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'A splendid character'

Sick himself with influenza, one of Baltimore's most prominent doctors wrote a letter to the family of one of Baltimore's most promising researchers, fatally stricken as he tried to combat the 1918 influenza epidemic.

In the letter, William H. Welch, the first dean of the school of medicine at Johns Hopkins, called Admont Halsey Clark "one of the very ablest and finest men who have graduated from our school and would have attained the highest position in pathology, if he had been spared."

It's a rare letter that features the renowned doctor describing his own battles with the illness that claimed more than a half-million Americans.

"The influenza virus seems to have localized itself in my intestinal, rather than the respiratory tract and lingers on there, so that I have to keep rather quick," he wrote.

As he wrote, a scientific team at The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research was racing to find a treatment for the flu, and Welch had been planning to go.

"I was expecting to go to New York for the Rockefeller meetings on Friday and Saturday, but I hardly feel up to it just now," he wrote.

"It has been a debilitating experience, but I have come off very easy, considering the risks to which I have been exposed," he wrote. "I am sure that the only thing to do with the first appearance of symptoms is to go to bed and stay there until the temperature has been normal for at least three days."

Welch's letter and others attest to the impact of Clark's Oct. 13, 1918, death on the scientific community. Several writers -- themselves struggling to treat victims of the pandemic -- spoke glowingly of Clark's abilities and lamented that he would be unable to fulfill his promise.

Decades later, the notes still have the power to bring a sense of loss, not just for the father who would never know his toddler daugher, but for a time when the world felt larger and communities felt tighter.

It was an era where sympathy came in longhand letters filled with heartfelt emotion, a time when men wrote freely about their admiration for a peer's character. The written testaments became cherished heirlooms, passed from Clark's widow, Janet, to her only child Anne Clark Rodman. Janet's grandson Peter Stephens Rodman shared them with The Sun.

Welch's letter and others are transcribed below, with links to the images of the actual documents.

From William H. Welch to William Henry Howell, Admont Halsey Clark's father-in-law, who was an eminent physiologist who later became director of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. Welch wrote on stationery from the Hotel Dennis in Atlantic City, N.J., on Oct. 16, 1918:

"Dear Howell,

"I am grieving over the death of Clark and regret that I am unable to show my respect by attending the funeral to-day. He was one of the very ablest and finest men who have graduated from our school and would have attained the highest position in pathology, if he had been spared. He was such a splendid character and exerted such a fine influence, that our school could hardly sustain a greater loss among the younger generation. It is a terrible blow for Mrs. Clark and to you and Mrs. Howell.

"I am picking up here and hope to be back in Baltimore on Sunday. The influenza virus seems to have localized itself in my intestinal, rather than the respiratory tract and lingers on there, so that I have to keep rather quick. I was expecting to go to New york for the Rockefeller meetings on Friday and Saturday, but I hardly feel up to it just now. It has been a debilitating experience, but I have come off very easy, considering the risks to which I have been exposed.

"I am sure that the only thing to do with the first appearance of symptoms is to go to bed and stay there until the temperature has been normal for at least three days. "I am anxious about Mrs. Clark, your daughter, as she must have been greatly exposed. I hope that you will keep well and take care of yourselves.

"The experience which I had in seeing the cases at Camp Devens has impressed me with the frightful virulence of this disease when it attacks the lungs.

"With love and best wishes, to yourself, Mrs. Howell and Mrs. Clark, and heartfelt sympathy, I am,

"Very sincerely yours,

"William H. Welch."
From George H. Whipple, a Hopkins graduate and 1934 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, who wrote from the University of California:

"Dear Dr. Howell,

"It was with deep regret and a feeling of personal loss that I read of the recent death of Ad. Clark. One of his reprints recently received from Mrs. Clark made me acutely aware of the loss to the Medical School and the Department of Pathology one of its most promising men.

"He impressed me as the best of the many fine young men who worked with me at the Hunterian and I have followed his work with much interest and a little pride as one of his teachers who felt in a very small way responsible for some of his early training. I realize the great sorrow which has been placed upon your daughter and her parents and I truly wish that I could in some small way lesen this terrible burden. Please convey to Mrs. Clark my respect and admiration for her husband's work and his sterling character.

"I wish to count myself as one of his many friends and I know that I speak for the many Hopkins men out in San Francisco who will grieve over his untimely death.

"With sincere respect,

"George H. Whipple."
From William S. Halsted, the Johns Hopkins physician who is considered the father of American surgery for creating the surgical residency training program of progressive responsibility. He wrote from 1201 Eutaw Place on Oct. 14, 1918, and spoke also of Dr. Ernest George Gray, a young surgical protégé of Halsted's and a close friend of Admont. He died several days before Admont did:

"Dear Mrs. Clark --

"I wish that I could express to you my distress and the depth of my sympathy.

"It was so touching that Dr. Clark should have sent the flowers to Dr. Gray.

"They were the dearest and rarest members of our staff. Ah, the pity of it!

"Faithfully yours,

"William S. Halstead."
From Walter E. Dandy, a neurosurgery pioneer who later created a 24-hour specialized care nursing unit for critically ill neurosurgical patients considered a forerunner of today's intensive care units. He wrote on Oct. 14, 1918:

"Dear Mrs. Clark --

"I know that words can carry little comfort to you in your infinite grief but I must tell you how deeply we share your sorrow. I feel a personal loss far greater than I can tell you for I have been fortunate in having many pleasant personal relations with Ad, both in pleasure and in our work. In both he has endeared himself to me as few others have. His wholesome, frank, unselfish, and truthful character has made him loved by all. His briliancy, the devotion to his work, his indefatigable energy have compelled the highest admiration of his associates, have won rapid reward and unstinted praise from his superiors. Seldom indeed has anyone combined such fundamental personal attractions with such exceptional ability. Truly he was a well rounded, real man. We are thankful for his example and for his stimulus, which must leave lasting benefits on all who have come in contact with him.

"But our heart goes out to you and your little baby, where all his devotion and all his love centered and toward whom all his ambition was directed. So much so that his vacations were largely eliminated in order that they might benefit eventually. Such a loss would be almost impossible to bear [en dash] for it is not for us to reason why [en dash] did we not have complete faith in the infinite wisdom of the Supreme Ruler . I so wish there may be some way in which I may be able to be of any assistance to you at any time in the future. Such I know will be a pleasure for any of his friends and associates.

"Very Sincerely,

"Walter E. Dandy."
From John Howland, who developed the first full-time academic department of pediatrics and who helped to discover Vitamin D. He wrote from the Office of the Surgeon General in Washington on Oct. 18, 1918:

"Dear Mrs. Clark,

"It is not easy for me to tell you the regret that I feel at Admont Clark's death which came to me as a distinct shock.

"I have long regarded him as an example of the best that America produces, a fine vigorous strong and charming man. His was a splendid character and he had ability beyond question. Of all the men that I have taught in Baltimore, he appealed to me much.

"I can well sympathize with you in your loss and I bitterly regret that he was not spared for medicine.

"Very sincerely yours,

"John Howland."
From Anna Platt, written to Clark's widow, Janet Clark, from 1109 North Charles Street on Oct. 14, 1918:

"Dear Janet:

"I cannot tell you how deeply I sympathize with you in your great grief. I know there is very little that can be said now that will help at all, but it will in time be a comfort to you to know that he gave his life trying to save others from the same death, and that he was a person of whose life and death you can be justly proud. It will help too to know that his character and his work were so widely admired and appreciated. A few weeks ago I was talking to the doctor at the head of the Presbyterian Hospital in New York and he asked me about some of the younger men at Hopkins. I spoke of Dr. Clark and he said, 'Oh, Dr. Admont Clark, I know his work very well; he has done splendid things & he is one of the coming men!' I tell you this because I know from my own experience last spring that praise of my brother from men on the other side meant a great deal to me, and I hope that this will mean something to you even though many others are telling you the same things.

"If there is anything I can do for you, Janet, please do not hesitate to tell me.

"With deepest sympathy,

" Anna Platt."
From Beverly Douglas, written on stationary from The Johns Hopkins Hospital on Oct. 15, 1918:

"Dear Mrs. Clark --

"It was my very great privilege to have been near Dr. Clark a great deal during the last few days.

"May I then in a very simple and inadequate, yet absolutly sincere way express to you my very deep sorrow in his loss.

"I never shall forget when I first met 'Ad' over at the Fraternity. I was then somewhat younger than I am now, and my judgment of men much more boyish and immature; and yet half intuitively something seemed to say to me: 'Here is a man -- through and through

"In the years which followed I came more and more to admire his splendid judgment and ability -- his humber, straightforward manner -- but most of all his Christian character.

"His example exerted a steadying influence on all who knew him closely.

"I never saw a more jovial, good natured patience, nor a more wonderful fighting spirit against overwhelmning odds than he displayed every day during his illness.

"I couldn't help but feel very deeply the force of a remark which came spontaneously from one of the doctors just outside of his door. After a visit with him, one day, he said: 'Ad is pure gold, isn't he!'

"I will not speak of what his loss will mean to the School, tho I feel that the students, in his care can judge this as keenly as the administrators.

"The memory of 'Ad' will come to many of us -- often -- as a deep source of inspiration in our work, and of encouragement to be men -- like him.

"Our loss and yours are greatest [en dash] These are matters which we must humbly trust the wisdom of a kind loving Father -- and know that He will lead 'o'er crag and torrent till -- the night is gone.'

"Will you be comforted, Mrs. Clark, by the thought that our grief and our sympathy are much more profound than our present engagement in this emergency service permits us now to express to you in words or in action.

"Beverly Douglas."
From Henry A. Christian, first physician-in-chief at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, on Nov. 19, 1918:

"Dear Mrs. Clark,

"Please accept my very sincere sympathy in your great sadness at the death of your husband. Though I did not know him personally I have heard often of him and his good work through my friends at the Hopkins and I have seen some of his work such as his recent publication on the toxic products of the streptococcus, which you were good enough to send me a reprint of. It is too bad that one with such a brilliant future should so early in life be cut off.

"Very sincerely yours,

"Harvey A. Christian."
From Emerson L. Stone, 518 North Broadway, Baltimore, Md, on Oct. 24, 1918:

"My dear Mrs. Clark,

"I trust that you will pardon the delay in writing this note of sincere sympathy. You and your loss have been on my mind for many days; but this tardiness has been occasioned because of an attempt to contribute a small share in ministering to the afflicted ones, first in Camp Meade, and then among the miners of Western Maryland, the work being interrupted only long enough for me to attend Dr. Clark's funeral. In that connection, my only regret is that the call from outside came before Dr. Clark's condition was considered serious; and that I was prevented thereby from counting myself among those privileged to aid him in his sickness.

"I cannot attempt to describe to you the fine, and good wholesome influence that Dr. Clark had upon my life, but can only sum it up by telling you again how keenly I feel his loss, and to assure you that our personal friendship went far beyond mere fraternity relations. He was one of the best friends I ever had, and I truly loved him.

"I trust that I may be privileged to retain Dr. Clark's memory and his influence thru you and yours; and I hope I may in some way, help to lighten the burden for you, or to help maintain the brighter aspects of it all, such as are bound to appear, as we reflect on Dr. Clark's life and his works.

"Very sincerely yours,

"Emerson L. Stone."
From Karl H. Martzloff, Orthopedic Board, Camp Funston, Kansas, on Nov. 19, 1918:

"Dear Mrs. Clark,"

"The reprint that you so kindly sent arrived today and it is now doubly precious to me, both for its intrinsic value as a most careful and original piece of work and now for its value as a remembrance of one of the very finest men I have ever known. Please know that I am greatly appreciative of your kindness.

"Only today I received a letter from Dr. Dandy telling me of your loss and I've felt badly all day, for Admont was one of the best friends that I had while I was in medical school, even though several years my senior, and was the only man in our fraternity to whom I felt free to go for advice. Incidently, on my visits to his room I always noticed photographs of a young lady, one of the pictures he confided was taken in Maine, but all the pictures were of the same girl and it was only after asking him off and on for two years who this girl was that he finally told me it was you.

"I will not try to express my sympathy, it is too deep and heartfelt for words. With my very best wishes for yourself and the little daughter, I am,


"Karl H. Martzloff."
From Herman O. Rosenthal, Base Hospital Camp Gordon, Atlanta, on Oct. 20, 1918:

"My dear Mrs. Clark,

"George Harrop sent me the shocking news of your husband's death. During my four years at Hopkins I met no one whom I admired as much or whose friendship was more dear to me than his. He possessed the staunch spirit that seemed to overcome all obstacles by a persistent kindness guided by the purest of minds and the deepest sense of honesty and justice. He was constantly an example to me both in his work and in his attitude toward those about him. There was no one who had as many real friends. It is a pity to have him pass away before his mission as a scientist had been fulfilled. His original contributions were equal to those of men who had many more years experience than he and I often thought if he could produce work of such high grade at this time how wonderful his coming efforts would be.

"I realize how deep your grief is and trust that it may be some comfort to you to know that many of us mourn with you.

"Sincerely yours,

"Herman O. Rosenthal."
From James Charles Fox Jr., writing for Beta Beta chapter of Nu Sigma Nu on Oct. 25, 1918:

"My dear Mrs. Clark --

"I want to extend to you the sympathy of the members of the Nu Sigma Nu Fraternity in the great sorrow which has come to you. Ad had come to mean so much to every one of us that our feeling of loss has been overwhelming. But we rejoice that we have known and loved that splendid personality, and count our loss nothing as compared with that of the coming generation of Hopkins men who will be denied the privilege which was ours.

"That devotion to the great tasks which he had set for himself, that eagerness to lead his younger brothers along the paths of truth which he himself had found, that embodiment of the highest ideals of true friendship [en dash] these are the things we have come to worship and treasure. They will ever serve as an inspiration to achieve in some small measure in our own lives the aims and ideals of the spirit who has gone before.

"Devotedly yours,

"James Charles Fox, Jr

For the Fraternity."
From Howard T. Karsner, Director of Department of Pathology, Lakeside Hospital, Cleveland:

"Mrs. A. H. Clark


"My dear Madam:

"Please let me thank you for the reprint of your husband's work on the hemolytic streptococcus. Undoubtedly the splendid things that have been said of him in the medical journals must have helped you bear his loss in the service of his country. Being interested in the development of pathology in America I should like to add my word of appreciation for his most valuable scientific work and my regret that he has been lost to a division of medicine that needed him very much.

"Thank you again for the reprint and with deepest sympathy, I am

"Sincerely yours

"Howard T. Karsner."