed and Mom on the left.  

My parents are both buried in Carrolltown, in St. Benedict Church Cemetery, next to the church and school that my mother had attended (both named St. Benedict) and just up the hill from the farm on which my mother was raised.  They both were very empathetic to anyone who was ill, probably because of their experiences at the San.  My parents were both highly loved by family and friends.  My Dad said that the sign of a good life was how many people attended your funeral.  Even though both of them were elderly (Dad died at 81 and Mom at four days short of 100), both had over 100 people at their funeral.  Both had good lives, and both put in their obituaries to wear bright colored clothing to their funerals because they had led a great life.  Would that we all could learn from tragedy and live so well. 

Karen Fritsche  

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