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Back and Forth: It's Mayo Clinic's Sesquicentennial Year

Lens on history: The first Mayo Clinic
The first Mayo Clinic outgrew its space within ten years. In 1986, it was razed to make way for the Siebens Building.

It's a special year in Mayo Clinic History — the 150th since Dr. William Worrall Mayo officially announced in area newspapers that he was opening a private practice in Rochester.

Earlier, Dr. Mayo had been summoned by President Abraham Lincoln to come to Rochester and be the examining surgeon of young men going into the Union Army for the Civil War. When the war ended, the family stayed.

This is Mayo's Sesquicentennial year and many events are planned, according to Matt Dacy, of the Mayo Clinic Sesquicentennial Committee.

One of the "milestones" — this is the 100th year since the 1914 building was constructed on the site of Dr. WW Mayo's first home. That home was razed in about 1912 for the construction of the red brick building — the '14 building as it was called. Other than Dr. WW Mayo's offices in the Cook Hotel, the 1914 building was officially the first Mayo Clinic. The old '14 building was razed in the late 1980s, and the nine-story Siebens Building stands there today after opening in 1989.

Only a few can recall attending the Aug. 8, 1934, visit by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Soldier's Memorial Field. He spoke before an estimated 75,000 people on a very hot day to "honor Doctah Will and Doctah Charlie for their service to mankind" in the words of FDR. The honor also included their service in building hospitals in France to care for wounded American soldiers. Both Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie were given the rank of brigadier general. This is the 80th year since that event in 1934.


Add another brief "milestone," which is the 50th year since a big bronze plaque was erected by the Olmsted County History Center. It's located just west of the swimming pool on the running track.

Information in the History Center archives tells the story of this 6-foot plaque. It was designed by the late Harold Crawford, local architect, with an assist by Margaret Trenholm. It holds the pictures of President Roosevelt and the Mayo Brothers. I'm proud to say I had a part in that dedication just 50 years ago this coming Aug. 10. My boss, David Gentling at KROC, said, "Harley, you go handle the broadcast" which I did, introducing several dignitaries at the 10:30 a.m. program.

This year of 2014 is the 75th year since the Mayo brothers died. Charlie died of pneumonia on May 26, 1939. Dr. Charlie, a man who conducted many surgeries on throat and chest, was 74. Two months later, on July 28, 1939, Dr. Will Mayo succumbed to stomach cancer here in Rochester at age 78. All the Mayo families are buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Rochester.

When the 27-bed Saint Marys Hospital opened on Sept. 30, 1889, the three Mayo doctors were the entire team. They were assisted by many of the Franciscan nuns, but the doctors took turns going back in the evening to check on patients. A few years later in the mid-1890s, other physicians with names of Stinchfield, Plummer and Judd joined the Mayo team to share patient care. And travel then was all done by horse and buggy or by horseback.

Downtown in the Mayo Building's Matthews Grand Lobby you can see the first horse-drawn ambulance, a 1905 Studebaker. Nearby is a video of ambulance changes during the past century, including Med-Air and Mayo One Helicopter.

When the Mayo Brothers left us in 1939, the city's population was 26,385 (1940) census. Today, our population is near the 110,000. During the growth of the Mayo Campus in the past century, one thing stands above all else. It's the magnificent Plummer Building tower, constructed in 1928. To the very top, it's estimated it reaches the height of 28 stories. The Plummer tower is the symbol of Rochester and is included in all material for millions of visitors.

Next week:More events planned by Mayo Clinic in 2014.

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.

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