By Mick Woodcock

On February 25, 1913, Whipple was deactivated and the buildings were given over to a caretaker detachment.  The Army General Staff planned to concentrate the mobile army at eight large posts and abandon 31 small ones such as Whipple, which was deemed as having an “obsolete situation.”

Whipple was carried on the military records as an un-garrisoned post until 1918, when the surgeon general established General Hospital Number 20 there as a temporary Public Health Service Hospital operated by the Army.  The post was reactivated as a hospital for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the Arizona climate was supposed to be efficacious for treatment of respiratory ailments, which were widespread in World War I.

Funds of $1.9 million were appropriated for building a temporary Public Health Service Hospital of 31 buildings, which would make Whipple the third-largest respiratory treatment center in the country.  Plans were to increase the bed capacity to 1,100 via new construction.  By September 1, 1918 the sanitorium had a population of 215 patients and a staff of 300.  Temporary sixteen-man tents were used until the wards could be completed.  The expansion was to be finished by February of 1919.

Although the hospital expansion was targeted to be completed by February of 1919, the wartime labor shortage, compounded by the flu epidemic of 1918, lengthened the construction time considerably. Prescott was unable to provide the necessary labor force, and workers from other parts of the state were lured to Whipple by the promise of good food from the post cafeteria, plus sleeping quarters and free transportation if they stayed thirty days.  By January 1919, there were 1,300 construction workers employed at Whipple.

Soon after the Armistice was signed in November 1919, construction plans were scaled down, but work continued on 22 new buildings under the modified building plan.   The expansion of the hospital was completed in June 1920 at 650 beds and the work force departed. Whipple soon became known as one of the most complete tuberculosis sanatoriums in the country.

Since the Army operated the hospital, it ran on the Army’s system. Officers and enlisted men had their own separate wards and dining halls. A Post Exchange was established, run initially by Chaplain Zeigler.  Staff had separate housing from the patients.  The nurses had a dormitory and dispensary in back of the old post hospital.

The Red Cross had a building, as did the Y.M.C.A.  The Soldiers and Sailors Welfare Committee of Prescott donated books for a library.  In the 1920s the PX was a civilian business run by Morris and Ben Shimonowsky. “Shimey’s Place” offered most of the things that Prescott’s stores did, including a full line of men’s clothing.

Entertainment was an important part of the rehabilitation process.  Athletic events were quite popular.  Boxing matches were held often.  Although there was no arena, a rodeo was held on the grounds.  Baseball games between teams from the different wards were a regular occurrence. One such game was between the Mystery Maids and the Whipple Girls. A close reading of an article in the Whipple Echo about the game indicated it involved patients from two different wards, dressed in women’s clothing: “McMurtie, daintily clad in a charming outing skirt, snow-white middy and other dashing apparel, started a home run epidemic for the Whippleites.”

The Hospital had two different newspapers run by the patients. West’s Recall was published in 1918 and the Whipple Echo started in August 1922.  The Echo was one of the best newspapers of its kind.  It drew advertisers from Prescott and featured complete, up-to-date hospital news.

Part of the long-term care process was rehabilitation.  Men were given activities that helped them retain or regain motor functions.  There was a small printing press for making cards and fliers.  Woodworking tools helped the patients make decorative objects.  Knitting was encouraged as a means to develop dexterity.

The Yavapai County Chamber of Commerce worked hard in those years to ensure the continuing viability of Whipple, including lobbying to have the hospital transferred permanently to the Public Health Service, the agency then charged to treat veterans who had contracted tuberculosis.

Next Week in Days Past: The old fort becomes a U.S. Veterans Administration hospital.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.