Although many have heard of Kings County Hospital, the huge medical center that sits right in the middle of Brooklyn between New York and Utica Avenues, few now remember the name of the Kingston Avenue Hospital, which occupied a site bounded by Kingston and Albany Avenues to the west and east, and Rutland Road and Winthrop Street to the north and south. And the reason we have heard of it here in the Brooklyn Collection, is that a doctor by the name of Boris Schleifer photographed the hospital and some of its inmates and staff during the 1930s. The resultant collection of over a hundred images somehow made its way to Brooklyn Public Library--with every photograph of the creator removed except those in which he is too small to be recognized.
Kingston Avenue hospital, founded around 1890, specialized in contagious diseases at a time when epidemics of smallpox, polio, diphtheria and scarlet fever were common. The hospital also treated people with venereal diseases, and seems to have offered long-term housing to a few people suffering from leprosy, (now known as Hansen's Disease,) three of whom--Tony, Graw and Joe--are shown in the picture above.
A leprosy case that was famous in medical circles was that of Henry Albury, who lived at the hospital for four years. The son of a wealthy tobacco merchant from Key West, Henry Albury was diagnosed with what was termed "elephantiasis" at the age of thirteen. Dr. Calvin F. Barber of South Oxford Street in Brooklyn, an acquaintance of the family, was able to secure his admission to the hospital in Kingston Avenue. A small house was erected specifically for Henry's use and, with some difficulty, a private nurse was hired. Afflicted with a particularly vicious form of the disease, Henry Albury died at the age of eighteen. Although effective treatments for this stigmatizing disease were found in the 1930s, the hospital still housed at least one sufferer as late as 1947, when one Creacion Manguel, perhaps tired of confinement, walked out of the hospital in his blue flannel pajamas and set off a full-scale manhunt. Mr Manguel returned after one day on the run, refusing to say where he had been.
Hospitals cannot help but be theaters of tragedy, and Kingston Avenue was no exception. In 1901 a boy named Theodore Perry was carried in suffering from scarlet fever. According to his grief-stricken mother, Theodore was placed in a ward with forty-three other patients suffering from the same infection or from other diseases such as measles and diphtheria, both of which he contracted. The boy died, causing a furore over unsanitary conditions and inadequate staffing.
The following year a smallpox patient named Jeremiah Shea jumped out of a window and began wandering around Flatbush in his nightclothes, scaring everyone he met with the sight of his floridly pockmarked face. Eventually Mr Shea ran into the arms of a policeman who had the presence of mind to call an ambulance to take him back to his ward.
Early buildings at the hospital were intended to be temporary, but they remained in use for years. The site stood in a depression in which water gathered during wet weather, sometimes to a depth of several feet, so that boats had to be used to communicate between buildings. In 1905 it was decided that improvements were needed and plans for a hospital complex costing $7 million were set in motion. The photographs in the Boris Schleifer collection, taken when the hospital enjoyed more salubrious quarters, show a staff working in clean but Spartan conditions.
The diseases that filled the beds of the Kingston Road Hospital have largely been eradicated thanks to vaccinations and the discovery of antibiotics. The hospital was closed in 1955 and the site is now a part of the Kings County Hospital complex.