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.

December 1, 1926

It's a long time since I felt so keenly the desire to get away from work. The terrible and I think - inexcusable -- infections have made the work a nightmare. It's like an engineer driving a fast limited train and all switches left in the hands of anyone who chanced to come along - and unlocked. No matter how careful his work, he is helpless.

But I do believe the thing is going to come to a head. The general surgeons have the same trouble, though their patients live to tell the tale with scars and permanent disabilities, whereas mine must die and the heart pangs are borne for a lifetime by loving parents and relatives. It's all so simply connected - I believe. It's difficult to think that in a modern age, human beings in such responsible positions can be so callous and heartless as to put a few measly dollars ahead of these preventable horrors. The hospital should be the first to use every effort to obliterate reflections of this character on its good name.

But I hope there will be a change soon and I think Dr. Lewis will take a firm stand. Dr. Finney was around this morning and said he would say a word to him. He seemed to feel very strongly about it.

Well, for some cheery news - do go over and see my big boy and also my girl. I fear he is showing signs of an inherited temper - from whom, you will need only one guess. At least, Father and I will need only one. This morning, he rapped on the bathroom door for admission and when his mother tried to direct his path elsewhere, he stamped his right foot vigorously and continuously in addition to giving a shriek. Go see him.

Tomorrow in Florida. Like going to Jekyl in days of old.

Love and kisses, Walter x x x x x

December 2, 1926

We are nearing Jacksonville about noon. I presume I had a longer sleep last night than my girl, for, good as my boy is at times, one of those times is not early morning. I nearly slept the clock around - went to bed at 8 and woke up about 8 - and had a bigger breakfast than my girl allows. But I didn't have to hide my apple core, for there were no sharp envious eyes of a big blue-eyed boy.

I hope my little girl is not too lonesome. Get your girl friends to go to the theatre and out to dinner and stay with you at night.

It is a lovely day, but chillier than usual. Heavy frost was on the ground as we came into Savannah. My friend and guest, Dr. Burke, must have forgotten to let me know about meeting his train in Richmond. But I am glad, for I didn't want to be with anyone I knew. I have just wanted to rest and get away from people.

Have been reading Grant. I will want to read his autobiography, so there is a hint for my Christmas present. When I get back, we will get that scooter for the big boy.

Dr. Greene is going to meet me in Jacksonville. Will be there a few hours. I may not have such a good chance to write tomorrow. And remember as I go southward the time required for letters to reach you doubles. How is my boy behaving? If he is as good as he is smart, he will be a super boy, but I feel he has an inherited temper.

I got my girl's message and I believe there is another coming soon. Of course, I mustn't peep. Hug my girl and boy even though he doesn't care for such signs of affection. I wish my little pal was along. But it won't always be as it is now.

All my love and kisses,

Walter x x x x x x

December 2, 1926

Had a wonderful rest of nearly 12 hours last night - much like the night I slept so hard after the all night auto-ride. I guess I needed this little trip, for the work has been hard and trying lately. But as long as one's best endeavors are not nullified by conditions out of one's control, the work is a pleasure.

Wouldn't you like to spend a couple of months here in Florida where it is nice and warm and where you can be out of doors all the time? I almost know what a deaf appeal this will make, but you would really enjoy it and get away from the rigors of the winter. No wonder I am obstinate and little Walter, too. Someone else long before did just as they pleased. You don't have to think about money anymore. I want to see you have some of the pleasure of life, to which you are so much entitled.

I think when I get through working, I will hibernate in Florida. We are just pulling into Florida.

Have had a good time reading Grant's life and the Civil War struggles.

Dr. Greene will meet me here and after an afternoon in Jacksonville, will leave for Tampa tonight. Then a boat trip of 36 hours to Cuba, passing Key West on the way. I had hoped to return on the railroad which goes out to sea along the Florida Keys to Key West. We ought to have a wonderful time and rest in Cuba.

Go out and see my boy and girl and keep an eye on the house. Will write from Cuba.

Love and kisses from you loving son,

Walter x x x x

May 15, 1927

Daddy has missed his boy and girl more than he can tell you. I do hope it is not too lonesome for the next few days. It can't be as bad as a year ago when the big boy was not so omnipresent.

It is a wonderful trip and such a nice crowd of men. It is a complete relaxation of mind. Much to my surprise the nights are cool and delightful. Last night, which they say is typical, we slept under a blanket. There is a nice breeze. Such luxury of travel. Have a room and a bath all to myself. Am writing this at Arcadia, a little place of 5000 near our destination. The corn is in tassel and the cobs nearly ripe. The land is more fertile than farther north. Am looking forward to the thrill of tarpon fishing, of which many stories have been told en route.

I was just thinking how much more I can relax due to Dr. Lewis' fixing the sterilization. Last December, it was such a terrible departure.

I suppose my little girl is pulling weeds and getting the porch fixed with furniture for the summer. And the big boy is doubtless on that incessant tramp and strewing his path with everything his eye can see and fingers reach. That cute vocabulary of 50 words will probably have doubled when his daddy comes again at his peremptory summons to play with him. My boy and girl are before me in my mind's eye and thoughts. So many the times I have thought how full my life has been made by my little Sweetheart. What is there more in the world which I could ask and who has more of real sterling. Wasn't I pretty smart at the elevator, but after that - wasn't my little girl smart - much smarter. The one was an impulse and ever so correct; the other more knowing, and so wise.

With all my love to the sweetest girl and boy in the world.

x x x x x Walter

May 17, 1927

Your son has developed into a real sportsman as you probably surmised. Such luxury - traveling in a private car with a stateroom and bath and delicious food, etc. We are a

at a place which is not unlike Jekyl. The main attraction is tarpon fishing. This is supposed to be the greatest sport in the fishing line. This morning we left the inn at 4 o'clock and fished until 10 and again in the afternoon. It's quite a wonderful sight; about 30 boats running back and forth in a pass about a mile wide. The tide carries you out and you motor back, and do this over and over.

I was the first to get a fish. One that weighed 85 lbs. It took 45 minutes of hard work to land him. Am having a taxidermist mount him and sometime you will see him over the mantel. The fish leaps in the air several times in the effort to break away. It is a beautiful sight to see him leaping probably 10 feet and assuming a beautiful curve as he goes up and comes down. I'm getting a heavy sunburn - more than you will like. The weather is wonderful - cool, nice breeze, comfortable all day and blankets and sweaters necessary at night. This place is run by a man who has loads of money and loses $100,000 a year keeping it up. Its main purpose is to entertain his friends.

Have you been over to see my boy? He will be developed much more when I get back. Do go over and enjoy him in these wonderful years of his mind's openings.

With love,

Walter x x x x x x x

August 27, 1927

August 7, 1927 (sent to The Johns Hopkins Hospital)

Your peripatetic sweetheart has done a big day's work writing - a chapter in the book soon to appear. It was quite a grind as you may well know, but it has to be done, perhaps tomorrow another and few more efforts should complete.

My little girl looked so good after her big ordeal and she is always so sweet and loving, it just makes me think how lucky I am to have her and her big boy, and now the little lady. Surely my cup of happiness is brimful with all life's choicest blessings. I just keep thinking about my girls and water, which he has just learned to pronounce - even if he wouldn't play ball with his daddy but chose his "grenden" instead of his utter exclusions. I was just wondering if he was again gazing at the moon - and demonstrating his new discovery! Soon my little girl will be home again if she doesn't get hugged - then someone guesses wrongly. I think Mother and Father will want to hold onto the little rascal. He has certainly added zest to their past two weeks.

It's such a lovely evening, the fine highway in upper North Carolina is crowded with cars. I wish I had my little girl motoring through. I have just read her lovely little note. It's what I miss so often! It always makes me happy, of course. Perhaps I will see my little sweetheart before she gets this letter, for I shall be on my way back in a few hours. We are just approaching Greensboro.

Love and kisses, both quantity and quality, to the dearest little girl in the world and her boy and new girl.

Walter x x x x x x x x x x

October 16, 1927

You can see under what handicaps I am working to write to my little girl. It looks like the writing of the airplane. "Hairpin."

I miss my little girl more every trip I go away and I also miss my boy and other little girl. Surely no one can be so happy to have who loves him dearly and also a little boy and girl both of whom he hopes will love him. We have a big responsibility, haven't we little sweetheart, to make ourselves worthy of their love and the confidence and respect which they show so eagerly and innately. They are putting the burden of justification on us, or rather nature has ordained it so. There is far more pleasure for me - and both of us, so I have learned from my little girl of pure sterling - in the little family circle with its aspiration and potentialities than in the other possible outside attractions with their seeming greater acclaim and honors. And they need all the efforts we can give them. Don't you think a great artist in seeking a scene for happiness should be content with our little family?

Daddy can't "take the big boy to see the moon and Jupiter" tonight, nor help make Mary Ellen's dimples withdraw in a big smile when her tummy is full of milk nor can he hug his little girl again for a week. He realizes the price he is paying, but the mental pictures of the past he is always living over in his day and night dreams.

Will my little girl have her new dress when I get home? It's now 7 o'clock and soon bed will be calling with no 5 o'clock alarm, but I shall miss my big boy's happy voice in the morning and "Daddy's tubby " later on. Kiss my little sweetheart good night and her big boy and little girl.

With all my love to the sweetest little girl in the world.


November 14, 1927

Finally I got off and am now en route to New Orleans - to the only state in the union I have not yet been. This trip I find very restful, for the close application to work so racking has its effect, though it may not be evident at the time. Besides, it is useful, for today I wrote most of another article.

More and more, I wish you were living near us so that we could see more of each other. Each year my work seems to get more and more concentrated, leaving less time to come to see you, as I should love above all things to do. And more and more, Walter is developing and through such a wonderful period of his life. You should see him frequently and watch him grow and help him grow, too. Of course, you didn't make a very good job with me, but with all that experience and profit of mistakes, you could do so much for him. I miss him and wish I could see more of him too, instead of the fleeting glimpse, which seems only possible. I marvel at the little brain developing so keenly and quickly and am so thankful, too, to have Mary Ellen coming along to go over it all again. It's finally worth it all and more to you now, isn't it, to have married, especially with such a dear little girl for a wife. I have been very lucky after all the years of waiting. "It was all for the best, wasn't it," I can hear you say, can't I?

The weather is very much milder here. The trees are in the height of their fall color, about two months behind Baltimore. The cotton is ripe and hanging in little white balls from the dead plants and in some places they are picking it. Tomorrow at 8:30 will be in New Orleans - the quaint old French city.

Please go over and see my boy and girl.

With love and kisses to the dearest little mother and father in the world.

From your loving son,

Walter x x x x x x

November 14, 1927

Passing through the lovely Piedmont region this morning makes me think of a similar trip three months ago when my little girl had just added our newest arrival to our happy family. Doubtless, very full of pride at the time. This region will always carry an unnaturally beautiful character for associated scents and frames of mind, surely add colors of brighter or more sombre hue. If my little girl could be along - as I wish you

were - she would think as I do of another happy occasion - one of the happiest of our lives. For the trees are colored at their height, just like Lake Clear.

I do hope my little girl got a good night's sleep and was not aroused 8 times in 10 minutes as she was on the couch just before our parting, but then she went to sleep even easier than she was she was aroused. Didn't you have a great day with our young progeny!

I don't think the picture of little Mary Ellen sitting in the big chair along the dinner table, bolstered by a cushion and bobbing her little bald head about constantly and flashing her bright blue eyes in an attempt to see everything and adjust herself to the new world about - can ever be forgotten or dimmed. It's like another picture which was so vivid as to be ineffaceable - namely, another little girl rounding the corner at the steps near the elevator.

Nor shall I ever forget the big boy with his eyes so firmly fixed on the choo-choo taking water, turning on the turntable, the headlight, engine going in the tunnel, and then his triumphant march through the hospital, coming out with the spoils of a conqueror - the quack-quack and the doll-baby and all without a not unusual catastrophe!

And the picture is not complete without my other little girl in her beautiful new attire - so proud and so sweet. And then I say how could one be happier and get more of the joys of life. Goodbye little sweetheart for nearly a week. Kiss my boy and my two little girls every time I wish I could but cannot. You could kiss them more.

With all my love,

Walter x x x

November 14, 1927

Daddy thinks his boy is developing so fast that he ought to write him a letter. Perhaps "Mommie" can help him read it, but it won't be very long before that won't be necessary. Mommie and Daddy are proud of their big boy and his development - mental and physical - and trust it is an accurate index of what is to come.

Daddy and particularly Mommie sacrifice a great deal to have our boy. We might be together very much more. But there is no sacrifice which isn't a pleasure when we consider the thrills past, present, and coming with his progress. Daddy would rather "taken the big boy moon" and "taken him choo-choo" than enjoy any other pleasure which might be offered. He had such a good time with him yesterday afternoon with the choo-choo and at the hospital. He is so happy to see his enthusiasm and his quick grasp of things seen and heard. Mommie and Daddy are always thinking about him and hope he will develop always so that he will be a source of pride to them and to himself and Mary Ellen who will soon be big enough to admire her brother and look to him as a model boy.

And Mommie and Daddy are always going to try to live so that their big boy may have an example - the best they can. Good night, Walter. When Daddy gets back, he will get so many new thrills from the new mental advances. He would love to take him to "Daddy's tubby" with the "gooses, shoap, boat, brushes, face," etc. Mommie will always be there to take Daddy's place, too.

Daddy has been watching the little colored boys pick the ripe cotton.

Hug Mommie tight, show her Jupiter, the half moon, and stars. Hug Mary Ellen, pat her head and put her in bed, too. Bye bye, Walter. Daddy is sending a lot of kisses to you, baby sister - and Mommie and Grandmommy and Granddaddy.

x x x x x x Daddy x x x x x x