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Where Life Began: Elliot Hospital

Elliot Center
Elliot Center, formerly Elliot Hospital

Of the thousands and thousands of people who have thrived, learned amazing things, found love and happiness, expanded their horizons, and grown in so many other ways at Keene State, did you know that several of those over the age of 45 were born on campus, too? They took their first breaths in the Elliot Center, which was once the Elliot Hospital. Keene State bought the Main Street building, with its elegant spiral staircase and Barry Faulkner mural, in 1972.

Elliot Hall has quite a history, which is why it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. William Wyman built what was described as the “finest house in town” around 1810, and the Elliot family took it over from 1845 to about 1892, when the building was converted for use as a hospital. You can still see evidence of its hospital days in the wide hallway doors, as Keene State Baseball Coach Ken Howe ’86 points out to new students and their parents on campus tours. “The width was to accommodate the gurneys,” he says. “I also tell them I was born in that very building, and that my office is about 150 yards from the room I was born in.”

Alumna Kitty Maher ’73 was also born there, but, as you might expect, she doesn’t remember anything about it. “But I do remember working at the hospital as a candy striper and going down to the morgue,” she says. The paint shop occupies that basement space these days. “I now go down in that area to get things out of the Alumni storage room. It’s still freaky!”

“I have quite a history at Elliot Community Hospital,” says Ernie Hebert ’69, a novelist and professor emeritus of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College. “I was born there May 4, 1941, at 4 a.m. Decades later my mother worked as a baby nurse in the obstetrics department. We’d see somebody on Main Street and she’d say, ‘There’s one of my mothers,’ or ‘There’s one of my babies all grown up.’ After my father’s cotton mill closed, he went to work at the hospital on the grounds crew, and he drove a hospital-owned bus.”

As a student at Keene State, one of Hebert’s many part-time jobs was working in the hospital laundry room, which was in the basement near the morgue. “Laundry would drop down a chute from the upper stories,” he remembers. “My job was to put the dirty laundry into washing machines, which were about the size of a Volkswagen bug. One of my rules was always look before reaching, because you never knew what icky stuff lay on those sheets. After washing I’d put the wet (and heavy) laundry in dryers. After that I delivered the clean laundry to three women who would fold the fabric and wheel it in carts to the various departments. One of the women folders was the inspiration for the protagonist of my novel The Passion of Estelle Jordan.”

So not only were people born there, inspiration was too.

– Mark Reynolds

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