Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
Newspaper 7

The following article was published in the Towanda Daily Review on Sunday, January 31, 2010.    Click the following link to go to the newspaper website:



Towanda native’s recollections of Sanatorium go viral     By Wendy Post

A 1955 Towanda High School (THS) graduate who now resides in Lakehills, Texas, embarked on a journey last year to document and recount his memories of life in a Sanatorium designed to quarantine and treat patients stricken with forms of Tuberculosis. This recollection, to his surprise, would soon go viral, with a website that now serves as a sort of memorial for the old Cresson Sanatorium which now serves as part of the Pennsylvania Corrections system.

Charles "Chuck" Felton, a 1955 graduate of THS and son of Philip Felton and Ester (Anderson) Felton, was at the top of his game at the age of 17. Serving as Class President for Towanda High School with plans of enrolling at Penn State, Chuck was at the prime of his life when illness struck, and he soon found himself traveling to a facility for what ended up being a 16-month recovery process for Pulmonary Tuberculosis.

After remaining relatively quiet about this experience for nearly 50 years, Chuck soon began to pull together the history of this experience, along with copies of articles that were printed in The Daily Review, for posting worldwide on the internet. But what started as a simple website to help educate his own children on what his experience was like soon went viral - with hundreds of emails arriving and uncounted thousands clicking in to read Chuck’s story of his initial diagnosis and the sometimes horrific journey towards recovery.

"My intent was to put up photos of my experience," said Chuck who is now residing with his wife Peggy (Weissenstein) Felton in Lakehills, Texas. Chuck, who is a model airplane enthusiast, noted that he already had a website for model airplanes he built, so designing a site to document his personal experience came simply.

But now, serving as a sort of memorial for the old Sanatorium, Chuck is getting emails from former patients at the facility, former staff members, children of patients that stayed at the Sanatorium, and even grandchildren of those patients.

But what was really amazing for Chuck was the fact that people emailed him through the website to thank him. In one email, according to Chuck, a person wrote, "I was there years ago - nobody talks about it." Many of the emails received, such as this one, are now posted on his website.

"It’s become a memorial website with personal stories and everything," said Chuck.

And the stories, which can be viewed at, highlight Chuck’s miraculous recovery along with some of the horrors faced during his 16 months of quarantine at the Cresson Sanatorium.

The year was 1955 when Chuck Felton was playing baseball and serving as Class President for the senior class at Towanda High School. The month was April, so Chuck was looking forward with anticipation to his high school graduation and his hopeful acceptance into Penn State.

But on graduation day of 1955, Chuck’s younger brother Tim, who was 11 years old at that time, was the one that walked to the podium to accept Chuck’s diploma. Chuck was already quarantined at the Cresson Sanatorium.

Chuck, who is now 72, recounts his story.

In March of 1955, Chuck caught a cold that developed into what he thought was bronchitis. "I was run down and tired all the time," said Chuck. Traveling to the family’s doctor, Dr. Tom Johnson of Towanda, Chuck was told that it was probably pneumonia, but x-rays were ordered.

But when the x-rays returned, the news was not good and Chuck was told that he probably had tuberculosis - an illness that was considered taboo in the mid-fifties.

It was a school morning, and Chuck was taken to Robert Packer Hospital and put in isolation for three weeks of testing. According to Chuck, when anyone came in or out of his room they had to wear face masks as tuberculosis was very communicable.

At the end of his stay, the hospital concluded that Chuck had tuberculosis and they immediately went to work to find an open bed at a sanatorium. The hospital soon found an available bed at Cresson Hospital, a treatment facility located just outside of Cresson, Pa.

Chuck’s world soon came crashing down around him as his parents took him home for one night following his isolation at Robert Packer, and then loaded him up in the car for what would end up being a 16-month stay at the Sanatorium. For Chuck, he thought the next four years was all set, until that long and lonely drive.

Upon arrival at the sanatorium, Chuck remembered the large oak trees that graced the landscape of the several hundred acre property that facilitated the large buildings made of brick and stone, and housed and treated patients afflicted with tuberculosis.

Chuck described, in a recent interview, his feelings. "It was much the same feeling as joining the service," said Chuck. "You suddenly get sent some place where you don’t know anyone. Then you go to war and you don’t know who is going to die."

Chuck also described the three ways in which patients died at the sanatorium, with the first being hemorrhaging. Because tuberculosis eats away at your lungs, hemorrhaging, according to Chuck, could be very likely to happen. "If it eats through a blood vessel it’s like drowning in your own blood," said Chuck. "You never knew who it would happen to or when."

Chuck recalled an experience that still haunts him today. He described how lights would go out at 9 p.m. each evening, and you would go to sleep. But then, as if awakening to a nightmare, the lights would come on at 3 a.m. and there would be people all around. "Some guy would be spitting up blood and they would wheel the bed right out of there," Chuck recounted. "They would be gone in 30 seconds."

Then there was the frightfully eerie morning after, when Chuck would awaken to find the bed, which had been rolled out the evening before, empty and made up with clean linens.

The second way that Chuck said people would succumb to the illness would be from surgery. "They would try and remove the diseased lung... and they wouldn’t make it."

But the worst form of demise, according to Chuck, was for those who not only had tuberculosis, but for those who had it in combination with silicosis - or black lung from working in the Pennsylvania coal mines. The coal, according to Chuck, permeated their lungs.

"I saw guys struggle for months for every single breath," said Chuck. "It was like slow strangulation... they couldn’t get enough air to survive." Chuck also noted that it was a very strange feeling to see people die at the age of 17.

But Chuck was one of the fortunate ones that didn’t succumb to the terrifying fate that some of his colleagues at the sanatorium were delivered. Because Chuck sought medical attention with only a mild fever, he was able to catch his tuberculosis at an early stage. The symptoms at a later stage, according to Chuck, would have been coughing, spitting up, or spitting up blood.

So for his 16-month journey to Cresson, Chuck was pumped full of streptomycin, or antibiotic, and then monitored for the duration of his stay. And even though his symptoms were gone after the first month, Chuck had to be tested every month until his sputum test was negative, and then had to remain in a hospital ward for the remainder of the time until a fourth negative sputum test was revealed.

The rehabilitation portion of his stay, which took place while awaiting the fourth negative test, was in what Chuck described as a small apartment building for two people. He also described that throughout his stay, the only attire allowed was pajamas, a robe and slippers.

And back home, throughout Chuck’s period of quarantine and treatment, Chuck’s father - who worked for The Daily Review, and his sister Barbara (Felton) Hill and brother Tom Felton - who later worked at The Daily Review, had to wait and hope for Chuck’s safe and healthy arrival back home.

While dealing with tuberculosis organizations recently, Chuck learned from them that Tuberculosis, at that time, had the same stigma that is associated with AIDS today. Chuck agreed with this, and recounted another story. While in the sanatorium, Chuck’s mother would talk to neighbors and ask them to send a postcard or note to their son who was miles away.

Chuck recalled his sister becoming upset one day when she saw her mother asking a neighbor to send a postcard. According to his sister’s account, her mother talked to the neighbor and then had a sudden look on her face. When his sister asked their mother what was wrong, she told her that the neighbor was appalled that she would even ask anyone to write to him. "How dare you ask people to write him - we know how people get tuberculosis," was the account of what was said.

This angered their mother, but Chuck eventually assured her that he had only kissed a girl - and that was it. But even today, according to Chuck, people still feel that mark about having tuberculosis.

In a recent email received by Chuck, an 84-year old woman confessed that she never told anyone about her tuberculosis. "There was a shame connected to tuberculosis," said Chuck. "At 84, she still has that shame."

But Chuck never felt that stigma back home and said he was totally accepted upon his return after 16 months. Carrying a letter from the hospital with him that stated he was totally discharged and cured, Chuck took a year off to rest and then continued his dreams of attending Penn State and then graduating with a degree in Engineering Mechanics.

Following his graduation Chuck relocated to Long Beach, California where he fulfilled a career with Douglas Aircraft and pursued his life-long hobby of building model airplanes.

After retiring from Douglas Aircraft in 1999, Chuck and his wife Peggy moved to Lakehills, Texas, an area that Chuck selected because of its geographical resemblance to Towanda. "I miss Towanda’s beauty," said Chuck, "so that’s why I picked an area in Texas with hills." He did note that although there are hills, they still don’t compare with Towanda.

And Chuck’s children, 50 year old Debbie Felton and 44 year old David Felton, also live in Texas near the Dallas area.

As for Cresson Sanatorium, like most others, it was closed when tuberculosis was eradicated. Now, resting on the same landscape, the old facility now serves as part of the Pennsylvania Corrections system - its memories shared only by those who visited its inside walls.

To learn more about those memories you can visit Chuck’s page at You can also visit