A physician's bag and its contents, dating from the 1900s, are among the highlights of a 100-foot historic wall unveiled Thursday at Genesis Medical Center-East Rusholme Street, Davenport.

The wall is on the ground floor of the new tower at the hospital; it was a three-year project to gather the historic items and arrange the display, which opened amid fanfare.

The hospital system's chief executive and president, Doug Cropper, spoke at the ceremony. A history buff, Cropper said the system formed 148 years ago, on Dec. 7, 1869, by the Sisters of Mercy.

Sister Borromeo Johnson traveled from Chicago to DeWitt in 1869, but spent time in Davenport, Cropper said.

The sister saw deplorable conditions in what was called the "poor house," and decided that instead of building a school in DeWitt as planned, she would concentrate on opening a new hospital in Davenport. The first patient was a pregnant woman who had been abandoned.

Some 25 years later, Davenport officials decided a second hospital should be built closer to the downtown area, as it was too far to carry patients from downtown to the Mercy Hospital site, a few miles north.

This was in the horse-and-buggy era, Cropper said, so St. Luke's Hospital opened in 1895, at 8th and Main streets. The operation of two separate hospitals in the city continued until 1994, when both were merged and named Genesis Health System.

Other significant historic events, Cropper said:

• A  fire in 1945 started in a gas station in DeWitt. Seven people were burned, and four died while being transported to the nearest hospital, which was in Clinton at that time, Cropper said.

After that disaster, DeWitt officials joined forces to build a new hospital in town, which opened in 1952. The DeWitt facility is now part of Genesis Health System.

•On Jan. 7, 1950, a total of 40 patients and one staff member died in the St. Elizabeth's fire. St. Elizabeth's was a psychiatric hospital on the Mercy Hospital grounds, now Genesis Medical Center-West Central Park, Davenport.

In those days, Cropper said, hospital windows and doors were barred and locked, but the horrific fire caused needed changes in hospital practices, across the United States.

Items featured on the wall include the cross that used to mark Mother Borromeo's grave at the former Mercy Hospital. This cross was decaying, so it was brought inside and made part of the display, Cropper said. The nun died of cancer five years after the hospital opened.

There was also the handwritten Mercy Hospital Patient Registration book, from 1870-92, which listed who was in the hospital, and why.

Another historic book dated from the 1950s and was in the obstetrics area, where babies are born. In those days, Cropper said, men were not allowed in the delivery room with their wives.

"They poured out their souls in this book," Cropper said. He read notes, including a short one: "It's a boy and it was quick. One hour, five minutes." Another notation started: "Our 11th child was just born ..."

Andy Burman, senior communications specialist, curated and managed the project, which he said took three years, as the historic items were located in storage in several parts of the Quad-Cities.

It's valuable to understand the background of hospitals, like at Genesis. "It's easy to forget that health care was not always present in our area," Burman said. 

The wall was designed by Silver Oaks, Davenport, and the display was built by Edwards Creative, Milan.


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