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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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The Death of a Young Mother – Part 2

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Last week I wrote about the unfolding tragedy that Lambert and Rose Vandenberg faced in 1924. They were a young family, just starting out, with 3-year-old daughter Margie and newborn Beverly, when Rose was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was extremely infectious. Fearing she would infect her daughters or husband, she isolated herself in a tent in the backyard of their La Habra home. She could see and hear her daughters, and they her, but she couldn’t be near them.

This must have been agony for the little family. There was an incident in which 3-year-old Margie snuck into her mother’s tent and Rose had to order her to leave.

Being so close to her family just wasn’t going to work for Rose. It was harder to take than being far away, and dangerous as well. Rose had to be moved further away.

Even in the ‘20s, TB sufferers continued to flock to a variety of sanitariums and health resorts scattered along the western base of the mountains, including in the Crescenta Valley and Tujunga. In September 1925, after several months of Rose living in a backyard tent, Lambert located a doctor in Tujunga willing to take Rose on as a resident patient. Rose was moved into a cottage by the doctor’s home on Pinewood Avenue. Each weekend, Lambert made the long drive up from La Habra to see his wife. He would have driven up the Verdugo Canyon, turning left at La Crescenta and Honolulu in Verdugo City, and up Tujunga Canyon Road to Foothill. The children were allowed to visit just once in January 1926, and there are a couple of photos of that last meeting. In the picture, Rose sits between her two daughters on a rock wall, her arms briefly touching each of them for the last time.

By April, Rose’s TB had progressed to the point that the doctor could no longer have Rose in his little cottage. She was beginning to seriously waste away and at this point she was probably coughing up blood. She was moved to the Tujunga Sanitarium just three blocks away on Hillhaven, a block south of Foothill. Relegated once again to a tent, she spent her last few weeks waiting for death under the oak trees, near a shady canyon of the Verdugo Mountains. She would have been able to hear the music at night coming from the “Garden of the Moon,” a popular dance hall just a block away. The sanitarium doctors gave Rose pain-killing opiates to lessen the chest pain. On a dark spring night, April 13 at 3:20 in the morning, Rose’s labored, rasping breath ceased. A grief-stricken Lambert buried his young wife at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

Now he was faced with hard choices. Even though he had the support of the family, he was now a single father who still had to make a living. At the conclusion of Rose’s funeral, he gave 1-year-old Beverly to Rose’s older sister and her husband in Northern California. He and Margie moved into the attic of his parent’s house in Echo Park.

Lambert did well working for an L.A. oil company, even through the Depression. The extended family remained close, and Margie grew up cared for mainly by her grandmother and aunt. Rose, a happy young mother only briefly for her two daughters, became a distant memory for the broken family.

I picked up this story from Rose’s granddaughter, Diana Walstad. Diana’s mother Margie had only mentioned her mother Rose a couple of times, relating the story of sneaking into her tent, and then being shooed out. Diana recently unearthed this tragic and forgotten piece of family history.

I know this story is maudlin to the extreme, and I apologize. But I feel that we must take a balanced view of our history – the good and the bad. When we talk about our founding industry of sanitariums, we should remember that our valley was a place of both hope and heartbreak for those who saw this place as their last chance to live.

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