MOUNT VERNON — There was a special guest at Wednesday’s Mount Vernon Developmental Center centennial celebration. Frances Leistner of Covington, Ohio, was a patient of the tuberculosis sanitarium for 14 months in 1938-39 when she was 11 years old. Wednesday’s journey, on which she was accompanied by numerous family members, was only Leistner’s second return visit, following one in 1994, but she said no current visit could really bridge the years.
“It feels strange to be here,” she said. “That was another world.”
During her stay 71 years ago, treatment for tuberculosis was simply fresh air and rest. Patients were required to sleep on porches closed off by drapes but otherwise open to the weather, including the coldest air of winter.
“There was no medicine,” Leistner said. “You either lived or you died.”
Leistner remembers playing jacks in a large room in the center of “The Shack” — one of many buildings no longer in existence on the grounds of the facility — to pass the time. She said patients had two enforced rest periods every day. From 9 to 11 a.m., they could read or write, but nothing more boisterous than that. From 2 to 4 p.m., they were expected to be completely still, not pursuing any activity whatsoever.
Leistner never again saw any of the other patients she lived with. She never had a chance to return to visit any of her friends at what was then known as the Ohio State Sanitarium because her father didn’t drive. She wonders to this day if there are others like her who survived and thrived.
The reflections of Leistner and others have been gathered in a history of the facility written by Mary Alice Gordon, which was unveiled during the ceremony. Superintendent Ernie Fischer saluted Gordon for her work on the book and also thanked Knox County Historical Society Museum director Jim Gibson for his assistance in preparing the book and historical displays. Orders for various printed editions of the history can be made at the MVDC. A non-printed CD version of the history is also available at a discounted rate.
A display of historic photographs and artifacts will be on display at the center for an indefinite period of time. Many of the items in the exhibit were recently found during attic-cleaning activities. Fischer said a large number of photographs were found along the way, and he invited former employees to start coming in next week to review and claim any of the old photos they wished to keep.