Browsed by
Category: San Haven, ND

Rolette County
Abandoned in 1987

Inside San Haven Sanatorium, part two

Inside San Haven Sanatorium, part two

In part one, Mary, a former patient at San Haven Sanatorium, detailed her arrival at San Haven and the circumstances that led to her spending five months in the facility in 1963. Eventually this ten-year-old from Carrington settled into her time at this massive hospital and learned how to keep herself safe.

We never wandered the halls unless we told the nurses where we were going so I did not associate with too many more of the residents. We knew there were men on the other hallway because we were never allowed on that end. We had to tell them when we wanted to go to the bathroom because we shared the bathroom with all the ladies on end of the hall. As I told you before, no shower, just a bathtub, two stools and two sinks. Sometimes when I went to the bathroom I would see blood in the sinks.

I learned many things there such as taking my own temp, and my own pulse. We had to do this every day and sometimes twice a day. Once a month they would stick a tube down my throat and bring up juices from my stomach to test for a live bug. They always came back negative. I never had TB.

The third floor was for the severely mentally handicapped and for us to do our crafts. I do remember going up to the third floor and peeking in the window and seeing several old people in cribs with just diapers on, crying and screaming. The door was locked so we couldn’t go in.  We were not allowed on the fourth floor except to wash our hair in the small bathroom and a nurse was with us at all times.

We were able to go to the roof by elevator and get some fresh air and sunshine and every once in a while the girls would lock me out and I would have to wait until the nurses would come looking for me or one of the girls felt sorry for me and let me in. On top of the roof was a room that the elevator was in and a door to the outside so I got wise after a while and never left the building so I was close to the elevator. That was the only sunshine we got was when we went to the top.

My friends and family came to see me and I could only see them when I opened my window with bars. Adults were allowed in the building but children weren’t. Which doesn’t make sense because the adults didn’t wear masks or gowns, so they could have taken this to the kids anyway, but that’s how they did it back then.

I asked Mary about the bars on the windows and the visiting restrictions:

We weren’t really allowed outside our rooms most of the time. The nurses would always tell us to get back in our room. We were not locked in our rooms and our doors were open during the day but they preferred us not to be outside our rooms except to go to the bathroom. When I think on it , it was sort of like a prison, but as a kid and having a large room and a TV I didn’t think any thing about it. There were bars on the windows because as I said the girls would keep escaping, but I think they just walked out the front door when all the visitors left. Not sure and did not ask questions. The last month I was there there was an older white women that was more like a grandmother. She was very kind but we could only talk across the way from each other. I never went into her room and she never came in ours.

In one portion of an email, Mary compares her memories of San Haven with our photos, like the garden and fountain that once graced the grounds:

I don’t remember any gardens or streams from the roof, but you have to remember I never got outside. I also don’t remember any other buildings such as the Children’s wing. That wasn’t there when I was.

In the seventies and eighties, things had started to spiral down at San Haven, and Mary says the decline was already apparent when she was there in 1963.

It was very scary place to be then, I can imagine what it was later. The place should have been condemned back then.

In the end, Mary’s parents secured her release.

My doctor and Mom made them get me out of there.  It took 4 months and when Mom threatened lawyers that’s when they released me.  There was no live bug to work with so they had to let me go.

When I got out in July I had to take 21 pills a day for 3 years so I wouldn’t get TB. I am still a carrier and always will be as my sisters are also carriers. 

The legacy of the closure of San Haven (and hundreds of other facilities like it around the nation) is that we decided as a society that shuttering away other people for whatever purpose is very, very rarely necessary in a modern medical society.  During the time Mary was a patient, this facility hosted both contagious TB patients and developmentally disabled adults, and patients with an array of other afflictions known by other names today.  Banishing them to a place like San Haven, so understaffed and administratively mismanaged… it’s just not the way we treat the vulnerable in our country today.  It’s hard to argue with a former patient.

Not a pretty picture but then in my eyes not a pretty place. I don’t have good feelings about that place at all.

There were surely patients at San Haven who had a delightful time, and plenty of people who flatly deny there was anything at all wrong with facilities like San Haven despite plenty of documentation to the contrary, a topic we’ve addressed before, but in the end, facilities like San Haven were closed for a reason.  There are those who disagree with it and who lost their jobs because of it and that is unfortunate. However, a critical attitude toward human warehouses like San Haven shouldn’t be seen as a swipe at the staff.  To the contrary, we have the utmost respect for those who excel at exceedingly difficult jobs like those San Haven offered.  It’s executive and administrative decisions that led to hospital staff pushed far beyond their capabilities.

We’re very grateful to Mary for sending her story in.  In the end, the closure of San Haven simply means young girls like Mary will no longer have to endure what she went through, and that is a good thing.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Inside San Haven Sanatorium

Inside San Haven Sanatorium

This website is a constant reminder of how things change over time, those reminders frequently coming in the form of a photograph that shows a crumbling structure, a little less stout than when we last photographed it. Sometimes though, the reminders come in the form of a story, an email from a visitor.  In this case, we received an email from a former ten-year-old patient at San Haven Sanatorium and we’re reminded that sometimes it’s a change in our culture which leads to abandonment.

Mary found our website, and after perusing the San Haven galleries, sent us an email.

Mary wrote:

Your pictures brought back a lot of scarier memories. None of them good. I was a patient at San Haven from March 1963 to July 1963.  I was there. They thought I had TB because I reacted to the shot. 

Her email immediately got my attention and I contacted Mary with the hope that she would share more of her story.

San Haven was a tuberculosis Sanatorium near Dunseith, founded in 1909, which eventually became a home for the developmentally disabled. It has frequently been the subject of controversy, usually a dispute between those who insist no wrongdoing or neglect ever took place at San Haven and those who want to make sure it never happens again. Firsthand accounts from former patients could illuminate this conversation.

I asked Mary to tell us more and she started with…

…the day my Mom and Dad took me there. It was cold and it took three hours to drive there. I met the doctors [and thought] they talked funny. I didn’t know they were going to leave me there even though they packed my dolls and some clothes. My Mom wasn’t sure they were even going to leave me there, so they left and said they would be back to see me the next day.

I asked Mary to explain this point. What kind of shot was it she reacted to? When did she know that her Mom and Dad would be leaving her there?

It was a TB scrape . They have a instrument with several needles. They pierce the forearm and wait three days and if you react with a red spot then you have to have a chest x-ray to see if you have spots in your lungs. I have no idea why my Mom did it to us kids. Maybe she heard it on TV that there was cases of TB and went to the doctor. After us three girls reacted the whole school was tested as well as several other people. No one around here reacted so the doctor said that us three girls may have been walking together and some one spit on the sidewalk that actually had TB and we contracted it. That was one explanation. The doctor contacted the state AMA and they told him that we had to go to San Haven or Grand Forks because they were the only places that was close enough to go to. They knew that it was a possibility that I would have to stay there but we weren’t sure until we actually got there.

The situation as it was: a ten-year-old girl quarantined for tuberculosis in a massive sanatorium three hours from home.

So they took me to a room which held 3 bunk beds and two single hospital beds. I was on the 2nd floor in the women section. I was in a room with 6 other girls ranging from 9 to 17. I was 10. They put me on the top bunk.

San Haven, North Dakota

The two older girls were watching tv and smoking as were the others even the 9 yr old. They all looked at me rather strangely being as I was the only white girl. So I got up on my bunk and started to talk to my dolls. The older ones told me to shut up but I kind of ignored them. It made them mad and they got up and pulled me off the bed, threw me on the floor, put a chair over me and threatened to burn me with a cigarette. I was very quiet after that.

Mary’s reference to being the only “white girl” is just the tip of a very large iceberg of regional feelings on race and politics, partly because the hospital is located in tribal territory in a very conservative, predominantly white state and partly because of the impact the hospital had on the local economy in neighboring Dunseith. All that aside, and beyond a government versus private industry argument which remains perpetually unsettled, there is an important legacy to the abandonment of San Haven, which we’ll get to in part two.

There was 1 bathroom for 20 women. In the bathroom there was one tub, no shower, two stools, and two sinks.

It wasn’t long and the older girls escaped, but they came back and brought head lice with them. When they brought the lice they took us upstairs to a bathroom that had a shower, stool and a sink and washed our hair with kerosene. My hair was down to my waist and when my Mom found out about our little bugs she brought her neighbor and she cut my hair real short. That was the first time I had my hair cut short.

I was moved nearly to tears as I read this, imagining a ten year old girl getting her hair cut short for the first time in this terrible place, under such awful circumstances. I’m willing to speculate that the head lice were always blamed on the girls who escaped. Parasites like head lice were a continuing problem at places like San Haven in the 1960s. At any rate, on the subject of the older girls, Mary says:

Then they moved them to a different room or they escaped again but I didn’t see them around anymore. So that left 4 of us girls in the room together and we got our own beds.

That’s only the beginning of the story of a former patient of San Haven Sanatorium — a ten-year-old girl with a questionable TB diagnosis. When I asked Mary about her misdiagnosis, she was forgiving.

They did not have the resources that we have now but I don’t blame my doctor for any of this because he knew it wasn’t TB but the state said we had to go.

In part two, daily life at San Haven, what Mary found on the third floor, and what it took to secure her release from San Haven.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Order Books

San Haven Postcard 1940

San Haven Postcard 1940

I found this postcard in a box at an antique store.  It’s a postcard of San Haven Sanatorium in 1940.  I was impressed that this postcard shows an overview of the grounds including the beautiful gardens and water feature which are now completely dry and overgrown.

This postcard was sent by someone named Olga, who must have been visiting a patient named Hilda, to Mrs. Harold Wendt in Columbia, Wisconsin on February 19th, 1940.  It reads:

Dear Mabel,

How are you all?  Seems like I’ve been gone a month.  We’ve seen so many people we hadn’t seen in almost 20 years.  Hilda is so much better.  Doesn’t look as though she had gone through an operation.  I’ll be home soon.  Olga

San Haven Postcard 1940

san-haven-pc-1940-back-web

See the rest of our San Haven galleries here.

Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Order Ghosts of North Dakota Books

Haunting and Abandoned San Haven Sanatorium

Haunting and Abandoned San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven Sanatorium is a former tuberculosis sanatorium in the foothills of the Turtle Mountains, a few minutes north of Dunseith. Thousands of TB patients received treatment here between 1909 and the end of the TB endemic in the 1940’s. Prior to the advent of antibiotics which brought tuberculosis under control, roughly 50 percent of TB patients died from the disease. A common remedy at the time was to surgically collapse a lung. One can scarcely imagine the suffering that took place here.

San Haven Sanatorium

Years later, San Haven would become a home for the developmentally disabled, and the subject of some controversy — alleged understaffing, mistreatment, and neglect. There is still a vocal group of former employees and regional residents who emphatically deny any mistreatment or neglect ever occurred.

San Haven, like hundreds of other Sanatoriums around the country, closed in the 1980s.

San Haven Sanatorium

In exploring San Haven, we felt somewhat on edge due to the atmosphere of the place. There is a spookiness from the extended period of abandonment and natural reclamation of the site.  Trees and weeds have gone wild. The formerly beautiful and placid water features have long run dry.  Walking paths which were once wide and smooth are now rutted and subject to the infiltration of nature.  The stillness of a very large complex consisting of dozens of still-standing structures is occasionally interrupted by wind in the trees, doors banging in the breeze, and the haunting chattering of pigeons echoing through empty hallways. In the children’s pavilion (shown above), birds cackling two floors above can sound amazingly similar to the voices of children.

San Haven Sanatorium

Looking out from a corner unit in the children’s hospital.

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven Sanatorium

On the top floor, the roof has collapsed over the east wing.

San Haven Sanatorium

More Photos from Inside the Children’s Pavilion

San Haven Sanatorium

This is the main building on the San Haven complex. The buildings in the center and on the right are the oldest parts of the building, and the section on the left was added at a later date.

San Haven Sanatorium

We featured San Haven Sanatorium in our first book.

San Haven Sanatorium

This is the view from around the back of the main sanatorium building, just off a well-traveled road.

San Haven Sanatorium

The view looking out from just inside a ground floor archway in the main building. Years after this place closed, a teenager was killed when he fell down an open elevator shaft in the dark.

San Haven Sanatorium

Tuberculosis patients were frequently prescribed sunshine and fresh air. Above, you can almost imagine the rows of beds lined up in front of the windows.

San Haven Sanatorium

The view from the roof of the main sanatorium building.

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven is arranged on the slope of a hill in the Turtle Mountains, so there are quite a few of these now overgrown stairways scattered around the complex.

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven Sanatorium

There are perhaps a dozen abandoned and crumbling structures on the San Haven Complex.

San Haven Sanatorium

The entire complex is connected by underground tunnels which allowed staff and patients to travel between buildings without going outside in the cold North Dakota winters, and to easily transport patients who were wheelchair bound. The slab covering the tunnel has collapsed in the photo above.

San Haven Sanatorium

The refectory.

San Haven Sanatorium

Get Ghosts of North Dakota fine art prints here.

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven Sanatorium

Stone retaining walls like this still stand in various places on the complex, some of which mark the boundaries of water features which once added a placid mood to the grounds. Today, they are dry and overgrown with weeds and brush.

What do you know about San Haven Sanatorium? Please leave a comment below. Make sure you check out the rest of our San Haven Galleries.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

GET NOTIFIED

Join 2485 other subscribers

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven Sanatorium

San Haven is located just a few miles northeast of Dunseith. It was founded in 1909 as a Tuberculosis Sanatorium and later became a hospital for the developmentally disabled. Over the years, San Haven grew into a huge complex of structures complete with underground tunnels to connect the complex. It was so large, it was given it’s own zip code. At one time, San Haven held over 900 patients.

The San Haven facility closed in 1989.  More reading on the facility can be found here and here.

San Haven is now closed to visitors. A trespasser died a few years ago when he fell down an elevator shaft.  As noted by site visitor Mariah Masilko, the WPA Guide to 1930’s North Dakota indicates it was officially dubbed a “Sanatorium” as versus “Sanitarium”.

These photos contributed by Emma Katka.

See San Haven Sanatorium in 2012.

See San Haven as it appeared in the 1930’s, during the tuberculosis era.

Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

San Haven Sanatorium in the 1930s

San Haven Sanatorium in the 1930s

Susan (Thingvold) Sande of Kalispell, Montana contributed the following photos of San Haven in the tuberculosis era. The photos were taken by her aunt, Nora Thingvold in the 1930’s. Susan’s comments on Nora:

“Nora was a nurse all her life – at San Haven, in hospitals in Devils Lake , in Wisconsin , California & Texas . She served as an army nurse during WWII. She passed away in 1988.”

Above: The San Haven nurse’s residence.

Many of these buildings are either ruins, or completely gone today. The foliage, which was young at the time of these photos, has nearly overtaken the site today.

Contrary to the horror stories from the later days when this facility was a home for the developmentally disabled, most people remember the tuberculosis era at San Haven as a time of placid rest.

The photo above is the former administration building.

San Haven Sanitorium was featured in our first hardcover coffee table book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 1.

Original content copyright © 2011 Sonic Tremor Media

Join 2485 other subscribers

See also: San Haven 2012
See also: San Haven Sanatorium with photos by Emma Katka
See also: Inside San Haven Sanatorium