Telling Trudeau’s story

SARANAC LAKE – Local historian Mary Hotaling hopes to breathe new life into the story of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau through the first biography to be written about Saranac Lake’s founder in decades.

“A Rare Romance in Medicine: The Life and Legacy of Edward Livingston Trudeau” is on track to be published in 2015, the 100th anniversary of Trudeau’s death. The book is being produced as a partnership between Hotaling, former Adirondack Museum director Caroline Welsh, who’s serving as the project’s administrator, Historic Saranac Lake, Trudeau Institute, the Saranac Lake Free Library and Adirondack Life magazine.

Hotaling said the book will draw heavily on Trudeau’s autobiography, simply titled “An Autobiography,” which was published in 1916, the year after he died.

“What I’m trying to do is write a popular book,” Hotaling said. “It’s as scholarly as I can make it, but it’s not just for scholars. It’s really meant to open his story up, bring it to life with more pictures and hopefully drive people back to the original autobiography.”

Born in New York City in 1848, Trudeau contracted tuberculosis in 1873 and moved with his wife and family to the Adirondacks, initially living at the Paul Smith’s Hotel, where he had enjoyed vacations in the past. His health improved, and in 1876, the family moved to Saranac Lake, where Trudeau started a medical practice.

In 1885, he established the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium (known later as the Trudeau Sanatorium) for the treatment of tuberculosis patients, which transformed the village into a world-renowned TB curing center and continued to operate until 1954. The year before, in 1884, Trudeau created the Saranac Laboratory for the Study of Tuberculosis, the predecessor of today’s Trudeau Institute, a nonprofit Saranac Lake-based biomedical research center.

Hotaling’s biography of Trudeau would be the first written about him since at least 1959, when Kathryn Harrod published “Man of Courage: The Story of Dr. Edward L. Trudeau.”

If anyone has the credentials and passion to write an up-to-date biography of Trudeau, it’s Hotaling. She was one of the founders of Historic Saranac Lake in the late 1970s. She served as its director for two long stints from 1982 until her retirement in 2009. Hotaling said she’s been researching Trudeau’s life and accomplishments “for about 20 years, at least, little bits here and there.”

“This is certainly her baby,” said Michele Tucker, curator of the library’s Adirondack Research Center. “It’s something that’s very important to her.”

Asked why she finds Trudeau so interesting, Hotaling talked about his accomplishments in the field of tuberculosis research and what he did for Saranac Lake. But more than anything, she’s fascinated with the “human touch” that he brought to his work.

“He started practice when there wasn’t a great deal that a doctor could do for you other than hold your hand, but there’s a lot to that,” she said. “There’s a lot to the laying on of hands. It’s really a healing activity. It’s not very healing to have somebody sit there and talk to you and punch your information into a computer. He was renowned for his sympathy, and of course he was sympathetic because he had experienced (tuberculosis) himself.

“Steven Chalmers wrote a book about him called ‘The Beloved Physician.’ That’s the honorific they apply to St. Luke. They’re basically calling him a saint. A lot of people here thought that’s what he was, a lot of his patients.”

Hotaling said she initially planned to just republish Trudeau’s autobiography. Until recently, the book had been out of print since the 1950s.

“What I’m discovering is that very few people have read it,” Hotaling said. “Twenty years ago there would have been more because there were more people then who were veterans of the (tuberculosis) cure era. But I asked at last year’s (Historic Saranac Lake) annual meeting how many people have read it, and there weren’t that many, even in that selected audience.”

“It’s a really great book, and it’s a really great resource for our local history,” Amy Catania, Historic Saranac Lake’s current director, said of Trudeau’s autobiography. “Mary’s original idea was to republish the book word-for-word with additional photographs and sidebars, kind of adding some context to make it more readable and relevant. She’s been working on that for years.”

That plan changed about a year ago, however, when a simple paperback version of the book was published by Peru-based Bloated Toe Enterprises. Hotaling said she also learned from conversations with Adirondack Life, which will lay out and produce the book, that her initial idea would be too costly.

“So what it’s boiled down to is I’m converting it to a biography,” she said. “I’m guessing the content of the book is going to be about a third pictures, a third Trudeau’s own words and a third my words. Mine is going to be more to the point. I’m leaving out a lot of the colorful stuff because, you know, his discussion of his guides who were his friends, or his dogs are not all that relevant to his accomplishments.”

As many as 120 pictures will be included in the book, many of which were donated to the library by the Trudeau family and Trudeau Institute. Trudeau’s original autobiography had no pictures, although subsequent editions added a couple, Hotaling said.

“As you look at it, it doesn’t have anything to grab you,” Hotaling said. “Sometimes there’s a perfect picture for exactly what he’s talking about in the book. For example, there’s a wonderful little anecdote in there where he, as a young man, is rowing on the Hudson with friends and they stopped to have their picture taken. There’s a photograph from that in the Adirondack Room. It’s just such a great picture. It’s going in the book.”

The other challenge with Trudeau’s autobiography, Hotaling said, is it’s not written chronologically. Her book will more closely follow the timeline of his life.

There are also significant details that Trudeau left out of his autobiography, Hotaling said.

“He entirely leaves out Winter Carnival. He leaves out the fact that he was the founder of village government. He leaves out the fact that he personally owned a lot of real estate. He talks about his wife at the beginning, but later on she kind of just disappears into the fabric of what he’s talking about. I’d like to illuminate her a little more.”

So much is missing from Trudeau’s autobiography that Hotaling says, “It was like, in a way, he was writing this to conceal things about his life.”

Ironically, in the introduction to “An Autobiography,” Trudeau wrote that telling his life story was “the one thing I thought I would never do,” saying too many autobiographies he’s read “run perilously near the fatal precipice of egoism.”

So why write one? Among other reasons, Trudeau writes that “as man nears the end of the earthly journey … when there is no longer any future to look forward to in this world and much of the joy of life has disappeared from the present, he naturally turns his face not unwillingly to the past, and is not at all averse to living over again for others some of the days of sunshine and shadow, of pleasure and pain, and of strenuous activity through which he has passed.”

Trudeau was in failing health at the time he wrote his autobiography, which he didn’t live to see published.

“He was bedridden, basically, and pretty sick the last few years,” Hotaling said. “Somebody asked him to do it and, in a way, it probably gave him something to do to keep him interested in life.”

Catania said it will cost about $40,000 to publish Hotaling’s biography of Trudeau. Roughly $10,000 has been raised so far through what Catania described as an old-fashioned crowdsourcing campaign.

“What we did is kind of a model that Trudeau himself relied on, a subscription campaign,” Catania said. “He did this to raise money for his sanitorium buildings. He would go out and knock on the doors of wealthy friends and say, ‘For $100 you can own a piece of this or that.’ That’s what we decided to do.”

A subscription for “A Rare Romance in Medicine” costs $100, with $60 used to fund the project and $40 to cover the cost of purchasing the book when it comes out.

“If we can raise all the money ahead of time, we’ll get the book printed, we’ll distribute it, and some of that money will come back to us as a fundraiser for Historic Saranac Lake, and there’s some royalties for the author,” Catania said. “It means that nobody’s going to be sinking the ship by printing the book, which is a good business model.”

The book will include a forward by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who grew up in Saranac Lake and is E.L. Trudeau’s great-grandson. Trudeau Institute scientist Andrea Cooper is also writing a chapter at the end of the book that ties E.L. Trudeau’s scientific discoveries to the world of modern biomedical research.

Hotaling said she plans to finish a first draft by the end of the year.

A kickoff party for the subscription campaign was scheduled to take place Friday at Trudeau Institute. Organizers planned to unveil what’s believed to be an original manuscript of E.L. Trudeau’s autobiography, packaged in brown paper, tied up with rope and unopened for nearly 90 years. The manuscript has been stored in the institute’s archives for decades.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or