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Back and Forth: Charles Mayo memories during this 150th year

Each of the eleven bedrooms at the Historic Mayowood Mansion have been elaborately decorated for tours in Rochester.

It's a year filled with special events at Mayo Clinic, which is observing its 150th year.

This month there's an exhibit for Women's History Month called "Women of Mayo Clinic" in Hage Atrium in the Siebens Building.

In April a new book will be published during Nurses' Week called"The Nurses of Mayo Clinic: Caring Healers." And the Sesquicentennial mobile exhibit will begin touring the country with a Rochester stop from May 7-10. The month of May comes alive with special floral displays on all Mayo campuses. More carillion concerts are planned and a new coffee table book "Art and Healing" will soon be available.

Today's "Back & Forth column has looked forward. Now I want to look back to earlier days at Mayowood Mansion. I visited with Dr. Charles H. Mayo II, grandson of Dr. Charlie Mayo and son of Dr. Chuck Mayo, and he shared the joys of growing up at Mayowood mansion. Both Dr. Chuck Mayo, born in 1898, and his son Charles grew up there.

That mansion of 37 rooms was finished in 1911 so Chuck Mayo would have been about 12 years old when hundreds of WPA workers helped in the $60,000 construction. Young Charles Mayo was born Sept. 9, 1930, and has vivid memories of Will and Charlie who both died in 1939.


"In 1938 I remember taking the train to Tucson, (Ariz.) to visit Grandpa and I recall the train making a bend, and I could look ahead and see the engine and how the smoke curled around the cactus" he said.

I asked Charles if the big lake at Mayowood had a name. It did: " 'Lake Joe' after my uncle Joe, who died at a train crossing in 1936 across the Mississippi River near Nelson, Wis. Joe was a brother to my father. He was only 30, in general medicine and a great outdoors man. His dog died with him."

Charles told me Mayowood was like an English manor, with plenty of domestic help, including Emma Brown, the cook, Anna who kept the place "spic and span" and Eli Dreblow, in general maintenance.

"He tapped the maple trees for sap and I helped at age 9 or 10. We poured it into pails and took it to the Big House for cooking into syrup," Charles remembered.

He also remembers Ben Stephan, Grandpa Charlie's driver.

Charles Mayo, now 83 and a resident of St. Croix Falls, Wis., told me it was his choice not to join the Mayo Clinic staff back in the 1960s.

"I'm not a writer. I did my residency at Mayo Clinic but you're required to do a certain amount of "papers," he said. "Besides I would constantly have been compared to my father who was an excellent surgeon and Grandpa and Will. I have no regrets."

"But I love visiting Mayowood in the summer. It was a fun place to grow up. Always lots of young folks and parties. Some big names in the entertainment world came, Danny Kaye, The King of Nepal, Lou Gehrig of baseball fame with the Yankees and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aug. 8, 1934.


"I remember my sister Mildred and I stood next to a fence near the reviewing stand at Soldiers' Field. We were waving little American flags but we didn't get to shake hands with the president.

"Lou Gehrig, who was already diagnosed with ALS gave my brother Ned and me an autographed baseball. Ned pitched me the ball and I hit it out of sight down a steep drop-off, never to be seen again."

Charles Mayo studied chemistry at St. Olaf College, then went to the University of Pennsylvania for his internship. His specialty was general medicine. For many years he joined "Group Health" as a physician serving the Fargo-Moorhead area and finally retired at Karlstad, Minn.

He chuckles what his father had told him in earlier years. "Retire at 65 — you'll cure more people by retiring then" quipped Dr. Chuck Mayo.

Both Dr. Chuck and wife Alice Plank Mayo are buried at Mayowood.

Next week- My memories of "lambing time" 1940s on the farm.

Harley Flathers is a longtime Rochester-area broadcaster and historian. Got a comment for Harley? Send it to news@postbulletin.com or to Harley at Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903. His column runs on Thursdays.

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