Did you know that our Founder Dr. Stephen Smith was a published poet in Good Health Magazine? But who was “Almeda” to whom he sent a copy of his poem? And what was Good Health Magazine? We look into his poem on the occasion of his 97th Birthday signed and sent to this friend from his address on Park Avenue – dated October 19, 1919.
Dr. Smith’s Poem – with his own annotations- a writer perfecting his work
Three “back stories” piqued our curiosity and we follow these threads.
Last September, searching for Public Health documents books and media on the web, I came across a one page document attributed to our founder, Dr. Stephen Smith, that was offered by an antiquarian shop in California.
It proved to be a wonderful acquisition for described on one side was a printed copy of a one page poem by Stephen Smith (born 1823), published on the occasion of his 97th birthday in Good Health Magazine. But there was a further unexpected reward – for on the reverse was a typed letter signed by Stephen Smith as he sends this copy to a friend “Almeda” wherein he reflects not only on his life with some bemusement but the great interest of the public in his formula for longevity.
A small slice of our history – maybe not central to Public Health, but so human and a revealing profile of Dr. Smith coming to life in his own words – always on message but obviously a wry observer of his own life and times. And to think this one page that speaks to us over the years could be easily be lost.
Do read on and share my questions – Who is Almeda? Her address is not noted on the letter- and how did this fragment of history end up in California? The seller did not know of how this was acquired. And the letter populated with reference to friend and relative no doubt.
And as the last line of the poem says, “Reprinted from Good Health”. What was Good Health, what else did it publish?
And what of his address? What building stood at 1000 Park Ave., New York City, in 1919 and what is at this address today some 90 years later?
Here are my notes to myself on the “three back stories”:
Dr. Stephen Smith wrote this poem for his 97th Birthday and it was published in the monthly magazine, Good Health. Dr. Smith was still making corrections to his printed poem – it was still not completely to his liking – we can relate to that.
One can read the pleasure Dr. Smith took in achieving an age that is so remarkable even now – let alone astounding in 1919. And Dr. Smith was always glad, good naturedly, to preach the public health and sobriety message whether private or public.
I have not found any clues as to the identity of “Almeda” (Wright?), and of the names so obviously familiar to both.
Did Almeda live in California – what was the provenance? But that it survived and is preserved is one more happy tale of capturing an evanescent snippet of history.
What was Good Health Magazine and who was the editor that wrote the footnote to the poem?
Good Health Magazine was the successor to an earlier monthly magazine published in Battle Creek, Michigan and the editor – quite fitting to Battle Creek – was Dr. John Hershey Kellogg – he of Battle Creek Sanatorium and cereal fame. He and his brother Will developed the “now iconic” Corn Flakes.
And therein is another interesting side story. Dr. Kellogg was a student of Dr. Smith during his education at Bellevue Medical College – and credited Dr. Smith for developing his latent interest in preventive care – personal and public health. They became lifelong friends. It was as a penurious medical student, that Dr. Kellogg, an observant Seventh Day Adventist, first thought of the idea of an easily prepared, economic, and nutritionally sound breakfast food. (Source Dr. Richard W. Schwarz, “John Hershey Kellogg, MD”, 1970).
What building stood at 1000 Park Ave in 1919 and stands on the address today?
The building at 1000 Park Avenue NYC still stands and is now a historic building, and very expensive Coop Apartments. It was some 3 years old when Dr. Smith wrote his letter (see Wikipedia entry). What might Dr. Smith think of 9 million dollar coop apartments?
Or of the contretemps in the building as recounted in the Wikipedia entry – over the “2002 best selling chick lit, The Nanny Diaries” purportedly modeled after some of the then 1000 Park Ave coop owners?
That I cannot say. But were he alive today, would he be the basis for one more figure in The Nanny Diaries? What would Dr. Smith say of “modern times”?
from Wikipedia on 1000 Park Avenue
Among the former residents of the building are James J. Rorimer, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Nicola Kraus, co-author of the 2002 bestselling chick lit novel The Nanny Diaries. She claims that Mrs. X, the mother in the novel, set at a similar Park Avenue building with a fictitious address, is based partially on women she worked for at 1000 Park. Most often speculated as the model for the character is Lisa Birnbach, a part-time CBS News correspondent best known for editing The Official Preppy Handbook in 1980, who has some similarities to the character in the book. Birnbach confirmed that Kraus had worked for her, but described her as “more of a play date for my daughter” than an actual nanny.
Another resident of 1000 Park named as a possible model for Mrs. X did not return phone calls from The New York Times requesting comment. Kraus did not think it inappropriate to use her former neighbors as models for her characters, but current residents of building disagreed. One even referred to Kraus as a “snitch” and suggested the co-op board should forbid residents from fictionalizing their neighbors’ lives.
1000 Park Avenue
from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia