SARANAC: America's Magic Mountain by Robert Taylor

SARANAC: America's Magic Mountain

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A beautifully written, three-part story of New York's Saranac Lake region, of Dr. Edward Trudeau, who founded there America's first sanitorium for the treatment of tuberculosis, and of the battle against TB, the 19th century's most widely romanticized killer disease. Taylor begins his story with the invasion of Saranac by the New England intellectuals and with William J. Stillman's famous painting of Emerson and his friends on a deer hunt. The first literary explosion at Saranac was afforded by Reverend William Murray's Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adironacks (1869), a phenomenal best-seller. The medical invasion begins with Dr. Trudeau, who had witnessed his brother's death by tuberculosis, and then went out to Saranac himself to die of the disease--but lived--and lived--and lived. Time after time, he went back home to New York City, broke down, then returned to Saranac and found himself marvelously invigorated and literally plucked from death's doorstep. Trudeau became the nation's foremost TB specialist, followed the course of advancing knowledge in Europe, and decided to imitate the German theory that pulmonary tuberculosis was curable and that ""high altitudes had a salubrious effect on it."" He built some cabins, in his way imitating the sanitorium in the Silesian mountains whose concepts became the basis of Mann's The Magic Mountain. Soon the first of many world-famous visitors arrived, the young author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson. RLS was a tubercular chain-smoker who romanticized illness; he and Trudeau got on each other's nerves. But RLS was followed by countless pilgrims drawn to Saranac by illness, most of whom repeated the rites of Mann's Hans Castorp. Sketched herein are poetess Adelaide Crapsey, Christy Mathewson, Jack ""Legs"" Diamond, Bela Bartok, Gerald and Sara Murphy, Albert Einstein, and Sylvia Plath, who broke her leg skiing at Saranac, a pivotal episode in The Bell Jar. Taylor often puts an interesting spin on his interpretations of the lives of his human beings, particularly Crapsey and Plath. His evocation of place is lung-filling, his review of tuberculosis studies ever absorbing. Refreshing throughout; as brilliant as winter air.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin