Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
Newspaper 2

The following article was published  September 06, 2009 in the Johnstown Trib Democrat newspaper.  Click the following link to go to the newspaper website:



Remembering the ‘Children of the Sun’

The Tribune-Democrat

CRESSON — In 1944, JoAnn Eck was a 7-year-old living with her mother in Titusville, Crawford County.  She was brought to the Cresson Sanitorium – a facility for the treatment of widespread, deadly tuberculosis – despite her apparent good health.

Eck, now living in Sugar Land, Texas, still wonders about the time she spent away from her family in what the state termed a “preventorium” – a facility to keep people healthy.

“I was there six months or so,” Eck said in an e-mail. “But I have some memory of the tests, medicine and being in isolation when I first arrived.  “I also remember I wet the bed the first night and had on red pajamas, so you can imagine the mess.”

The first known preventorium dates to 1906 in Switzerland.  The concept was introduced at the Cresson Sanitorium in 1919 in what the state Department of Health termed an unusual experiment in human conservation.  Kids ages 6 to 14 – referred to at times as “Children of the Sun” – spent most of their waking hours outdoors during the spring, summer and fall.

Eck arrived a quarter century after the program started. She said she still recalls taking “the long scary road” to Cresson at a time when her father was in the Navy fighting in the South Pacific and she was living with her mother and brother.   “I know we were outside all the time and wore shorts,” she said. “I
remember studying in sunporches or some such.”

preventorium concept ended at Cresson in 1950, when the 122-bed facility was converted into adult care.  The 70 children who were in the program at the time were sent home or transferred to a state center at Mont Alto, Franklin County, according to a story in The Tribune-Democrat archives.

There were times when as many as 250 young patients were housed at the facility, said Charles Felton, a TB survivor who spent time there in the 1950s.  Felton is developing a Internet site to help reconnect former residents and employees.

Felton said he learned in his research that some of the children were exposed to the disease while in the preventorium.  “But the selection criteria could be very loose, and even some children just considered undernourished or sickly were sent to Cresson as well,” he said.

The regiment included plenty of sunshine, rest and healthful food in hopes that the children would build up a resistance to TB.  Undated photographs from the Pennsylvania State Archives show the girls in one-piece short outfits exposing their legs, while boys wore garb resembling loose-fitting diapers.

“The problem is that many of these children have no understanding – and even now as adults – as to why they had to leave their families and go to Cresson,” Felton said.

Janine Chambers, director for the adult lung disorder program with the National Lung Association, said it may be difficult to understand today the fear that TB generated.  “People were so afraid of TB,” Chamber said, “so I could easily imagine they thought they were protecting their children.”