Eversley Childs’ legacyBy Jobers Bersales
Cebu Daily News
It’s amazing how very little we know about Eversley Childs Sanitarium (EVCS), the treatment complex tucked away in a section of Jagobiao, Mandaue, just a few meters across the ABS-CBN compound. Since 1930, this was the permanent home of thousands of victims, rich or poor, of the dreadful disease called leprosy. And up until the 1980s when a cure was finally discovered, this 52-hectare complex of clinics, dormitories, residences, two churches and even a cemetery was the only world that many men and women who contracted the disease got to know until their death.
Last Aug. 12, the staff of what has now become the Eversley Childs Hospital finally inaugurated a permanent home for a huge collection of medical paraphernalia and personal mementos of the times when people with leprosy were forcibly brought to the complex in what was then a novel treatment program funded by the Leonard Wood Memorial Foundation. Today, with leprosy a highly treatable disease, only a few patients are left while the countless buildings constructed to house them have been slowly converted into a modern hospital open to the general public.
I should thank Dr. Jun Dela Cruz, veterinarian and a friend, who approached Malou Samson, University of San Carlos Museum curator, and I to seek our interest in helping redesign the newly inaugurated museum and archives. Dr. Dela Cruz continues to work at one building in the former EVCS, attending to monkeys that form part of a continuing worldwide research on the treatment for news strains of Tuberculosis or TB. TB and leprosy are both bacilli and are considered cousins in that they are similar in form and structure. It is therefore logical that, with a cure for leprosy no longer on the research menu, TB is now the focus of scientists at the still-extant research laboratory of the Leonard Wood Memorial Foundation, just across the building housing the museum and archives.
The other Saturday, I finally got to see EVCS once again because indeed my interest was piqued at being able to contribute our skills to a budding medical museum and because the last time I was here was in the early 1980s, when as a student of Prof. Zenaida Uy, we were bused here to see the complex as part of the requirements of the Social Issues and Social Justice course I was enrolled in during my freshman year at the University of San Carlos.
EVCS is named after Eversley Childs, a philanthropist who was president of Bon Ami Soap (now Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Soap Co.), a position he inherited from his father who built the company from scratch, eventually becoming the largest detergent soap manufacturer in the United States by the time Eversley was at its helm. He infused P360,000, a huge sum at the time, on a 52-hectare property donated by the then-Diocese of Cebu under Bishop Juan Gorordo. The Province of Cebu reportedly also donated P35,000, an equally large amount then, to pay some 50 farmers who were claiming ownership of some parcels of the property. Half of the 52-hectare lot was swampland while the other rose to a terrain reaching 150 meters high.
It is on this higher terrain that the museum is situated, on a three-room elevated cement structure very much like a large concrete “bahay kubo” with posts not made of bamboo but of concrete. This is typical of the admixture of Philippine indigenous and California mission architecture that was masterfully developed in 1910 by the architect William E. Parsons whose most enduring work all over the Philippines are the also-elevated structures called Gabaldon School Buildings.
Before EVCS was opened, suspected lepers were brought by sanitary inspectors to the Cebu Skin Clinic, which still exists today at its exact location across a side of Carretta Cemetery. Like EVCS, the Clinic building is also elevated and has been so masterfully preserved to this day.
Back to EVCS, I brought my Museology students last Saturday to begin carrying out an inventory and cataloguing of thousands of medical supplies and equipment as well as church vestments, record albums, patient information cards, etc. prior to a full redesign of the museum. Before this museum came into being, social worker Nancy Sabuero told me, she and her staff used to set up week-long exhibits at specific venues during the annual information campaigns on leprosy. This is probably the reason why so much has been preserved, including extant uniforms worn by patients and the blankets they used in sleeping.
Leprosy has long been cured although its total eradication is still a pipe dream. And as EVCS sheds its image as a leprosy treatment facility into a tertiary public hospital, it is heart-warming that the people who once took care of the thousands of lepers here are now taking care of their memories.
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Let me congratulate Dr. Noel Ponce on the first anniversary the other Sunday of his unique shop, the Staypi Souvenirs, Arts and Collectables Shop. I am now a proud owner of a Victorla hand-crank gramophone because this shop owner, who is incidentally also a geriatrist (a medical doctor who treats senior citizens), also dabbles in collecting old photographs, radios, clocks, gramophones, books, basta anything old. If not for him I wonder where I would be able to buy this functioning portable gramophone which dates to the 1930s. Thank you, Dr. Ponce.
Speaking of gramophones, let me also acknowledge another friend in the heritage movement, Dr. Louie Nacorda (not a medical doctor but a doctor of management), for selling to me cheap an old Victrola consolette he acquired in the 1990s. This one dates to the early 1920s but was no longer functioning when Louie got it. I shall soon put it at Museo Sugbo although I am still looking for someone to make it work.
More from this Column:
- Rejoinder from non-pigs in the pigsty
- Cebuanos in a pigsty
- Culture and heritage: The unfinished agenda
- Ka Bino’s diapers
- Digging San Remigio anew