Archives: Aunt Ella’s Travels

My Aunt Ella, actually my great aunt – she was my grandmothers sister and the sixth child of Charles E. Munson (RN 758) was an exceptional woman. Her cross country travels in search of her errant husband were reported in the September 2nd 1908 issue of the Los Angles Times which was copied and reprinted in the May 2001 TMF Newsletter. She was a world traveler of note. Before she died in 1950 at age 88 she logged over 900,000 steamship miles, made over 60 Atlantic crossings, 12 Pacific crossings, 4 trips around the world, and traversed the Panama Canal 18 times. I knew Aunt Ella when I was in High School in the late 1940s, when she was in her late 70’s. To me she was sort of a recluse and a mystery woman with a big old house full of things she had collected during her travels which we were never permitted to touch.

She wrote the attached article, about her trip to the leper colony in Molokai, while in Hawaii where she lived from 1897-1900. It might make an interesting article for the TMF Newsletter. Feel free to use it in any way you see fit.

I have an original carbon copy of this article which belonged to my mother. It is quite yellowed and fragile and does not copy well. For those reasons I have retyped it for clarity without changing original typo’s or other errors.

As an aside the leper colony no longer exists as such. Leprosy, or Hansens disease, is easily treated today with modern sulfone antibiotics and isolation is no longer required. Kalaupapa is now, since about 1984, a National Historical Park.

NOTE: Following is a direct copy of a typed letter written by Ella G. Munson. (Typographical errors not corrected but her handwritten additions were typed in)

~ Bob Hein
Israel Clan Historian

At 9 P.M. prompt Friday, July 20th., 1900 the steamer Mikahala left Honolulu or the Leper Settlement on Molokai. On board were 170 passengers, out of whom were members of the Board of Health, newspaper men and women, nurses, and medical people, and about 120 or more Hawaiians on a visit to their relatives and friends. It is the custom of the Board of Health to visit Molakai twice a year, but owing to the Plague in the early part of the year, they were unable to go so a year has elapsed since the last visit was made. The steamer was crowded to its utmost capacity and hundreds were obliged to be refused permission to visit their friends. Every precaution was taken so that none but those whose names were called and had been given permission to go, were allowed to board the steamer and this was done by roll call. Several Hawaiian women boarded the steamer in response to the names of others who were not on hand at roll call, but they were found out upon arrival at Molokai and after being detained on board ship all morning, were finally permitted to land and see their friends.

The trip to Molokai was an unusually smooth one, nevertheless rough enough to make the most of us feel somewhat uncomfortable. The Hawaiians passed the early part of the night in singing to the accompaniment of their native instruments. The sunset off the coast of Molokai was something grand; the silver clouds tinged with gold made the Island look like Paradise, and indeed is paradise to these poor afflicted people who are made as comfortable as possible and notwithstanding all are apparently more happy than they would be in their own homes. About 5 A.M. after a light breakfast we were transferred from the Mikahala in small boats and rowed to Kalaupapa landing, where hundreds of lepers had congregated to meet expected friends for it was to be a great gala day for them. Here we visited Kapaupapa settlement, where the Bishop Home for girls is situated and where about 70 young girls, ranging from 12 to 20 years are educated and maintained. This Home is under the supervision of the sisters of St. Francis who have devoted their lives to these people and indeed their calling is a grand and noble one, for here they are isolated from friends and loved ones to labor among the outcast and unclean. Some years ago a call was made for Kokuas (helpers) among these people and the sisters were the only ones who responded, with the brothers also who are in charge of the Baldwin Home. Sisters Mari Ana and Ludovica are in charge of the Bishop Home and for 15 years sister Ludovica has not been away from the institution. There are a number of small cottages grouped together outside the main building, amid shrubbery and flowers and here the inmates sleep; the rooms are scrupulously clean and the walls are decorated with pictures which brighten the rooms and make them look pleasant and cheerful. In these cottages 8 and 10 iron beds are placed side by side and the coverings are spotless. After visiting the settlement at Kalaupapa, we were all provided with horses,(which by the way belong to the lepers and they are paid $1.00 each for the use of them by the Board of Health,) and rode some two miles passing through a lovely valley where a dozen or more homes of Lepers were, and where we were greeted with “Aloha” and “Aloha Nui” by the Lepers when we passed by. We finally reached the Baldwin Home in Kalauwao where about 170 men and boys are. This Home is in charge of Brother Dutton, who was an army officer during the Civil war, and some time after converted to Catholism and for the past 15 years has been connected with the Home where he expects to spend his days among the lepers. When asked if he ever expected to leave the Island, he replied with tears in his eyes, no he could not nor did not want to leave the lepers, to whom he has devoted his life. Brother Dutton never hesitates in dressing the wounds and attending to the wants of these people hourly. He is happy in his work as well as all the other Brothers and sisters. This Home was donated by H. ?. (last name unreadable) the Bishop Home for Girls was donated by (blank space in letter) Bishop, but both are now supported by the Board of Health. The Hospital at the Baldwin Home had three or four very bad cases of leprosy but aside from this, all the other lepers were able to be about and were apparently very happy, and suffered but little in their terrible affliction. To be sure the disease has disfigured some of them to such an extent that they were very unprepossessing to look at, having their features disfigured and enlarged to twice the usual size. Everything is done for the comfort of these people and afflicted as they are, nothing too much can be done for their comfort and pleasure. At the Baldwin Home the lepers gathered in the large hall and here the leper band played a number of selections, after which W.O. Smith, who has been connected with the Board many years, addressed them. He told them how pleased and gratified he was to find the place in such an exceedingly fine condition, which showed how much interest they took in their home. He also thanked the band for their music which was rendered very well. Prof. Berger, who has been connected with the Band at Honolulu for over 25 years, went down with the party and gave the Lepers some new music and also drilled them for a short time. Here at this home they have a very large Phonograph which the Brothers take into the hall on Sunday evenings and hold a regular concert for the men and boys. His collection of records is very large and includes all kinds of music. Some time ago Mr. W.O.Smith offered about $100.00 in prizes for the greatest improvement in the general appearance of private premises and the result was a remarkable change in the appearance of most all the homes. Another set of prizes will be given for tree planting and improvements of premises next summer. One old native, by name Kopena has had three wives; the first two are dead. He is not a leper although he has lived among them for years. When his first wife was taken with leprosy,he went with her and after her death married another leper and at the death of the second wife again married a third leper and seems to be quite happy and content. Over 5000 lepers have been taken to Molokai since the establishment of the colony in 1866. The cost for the maintenance of these settlements is in the neighborhood of $120,000. per year for over 1000 inmates. In the settlements today, are 988 lepers; of whom 394 are females, 494 males out of which are 5 Americans, 4 British, 5 Germans, 1 Norwegian ,and about 30 Chinese. There are no Japanese, perhaps, for the reason that they go back to their own country when afflicted. In 14 years there have been but 2 suicide, both males.

Molokai is very mountainous in the center and is about 40 miles long and from 5 to 10 miles wide. The settlements are so situated that the mountains are on three sides of the, rising to 2200 feet in some places, while the water is on the other side which makes it impossible for escape. A steamer leaves Honolulu weekly with mail and supplies for the settlements. The lepers are all with the exception of those in the Homes, furnished with houses and rations and are allowed $10.00 every year for extra rations. This is given in the form of an order on the store for whatever they want, and is given twice a year $5.00 each time. As a rule it is very hard to get them to do any work, as they naturally are not very fond of work, but when they do work, they receive 50 ¢ per day and are engaged in cultivating the land &c. Taro is their chief food, it being made into Poi and this is raised in great quantities. There are 4 police officers who also receive $15.00 per month for their services. The Brothers and Sisters in the Homes give their services free but are allowed $20.00 per month by the Government for extra rations, etc. Frequently the lepers marry and go to housekeeping in the home furnished by the Government for them and as a rule their marriages are fruitless. Children born of Leprous parents if they are taken away from them before they are one year old, are not afflicted with leprosy one case out of 100, consequently if the parents are willing the children are taken away from them and their relatives bring them up or else they are sent to the (blank space in letter) Home where they are properly cared for. On this trip several children, one a baby less than one year old was taken away from its parents to b sent to the home where it will grow up we hope without this taint in the blood.

Lauaus (sic) (feasts) were held in nearly all of the homes of the lepers, food having been taken to them by their visitors, and which was partaken in the old Hawaiian style, all eating out of the same dish (with no fear of contracting the disease) in their happiness of being with their loved ones.

In the party on this trip was Mr. N.H.Flint,Special Inspector for Post Office Department, who went down to particularly investigate the mail conditions.At present there are two mail stations, one at Kalaupapa, the other at Kalawao, a little over two miles distant. What will be done is not definitely known, but in all probability both post offices will be retained but extra precautions will be taken as to sealing letters and affixing stamps, as it now is, the lepers seal and stamp their own letters and there is a possibility of bacilla being carried in this manner. To this end Mr. Flint hopes to make a change that will do away with all possibility of the disease being extended. Arrangements will immediately be made for fumigating all mail from the settlements. A money order system will b established and only gold and silver will be allowed to be sent to or from the settlements and all money sent from there will be boiled before being circulated elsewhere.

From Kalauwao the party returned to Kalaupapa and while the Leper band played sweet strains of Hawaiian music, luncheon was partaken at the residence of the Superintent of the settlement, Mr. C.B. Reynolds, at whose home a leper never steps inside the outer gate. Supt. Reynolds deserves much credit for the progress of the settlement.

The parting between the lepers and their relatives and friends was indeed very very affecting . Husbands were leaving wives, fathers and mothers , their children, and children were leaving their parents, some of whom realized perhaps they would never meet again. At this time no thought of the clean was taken of the unclean, for love surmounted all fear of contagion, and as they clung to each other in passionate embraces, kiss after kiss was showered upon them, until at last they wee almost forcibly torn from each other. Sometimes we think, when such scenes as these occur, perhaps it would be better not to allow them to see each other at all. To me it would indeed seem cruel to deprive these poor creatures the only pleasure they have to look forward to, once a year, and then when they have met and parted, they of course have the pain at parting to be sure, but the pleasure of looking forward to a visit from them the next year. True there is great danger in this close communion one with the other, and ere long steps will be taken to curtail these scenes and dangers.

Amid the strains of”Aloha Oe” played by the Leper band on shore at 4 P.M. Saturday July 21st. the Mikahala left the shores of Molokai with the returning party and after an unusually smooth passage of 6-11/2 hours we arrived in Honolulu at 10.30 P.M. a weary, tired set of passengers, but feeling fully repaid for the trip, which was arranged by Dr. Garvin, President of the Board of Health, Jack McVeigh and Mr. Reynolds to whom much credit and thanks are due.