The month of January and a health emergency declared in the state of Washington because of a measles outbreak had me thinking about an uncle I never knew.
This is a continuing series about my uncle Wilbur Thomas Hoskins, who died at five years of age due to complications following measles. You can catch up here:
A Tow-headed Boy
Who was with the family?
The Salvation Army Offers Assistance
Letters of Condolence
(I took a couple of weeks off for rest and recuperation from major surgery and beginning chemo after my new cancer diagnosis. Actually, one week was more for doing whatever I wanted because I felt pretty good the week before I started the new chemo routine. I’m going to finish this series so I can go on to something new – like trying to find photos to match the Sepia Saturday prompt! Alas, I think there are two more posts in this series. One today, and one – hopefully – next week.)
All that remains of the paper trail to help me piece together the story of little Wilbur’s life and death are receipts for payments of medical and funeral expenses. My grandparents appear to have kept most of the receipts, although a few are missing. My grandfather is always noted as the person who made the payment and I assume he did this in person and paid cash. It must have been painful to do this month after month.
In April and May of 1930, my grandfather made $5.00 and $10.00 payments to St. Anthony’s Hospital. The May receipt shows a balance due of $5.00, which was presumably paid in June, if Grandpa kept to his payment schedule. Wilbur died in January; there may have been payments made to the hospital in both January and February, so I can’t determine how much the total charges were for his hospitalization.
Funeral expenses totaled $78.00, for which my grandfather paid down $42.00 on the day of the funeral, leaving a balance of $36.00. He paid off this bill in $5.00-6.00 increments. Receipts through August 9th account for $26.00 of that balance.
There are several receipts for payments made to Dr. R. M. Bissekumer. Dr. Bissekumer and Dr. Leonard both had offices in the Rockford National Bank Building, but on different floors. With a balance due of $49.50 before the May payment, my grandparents must have owed Dr. Bissekumer at least $59.50 for the medical care he provided to Wilbur during his illness.
It makes sense to me that my grandparents first took Wilbur to Dr. Leonard and that Dr. Bissekumer treated Wilbur in the hospital – accounting for the larger bill for his services.
One item of interest to me is a change of address for my grandfather between the January 29th payment and the April 12th payment. I’ll be looking into that later.
In all, I can account for $107 of debt accrued to pay for Wilbur’s medical and funeral expenses. I believe it was more since I’m not sure of the total amount for the hospital. Using a handy inflation calculator, $107 in 1930 would be equal to $1,628.72 in 2019. Truly a hardship on my grandparents during these Depression years when my grandfather’s employment was anything but steady.
I couldn’t help but try to find information about the doctors, funeral home, etc. to see what else I might find to add context to the story. Who were these doctors?
I can’t be sure if this is the Dr. Leonard in question, but this clipping sheds light on the number of cases of measles in Illinois in the year prior to Wilbur’s death.
Dr. Roger Bissekumer yielded more hits in my search. He was apparently a respected doctor, establishing his practice as a physician and surgeon in 1918. He was appointed to the position of District Health Officer in the State Health Department in 1933.
Dr. Bissekumer was married in June of 1923, about seven years before my grandparents met him. By September of 1925, his young wife was dead.
Dr. Bissekumer had remarried by the time my grandparents came into contact with the thirty-six-year-old physician in January 1930. Sometime after 1930, he and his wife Alice became the parents of two children. And sometime after 1933, Alice disappeared from the picture. In 1935, the doctor married Bernadine, an assistant surgical supervisor at St. Anthony’s Hospital. Bernadine gave birth to a daughter in September of 1936 and required hospitalization following a Caesarian section. At least two of the doctor’s wives were accomplished musicians, known locally for giving recitals, performing on the radio, or playing at social events. All were in their twenties when they married. He got older; his wives did not.
As if the tragic death of his first wife, a possible divorce from his second wife, and a difficult birth for his third wife weren’t enough, the doctor’s younger brother, Francis, died in 1940. Francis, who had joined his brother’s medical practice, died of a heart attack at thirty-five years of age.
Unfortunately, his story does not get better. Bernadine filed for divorce in 1943 and the scandalous case played out in the newspapers for several years. The doctor’s wife asked for custody of her child as well as the two children from his previous marriage. She claimed habitual drunkenness and “extreme and repeated cruelty.” The charges against Dr. Bissekumer were dropped, but Bernadine finally won her case in 1945, after several additional hearings and appeals.
Dr. Bissekumer was arrested for DUI in 1943, and apparently again in 1946. Perhaps there were other incidents. In February of 1947, he lost his right to drive for one year. It is sad to note that he collapsed in the courtroom and was taken to the hospital.
One month later, Dr. Bissekumer’s tragic life ended. The newspaper clippings offer no details and I found no obituary.
Bernadine remarried in May.
I did not intend to go into such detail about any of the people my grandparents encountered during their time in Rockford. And I don’t know that this sheds any light on the care that he provided. Did he already have a drinking problem in 1930 when he treated Wilbur and gave medical advice to my grandparents? I don’t know.
Two sad stories that intersected in Rockford, Illinois during a measles outbreak in January, 1930.
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday and does not in any way match the prompt photo. Please visit other participants here who have surely found some interesting interpretations.
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