Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered

Gaye Parsons Daman

From: Gaye Daman           
Subject: Cresson San

Hello Charles:
I recently read your article in The Patriot News, Harrisburg, PA.  It has sparked my interest and kept me coming back to read more for a couple of weeks.  My name is Gaye Parsons Daman and I grew up in Rochester, Pa., a small town about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. I moved to central PA (Camp Hill) in 1968 after being married.  My husband and I have raised our five children here while he worked for the state of PA and now we are both retired with the kids and grandkids spread out here in central PA.

My father, Eugene H. Parsons and his brother, Wallace "Uncle Bud" Parsons were both patients there.  I do not know how long Bud was there but Eugene or Gene was there about 10 years from what I have heard.  My mother and he were married in 1942 and had three children, Penny, David, and me when he became ill in 1947, the year I was born.  I know that he was at the Monaca PA. Sanatorium before going to Cresson.  He had tuberculosis of the lung and had his left lung removed because of this disease.  At some point he developed diabetes, not sure exactly when though. He went to Cresson, and I do not remember going there, though I have seen pictures of the place.  

At the age of 8, I got very sick with the whooping cough.  Penny and David recovered, but I got worse and my sickness kicked up the TB germ which was evidently dormant in my body because of my dad.  I was admitted to Rochester General Hospital and at first thought was that I had polio because I was paralyzed and I was blind.  I do not recall any of this since I was also in a coma at the time.   Through the expertise of a woman doctor named Dr. Ruth Wilson, I was diagnosed with tubercular meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) caused from the tuberculosis germs.  I was sent to Mt. Alto which was about 250 miles from our home. 

My mother had moved into her parent’s home when my father first became ill with her three little children.  My mother had my father at Cresson and me at Mt. Alto.  She made regular visits to see me about every two weeks and visited Dad also.  I know this was very hard on her, but she was so good at writing me letters and coming to visit.

I know that I also endured a lot of tests, tubes down the throat, spinal taps, sputum jars, and those shots in the butt.  I will never forget those shots and the nurse who called me "Ouchy Parsons". 
I remember as I was getting better and was able to get up and use the commode that I fell in weighing only 29 pounds.  I also remember straps at the end of the bed that were used for me to pull myself up.  My eyesight improved, but I lost vision in my left eye.  I still have only about 20/200 out of that eye.  I have memories of that place and also blank spots in my memory of it.  I went to school and played outside in a playground, and one vivid memory is of TAPS being played every night, which I later learned was from the Letterkenny Army Depot near there.

I know this is supposed to be about my dad's time at Cresson, but the two intertwine each other.   I do not recall ever going there, but I know he came to visit me at Mt. Alto.  I don't know how that worked that he could leave and go there and then go back but I guess it was arranged. 

He was a very handsome man and always tall and thin throughout his life. I recall the times he would have "spells" which were diabetic shock.  He would get better once he had some orange juice.  He, or I should say my mother, had to keep an eye on his diet all his life.   I know that he did the leather workings; I remember belts and also recall he made woolen scarves.  I know he talked about the "San", but as a little girl, I didn't pay attention. 

I was at Mt. Alto/South Mountain for 15 months.  I had to repeat the third grade when I got back.  I remember going back to the same teacher, Miss Hervey, who was so sweet old lady and my brother and his class that I started out with were upstairs in the fourth grade.  That always upset me that I was held back.

My father came home when I was about 10.  He had stayed at Cresson to rehabilitate and have whatever treatments were necessary, and also he was learning a trade.  He became an x-ray technician and was hired at UPMC Falk Clinic.

Oh yeah, in 1960, my little sister Joyce was born.  She was born on New Year's Day.  What a way to celebrate the New Year!  I became a teenager that same month. This would be 13 years after he first became ill with TB.

 There was talk of us moving to Pittsburgh, but as years went by and us in schools we knew and liked  "our town", so we never moved from Rochester.  My father started to stay there and come home on weekends and later he got a second job at Warrendale Clinic in Wexford and the nights he worked there he would come home.  

My father worked a lot of years in Pittsburgh, and I believe this did a number on his health.  I had moved away by the time he retired.  They came out to visit driving the PA turnpike.  I believe they took trips up to the san once in awhile.  My dad did get to meet all of my children, but only our three older remember him.  He died in 1978 when my youngest was only one year old.   Dad was only 61 at the time of his death.  He had used oxygen at home for about two years.

Mr. Felton, I enjoyed reading your story.  Your timelines were in good order; mine were not so great, but still it has given me this time to think and recollect those times that I shall never forget.

Gaye Parsons Daman

1.  Penny (6), Gaye (2) David (3) and Dad Eugene H. Parsons.


3.  Eugene Parsons


5.  Eugene Parsons stayed at Cresson to rehabilitate and learned to become an x-ray technician and was hired at UPMC Falk Clinic.


Click here to read a story about the Monaca Sanatorium Converted into a Penn State Campus.


2.  Eugene, Penny, David, Grandmother Edna Schlagle and Gaye.


4.  Gaye Parsons in 1955.  She was 8 years old and spent 16 months at Mt. Alto .