Carville

Carville: Remembering Leprosy in America

MARCIA GAUDET
FOREWORD BY JAMES CARVILLE
Copyright Date: 2004
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvgsf
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Carville
    Book Description:

    Mysterious and misunderstood, distorted by biblical imagery of disfigurement and uncleanness, Hansen's disease or leprosy has all but disappeared from America's consciousness. In Carville, Louisiana, the closed doors of the nation's last center for the treatment of leprosy open to reveal stories of sadness, separation, and even strength in the face of what was once a life-wrenching diagnosis.

    Drawn from interviews with living patients and extensive research in the leprosarium's archives,Carville: Remembering Leprosy in Americatells the stories of former patients at the National Hansen's Disease Center. For over a century, from 1894 until 1999, Carville was the site of the only in-patient hospital in the continental United States for the treatment of Hansen's disease, the preferred designation for leprosy.

    Patients-exiled there by law for treatment and for separation from the rest of society-reveal how they were able to cope with the devastating blow the diagnosis of leprosy dealt them. Leprosy was so frightening and so poorly understood that entire families would suffer and be shunned if one family member contracted the disease. When patients entered Carville, they typically left everything behind, including their legal names and their hopes for the future.

    Former patients at Carville give their views of the outside world and of the culture they forged within the treatment center, which included married and individual living quarters, a bar, and even a jail. Those quarantined in the leprosarium created their own Mardi Gras celebrations, their own newspaper, and their own body of honored stories in which fellow sufferers of Hansen's disease prevailed over trauma and ostracism. Through their memories and stories, we see their very human quest for identity and endurance with dignity, humor, and grace.

    Marcia Gaudet is the Doris Meriwether/Board of Regents Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-603-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    James Carville

    Growing up, my daddy convinced me that Carville, Louisiana, was the best place in the entire world. He always made sure I remembered that we had the best climate, the best people, the best family, the best soil, the best peaches—the best everything. I wore my last name with pride—pride that three generations of Carvilles, going back to my great-grandmother Octavia Duhon, provided our town with its postmaster, and then with its name. “Of any place that you could live in the world,” my daddy would tell me, “you’re living right here in Carville, Louisiana.”

    Of course, there...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 Carville, Leprosy, and Real People AN INTRODUCTION TO A CULTURE APART
    (pp. 3-24)

    Carville, Louisiana, has been associated with the care and treatment of leprosy patients for over a century. From 1894 to 1999, it was the site of the only in-patient hospital in the continental United States for the treatment of Hansen’s disease, the preferred designation for the disease historically called leprosy. Until the 1960s, patients diagnosed in the United States were legally quarantined at Carville. Many never left.

    The story of Carville and the patients who were exiled there—for treatment and for separation from the rest of society—is a story of survival and a quest for dignity. It is...

  6. 2 “An Exile in My Own Country” THE UNSPEAKABLE TRAUMA OF ENTERING CARVILLE
    (pp. 25-60)

    A diagnosis of leprosy was inevitably traumatic. Such a diagnosis was usually totally unexpected as well. Even when the diagnosis was not a complete surprise (because of the knowledge that other family members had the disease), it was still devastating. In such cases, the patients had already witnessed the trauma, knew something of what awaited them, and may have lived in dread of their own diagnosis. In addition, the diagnosis was usually followed either by an attempt to conceal the nature of the disease if possible or the necessity for virtual “exile” to Carville. New patients at Carville not only...

  7. 3 “Through the Hole in the Fence” PERSONAL NARRATIVES OF ABSCONDING FROM CARVILLE
    (pp. 61-87)

    Because there are so many misconceptions about leprosy patients, the sense of isolation continued for many of the older patients in the 1980s and 1990s, even though they were all there by choice. The continuing use of the termleperto denote an outcast from society was particularly evident during the late 1980s in comparisons of AIDS patients to “lepers.” This insensitivity, even among scholars, continues. Writing in 1995, Julia Epstein says: “In another time, those who are HIV-positive would be wearing the leper’s bell, the Jew’s yellow star, or the homosexual’s pink triangle as symbols of outsiderhood and its...

  8. 4 Telling It Slant PERSONAL NARRATIVES, TALL TALES, AND THE REALITY OF LEPROSY
    (pp. 88-115)

    For most people, the truth’s “superb surprise” of having someone say to them “I have leprosy” is more reality than they can accept or even fathom. Some people may not even be aware that Hansen’s disease still exists in the United States or that there is even a possibility that former leprosy patients might be sitting next to them. In fact, it is so unreal to most people that references to leprosy are almost always regarded as a joke. The possibility that someone is telling the truth when saying, “I have leprosy,” seems to be frightening and threatening to people...

  9. 5 The World Downside Up MARDI GRAS AT CARVILLE
    (pp. 116-146)

    Michel Foucault begins the first chapter ofMadness and Civilization(1988) with this statement: “At the end of the Middle Ages, leprosy disappeared from the Western world.” He goes on to say,

    Leprosy withdrew, leaving derelict these low places and these rites which were intended, not to suppress it, but to keep it at a sacred distance, to fix it in an inverse exaltation. What doubtless remained longer than leprosy, and would persist when the lazar houses had been empty for years, were the values and images attached to the figure of the leper as well as the meaning of...

  10. 6 “Under the Pecans” HISTORY AND MEMORY IN THE GRAVEYARD AT CARVILLE
    (pp. 147-166)

    The National Hansen’s Disease Center at Carville had many of the marks and establishments of a typical community, and like other communities, it had a graveyard—a place to bury its deceased members. Unlike other communities, however, the shared identity of Carville residents was based on their shared medical diagnosis, Hansen’s disease—or leprosy. For much of the twentieth century, patients diagnosed with leprosy were separated from society through legal quarantine and sent to live out their days at Carville, the National Leprosarium. Many stayed—even after death.

    Memorials, markings, or gravestones serve a much more complex purpose than marking...

  11. 7 Remembering Leprosy POSTMEMORY AND THE CARVILLE LEGACY
    (pp. 167-183)

    G. W. Long Hansen’s Disease Center at Carville officially closed in 1999. At the same time, the National Hansen’s Disease Program was relocated to Summit Hospital Complex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The closing of the center at Carville was followed a year later by the opening of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum on the same site on June 23, 2000. The founders established the museum with the wish “to assure that the 104 years of mankind’s history that took place here is not lost.”¹

    While Carville is no longer the site of the National Hansen’s Disease Program, the effects of...

  12. Appendix A CARVILLE DEATH RECORDS ON CEMETERY MARKER
    (pp. 184-188)
  13. Appendix B QUOTATION FROM PLAQUE AT ENTRANCE TO NATIONAL HANSEN’S DISEASE MUSEUM AT CARVILLE
    (pp. 189-190)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 191-198)
  15. Sources Cited and Consulted
    (pp. 199-212)
  16. Index
    (pp. 213-221)