The modern day Upstate Medical University campus pays homage to history with an eloquent, bronzed lobby dedication “to all those of scientific mind and investigative spirit who purpose to serve humanity.” The academic medical center at the heart of Syracuse has roots and a mission dating back almost two centuries, to the inception of Geneva Medical College in 1834. Over the decades, Upstate’s mission has evolved to include not just education but research, patient care and community service. Where nostalgic words begin a story, artifacts help convey its narrative. We’ve curated a few objects that help define Upstate:
The chandelier hanging in the lobby of Weiskotten Hall is made of gold-plating and nickel-plated brass. It is not particularly fancy, but its understated elegance is as solid and enduring as the academic medical center it shines above.
Upstate laboratories contain researchers chipping away toward solutions for cancer and multiple sclerosis and many other diseases, but one of the highest profile contributions came from David Murray, MD. He designed, developed and patented the variable-axis knee prosthesis in the 1980s, and for many years his prosthesis was referred to as the “Syracuse knee.” It laid the groundwork for the replacement knees in use today.
First-year medical students volunteering at Syracuse’s Rescue Mission created “Helping Hands for Forgotten Feet,” just one way in which students, faculty and staff members care for the disenfranchised. This community service project includes shoe drives, monthly foot care clinics and ongoing foot care education for the homeless.
One of the earliest nursing schools in Syracuse was affiliated with Syracuse General Hospital. As was standard practice at many nursing schools, the female students participated in a capping ceremony at the start of hospital training, donning the cap of their school, the size and style of which varied considerably. During the 1960s when nurse’s caps began losing favor and more men sought careers in nursing, Syracuse General Hospital merged with Community Hospital. The resulting Community General Hospital became part of Upstate in 2011. Today nursing students at Upstate work toward bachelor’s master’s or doctoral degrees, and they participate in a white coat ceremony as they begin their studies in the College of Nursing.
Quartz is, literally, part of the foundation of Upstate. A large vein of quartz, one of the most abundant minerals of the Earth’s crust, runs beneath Upstate University Hospital in downtown Syracuse. This beautiful diamond-like chunk, loosened during a dig to install a cooling system a decade ago, symbolizes the abundance of good that occurs at this location and may not always be visible to the outer community.
From its original location in the bookstore in what is now called Weiskotten Hall, this cash register transacted the purchase of every textbook – back when the quintessential “Gray’s Anatomy” sold for $9. The book sells for $209 in today’s bookstore in the Campus Activities Building. Such a colossal register speaks of a simpler era, though the value of the education over which it presided, of course, remains essential for a healthy population. Today, Upstate boasts of training a higher percentage of New York residents than any other allopathic medical school in the state.
The historical collection in Upstate’s Health Sciences Library contains medical texts from the 1600s written in Latin, knives that were used for one of the oldest medical techniques, bloodletting, and early microscopes, including this one that belonged to Alfred Mercer in 1845 and is believed to be the first microscope used in Syracuse. Look just a few hundred yards across campus for the modern juxtaposition: digital references on iPads, robotic devices from the operating rooms, and the advanced tools surgeons use to remove tumors and repair blocked blood vessels without large incisions.
Some people, despite the best efforts of medical staff, don’t go home from the hospital. Families of patients and staff from Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital collaborated on what became the Memory Tree. Engraved “leaves” honor children whose lives were cut short and remind us of the preciousness of life.
Upstate’s founding father, Edward Cutbush, MD, a Navy veteran and the first dean of Geneva Medical College, advanced the scientific understanding of epidemics. He contributed to public health and preventive medicine decades before the existence of master’s degrees in public health and board certifications in preventive medicine. He was the first American to use lemon juice to prevent scurvy and was among the first group of physicians to promote vaccination (against smallpox in 1803.) Public health remains a vital part of Upstate’s existence, through education and research as well as patient care.
Our evolution in the understanding of contagious diseases–and tact–is demonstrated by this machine known as an iron lung, which was restored in recent years in a respiratory therapy class project. These precursors of the modern-day ventilator were used to treat polio patients in Syracuse’s City Hospital for Communicable Diseases, built in the 1920s to replace a structure off of Teall Avenue that was called, simply and awkwardly, the “Pest House.” That name was retired, and City Hospital remained the primary facility for Central New Yorkers with infectious diseases through the 1960s. Today, the old City Hospital is called A.C. Silverman Hall, and it houses Upstate’s College of Health Professions, which trains respiratory therapists.
Even — perhaps especially — in high-stress environments, America’s pastime is really about team building. Medical faculty sailed for England in January 1943 to help establish the 52nd General Hospital in Worcestershire during World War II. They also fielded a baseball team.
Just as patients are more than humans wearing hospital gowns, the paintings that hang in Upstate’s Heart and Vascular Center are more than valuable works of art. The 22 paintings of hearts have a timelessness about them, but the staff chose the artwork for the walls because of their story. The artist, Ludwig Stein, a Syracuse University professor, painted a heart for his wife, Nancy each year for Valentine’s Day. After she passed away in 2000, Stein donated the collection to Upstate in honor of Dr. Charles Hodge, MD, who introduced the couple to one another.
The spirit of Upstate contains some trailblazing, which dates back to 1849 when medical students attended Geneva Medical College alongside Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to gradate medical school in the United States. Balanced with the pioneer spirit is conformity, which also goes back generations. While doctors of yester year donned cloaks — (this one is from the estate of Clara Hale Gregory, a woman who entered Syracuse University Medical College with three other women in 1913) — doctors at Upstate, and elsewhere, typically wear white coats today. Upstate’s medical school was housed at Geneva and SU before becoming part of the State University of New York in 1950.
Upstate students organize the annual Cadaver Memorial Service to show gratitude to families for the donations of loved ones’ bodies, which are crucial components in the teaching of human anatomy. The solemn event (which this year included the unveiling of a painted mural) demonstrates the compassion and dignity that generations of Upstate doctors exemplify.
This article was assembled with assistance from associate professor of microbiology and immunology David Beach, PhD; associate librarian James Capodagli; physical plant administrator Doug Joseph; retired curator of historical collections Eric vd Luft, PhD; and emeriti faculty members Maxwell Mozell, PhD and William Williams, MD.
Read this and other stories in the summer issue of Upstate Health.