Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered

Newspaper 35

The following story and photo, by Justin Eger, appeared on August 30, 2012 in the Cresson Mainliner.

Sanatorium model finds new home at MAC
By Justin Eger
of Mainline Newspapers

Fred Connacher and Mount Aloysius College officials discussing the san model.
In the 1930s, Fred Connacher of Cresson walked the third floor of what is now Mount Aloysius College as a young art student, attending Saturday lessons with Sr. Mary Margaret.

Years later, the halls of the campus are much different, and the third-floor art rooms have been converted over to the home of Mount Aloysius’ nursing department, with its multi-million dollar simulation labs educating a new crop of students each year. However, despite the time and changes, there’s still room for some art on the third floor, and fittingly enough, it’s Connacher’s work that has made the nursing suite its home.

Last year, Connacher and his daughter, Theresa McConnell, designed and built a scale model of the former Cresson TB Sanatorium, a medical retreat at the top of Cresson Mountain where patients afflicted with tuberculosis were sent from around the state for treatment. Though the land that once housed “The San,” as patients and staff once called it, is now home to the State Correctional Institution at Cresson, the Sanatorium still holds an important place in Cresson’s history, so much so that Connacher’s model was the centerpiece of a full-scale reunion of San survivors last year.

“I didn’t want to do it at first,” Connacher explained. “But when I thought of all the people who lived and died at the Sanatorium, I felt I should do something to honor them.”

After being on display at the Cresson American Legion since the San Reunion one year ago, the model found its way to a new home at Mount Aloysius College, last Friday, Aug. 24, set up outside the main offices of the aforementioned nursing department. Connacher, joined by representatives of Mount Aloysius, set the model up and unveiled it quietly, where it immediately drew lots of attention from MAC students and staff.

“We have around 300 nursing students here on campus, and we’re very happy to make room for what really is a lost part of history,” explained Becky Zukowski, chairperson of the Division of Nursing at MAC. “Current treatments for TB are nothing like this, and having something like this here really illustrates how far medicine and science have come. It’s a good reminder.”

“It’s very nice to have this model here,” agreed Dr. Timothy Fulop, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at MAC. “It’s symbolic of this institution and the contributions of this college in promoting health care. It really shows our students that, while we prepare for the future, we should understand the past, as well.”

The model also drew some special attention from another Mount Aloysius College representative in Sister Benedict Joseph, RSM, affectionately known as Sister BJ around the campus. During her youth as a student at Mount Aloysius College, Sister BJ actually worked at the San during the summer of 1948. As the model was unveiled, she noted that she worked in the children’s home at the Sanatorium, where kids with TB-infected parents were kept. Along with students like herself, Sister BJ pointed out that the college founded a group called the “Mercy Visitors,” who regularly visited the Sanatorium and met with patients.

Sister BJ and Connacher embraced as old friends as the Cresson man delivered the model to its new home, and Connacher himself was pleased that the work he and his daughter had undertaken to remember the patients of the Cresson TB Sanatorium.
I’m satisfied,” Connacher said. “It’s a good location, and I’m glad they found a place for it.”

The move came just as the San made headlines once again. Having been a regular feature in Mainline Newspapers for much of last year, the San Reunion was also the subject of a documentary, “Cresson: Remembering Life At The San,” which has been nominated for an Emmy Award by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Mid-Atlantic Chapter. The 30-minute film, produced by WQED Pittsburgh, is a nominee in the category of Outstanding Historical/Cultural Program. The Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Emmy Awards recognizes broadcast excellence in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and parts of Ohio and West Virginia. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Philadelphia on September 22.