Walter E. Dandy Letters

We are proud to host the transcripts of Walter E. Dandy’s correspondence with his family. These letters illustrate the personal side of this neurosurgical genius, spanning his early college education through senior tenure at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

July 12, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

July 12, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Well I have had a nice vacation of 4 days and a weeks good work on top of it. Have done 3 or 4 small brain operations. Operated on a man for broken back. It was the second time I had done it and was very glad of the opportunity. He ought to get perfectly well in time.

The boy from Chile has gone home. I guess he is all right. The post graduates are through. I get a check next week.

I received your check for $150 with many thanks. I would rather you had not sent it however as I don't need it and it won't draw much interest here, whereas in Sedalia it would draw 6%. MoPac looks very blue now but it may spruce up yet. I am not bothering about it. Everything turns out for the best in some way. So this will probably do so too.

The weather is very hot again, though for two weeks it has been very nice and cool with plenty of rain. I saw in the paper where the Katy Flyer was held up and robbed at Matson when they stopped for water. I am sorry about not sending you the papers. I didn't think you cared for them as once you said not to send them. But I will do so soon.

I won't look around for a place for you until shortly before you come, which I think should be in September. Then it would be best to get you a room somewhere and then let you look around for what you think is best.

I think it would be wise to get clothes there (good ones) for they are evidently about twice as cheap as in this country. Dr. Bloodgood is going to speak in London about July 29, I believe. You might enjoy going to hear him. I am sure you would have no difficulty getting in but if you should, just explain things and I am sure it will be all right.

I got a nice letter from Dr. Halsted which I will enclose. He seems very pleased at the publication. I hope to have a couple more for him when he gets back.

I don't know much more about Chicago. I guess I will end up by staying here. I wish I were resident but I guess that is too much to expect.

Well I hope you are enjoying yourselves and are in the very best of health. Take a trip to Paris before you come back. With much love.

Your loving son, Walter


July 18, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

July 18, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Another week has passed and the weather has been about the hottest I have seen since I left Sedalia. It won't be long now until you come. I think the best time to sail is between September 1 and September 10. Then you can get pretty well settled before October. It won't be warm in September. September 1st would probably be better than the 10th. I thought I would get you a room at some place like Mrs. Thilmans for a couple of weeks and let you look around or wait until just before you get here to look around for you. I haven't any ideas about costs but will look into it before you get here. It is a little too soon. You ought to get unfurnished or furnished rooms pretty cheap. Not more than $20 probably.

I haven't had much to do the past few days. I haven't seen the man from Chile since he left the hospital. There are a couple of brain cases in the hospital for me to do now. I am going to try and do some writing now before Dr. Halsted gets back. I guess I am booked to stay here rather than go to Chicago though I don't know. I may take a trip to Chicago and Minneapolis yet and look at the ground directly. I think I have played wise in staying here so far.…

I had a nice automobile ride last week. Dr. Williams took his resident out and 3 of his friends. He took us to dinner, to the finest place in Baltimore and then for a ride afterwards. It was a wonderful trip. It makes one envious of people with money enough to get what they want. Dr. Bloodgood invited me out to dinner and to play tennis. He wanted me to play tennis with his brother again but I don't have time so I couldn't do it. I am going to take out some more pineals this week that should be the last this summer. I have not yet received my check for the summer course.… Mama wouldn't sing "God Save the King." Well I think she is about right.

I guess you are just as glad as I that I didn't go to Edinburgh or Oxford to settle in England. I think everything has turned out for the best.

Mo Pac is still way down.… I don't know whether to stay on a sinking boat or not. It is quite good sport anyhow. It is good to lose sometimes.

Your loving son, Walter


August 16, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

August 16, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

I was very glad to hear that you are all right and have plenty of money for immediate use. I think the best thing to do, however, is to come back as soon as you have a good opportunity- think it will be just as cheap here as there now and I don't suppose the excitement of the war will interest you especially. That is to be on the ground.

But another thing I want to know is whether you would object to me joining the Red Cross Corps for service in Europe. It will be a wonderful experience, a bully trip and will make $250 a month, see all Europe with all expenses paid and be entirely out of danger. Only Americans can serve, they are accepted by all combatants and they are out of line of danger entirely. I would get lots of war surgery to do but the experience would be wonderful in every way. A number of men here are going at the first opportunity. I know you will think at first that it is war and will look at it like swimming but there isn't any more danger than there is with swimming. Everything is out of the way of the combatants. You can serve for 6 months or longer. Six months would be all I would want. It is the experience of a lifetime.

I have a couple of nice brain cases for this week. A cerebellum and a ganglion, neither of which I have done before. Also a spinal cord tumor which is quite rare. My other cases are doing nicely. The boy from Chile came to see me yesterday and is perfectly well.

Am still going to Chicago to look over the field there-but can't very well go until the middle of September. I think I will go to the country for 2 or 3 days and rest up a little. My mind and body are both a little fatigued and I guess I ought to take it. The men asked me yesterday why I didn't take a real vacation. Wait until I make some money and I will do as I please. I will have to get a new full suit before I go to Chicago. That will be a nice vacation. Will also go to the Mayos and learn a little from them.

Heuer is still in Germany and he may stay to take advantage of the opportunity there. If he stays I will stay here and get to do the neurological surgery but if he comes back it won't be worth my while to stay here and then I would like to take 6 months in Europe with the Red Cross before going to Chicago if I decided to go there. Gee it would be a great trip. 10 years from now I would have something to tell my children except the regular routine of hospital existence.

Mrs. Brown has gone to New York for a couple of weeks. She is improving nicely and is quite encouraged. She bought me a $3.00 fountain pen. I lost mine and happened to mention it to them, and they immediately took hold of it and the next day I got one. It was very nice of them. I was over to have dinner with them a couple of times.

I am going downtown to see if it is possible to send you some money. I don't need it and you may. I think Alexander Brown & Sons may be able to arrange it and I will send you what I have as yours may be tied up.

Trusting you are still in good security and suffering no consequences from the war. I remain,

Your loving son, Walter

P.S. Let me know about joining the Red Cross.

P.P.S. England has a great navy!!


August 24, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

August 24, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Just received two letters together. I don't know why you shouldn't have received mine. I probably was a day or two overdue on one when I thought the mails would not go. I am glad you are so comfortable and are suffering no ill consequence of the war. I think it would be better to get off pretty soon because you know Germany may use her Zeppelins and drop explosives on London. But as far as invading England is concerned, that seems a pretty far fetched apprehension. England's expense for her navy has been well spent with pretty keen foresight. She would be pretty badly off without it now.

Well I went down to cable you some money but they said I would lose $25 by exchange if I sent you $300 so I thought I would wait and see. They said things were practically normal and were sure the banks would give you what you want. Let me know what you think if you need it. Don't hesitate to tell me because I have lots of money and it isn't doing me any good.

I made $250 last week as slick as a whistle. You will recall the case by the clippings. The man (Basshor) shot himself, evidently with suicide intent, and I was called into consultation. I had to make the trip by boat and rail to Cambridge, Maryland and took about 6 hours to get there. I left here on an urgent call at 6:30 A.M., took a taxicab to the station. Had to make train connections and as our train was late, they wired to have the train held until I could get it. This was done through the superintendent. I got there and was whisked in a big machine 8 miles in the country to Senator Raynor's home which had been sold to these people. It is a beautiful big place on the bay. They were waiting anxiously for me. I looked him over and in about 10 minutes told them my opinion. She asked me my bill and I said $250. She said, "Gee that is a heap" and wrote me out a check. He died 2 or 3 days later. It was in the country and I think he strangled to death as he had no good reason to die with competent doctors to watch him. If he had been here, I am sure he could have been saved.

He was a worthless fellow who lived on the $30,000 a year she got from Emerson, the Bromo-Seltzer man. He was a…parasite. She seemed greatly upset about him, but I don't know whether she really cared. That was my first medical fee and I think it was pretty good.

Next I was taken to the Cambridge hospital and asked to operate on a case of exophalmic [?] goiter-thyroid gland in the neck. They had never had a case in the hospital before and I had never done one before. I did it for them in fine style. I never saw a case go nicer. They seemed very much impressed. Next I was taken for dinner to Dr. Goldsborough's home and had the best dinner I have had since the "little lemon" was in charge. We rode out again to the injured man in Governor Goldsborough's big Lozier machine. Then I came home. It was a wonderful trip and quite lucrative too.

I have almost made expenses this year now and can go to Chicago. It made me want to go when I can make enough money to live on instead of being a slave. The superintendent of the hospital sent for me to explain why I had gone to see this case without permission from the hospital. He was as small as a man could be but he didn't bother my mental equilibrium any. I didn't let on that I had collected any money though he undoubtedly suspects it and so does everybody else. They are all poking fun at me, wanting to know the brand of machine I am going to buy, etc. I won't tell anyone what I made as it is none of their business.

I have had two wonderful cases. One a Gasserian ganglion for terrible tic douloureux, one of the most difficult operations in brain surgery. It went beautifully though a very difficult case. It is one of those cases where you go into the very center of the head. Another case was a spinal cord tumor. It was one of the rarest of tumors. Dr. Thomas is very much interested in it but I am afraid we can't help the poor fellow. I exposed the tumor at operation but it was such a terrible looking thing that I didn't see how anything could be done to help him but I think I will try it anyhow. He is helpless and begs for something to be done.

I have another big case for tomorrow. The man out of whom I took a brain tumor as big as your fist is walking around and doing fine. His mentality is unimpaired. I have had wonderful luck so far with all cases and hope it will keep up. The radium did not help that poor fellow in whom I found a big tumor and had tried radium as a last resort.

I am busy writing papers now. That is what is going to help me most of anything. Very fortunately the German article came out all right just before the war. I am very much pleased. Heuer said it was a very good looking article. I think that will anticipate Cushing's article, which I think has not yet appeared. I sent him my picture.

I was looking over the old pictures the other day of the group after I graduated. I think it is very good. I am particularly proud of the one of Papa when he was 16 years old. I wonder if you can get any more of your pictures or of Mama when she was young and all the beaus chasing her.

I sent another doctor a bill for $10 and may get $10 for another but I don't see any more in view. I feel quite rich now especially since I own some railroad stock too.

Japan is a dirty little dog. England has lost a lot of sympathy here for requesting Japan to get mixed up in the war. It's like jumping on a man who is down. But they will probably know it long before Germany is down. America ought to reap much benefit from the war.

It is nice to think the American people are sensible enough to rule themselves and not permit broken down aristocratic rulers to force the flower of youth before the mouths of cannons while they entertain the flights of imagination foolishly interpreted as ambition. If sensible men had ruled Germany, Russia, and Austria such a war would have been out of the question. I think you had better leave for America as soon as you can get a fairly good boat. Even an English boat might not be bad now.

Your loving son, Walter



P.S. Do you want some money!!




September 4, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

September 4, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Well I am very glad to know you are still all right. I don't suppose there is any appreciable danger in London. Am glad you have plenty of money. It would have cost about $25 to get $300 to you by cable.

Got your letter this morning giving permission to go to the Red Cross. I don't know now whether I will go or not. Have lost a little enthusiasm. I don't believe the work would be as good as I expected though I don't know. The first expedition sails Monday. Some men left from here. I hated to turn down $250 a month, but what will that amount to later. I wanted the trip, experience and money. I don't think there is any appreciable danger. If Heuer comes back I think maybe I will go. But now I am getting too good work to leave. Besides, I think I had better look after my station in Chicago. I think I will go soon.

I think you had better come when you can get good reservations. I think I will get you a little cottage in the country. You send me a cable when you leave and that will give me plenty of time to find a place. Maybe I will go to Chicago the last of this month and get back by the 5 or 6 of October.

I made $100 more this week. I made another trip to Cambridge, Maryland, where I went to see Emerson's husband. This was a fractured head. I was called up at midnight and told to come in the morning. I charged $100 and expenses. I haven't heard how the patient got along. It was a terrible case. Knocked down by an automobile. A very nice woman with children. The husband was frantic. I haven't got the check yet but guess it will come all right. Dr. Goldsborough told Dr. ___________, who first sent me there, that it was the finest operation he had seen and Cushing wasn't in it for operating any more.

Yesterday I did the most remarkable operation I have yet done. A week or 10 days ago I found at operation a tumor of blood vessels on the spinal cord and thought there was nothing which could be done and closed him up again. Later I thought about it a great deal and thought I would try to take a shot at it. Dr. Thomas laughed. McClure said it was impossible. I said I was going to try it. Yesterday, I went in again and exposed it again. It was a terrible looking thing, a big cluster of worm?like blood vessels, the thought of tearing them made you shudder. McClure said the best thing was to leave it alone. If you get bleeding you are helpless. Dr. Young and others came in, looked at it, and thought the best thing to do was to leave it alone. I said I was going to try. I did and got it entirely out. So I was happy. It took 5 hours of continuous work to do it.

I explained to the man, who was Irish by the way, that I didn't have much hope of getting it out, but as he was aware it was only a question of a short time until he would be paralyzed below the waist. I said even if I did get it out, I may injure your cord so that the operation will paralyze you. He said I leave myself entirely in your hands and don't ask any questions. I have absolute confidence in you.

I was very glad to have Dr. Young see it. He can give me a good recommendation for Chicago now. His assistant asked me if I was going to get a little exercise by operating. He should get perfectly well now. It is one of the rarest of tumors and I believe the only one which has ever been removed. I am going to report the case. I have so much good work to write up for publication that I hesitate to leave for Chicago. In another year it would be just right but I think I will see.

The hospital put a stop to me operating outside so I won't make any more money. I made $20 more on the side, but it isn't collected yet. Am going to the country for a two days rest at the same place, Seths. Mrs. Brown has gone home apparently perfectly cured.

Had radium on one of my cases which was apparently hopeless (brain case) and he is apparently getting well. He is the U.S. Army Captain. I may have told you about him.

The weather has suddenly turned nice and cool. Some rain. I feel great. I hope you are the same.

The war isn't bothering us much. Intelligence rules here now with Wilson at the helm. Even Socialism seems checked. At least you don't hear much about it.

With much love, many kisses.

Your loving son, Walter


September 20, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

September 20, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Well, you don't seem to be bothering much about the war, but I think you had better come back now while the coming is good. It is about the right time of year now and I think you had better start back right away. Take the Lusitania or Mauretania. They are as safe as American boats, but I wouldn't wait any longer.

I have been out yesterday looking for a little suburban place. I haven't seen any just right but will look further as soon as you cable me.

Have had a wonderful week of surgery. Did my first cerebellum and it went beautifully. I have now had every brain operation which has been done. I also did two more Gassignan ganglion cases-Cushing's supposedly hardest operation. Also did a little boy with an old brain abscess as you will see from the enclosed clipping. It was a bully case. He had 60-70 epileptic spells a day before the operation but has not had any since. They are so tickled. He cannot keep from praising me and thanking me every time he sees me. He is one of the city's attorneys. They are very nice people.

The man I took the spinal cord tumor from is now walking around. He has done beautifully. I have really had wonderful success so far.

The old woman I removed the Gassignan ganglion from was very feeble and did not look as though she would stand an operation but she did beautifully.

But Heuer is back and my palmy days are probably over, but still it may all turn out to be the best-you can't always tell. He told me confidentially that Dr. Halsted almost put me in as resident ahead of McClure but thought I would be better trained if I did not get the residency so soon. I am still worrying about Chicago, but I don't know what to do. Heuer wants me to stay. He says he will only take neurological surgery temporarily and I will surely get it, but I don't like the prospects of the small salary. He thinks I will have a hard time bucking the profession in Chicago. I haven't much more news to give you this time.

Your loving son, Walter


September 25, 1914

11 Holford Place

Percy Circus

London, England

September 25, 1914

Well My Dear Boy,

Glad to hear you had a few days vacation at the seaside and that things are working round so you don't have to spend your money going to Chicago to see those men you wanted to see. You can have the cloths and still see the men.…

Well I went yesterday to see the American Ambasador in regard to sailing on ships other than the American line. Of course I did not see him but saw his asistent who thought there was no danger on ships like the Olympic etc. as the ocean was patroled by Brittish war ships. He said he crossed last week. However there is an American commitee at the Savoy Hotel who looks after the welfare of Americans in every form and I am going to see them and then decide when and how I shall come back. There are lots of opertunity to get back on near any line of ships now. Still there are lots of Americans here yet. They issue a free bulitin every day of Americans comming in and going out with there addresses in London and the States. …

Everything here is as usual except training soldiers in all avabal [available] open spaces through the city. Parks etc. are used for this purpose. Placards all over the city on busses taxis etc wanting people to enlist and I think if we could only hear the truth the Germans are killing them faster than they are recruiting. There seems to be a slowing down in recruiting now. Not many arround the recruiting office. I think the wait and watch and see pollicy (U.S.A.) is far ahead of the present English method.…

Your affectionate Father


September 25, 1914

11 Holford Place

Percy Circus

London, England

September 25, 1914

My Dear Son,

…Glad to hear you had a couple of days rest and enjoyed diving and swimming so much. Would have liked very much to have seen you. I might hollar if I saw you jump into 20 feet of water if you didn't come up pretty quick. No more branch streams or sewers now. Fancy jumping into 20 feet of water. I think you will have to give Pa a few lessons. I believe Pa would rather kick a football. Sometimes when he sees the boys kicking he feels like he would like to give it a kick.……

Well the weather here is very nice. Too nice for war. I think they had better be working and improving their countries, in place of robbing and ruining them. The country was bad enough before the war. I don't know what it will be like after. I believe if I were you I would stay in your own country. They have brought it all on themselves and let them get out of it the best they can. I hope the one that is to blame will get well punished for bringing on such a calamity and loss of life. Look out for your own best interest regardless of who they are or what they are. People are small in every country. Fancy your super being so niggardly as to begrudge you a little money after the way you have stayed and worked for nothing. He must be about as small as Cushing, but such is life. He can't hurt you now.

I am glad you got two suits. Pa has more than you now. He has five nice suits. I got a nice dark blue the other day for £2.6 or about $12.

Well everything is quiet here. You couldn't tell there was a war in England. It is a wonder the Germans don't drop some bombs on London.…

Your loving Mother


September 26, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

September 26, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Received your letter yesterday and was glad to know you intend to come as soon as possible. I do think that is best and it is about what I advised in my letter which you have probably just received. If you cable me I will have time to look out for the proper kind of a place.

I would like to get a nice suburban place but that will probably depend on what Dr. Halsted decides when he comes back about October 5. I still have a faint hope that he may yet decide to give me brain surgery. Heuer was very anxious to have me stay and said he did not prefer brain surgery but would rather have abdominal surgery and maybe we could work a scheme whereby I could get the neurological surgery. He said he would broach the Professor on the subject but there is no telling what he will say. If he knows I may leave he may be bitter. Heuer told me confidentially that he at one time considered putting me in as resident over McClure, but thought I would be a better man if I waited longer.

I have a lot of good news for him when he comes and hope it may influence a favorable decision. I have had some most wonderful results. Yesterday I operated on a man from Puerto Rico who was kicked in the head by a mule and operated on in Puerto Rico. Very severe convulsions came on and for the past 20 days he has been unable to speak a word. I operated on him, found a terrible looking brain, all adherent to the scalp because of the previous operator's poor work. I took out his bone plate transplanted a piece of fascia from his leg to cover the area which was so adherent (as big as the palm of one's hand). When he awoke from the ether he was talking for the first time in 20 days. That is the first time I have had the opportunity of making the dumb talk.

My successes are due of course only to the Master above for whom I am the fortunate agent and they are the result of the prayers which you are constantly making.

Another case was that boy of whom I sent you the newspaper clipping. He was having 50-60 convulsions a day and is now perfectly fine. His father and mother are the happiest people you can imagine. He couldn't thank me enough. He thinks it is the most wonderful thing in the world. He had tried everything and in desperation came to Hopkins expecting, as his physicians had warned him, to sacrifice his child on the altar of surgery. He has boosted me all over town. Many people are telling me about it. His wife said I was the greatest doctor in the world and they had implicit confidence in what I said. I think they thought I was rather young but they didn't say it exactly so.

One old woman of 70 came with the terrible tic douloureux and had been warned that the operation was the most delicate in surgery. When she saw me she said, but you are too young to do such a big operation. I really believe I am younger than any other surgeon who has done such big operations.

The spinal cord (Irish) man is going home tomorrow perfectly well. I have another great triumph to present to Dr. Halsted in experimental work when he comes back. This will please him more than anything else.

I have a new method of getting out the pineal body. I was trying with unlimited patience which it requires to get them out and they often proved too much. They were too long (3-4 hours), too painstaking. I came home rather discouraged. I went to bed and knew there must be a better way. I figured and finally figured it out, went to the Hunterion the next day and it worked like a charm. Didn't take more than 1/3 to 1/2 of the time and was very easy and much more satisfactory. I had to go through the cavities of the brain hitherto unexplored.

I am now anxious to get hold of a pineal tumor in a human. But I don't like to _________ and turn them over to Heuer. Maybe Dr. Halsted will change his mind and turn it over to me. I think by merit alone I should deserve it and I believe it will come. Then I would defer trying Chicago. I am sure in five years I will get it but I can't wait so long as that.

I tried on my two new suits. They are beautiful. The weather is fine. I am taking two weeks off except for brain surgery and doing only that, experimental work and writing. There is a new Professor of Medicine here now in place of Dr. Barker. The man who could not speak was one of his first patients.

Well I think this is lots of news about myself, the kind which pleases you especially well. Maybe you will be starting back before the next one reaches you. I think I have exhausted my own information and am therefore ready to close.

Your loving son, Walter



P.S.I sent clipping to the Sedalia Democrat.


October 5, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

October 5, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

I have not yet received a cablegram from you so I suppose you are still in England. I haven't much news to tell you. Dr. Halsted is back but I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet. I spoke to him for a few seconds. He said I was afraid you were going on the Red Cross and I was going to send my protest. Dr. Howland was there and he said jokingly, "Dandy, you are an expensive luxury to have around here"; and turning to Dr. Halsted, said, "You should have seen my typewriter's bill for Dandy's article. $95"; and Dr. Halsted said, "You should have seen my translators bill. It was $140." I want to see him and tell him all the good news I told you of last time, then leave the decision to him.

I got my new suits. They are beauties, but when you come back they will soon get pretty small as they did once before. I am down to 150 again, but it will soon come back again when you get here.

There is a hospital 25th anniversary reunion here this week. It will probably cost me $15 or $20 before the week is up. It is a good thing I made as much money as I did before they stopped me.

We are having beautiful weather. You had better start back before it gets cold. There isn't any danger crossing the Atlantic now.

Dr. Halsted was over to the Hunterian yesterday and asked about the work I was doing and was greatly pleased. There was one experiment I did which he once suggested and he was especially pleased to know I had done it and to know how it came out. I can't help but believe that he will be very good to me when he knows how hard and how successfully I worked for him while he is away. The man ahead of me-McClure-hasn't done anything so far as long as he has been here.

When I get some good home cooking, they won't be able to hold me if I decide to stay here. I was wishing the other day for some home made bread, chicken, cake, pie, etc. etc. but it won't be long now.

Am enclosing a clipping from the Sedalia paper about the case of epilepsy. They have certainly spread my reputation broadcast. I think this is all.

Your loving son, Walter


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