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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

History, ghosts, and red brick buildings

Old buildings: they carry with them our history. And another interesting older red brick structure in Wauwatosa is threatened. Milwaukee County wants to tear down  the Technology Innovation Center in the Research Park and sell the land to developers for $1 million. That's about what it will cost to tear it down, so read "give it away." It's not a done deal, but our history of tearing down old buildings makes me pessimistic.

So here's a little history of Muirdale, the tuberculosis (TB) sanitorium it once was.

Accounts vary, but I’ll say Muirdale opened in 1915. Then, 11% of  deaths in the country were from tuberculosis (TB), also called “consumption.” To put that number in perspective, it’s about as many people as now die each year in the U.S. from cerebrovascular diseases (including strokes) and accidents combined (the third and fifth leading causes of death).

An infectious disease that thrives in poor and crowded living conditions, TB was treated with isolation, diet, and exposure to fresh air and sunshine. I'm guessing the big rounded  window protrusions were solaria or even sleeping porches. In the 1900s most treatment facilities were cottages. Muirdale had those too, but the three-story hospital that remains was the first of its kind in the country. It became the model for TB facilities in the US.

Muirdale also played a role in the history of the NAACP, which successfully lobbied to reverse the institution's policy of segregating patients by race.

Some 700 patients lived there at any one time before the advent of antibiotic therapy. After that, TB declined and the building was closed in 1970 (or 1975: reports vary).

My mother, a nurse, worked there right after WWII. For the rest of her life, though she never had TB, the pinprick test showed a raised lump, the sign she’d been exposed.

The building received a Milwaukee County historic landmark designation in 1980 and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The role it played in innovation in treatment of infectious disease, a problem that never leaves us but only shifts from one epidemic to the next, was notable.

As well as a technology incubator, the building is now the site of ghost legends, and not just because of the patients who died there. Ghost tour literature says the mounds in the front lawn are Indian burial mounds.

Of course I want to keep the building.  So does research park development  director Guy Mascari, who does not seem to be a sentimental sort. If $8 million will bring the building up to where it should be, why spend $14 million to build a new building on speculation, losing our heritage in the process?

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