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New autobiography under way

June 25, 2012
By Mary B. Hotaling - Historic Saranac Lake

The June 12 guest commentary by Neal Burdick prompts this announcement: Work on a new, illustrated version of "An Autobiography" by Dr. E. L. Trudeau is well underway.

Project director Caroline Welsh and I have been meeting for more than six months. Selection of photographs, and organization and preparation of additional materials is my main focus, including short interpretive essays, notes, photographs, and a Trudeau family tree. Historic Saranac Lake has signed on as a sponsor. Dr. Andrea Cooper of Trudeau Institute will contribute an introductory essay on tuberculosis.

The text will be the same as in the original version, but the new edition will be larger in size and enhanced with visual documentation of Trudeau's friends, family, colleagues, associates, patients and donors as well as Saranac Lake and the sanitarium, making this edition much more accessible to today's visually oriented readers. Added sidebars and footnotes will provide further context for his life, relationships and times. While the facts of Trudeau's lifework-the battle against tuberculosis-are his main subject, the book references many other interesting aspects of 19th and early 20th century life. The American Civil War as experienced in France, medical education, an America's Cup race, railroads, architecture and building practices, life among New York City's gentry, E.H. Harriman, sporting in the Adirondacks, Robert Louis Stevenson, and life in the Adirondacks at a time of momentous change are among many subjects to be expanded upon. An index will also be included.

Alfred Donaldson, Adirondack historian and Trudeau's patient, affirms that the doctor began writing his autobiography shortly before his death. The work was rushed to print soon afterward. According to Donaldson: "It stands, indeed, as it was dictated under the increasing pressure of failing strength, for the doctor never saw the proof-sheets of his valedictory to the world."

At the core of this work is Trudeau's steadfast optimism and religious faith. It is written, according to Donaldson, "in the crisp, straightforward style in which the doctor talked It is the fascinating story of one of the most unpremeditated lives of usefulness the world has ever known, and it outstrips many a novel in its romance of realities." Trudeau's contributions were wide-ranging and close to home. He was distinguished as a devoted family man, physician, sportsman, churchman, pioneer medical scientist, and founder of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium. Beyond his scientific contributions to humanity, Trudeau changed the Adirondacks and especially the village of Saranac Lake through the houses, churches, laboratories and sanatoria he caused to be built, and indirectly through the thousands of health seekers drawn to Saranac Lake by his methods and optimism.

There have been five previous editions of Trudeau's autobiography: The first in 1916, followed by reprints in 1928, 1934, an unknown year, and a 1951 edition with a preface by the author's son, Francis B. Trudeau, M.D. The number of editions underscores the volume's goal to be an inspiration to patients.

Our aim is to publish at the centennial of Dr. Trudeau's death in 1915. Successful completion is nevertheless dependent upon finding funding from grants and private donors. In these tight times, it may be that we will solicit subscription sales to raise the cash for printing.

The most important reason to republish the autobiography is to extend to new audiences the powerful example of the expansive, health-giving, humanity-loving, indomitable spirit of a remarkable man who took the hand that life dealt him and played the best possible game with it. We honor the spirit of optimism that made Saranac Lake unique as a center for both treatment and scientific inquiry in tuberculosis, and that persists today in the Trudeau Institute's quest after scientific progress on innumerable frontiers of medicine and health.



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