Bishop Rowe Hospital

John Earnest Southerland or Sutherland died on this day, April 6, 1898 in the Bishop Rowe Hospital. Although we do not know how he died, it was most probably again from meningitis. He was born in New Zealand, perhaps Otago, in 1874, so he was only 24 when he passed away and was buried in the Gold Rush Cemetery.

A few days later, on April 15, 1898 a letter from the Right Reverend Peter Rowe, Bishop of Alaska was received in New York. In it he described the desperate situation in Skagway and the need for the hospital:

“…the people of Skaguay have been forced to start an emergency hospital. The need of it beggars description. It has relieved many cases of great distress. The people have responded to appeals to their humanity nobly. Impressed with the importance of the institution, representatives of the public have asked me to take charge of it, and I have done so. They have transferred it all into our hands.

“The emergency hospital is a low cabin 30 feet long and 18 feet wide. One room on the ground floor answers for kitchen and cots; one room above is but half-story or attic. In this room I found 12 cots, and 10 of them were occupied with men in all stages of pneumonia and meningitis. Yesterday while visiting it a young man was brought in from the summit, 18 miles, on a sled, tied on to keep him from falling off, having been dragged over rocks and through mud all that distance.

“Last night I was with a young man who died in my arms, from New Brunswick, telling me what to say to his father and mother and sisters. It was most sad, most pitiful. Sickness is ging to increase. The appeals to our humanity cannot be ignored. The sick are absolutely friendless, helpless, and without the hospital would simply die by the wayside. We have one woman nurse, two men, and a cook. Skaguay doctors are attending for little or nothing as expenses permit. We must build an addition if only of an inexpensive and temporary character.

“I am going to begin this immediately. Present accommodations are totally inadequate and unsuitable. We have assumed great responsibility.”
The author of this letter, Peter Trimble Rowe is pictured above.

-from the New York Times of April 16, 1898; Skagway Death Records; headstone.

James Kelley

Sgt. Major James Kelley married his sweetheart at the beginning of March 1898 in Vancouver Washington. He shipped out one week later and arrived in Dyea in March 1898. He was in charge of the 14th Infantry and as they were setting up the camp, he suddenly cried out in pain. He was struck with spinal meningitis and died on this day, March 19, 1898. His body was shipped back to Vancouver Washington and a large stone marker sits on his grave in the military cemetery there. Oddly, cemetery records show a dependent, an infant named James Kelley also buried in the same plot in March 1898. Although this could be a mistake, it paints an odd picture.

Sgt Kelley was born in Greggsville, Illinois on June 21, 1860 and was 38 when he died.

from newspaper article: Columbian of March 31, 1898
online cemetery records:
photo taken in the Vancouver Cemetery July 2010

William Grant

On this day in 1898 a young man named William Grant died of meningitis in Skagway. His father was Captain William Grant and the family lived in Victoria where his body was shipped.
Meningitis was a real epidemic here in Skagway that winter, affecting young men and killing many. Dr. Emil Pohl treated these many cases, and after moving to Portland, he presented a paper there in 1906 relating the questions that he had and describing the symptoms (not for the squeamish):

“Since the mode of infection of Cerebro Spinal meningitis is still doubtful it is interesting to trace the disease as it appeared in the epidemic in the winter of 1897-1898 at Skagway, Alaska. The first case ws a man who had been in town for some time; his case proved fatal in a short time.
The sanitary conditions surrounding his home were not bad; with the assistance of cold weather no decomposition could take place. The water was supplied from the mountain side, the Skagway river and a few wells. No cases were reported from up the river, prior to the Skagway cases. I think we can eliminate water as a factor in the causation of Meningitis.
One case in particular that was admitted to the hospital, stated that he was careful even to wash in water that had been boiled. If we can accept the truth of his statement, that would proved almost conclusively that the disease was not transmitted through the intestinal tract, but more than likely through the nose and respiratory tract.
Following the report of the first case other cases were reported from various portions of the town. About this time we began to hear of cases at Dyea. First the cases came from near the town and other cases came from further distances. The disease then crossed the mountain range and appeared all along the trail to Lake Bennett, a distance of 40 miles from Skagway. Below this point I did not hear of any cases. The last case that I saw at Bennett was in the month of April. When the warm weather set in at Bennett the sanitary conditions were bad, the disease disappeared and did not reappear until the following winter at Skagway.
That year, I am told they had but three cases. It would seem that cold weather or exposure is an exciting factor, although cases of meningitis do appear in the summer. If the disease is contagious it must be very mildly so, as I know of no one attending on the cases taken down with the disease, and usually but one case appeared in a household.
In reviewing the morbid anatomy, I have selected a subject in which the pathological conditions are present in most autopsies. First I will briefly refer to the symptoms of this subject.
His previous history was good so far as aI could find out, for when I first saw him he was delirious. He was a powerful man, about 35 years of age weighing about 190 pounds. I saw him about the fourth day after he was taken ill. He had all the symptoms of meningitis. The excruciating pain in head and neck, stiffness of the muscles, deafness, strabismus, inequality of the pupils, hemorrhagic spots, herpes liabialis and delirium; his temperature was irregular as well as his pulse; he passed into coma and died seven days from the time when I first saw him. On cutting through the dura mater considerable serum escaped. The pia and arachnoid were so adherent to the brain in places that it could not be separated without tearing the brain substance.
The blood vessels of the brain stood out prominently, greatly engorged on the convexity of the brain; considerable sero-fibrinous deposit was present, especially in the depressions or fissures. By exposing the base of the brain, the optic commissure and its immediate neighborhood was covered with a pussy exudates, the exudates was more abundant at the auditory nerve just as it entered the internal auditory meatus. The medulla and pons were covered with pus.
The interior of the brain seemed quite normal with the exception of the choroids plesus, which was greatly engorged, the ventricles contain an extra amount of serum. The spinal cord showed the same pathological conditions as the brain, the pussy exudates seemed to be greater in amount on the posterior than the anterior surfaces of the cord. …
Of all the drugs recommended in this disease, opium and bromides seem to be the only ones of any benefit. The sooner the opium is commenced the results seem better, before marked exudation takes place; thereafter, bromides seem to act the best.”

Dr. Emil Pohl himself died only a few years later in Alaska from either spinal meningitis or an encephalitis epidemic. So much for his theory of “no one attending the cases coming down with the disease”. He was the real hero of Skagway during that winter-with his wife, also a doctor, Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy-but that’s another story.

Father Andrew Harley Baker

On August 15, 1913 Harley Andrew Baker was born in Skagway. He was named after his uncle Harley Baker who died in Skagway in 1898 from meningitis at 3 1/2 years old and is buried in the Gold Rush Cemetery.

Harley Andrew became the first Alaska born Catholic Priest. He died in Juneau in 1965 but is buried in the Skagway Pioneer Cemetery. The Baker family stayed in Skagway until the 1930 census. Harley’s father, Elihu worked for White Pass as a brakeman.

From a website called; a letter from Francis Baker, the first Harley’s mother; census reports.