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.

October 11, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

October 11, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

I had not expected to write you again but I suppose you will still be in England when this gets there. I don't think you should hesitate about the few extra dollars. Come right on now. Never mind the cost. It may save in the long run. It may not be possible to come over so easily later. They may take the big boats out of commission because there won't be much travel. Besides the longer you wait the greater the chances of the German spies strewing mines around England. So come right on and never mind the cost.

I was out looking for a place today. There is a nice house in a beautiful part of the suburbs which are most accessible to the hospital which rents for $30. It has a nice big lot, a nice place for a garden, 7 or 8 nice rooms and a big porch on two sides of the house. I think it would be fine. It is on a big hill and right next to a beautiful woods and just above Clifton Park. What do you think? I don't believe you can beat it though I will look around some more. It would be nice in Summer. I don't want you to be penned up in town in Summer any more. It is about 2 squares from the car line and takes about 25 minutes to ride from the hospital. I don't think you would want furnished rooms or an apartment.…

It begins to look like I may be here, though it is not certain and until it is I wouldn't get that house. But it is just as easy to move from there as any other place. I haven't seen Dr. Halsted about staying, though I had a chance to show him my experimental work and he was greatly pleased. He just beamed. The same day-apparently a psychological time-Heuer saw him and told him I was thinking of going to Chicago and do neurological surgery. He said I couldn't think of going, that he wouldn't let me go and that it was foolish for even thinking of it and asked Heuer if he really cared about doing neurological surgery and he said he did not and was willing to give it to me. He gave the impression, though he did not say so, that he would let me have it as soon as he could switch over to general surgery.

The Professor then suggested that he would give me a salary and said he would have a talk with me. So I ought to know something definite about salary, etc., pretty soon. I think I will try him for $1,000, though I probably won't get more than $500 or $600, but that will help considerably. Then I won't have to borrow from you any more. Then I can look for the Chicago proposition with more deliberation, etc. The Professor isn't going to let me go, I believe, unless he can't help it. He knows I am doing good work and that is the biggest credit to him, for the reputation of his men brings the greatest credit to himself.

McClure who stands between Heuer and myself is getting rather dissatisfied because the Professor doesn't seem to take much interest in him and reflect on him by passing him by and giving the work to Heuer. If he would quit, which he won't, I would be in great shape, but I hardly look for anything so fortunate. Heuer told the Professor I was disappointed because the road to the residency was so long. I wish I had what I want but I guess I ought to be satisfied and thankful for what I have got, but I can't help my disposition can I? Am having a piece of work for Dr. Finney which may help me get a better recommendation from him for Chicago.

The Hopkins reunion has passed. It cost me about $10. I got a check for $10, however, for a diagnosis so it evened up. Cushing came, passed me up again just as nicely as he had done before; spoke to someone next to me and never said boo to me. The next day I thought I would show his smallness up and I went up and shook hands with him. He was very nice.

My cases have all done beautifully-have had some wonderful results. Dr. Halsted said, "I heard you have had some nice cases this summer." I said, "Yes, I must show them to you." He doesn't know what I have done, I am sure, because McClure, being rather jealous, never tells him anything about me. But I will let him know.

The boy with the brain abscess is fine, perfectly well. I guess I told you about making the Irishman talk. Just think of having to make an Irishman talk. Can you imagine it?

Well, I think this is about all. Four sheets is pretty good don't you think. But come right on now and no more delay.

Your loving son, Walter

October 29, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

October 29, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

I hope you are over the results of sea passage and now feeling well. I am sure you soon will be, as I have a beautiful place picked out for you and have some furniture ready for you though not so much. I am glad you are out of range of the war as it won't be long before travel will not be so safe.

It doesn't matter to what station you come; it would be a little more convenient to come over the Pennsylvania. You wouldn't have to cross the ferry. But if you don't let me know to the contrary. Will look for you in the B&O-Mt. Royal Station. You had better send me a telegram so I will know what time you will arrive. You had better mention the station also. Take a Pullman from New York. It is much nicer.

I am looking and feeling fine, am anxiously waiting to see you looking the same. I have plenty of money, so don't worry about such trivialities. Buy a New York Times if you leave New York on Sunday. It will be good reading all the way to Baltimore.

I forgot to tell you I got an apartment of 4 rooms, etc., instead of a house. I thought it would be better for a while anyhow. Hurry along.

Your loving son, Walter

January 19, 1923

Here I am again in Paris, but only for a few hours while en route to Vienna where I hope to spend a little longer time. It is a beautiful day, like spring with little showers.

Yesterday in Holland it was very cold, about 10 above zero. It was great to see them skating along the canals, which run everywhere. They can run from one city to another in a short time on skates. By train, great cities are about 15 to 20 minutes apart. The Hague with the famous Peace Palace is very beautiful and the city itself is very pretty. It is wealthier, but not quite so beautiful as Amsterdam, though both are so clean and beautiful.

Holland is a wonderful country throughout and the people so honest and wholesome. I spent two days in Utrecht which is older and typical of the older Holland. There is not so much wealth there and the buildings are less handsome, but everywhere clean and well kept. It was amusing to see the clogs which you used to speak of in England. The women work hard in the fields and pull great barges along the canals. The women of Holland are very pretty and so wholesome. You never see bobbed hair or flirting girls. They are all very high typed. Simple and home loving.

I saw the most interesting work in Utrecht of anywhere. Professor Magussis is the principal light there and he was most thoroughly hospitable taking me to his home nearly every meal and spent his whole day doing nothing else than escorting me around and explaining in detail all that was going on. It was most interesting and will be useful. They were doing a lot of good work on the brain physiology in animals. There isn't much surgery of the brain there and I haven't been in the operating room yet. Perhaps on the return trip I will do more exploring of the surgical fields. Should have done so in England but the climate was so fierce, couldn't stand it.

Holland was clear and cold the entire time. It was very stimulating weather. I met a Cleveland man at the Hague. I knew him when he was with Crile. He was traveling around and watching only operations. It will depend upon what I find in Vienna as to whether I stay there any length of time. If not good there, will return to England after a wanderlust in Italy and Germany and possibly Spain. If you will write your brother in Ireland, I may stop a day and run down to Queenstown and take the boat there. I think you gave me their address.

I am having a wonderful time and hope you are well. Haven't had a sign of a cold or anything. I am enjoying all of the new experiences. Getting particular delight in watching the differences in engines, railroads, etc. Can have a good chat with father when I get back. Leaving on the Orient Express the fine (deluxe) train to Vienna which is only 36 hours away. Will look for a letter from you there.

With love, I am your loving son,


January 21, 1923

I am at the farthermost part of my journey. Arrived here last night at 10:30 PM, having left Paris at 2:00 PM the day before. It is just a month since I left home and it has surely been a month of great events. Leaving Paris with spring-like weather. Toward night we passed into the mountains into Switzerland (the Alps), but saw none of them till morning when we reached Austria. These were the Tyrol Mountains and were everywhere covered with about a foot of snow. It was very beautiful everywhere. The mountains extended all the way to Vienna.

There had been a heavy snow in Vienna a few weeks ago and the streets are full of slush and old snow where it has been piled up. But little remains of it except for this. The hotel is very nice and comfortable. The people very nice. And everything goes well. The sleepers are quite different from the American ones but they are very good and nearly as comfortable. Everything is compartment plan, which is hardly as nice. The Austrians are probably the best cooks in the world. The dinner on the diner was delicious. Much better than in France.

There isn't the meanness and selfishness about the Austrians such as one sees in the French. They are most polite. They have raised prices in Austria until they are nearly the equal of America. France is now the only place where living is cheap and it is very cheap. Germany is as expensive as America now. Probably before long, France will raise the prices to reach the loss in exchange. Money is counted in kronen and to make them worth anything, they are raised into thousands. A bill calls for 100,000 kronen which means 1¼ dollars of American money. Dinner last night cost 100,000 kronen, etc. Formerly a kronen was worth 20¢, so you see how far money has fallen.

Shall meet Professor Eisenberg, one of the famous surgeons today. Don't know how long I shall stay, but continue to send letters to London. Miss Cannet will probably go to Florida in February.

Love and Kisses,

Walter x x x x x x x x

December 14, 1923

Here I am in the most wonderful country in many ways that I have yet seen. It is such a beautiful thrifty country, irrigated through every few yards by ditches. The great windmills scattered everywhere and flapping their huge wings is a wonderful sight. We arrived at the Hook of Holland at 7:00 a.m., crossing the North Sea at night. Again I had hoped to find some evidence of seasickness, but I slept the night through without waking. I had a cabin in the prow of the ship. She was lurching again a good deal when I went to bed but at least I wasn't thrown out of the berth. We left Harwich about 100 miles by train from London and Amsterdam is almost two hours by sea from Hook of Holland.

I was much impressed with the English railways. They have doubtless improved a great deal since you were here. The carriage, which was open by compartments outside, I have seen, but most often the cars have compartments for four people and they have at the end of the cars. I think they ride very well, about as well as American cars. I think they are more comfortable. I, of course, have traveled 1st class. I could bet with a high degree of assurance what class you travel.

I couldn't enjoy the English climate very much. Rain. Rain. Rain. It showered a little one day, they made a big fuss about it, but it was all water before noon.

Holland has been nice and clean and fairly cold - just about freezing, but I have missed the good skating which they usually have here most of the winter. This must be the place where the Dutch Cleanser got its name. You can't find dirt anywhere. It's a "spotless town" for sure. The buildings are all so beautiful, neat and tidy. The people dress so neatly and cleanly - none of the slovenliness that I have seen in France, England and America. There seems no one very rich and very poor, but everyone in good circumstances and well taken care of by their thrift. The people are all so open and friendly and kind. They go out of their way to help you for the love of doing it. They live sensibly. Not many motorcars. The cleanest little streetcars which move along at a snail pace, but you like it. Nearly everyone rides a bicycle. Holland is only about 25 miles radius from the center to the border and big thrifty cities are very close together. They have to speak German, English and French as well as their own Dutch because their neighbors are so close and they have to trade with them.

Tomorrow I go to Utrecht about an hour's ride south of here, then to The Hague and then Paris and Vienna. I hope to get a letter from you when I get to Vienna. I got a letter from Miss Cannet hoping she had been out to see you, but this is the only word I have had from America. They know much about my air work here and use it, but haven't a big material to work with as in America.

A month will have soon have passed. It won't be long 'til I'm back, but we won't "wish our lives away" will we. I wonder where I got that.

Love, Walter x x x x x x x x x x

December 21, 1923


Ready to start. Such a wonderful boat! Looks impossible for any human means of forcing such a great thing head 3000 miles. Feel the thrill of a boy, but of course other emotions surge in too. My address will be Equitable Trust Company, London. Good luck. Au revoir, W.E.D. [posted New York City]Miss Sadie Martin702 4th Ave.Royal HeightsBaltimore, MD

December 29, 1923

Here I am in this geese cackling place where I can't understand any more than Columbus understood from the Indians whom he discovered. After a nice but dismal trip across, we reached Cherbourg at 6:00 & Paris at midnight Friday. We waited around Cherbourg several hours before we could land in a tender, the sea being too rough. Then a couple of hours inspecting baggage and waiting for this baby train to get started on a 6 hour stroll to Paris. Did not manage to get seasick but there was not any sign of a storm. Not once did we see the sun or moon until we landed in France. It was quite dismal and damp outside but pleasant inside. It is quite wonderful how that great boat plowed ahead without hesitating for 5 days. But that's long enough on the water.

It gets rather tiresome being indoors all the time. But I read a great deal and had a wonderful room, which I believe I told you retailed at $1050 winter rates and $1250 summer rates. Had private bath and electric heater in the room. I am sure one would easily get seasick if they were in bad air as in steerage and second cabin.

I will look up my patient here today and remain here several days going to London or Amsterdam, Holland next week. Have a nice hotel. The franc, formerly 20¢, is now worth only 5¢ so one's money goes four times as far as formerly. It will go even further in Austria. I hope you have been well and free from colds, am looking forward to a letter from you when I get to London. Am having a wonderful experience and lots of fun, but it won't be long before I am running home again.

With lots of love,


January 1, 1924

The new year begins in Paris. It is a wonderful city - as you of course know. Some of the most beautiful spots in the world are here. The Louvre is the finest art gallery in the world, includes all the finest paintings, etc., many of which were added by Napoleon. Napoleon's tomb is a very impressive thing. It is in the center of a great building. The sarcophagus is situated in a deep pit, mounted on a high pedestal. The Notre Dame Cathedral is the most wonderful building I have ever seen. It was 200 years in building, is entirely of stone, being built before the age of iron and steel. The great windows are said to be the finest. The great boulevards radiate out in all directions. The Seine River divides the city in half. It is now overflowing from the recent heavy rains. The weather is rainy though two days have been nice.

The patient I came to see will not need an operation. They are very queer people. His wife is A.D.'s daughter. I was there for dinner today and met lady - (you know) who was one of the D's, another married a Miss Gould, etc. But they are a conceited, useless bunch. They are living in an old royalty mansion several hundred years old. A palm tree carefully preserved is a monument over the remains of Maria Teresa, the queen who was beheaded. Such nuts. - they are always talking about the common people. If it weren't for the brother, a good friend of mine, I would soak them. Of course you want to know right off how much it will be ""don't you." They have been very nice to motor me all around Paris.

I have learned one thing and that is that it takes money to travel in the right style. Abe Flexner hinted at my going to Chicago and said I would not want to go back into surgery again as in the past. I told him there was no interest for me in any positions he had. He still clings on. I don't say anything more. The first day here I called a young French surgeon I met in Baltimore. Had dinner with him and arranged to meet several doctors of the biggest reputations. They have been very good and eager to show me everything. The leading neurologist wants me to address the students in the University of Paris and they have asked me to operate. I have declined everything so far. Perhaps later I may on returning.

Will remain here a few days and go to Amsterdam, Holland then over to London and then to Austria. Haven't heard a word from home as yet, of course. Am looking forward to letters at London. Am not going to buy any suits here or England. They won't fit them right. Am having a wonderful time and feeling fine. Every day brings new experiences and widens my horizon. Can't seem to learn any French but as there are so many English speaking people I get along satisfactorily. Haven't bothered about the loss of work as I expected I might. I hope you have escaped colds and are well.

With love and kisses, Walter x x x x x x x x x x

January 6, 1924

It would seem more natural to be receiving a letter from you from London rather than for me to be writing you from here. After a very enjoyable 10 days in Paris, I arrived in London at 6:00 p.m. today by way of Calais and Dover. What a beautiful contrast England is over France. Outside of Paris, France is a rather forlorn looking place. The country from England's coast to London is so beautiful and well kept up, everything spic and span. It will be lovely in the spring. I shall hardly stay long in London and hardly do any sightseeing until spring when I return and when everything will be so much prettier.

After a few days here we will leave for Amsterdam and then Utrecht, Holland, Brussels, Belgium, and then on to Vienna until I am ready for a sightseeing tour on route home, about April I think.

I haven't received any mail from anyone from anywhere yet so you can imagine how eager I am to hear from you and know that you are well. I have felt fine all the time not even a semblance of a cold. It is a beautiful day. Clear, crisp, heavy frost and a little ice, the only nice day since leaving America. The Channel was very smooth. I am almost beginning to wonder if the water ever gets rough, but I suppose my time will come soon.

Another doctor from Hopkins is going to Vienna with me and stay as long as I do. I am not so sure how much work we are going to be able to get but we will see the world at any rate. So far I like America best. Paris is very nice for a visit if you have plenty of money but the French are a pretty cold coin seeking lot - though probably no worse than the English whom I have yet to get acquainted with. London is smoky and stuffy but quite clear, no fog. I am just about half a square off Trafalgar Square. Had dinner at Simpson's Restaurant tonight, do you know it? Will have to look up Holford Square some time and see where you passed your time. My room is well heated and very nice.

I almost forgot to tell you about the patient. He has I think a brain tumor. It shows in the x-ray. None other than myself had any feeling that it was a tumor. We are going to watch him for a while and probably he will have to be brought to America for operation. His brother sailed for Washington yesterday. He was most greatly impressed with my diagnosis.

I met a Baron and Baroness and they are surely nuts. No wonder Socialism grows in England. No human beings could be so inane. I met a great many doctors in Paris. They were cordial and insisted on me operating when I come back. I think I told you about going to Napoleon's Tomb, the Luxembourg Palace, the Louvre (the greatest art gallery in the world). For once we get even with the Frenchmen by getting $5 for $1. They are quite worried.

Have left my trunk in Paris and traveling with a suitcase & very comfortably. I don't see any bargains in clothes. I doubt I'll buy anything, shall surely not have any clothes made here. In spring I may get some goods if they seem particularly striking.

Have you been well? Let me know what you think of Miss Martin if she calls. I wrote her from Paris, thanking her for a little present (a book). Write me lots of news.

Your loving son, Walter x x x x x x x x x x

February 16, 1924


February 16, 1924

Dear Mother and Father:

Have just arrived in Berlin after a day's journey from Munich and another day's journey from Zurich. From Vienna I went to Munich - a pretty ride over the Tyrol Mountains. After three days in Munich I went to Zurich in Switzerland, again over mountains and across the very pretty Baden Lake for one hour. But the real Swiss Alps are still farther south and I will reach them when I go to Italy a little later on.

Munich was very interesting both from a medical standpoint and from the view of the old city, where they make and drink so much beer. Have sauerkraut and wieners and pork and pigs feet and tripe - what a time father would have floundering around in all of it and what a time someone else would have trying to get it all down - like sea sickness - past a difficult mind!!

The best surgeon I have seen was in Munich and with it the finest experimental laboratory - and not a full-time man, either. I have seen too much on my trip to ever think of full-time again. It is pathetic to see such great scientists unable to live on their meager salaries and no help coming through better salaries and they are unable to do anything to help themselves. Why make oneself dependent. The best work is being done everywhere by the men who are not full-time. It has been a very valuable experience, marking exactly opposite to what was expected. But I have to answer for myself and of course have no strings tied. I shall have to let the light shine slowly when I get back in order not to seem unappreciative. Have seen so much and learned so many new ideas that I shall have enough to do to keep me busy for a long time.

The way things are shaping now, I should get back about the first or middle of May. I shall probably remain a week here. Go to Breslau for a day, then to Hamburg, then to Denmark and Stockholm in Sweden and back to England for a couple of weeks. Then back to Italy for the beginning of springtime there, when it is prettiest, and from there possibly to Spain and back to England again and home.

Am feeling fine all the time. Your letter of the 31st reached me today with this mail which is the first I have received in 2 weeks. Haven't written many letters, though one to Dr. Buttrick and Flexner a week ago. It is quite cold here, but no snow. The finest kind of weather. It was snowing every day in Munich and no snow again in Zurich. Germany is recovering rather fast, though Berlin still has great poverty.

You will soon have the garden started. Don't work too hard in it! I hope you remain well.

With love and kisses,

Walter x x x x x x