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 20, 1928

We are now nearing El Paso, after a delightfully cool night. After we went to sleep and instead of being dust covered this morning, the air was clean and brisk. A blanket was necessary to keep warm. Yesterday was quite hot, but it was dry and wasn’t intolerable like the humid heat of the East. The wheat fields were so beautiful. Most of them have been cut, but a few were still untouched. They have had lots of rain, through Kansas and it looked a beautiful prosperous country, even though it is flat. It’s probably the best year they have had for a long time.

The vast desert this morning is in striking contrast! Everything is brown with no vegetation. But a wonderful dry climate and little shacks scattered about far apart where people are seeking health. We are in a big valley skirted by gray hills leading up to the mountains. We are a mile high. Tell my boy they now have machines which cut and thresh the wheat at the same time, instead of stocking it and waiting for the thresher. They are working away until dark. At the little stations en route, little boys would drive up the scales with their long load of wheat to be weighed and sold at the cooperative stations. Walter’s farmer mother can explain all this to him.

I finished the tic article last night after a hard day’s work. And I got 11 hours of sleep last night, so I feel much refreshed.

We have just passed a beautiful little oasis, Alama Gorda, where trees grow; fruit is abundant. It is a striking example of the accomplishments of irrigation. On every side is the desert.

We will be in El Paso at 10:30 AM and I hope to leave tonight, reaching Baltimore Monday noon - perhaps before you get this letter. I hope my little trio are happy and having dry weather. That seems about the greatest item in our welfare now, doesn’t it? Don’t work too hard. I want my little girl to have plenty of rest. Some day I will drive her out in the great west and we will have a good vacation. How is my little sunflower? Wish I could hear her babble and see her dimpled smile. Wish above all I that I was hugging and kissing my little girl.

With all my love,


July 20, 1928

Yesterday was a hot day if there ever was one! Kansas City was the hottest place in the United States: 93 - but it didn’t seem so bad. There isn’t the humidity that obtains in Baltimore. Passed through Sedalia about 6:30 last night. The Missouri countryside is perfectly beautiful, almost prettier than I ever saw it before. And it is about as fine country as one can see anywhere. And Sedalia is the heart of it! By looking at time tables I found that it is possible to come by way of Kansas City - spend all night at a hotel and get to El Paso as quickly as if I went from St. Louis direct. Of course you don’t know geography very well, but Kansas City is closer to El Paso. Just like you say, “Walter knows more flowers than I do.” I retort by saying, “He knows more geography.”

What did you do all day yesterday while I was writing about the operation for tic douloureux? I hope it didn’t rain and keep him indoors. I watched a little boy yesterday and wondered how old. He seemed about like my boy - but he was a year older! So you see, either one of your boys is very smart or the other very dense. I guess he is on his way to graduation at 16 and that explains it. Tell Walter his daddy would like to show him the big corn and wheat fields. Corn is 6 or 7 “legs high” along the Missouri River bottoms. The wheat seems to be all cut. Perhaps they will be threshing in Kansas.

How are my two little girls? I hope the bigger little pal is not having too hard a time. It won’t be long now. And then we will have established our family - or half of it, according to your original ambition. Kiss them all and hug them tight. Do you still put the little sunflower in the grass yard? Wasn’t she sweet?

With all my love to Sammy, Walter and Mary Ellen,


If Margaret comes Monday, she can leave the car at the station and put the keys under the dashboard. x x x x x x

July 30, 1928

July 30, 1928

I’m nearing El Paso on the same route and train that I used 5 years ago on my circuit trip. The weather was hot though Missouri, not so bad through Kansas and last night it got quite cool after a heavy rain in the desert region. I passed through Sedalia en route and as usual was quite homesick and reminiscent of boyhood days. It certainly doesn’t look like much to an unbiased eye, but it almost seems best of all to me. I guess it’s like you and Walter, he surely is bad enough, but you won’t see it, even when Father’s tie is crooked.

It’s remarkable what little insignificant occasions flit though one’s mind when passing the scenes of boyhood days. I even thought of how Ervie and I drew a wagon all the way across town to Stevenson’s ice plant to bring back ice more cheaply - 5¢ - and make some salty old ice cream at his house and I also visaged the path of the trip with the frog catching man to Otterville and the Laurine River - and the little fish hanging on a string on the snowy day in March when Mother met me all afear on Center Street. I guess I was really as much trouble then as my boy is now. It was always “What can I do next, Mamma?”

Have had a good time writing. Last night I finished another paper on tic douloureux – my new operation. Just before leaving, I sent away another big one. This year I have been keeping the printing press hot. Traveling is a great boon to me. It is real economy from a financial standpoint and, better, a great opportunity from a construction point of view - also a good rest. Isn’t it fortunate I didn’t live 100 years ago or even 50 when there was no surgery and Pullman railroads. Without the latter, I wouldn’t be able to think!

Go over and see my boy and the little sunflower. But I will be back when you get this letter. You must come over every week and watch them grow and win their affection. I have been pretty lucky in my big venture, don’t you think? I hope the next is a boy, when the family should be complete.

With love and kisses from your loving son,

Walter x x x x x x

December 10, 1928

Can’t I get the little angel now and watch her “ba” – and kick her right foot in terrible anger! The big boy is all soaked, as I left him without any covers! And now for Kitty Lou and her bottle and then the rewarding smile. But no, it’s only a dream, the time is night -- about 10 o’clock - but its many miles prevent what I look forward to every night. I need my little girl to rub my head - among other things quite numerous and indispensable except for forced short occasions.

Well, one leg of the four is over now. This morning I talked on spinal cord tumors – this afternoon on hydrocephalus. I told about the new operation. Tomorrow three more talks - morning, afternoon, and night, and then on the Katy to Kansas City for another series nearly in duplicate. You should have seen your boy write yesterday - all day with scarcely a break. I wrote up the new operation for hydrocephalus - two articles for Dr. Lewis’s system - what a job that is going to be! The weather is moderate with light rain today. In Chicago there had been a light, dry snow and the weather was brisk and snappy. One of last year’s interns- Dr. Randall - is here and has assembled some cases - one on arteriovenous aneurysm which is more remarkable than any I have ever seen.

I have pictured my little family so many times. I’ll never forget Mary Ellen’s rosy, sweet face at the door as I left. Nor will I forget the engine coming right at Walter and scaring him. I think that rather ruined his subsequent treat. He is a dear little rascal with all his enthusiasm and cleverness; he compensates, and more, I think for his Ivanism.

Kiss them all and then my little girl supreme and always her lover,

Walter xxxxx

June 29, 1929


How are my little girl and her trio of trials? Tell the big boy his daddy is out in the wild Indian country and he hasn’t seen any Indians with gloves! And tell the angel and her mother dear that daddy will be home Wednesday morning at 11. And have her in Mrs. Malone’s house and send Walter after her, then take a movie of the two – Mary Ellen in her ecstatic joy and Walter in his nonchalant indifferent tone of protection of his little sister.

I suppose it is just as hot with you as here. It has been a fierce hot day, but not the sticky kind: it carries me back to the old hot Missouri days. I plugged away at Dean Lewis’s book all day, sometimes at reduced speed, but it was a long drawn out affair. I don’t suppose he can ever know the hard knocks I have put in to help put his book across.

Will be in Fort Worth in the morning and hope to get away at noon. Hope you have a nice movie party. Kiss my little family for me, not forgetting Kitty Lou. She will almost be standing up when I get back. Wish I could pick up Mary Ellen tonight, but kiss her hard and the big boy and little girl no. 3 most of all.

With all my love,

Walter x x x x x x

July 31, 1929

Do you remember the perturbations of July 31 - two years ago and what came the next morning. How disappointed I was at the little lady’s appearance! Was a good example of “all that glitters is not gold” and reversed, much that’s gold and better – need not glitter at birth. I miss my little family - all of them. Most of all, the little mother. I hope your rest and play gives a brief respite from the trials of the past and those to come. But they are worth it all and much more. I was so sorry to disappoint my little girl, for I know how intent she was on the little outing, but such is the life of a doctor’s wife – never secure and certain.

It is now 9 PM (Father and Mother have just arrived in the taxi). I have been writing since 9 this morning. It has been delightful and cool with clouds overcast and good breeze. It is even delightful down here in Florida, but doubtless I will catch it coming back. At any rate, I have made another big hole in Dean Lewis’s book. A few more and the dog in the bottom of the Wheatena dish will begin to show up – “all gonny!” Kiss my little angel on her second birthday. She is the sweetest thing in the world, surely - of her age or thereaboutsl

Wish my little girl were along, though I fear the long railroad journey would tire her. Some day we will come by boat. Mr. Miranda should show me a nice time. At least I hope he will learn of my visit and escort me around Havana. Tomorrow morning we will be passing over the Florida Keys - the eighth wonder of the world. Kiss my little angel again - and again. And play with my big boy, hammering nails, etc. Kiss Kitty Lou - she will probably be walking when I get back and kiss my little sweetheart - over and over.

With all my love,

Walter x x x x x x x

November 30, 1930

Here I am up at 6 o’clock as per routine, but with western time that means 5 AM. Even the shocks of a train can’t overcome the accumulative effects of a militant young family. But I presume you would find relief in the cold and snow and 5 AM for Kitty Lou has probably been sending you periodic kicks in various spots, since 2 or 3 AM. What a little terror she is! I can’t forget that dirty food-smeared face flooded with great tears after suffering mental and physical penalties for her mother’s inherited traits. Tell my big boy how sorry his daddy is to have left him so summarily. My little girl saved the day, for there wasn’t time to spare. She’s always right there when needed and she’s always needed.

When leaving Philadelphia yesterday, the packing blew out of the cylinder head and we were held up 25 minutes until another engine picked us up. Then we lost several more minutes going up hill with a cold engine. We pulled into Harrisburg 20 minutes late, leaving me only 35 minutes to go to the hospital and catch my train. However all went well and with a few minutes to spare. There wasn’t anything to do - that is more than they were doing.

It is raining and slushy this morning coming into Chicago. A little snow remains on the ground in patches. Had sausage and cakes in the diner. Ask Mary Ellen if she wouldn’t like to have breakfast with Daddy in the diner. I can see that pretty little pink face blanch when food was suggested on our memorable trip to Philadelphia. But she is her Daddy’s little angel, nevertheless. If it warms up a little, you might be able to have the car washed. Kiss my little girls and the big boy and their dear little mother, and hug them all together; their traveling daddy will soon be home, bringing some potential shoes behind him.

With love, Daddy x x x x x x to Walter, Mary Ellen, Kitty Lou, Sammy. .

November 29, 1932

This great railroad has betrayed me badly. Here we are three hours late and my allowance in St. Louis for the Columbia train was only 35 min. - ample, I thought, when my head hit the end of the berth and the train stopped with a bang. The engine had broken down. Have been scanning the official railway guide this morning for possibility of reaching Columbia tomorrow morning, but the only possibility seems to be to get up at 3 A.M. It’s cold this morning and the ground is covered with snow, but it is bright and clear.

Weren’t the little girls cute at the train? Mary Ellen just cuddled up in my arms on the way to the station and Kitty couldn’t sit still. Remember when Mary Ellen stepped down from the garage to the pavement with such abandon and was so “careless about it”? I got a new slant on Kitty Lou yesterday. She was very timid about going into the A & P store alone to buy her “lollypops”.

I hope my little girl is recovering and will forget. I know she will forgive her big boy. Should soon be able to take care of her when the other boy goes away. Tell him his daddy is always thinking about him and his progress in school.

Hope you have a good time at the show. Just imagine I am always alongside and holding your hand. In lieu of this opportunity, I am sending a lot of silent kisses and some also for the little rascals and a big boy.

With love from Daddy x x x x x x x

March 18, 1933

Who are never any trouble. Well, your railroad husband went awry again. Having an old timetable, I learned that the train actually left an hour earlier, i.e., 6:28, so it was gone when I reached the station. A very courteous ticket agent pondered and said perhaps they would hold the train in Washington. Then their telephone system was entirely out of order. He summoned help and had the dispatcher call Washington, which he did and they agreed to hold the train until the Pennsylania’s train arrived at 8:05, a delay of 25 minutes - and that was their “crackest train, their Broadway.” Then the dispatcher urged them to make a “good run” to Washington, which was done - made up 5 minutes. And how he did travel for this single fare! Was met in Washington by a R.R. representative and escorted to the Coast Line, and as soon as I was aboard she pulled out and it wasn’t long before the delayed time was made up.

Had a good sleep, feel much better - in fact, about O.K. this morning. My first peep out of the window was greeted with a peach tree in full bloom.

Have been trying to think of Joe Betty’s real name. Need Mrs. Shauck for my other secretary!

I’ll bet the little kiddies are heart-broken at their Daddy’s absence. Kitty Lou probably won’t sleep! Nor Mary Ellen - Hope you have taken in some of the opera at least! We will take our Virginia trip soon and Charleston, if you wish. We’re coming in to Jacksonville where this epistle can be mailed. Comfort mother in her delusions.

With love and kisses to the big four and the biggest to the biggest,

Walter x x x x x x x x

July 22, 1933

Mother and I will probably be down to see you next Saturday. Do you want to stay another month or come home now? Let us know. We all want you with us – even Mary and Kitty, but if you are happier at camp, we can wait another month.

Mary Ellen had her birthday party yesterday at Indian landing. She went in up to her neck. Kitty Lou turned a summersault in the water. They have rubber wings! We heard that you are a very good swimmer now that you actually swam the river. That was difficult for all of us to believe. Also delighted to hear that you had passed the canoe test and could dive.

Fagin is getting so smart. He doesn’t eat the newspaper. He plays with the little girls, but I don’t think he gets too much kick out of them, for they don’t quite know how to handle him like his boy friend. I am sure he will feel happier when you return. He has a little playmate across the street. Every afternoon they meet on the lot and play.

You haven’t answered my last letter. Please write Grandmother and Grandfather Dandy a card. They are at 3021 ARUNAH AVE. It will make them very happy for they are always thinking about you. Tell them what you doing and ask them to come to see you. Trusting you are having a continuous good time is the wish of your Daddy.

Mary Ellen wants you to come home - also Kitty Lou.

Dear Walter, I am sorry we can’t come to see you this weekend, but we will be there next Sat. or Sun. Mother