Chicago doctors send greetings from 1962

Contents of Grant Hospital time capsule | Courtesy Eric Nordstrom

Contents of Grant Hospital time capsule | Courtesy Eric Nordstrom

In 1962, doctors at Chicago’s Grant Hospital left a letter for those who followed them 50 years later, offering their predictions about what the practice of medicine would look like in 2012.

The letter, and other contents of a time capsule, were revealed recently by Eric Nordstrom,who owns and operates Urban Remains, an architectural salvage firm.

Nordstrom found the capsule when the hospital building was demolished in 2009. At that time, he returned some of the box’s contents, such as reports, to the surviving doctors who wrote them. But he has made the letter public only recently, in an article on the Urban Remains website.

“In this day of possible nuclear destruction and biological suicide we doctors of 1962 are only assuming that there will be a succeeding generation to read this,” the letter begins.

“The field of electronics is playing an increasingly important role in diagnosis and treatment…. One of our many wishes is that such modernization will not have replaced completely the art of medicine and the individual practitioner.” – the doctors of Chicago’s Grant Hospital in 1962, in a letter to the physicians of 2012

“If history permits, you will know of our country’s first around-the-earth space flights as of this year,” it continues, referring to astronaut John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission in which he was the first American to orbit the earth.

“Space medicine has become important,” the Grant Hospital doctors add. “The causes of cancer and the common cold have not been discovered. We hope they will be, long before you read this.”

They were somewhat more prescient when they speculated on the future of the nascent field of data processing in record-keeping and clinical care:

“The field of electronics is playing an increasingly important role in diagnosis and treatment. Computers are garnering and preserving vast quantities of medical and hospital data.

“One of our many wishes for you is that such modernization will not have replaced completely the art of medicine and the individual practitioner.”

German Hospital - Grant Hospital's predecessor

German Hospital – Grant Hospital’s predecessor

The hospital began in 1883 as the “German Hospital of Chicago”  to serve the growing population of the north side of the city following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 – and especially the German immigrant population in the Lincoln Park neighbourhood.

The name was changed to Grant Hospital in 1918 as the U.S. entered the First World War.

The hospital was sold in 1994 to Columbia Healthcare Corporation, eventually becoming the Lincoln Park Hospital, which was subsequently closed in 2008. It was abandoned for more than a year before it began to be redeveloped as rental apartments and condominiums.

Grant Hospital in 1960

Grant Hospital in 1960

Nordstrom – who earned a Master’s degree in molecular genetics and neuropharmacology from the University of Minnesota Medical School and worked for a year as a staff scientist at the University of Chicago – visited the site in 2009 looking for a time capsule behind the cornerstone.

He found a copper box, the contents of which included research papers, newspapers, coins, pamphlets pertaining to the hospital and a “doomsday” typewritten letter, according to the description on his website.

Nordstrom has stored the letter in the Bldg. 51 Museum where he has collected some of the “historically important” architectural artifacts he’s collected.~TM

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