Walter Freeman and Me

As the time comes ever nearer for the publication of Examined Lives, I am still trying to understand the man who performed a lobotomy on my mother. I never met Walter Freeman, the man who was the very public face of lobotomies as cures for mental illness in the mid-20thcentury and at whose own reckoning performed some 3,500 such operations.  The photo below of his performing a lobotomy, without mask or gloves, in front of curious bystanders was one of his publicity stunts.  The procedure he used extensively, as depicted, involved hammering an ice pick-like device through the eye socket and wiggling it back and forth to severe connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain.

MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, 1986.5.25616

Freeman performed that operation on my mother in 1950.  He saw her for the first time on a Friday, pronounced her a paranoid schizophrenic, and did the procedure the following Monday.  The man wasted no time.

The operation drastically changed my mother’s life and so my own.  Her diary and scrapbooks reveal her to have been a vivacious, competent woman.  She came to Chicago on her 20th birthday and began her rise in the hospitality industry, starting with serving at the lunch counter at a busy Walgreen’s Drugstore at Rush and Oak Streets, where she ended up supervising 12 other waitresses, to serving as room captain at the Camellia Room of the Drake Hotel, frequented by the likes of Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.  In her off hours she devoured the nightlife, visiting numerous clubs on any one night with a string of young swain, several of whom wanted to marry her. One was Jerry with whom she visited a night club and “afterward on the way home Jerry and I spied a baby buggy in an apartment house hall and we stole it and I rode down Rush Street in a baby buggy.  Fun. They took the buggy back though.”

After the lobotomy, her drive and “sparkle,” as my aunt put it, was taken from her and in fact she ended up being “adjudged insane” and institutionalized for a period of time.

What led to her having the lobotomy?  That is the story I tell in my book Examined Lives, based on thousands of pages of family letters, diaries, scrapbooks, medical records, an unpublished novel, poetry, and photographs.  And, yes of course, on the writings of Walter Freeman.

Turkey Time

I have now finished the manuscript for Coming to Amerika and will be submitting it to the University of Kansas Press, which has expressed interest.  Keep your fingers crossed!

In reading over the letters I was able to vicariously participate in the major family celebrations centering around Thanksgiving, Christmas and July 4th.  As it is turkey time I want to share with you Thanksgiving on the Kansas Prairie in the 1890’s.  Wild turkeys were plentiful at the time and as my great-uncle Will wrote to his brother in Missouri, farmers would herd, pen up and fatten the turkeys for feasting.

“I wish you would [have] heard [herded] those wild turkeys and git them good and fat til I can come down but then I don’t know how long that would be. Maby [maybe] you would git tired of feeding them before that time.”

But even wild as they were, they could be tamed. My great-aunt Mary wrote about some wild turkeys that became pets and then nuisances:

“We had some queer pets this summer, three little Turkeys and they were so tame, could do any thing with them. Lena [another great-aunt] petted them so much they stayed right around the door, would sit in her lap and if we had any thing for them in our hands would all three eat right out of our hand at the same time. We still have them, three big cuss gobblers, they are cross to the chickens, but the worst is they don’t like to see strangers, especially children along the road, will run right up to them within three feet or so and strut and gobble and fly up around them, make a terrible fuss, and some time have followed people a long ways. They treat me the same way. I stay in the house so close they do not know me. Will have to sell them.”

The pictures below show my grandfather Louis (in a stylish bowler hat on the farm!) feeding two wild turkeys out of his hand and then two of the ornery gobblers.  Somebody got to eat them.  I suspect the family, having had them as pets, was reluctant to slaughter them themselves.  Besides they also had duck as an option for their Thanksgiving dinner.

IMG_5623Turkeys

My Author Video

My author video is now available.  I want to thank my good friends Gabe Klinger and Danielle Campbell for doing such a great job.  If you have not seen Gabe’s film Porto, please do.  It is thought-provoking and gorgeously filmed.  I am so lucky he was able to do this project.

A Night to Remember

The book launch on October 10th at the Drake Hotel was a wonderful event, thanks to all the great people who attended and the Drake staff. Here are some of the pictures that people have shared with me from that night.

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A TASTE OF THE 10TH

 

I have been enjoying picking out the hors ‘d’oeuvres, canapés and desserts for the Book Launch for Examined Livesat the Drake Hotel on October 10th (7 – 8:30) and I thought I would share it with you. Hopefully both the food and the book wet your appetites!

 

Mini Reuben sandwich

Croque Monsieur

Peking duck pot sticker with plum yuzu dipping sauce

Wild mushroom truffle arancini with truffle aioli

Brie and crystallized cranberry

Smoked duck, cranberry balsamic apricot chutney

Roasted tomato brushchetta, prosciutto

Cuban Sandwich bite

Goat cheese and orange choux

Cheese and Charcuterie tasting

 

Cupcakes: Red Velvet, Chocolate, Vanilla, Carrot Cake, Sprinkle

Cookies: Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate Chip, White Chocolate, Macadamia Nut

 

Champagne

Mineral water