A Short Tour of the Texas Medical Center Archives
If the word ‘archives’ makes you yawn, you might want to reconsider. Yes, there are plenty of boring manuscripts and papers everywhere you look. Yes, it’s cold inside (because the materials need a cold and dry environment). And yes, it’s a quiet place where scholars, genealogists and students delve into the past. But…
A few blocks from the Astrodome/Reliant Center in Houston, on the eastern fringes of the Texas Medical Center, sits an unassuming warehouse building that contains an amazing array of information and items from the world of medicine, politics, local history and architecture.
Come with me now, inside the back room that’s not open to the public, for an unofficial private tour. The first thing you might notice is that it’s not all boxes and books. It’s that, and much more. It’s a medical school skull, a physician’s bag from the days of house calls, and a bedside toilet from one of Houston’s early hospitals. It’s artwork, portraits, millions of photographs, and medical technology.
Books and Journals
At least one third of the collection consists of bound volumes, including thousands of dissertations done by medical students at several institutions. Medical and surgical journals from the 1840s, dental journals from the 1890s, and mental health journals from the 1930s contain hundreds of thousands of photos and articles, not to mention advertising for antique medical equipment.
Want to know more about COPD, or brain edema, or cisternography? Cerebello pontines? They have it covered. In spite of our 21st century technology, not everything is on the internet!
At first glance, these are the boring boxes you think of when somebody says ‘archives’. But wait! There are hidden treasures amongst these acid-free, lignin free folders. Denton Cooley’s papers are here, along with photos of his family, plaques and awards and other non-technical items. Real estate records for the acquisition of Hermann Park in Houston, photos of the funeral procession of George Hermann in 1914, and log books for early Hermann Hospital patients are here.
If one of your ancestors was a doctor, nurse, technician, or public figure, you might want to check out the Medical World News collection, which has original photos of, for instance, the doctors who performed LBJ’s gall bladder surgery in 1968 and the family of Jack Ruby.
Want to peek inside an old leather bag that looks like it might have belonged to Doc Holliday himself? Want to see a large assortment of old hearing trumpets, including one that’s the size of a tuba? How about some bronzed running shoes (on their own pedestal) that were worn by a Houston physician who did marathons? They even have a box they call “Ewwww” – it houses icky, nasty, disgusting things they’ve run across during processing, like some 120-year old insects and some ooey-gooey remains of what was once photographic negatives.
Sounds like an interesting afternoon, at least, doesn’t it? For more information about hours and location, etc., click here.
Text and photos copyright 2013 Marie Brannon
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