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Interview with Dr. Carl S. Benson

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Benson, Carl E. ; Dobandi, Susan


Dr. Carl S. Benson talks about his upbringing and education in and outside of his hometown of Binghamton, NY. He attended Binghamton Central High School, Colgate University, and studied medicine in Buffalo, NY before working at the Erie Penitentiary during WWII then moving back to Binghamton to work as a cardiologist at Binghamton General, Lourdes, and Hancock Hospital. He also discusses his charitable work.




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Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


34:00 minutes ; 23:38 minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Dr. Carl S. Benson

Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi

Date of interview: 8 June 1978

Susan: Dr. Benson, could we start this interview by having you tell us where you were born, something about your parents, and any of your recollections of your childhood?

Dr. Benson: That's easy. I was born on 5 King Ave., between Walnut and, ah, and it's on the west side. It's between, ah, Walnut and St. John. My mother and father came from Sweden—my mother from the north of Sweden and my father from the south of Sweden. Mother talked very much about having come from the place where the King used to spend his summers out in the open, and my grandfather, I realize now, was the man that insulated and fortified the iron mines of Sweden so that if anybody attempted to take over, they merely blew up the bridges and they had so much trouble getting the iron ore out that they never did.

They met here in Binghamton, my father being from the south of Sweden and my mother from the north. I always kidded mother about stealing her sister’s girl—boyfriend, but they had a rather happy life together ’til mother overdid and showed herself to me as a medical problem, which I had a lot of fun solving.

As for me, I went to St. John Ave. School. I had only one sister, Ruth, who was five years older than I was and followed the same trail, and the thing I think you would enjoy the most was that I was constantly reminded that I wasn't supposed to be relying on somebody else, I was supposed to dig it out for myself and I was supposed to keep going no matter what happened. My father was a tailor, so-called merchant tailor at a time when there wasn't any such things as ready-made clothes, and part of the fun was that I, in the early grades in school, wore tailor-made clothes, and often got in trouble with the teachers because they couldn't understand why the clothes I had on made so much noise with their corduroy knees banging each other, and actually asked me if I didn't have any other clothes I could wear to school. Today I'd like to have such good clothes back.

Work—I can remember the very funny things that happened, there was the time somebody stole our Thanksgiving dinner that we had carelessly put on top of the refrigerator, on top—on the back porch at 5 King Ave. We didn't get much to eat that day. It was a lot of fun. We had a lot of time trying to find it.

One of the stories that might interest you was that the man on the corner, who was a horse tailor, got after me to prove that he knew more about the things than I did and my father did, and said of course we grew horses and horses’ barns. He said, didn't I realize if I planted a cigar box and watered it regularly every day, in about six weeks it ought to come up and show me a horse barn that I could be proud of? So I tried it, and at the end of four weeks he told me, didn't I know the top from the bottom? So I dug it up and turned it over, and it wasn't ’til the six weeks were well up that—he never admitted, just said I got the wrong kind of cigar box. You see these queer things, for instance his office—his, where he fixed leather and did all this stuff was on State Street behind Sissons, and in front of it was the old canal. My father lives on—worked on the other side in the Bosket Block, and that was the way life was treated. They were both equal—now do we get a rest?

I started school at St. John Ave. School, and I can still see our kindergarten and our first grade where Bill and Ed Keeler and some of the—the rest of the boys were sure that if they took their hands and folded them around the side ways, they could see what was going on the room and it was just as good as having them sit, as well as having them sit on the edge of the stage—of the desk. One of the boys, Doff Kane, just followed one of the girls out of the kindergarten and it wasn't ’til two days later that we found out that he had gone on, and supposed to have been promoted anyway because he was older than the rest of us. Third grade was fine ’cause of the exercises, we got up on the desks. We gathered up books as being bricks, stones, and we went through all the stories of the Iliad, the Romans and their troubles, and threw the books on the floor just with a grand abandon that made it a great life. We really enjoyed Mrs. Tillapough's teachings. I could go on, teach and tell you about each of the other kids, each of the other teachers just as well, of course. Miss Hunt was the principal but we never had any trouble with her, we didn't know enough to. She kept us busy and we kept her busy and that's all that was necessary. ’Course, we had her nephew in the class with us. Maybe that helped us stay out of trouble.

From the sixth grade we moved over to Laurel Ave. under old Professor Johnson for our seventh—seventh grade, and that was when I used to ride a bicycle across to school. It was quite a ways down from where we were over to Laurel Ave. But that was when we had all the fun, nobody knew what to do, nobody cared. Then we went on to high school. We had the eighth, ninth and tenth, eleventh and twelfth over in high school. No, not the high school you people know about, but in the same place until we wore the building out, or they thought we did or said we wouldn't get a new one if they didn't stop using it, and then I remember when they decided to close it up. They put the letters, the colors and the letters of the class on the school. We got up on the fourth floor on the fire hatches, handed two-by-fours to throw down if the other class got in our way or started to come after us. Instead one of the boys got the fire hoses out of the Front Street fire department, and we had a grand time watching them walk up and chop those hoses to stop the water so they could get at us.

Now I got to get back to teaching at our school. It seems to me that I must have been along about the fourth or fifth grade when I started to, to doing some work on the outside. Maybe it was younger, but I was delivering flowers for Oshier up on 148 Court Street. If it was a long shag I got 10¢ for it. If it was a short shag I got 5¢, and he always used to kid me on how much money I took down at the end of the week for a guy that was just riding around on a bicycle. I would almost get, I think, on the average of five dollars, maybe a little less, maybe a little more, depending on how business was. Then he disappeared and I got shipped down to Graham. Graham's Florist Shop was in Wally Webster’s Drug Store, which was 45 Court Street, next door to the corner of Walnut—uh, uh, Washington Street and Court. Wally said the smart thing to do is to buy buildings next to the corners or where, if anybody was going to increase the size of their place, they'd have to take your place in—in that way you'd make money on any enlargement of the town without having too much invested—that was where I learned that if you stole old-time tombstones and you poured a little acid on them, that’d make pretty good soda, and that's what you gave people in place of soda on their ice cream. Ice cream was worth 10¢ or sometimes 5¢, sometimes less. Those were in the days when we used to see these special men come through. The automobile stage was just starting to grow, and there was one man that had a small two-seated or one-seated buggy but he had his wheels on, his pulling wheels on backwards, and therefore the horse was behind you and pushed you forward, and he took—took that, I imagine he'd go pretty fast too, but he was just advertising a new kind of ice cream or a new kind of soft drink. Made quite something to work with.

Then, I got interested in other work. The morning newspaper came along, ’course the business belonged to Carl Legg's father, and then he sold it and that brought it out in the open. When I used to go to dances in high school I'd used to have to get up before two o'clock, and we didn't get home much before that, in order to get over and roll the singles for the old morning paper. I'd roll about fifty of those and then lay down on the bags—the mail bags, then get up and carry the longest route up to the top of Mount Prospect and into the old tavern up Front Street next to Prospect Street. That's where they give you the description of the real early things that happened here in Binghamton.

My father and I used to argue a lot about Court Street bridges, boats, and spent a good many nice days in the summer pushing a rowboat up and down the Chenango River, borrowing it from Mr. Ritz, or renting it, rather, from Mr. Ritz at the corner of Laurel Ave. and the river. You never knew just what you were going to get into. We had one island that we called Violet Island. We had another island that was a little bit tough to get at, but you went out where the Fourth Ward sewer came in. You always got a little bit dirty. You went out, rode up, then down, and landed on an island. Dad and I always called it our island. Then we had to hunt up the other way. There was always something to think about. If you went up the Chenango, and I've tried and took my canoe, later, up to Port Dick and all the way to Lilly Lake and right up the river, right back down. I left it in Port Dick for a whole summer. I had a lot of fun. We'd sneak around behind a barn, loosed up underneath the barn, drop it into the water, then climb in, then go around the landing to show that we were there.

It's a wonderful thing and always we worried about the Chenango River, and then we remembered that there was an old man named Mr. Whittemore that got my interest first in steamboats, because he told me about the steamboat that used to come up the Chenango River—Susquehanna River and Chenango River from Owego every spring, did it for a number of years and the people came up and went down, but in my early days we usually caught the train at about eight o'clock on Saturday night, went down to Owego and then took the boat up as far as Ouaquaga, as Hiawatha Island, or on up further to the endings in Hickory Grove. That was a beautiful stretch in those days. I've heard them talk about it a good many times before my time, but I was too busy working to pay much attention to riding around in it. Then I remembered what Dad had told me about Court Street bridge. It seems that the boats used to come up and stop against those big trees that used to be back of McDevitt’s, so I had to find out about it. Find out what it was, what was happening, and why the end of it there was so little, not big enough, and I did, I stuck my neck in it. Before the bridge was finished or built, there was a ferry that used to come across there, and that tied up just above where the bridge came in and came across the river, almost straight, and stopped about where Main Street or Court Street is, and you could load and unload to catch the bridge, er, to catch the ferry. The next thing that happened was that they commenced to fuss about wanting to do something, and it was because they didn't like the way in which things were done. I know my Dad at that time said he had a chance to buy the old farm that ran all the way down to about where the Lourdes Hospital is and up as far as Leroy Street and down to the river and down to the junction and back up to about Leroy Street. Can't remember the name of the farm right now, but Dad was very seriously interested in buying it and he was going to get that land for $2,000. The people that sold it went over to Quaker Lake. They had a place over there too but I don't remember the name.

Then we had to worry about why all these strange things were set up around Main Street, and when I checked up, Sam Wear said his father had a bar there for years, in fact, he said there were five bars between Front Street and the Chenango River. Maybe that accounts for their going after the law, because I understand that's when they got to work—that's when they got to work and built the church at Wal—at, ah, Front Street and Main Street. It took me a long time to figure it out, then I found the ruling, any territory with a church in it cannot have a saloon or a bar within 125 feet of the front door of the church—now that old rule has been in for a long time and probably accounts for why four of the five things disappeared, unless somebody has forgotten the laws. The thing that counts in remembrance is that when we came to building the Sheraton, the Ramada, and the rest of the new hotels that were wanted to be near the water just across the bridge, they all of a sudden stopped and moved them a block away. I think I know the reason, because I looked up some of the deeds on lower Main Street and over on Front Street, and they all contained this record that no building can be put across south of Main and Front—er, Court Street, unless it's far enough away and unless there is an opening through it left down to the river so that people can take their animals to the ford and across the river. That's why you'll find that big mark in the bottom of the Treadway building. I remember also that we built a very lovely little park on the end of Wall Street, and Wall Street was connected with this other stuff but people all forgot it and it disappeared. I wonder how many people remember its name. It was Carmen Park, and while I'm speaking about parks, we had one over on the south side wherein there was a tree for every man killed in World War II and a nameplate on it, but I was over there the other day, and God, if we can go through big wars like World War II with no more losses than that, we better stick up in the first ranks, because I assure you I couldn't find enough trees or enough plaques to justify our even having been considered as being in World War II.

Now I think we ought to look up and see whether this new business about extending the high school and shutting off the ford, with kids coming from high school and with a parking lot and with some other things like that, can be done any better and any more legally than shutting it off for hotels and places to eat, particularly when the city is kinda short of money. 

It was during these times when I was wandering around town that we all got wrapped up in cigar bands, and we used to argue as to whether it was smarter to stop in the cigar factories—which were on Wall Street, Water Street, State Street was solid from Court to Henry—and see if we couldn't buy, beg, or steal a few cigar bands that were out of the ordinary so we could make money. As a matter of fact, there was a lot of them that were so out of the ordinary that if you found the owner and he had a smile on his face, he would give you half a dozen and then your collection would be way, way above your friends. We had as many as 56 cigar factories around here, then they commenced to get into the factory kind where it wasn't made by hand, it was made by machinery, and the last one I remember being here into this part of the country was the General Cigar factory down on Court Street—er, Main Street, down near Johnson City—that worked for a few years. The problem was that we got much poorer tobacco for a while. If you've traveled up through Canada and seen the various shades of tobacco and seen the various kinds, you realize that it's not a bad crop to grow. It's quite nice, and if you've hunted around the old barns down below Owego and seen the openings in the sides of the barns where they drain and let the tobacco leaves dry, you will quickly get established in your own mind what a handy comfortable thing it is, but it requires a lot of work and we had just the people to roll them and not the people to grow them—maybe that’s why we lost it and then we had to get, so many of our women folks had to get tied up in cigarettes and anxious about cigarettes and they could buy them all rolled so they didn't look different, a lot cheaper, or rather a lot more expensively than we could cigars.

High school and schools in Binghamton, it seems funny to talk about them. There was a little girl named Alice VanMoon, and she beat me by half a point when we went up to St. John, er, to Laurel Ave., and on down into high school. I know I could have caught her, but she went and moved away. Oh, so I had to go on, and I graduated as Valedictorian, I think, when I graduated from high school. It was a big problem to remember because I was working all the time on the side, and despite the fact that I worked from 2 o'clock in the morning up ’til school time. I worked after school until 7 or 8 o'clock at night, I thought I was pretty darn lucky when I got in twelve-thirteen dollars a week—as an adult, maybe after I got into college, I realized more about it. I had $285.00 in my pocket when I left for college. If I hadn't been fortunate enough to find some friends up there who knew where the cheap places to eat were—because I remember the chap that went with me, he was a teacher afterwards at Cornell. We paid $1.60 apiece for two rooms—one to study in and one to sleep in—and around the corner we paid $4, and then $4.50, and then $4.60, and then $4.90, for a place to have our three meals a day in comfort. Of course it was the crowd that was there that made it interesting because many of them were inclined to head for the ministry, and many long were the sermons that got preached at us while we sat there waiting to see what was going to happen, but if anybody was hungry they were taken care of, and you could buy a roast beef sandwich for 10¢. You could buy—we were lucky from Binghamton. We could go over to the Candy Kitchen and Jimmy the Greek would say, "I remember you." We'd say, "Yes, and we’re thirsty." 

"Wait a minute," and he'd give us an ice cream so we wouldn't feel too bad about it, and we appreciated his kindness. Money wasn't essential. Fifteen cents would take you to the movies. You could always borrow from somebody if you needed to. There wasn't enough girls, but what you had was a good alibi that there wasn't any girls to get so you didn't have one, and I think maybe that's the thing that made life worthwhile, because it certainly made us study a lot more than we would have otherwise. Then we would go on, and I still remember even at my decrepit old age that my first year in Colgate, from the time I left in September to go ’til I came back in June, having finished one year, cost me $496.16. I think maybe that's a record, because I remember my last year in medicine cost me over $1100 or pretty damn close, and I know that's not counting the fact that I worked in the fraternity house and I took care of the animals—the research animals for both physiology, biology. That's why I had to wear a mustache, because one of them got mad and caught me on the upper chin, er, upper lip, and it was a lot better having it covered by hair than not having it covered at all.

There are many stories I could tell you about the faculty of Colgate. It was one of the grandest bunch of men I ever knew despite the fact there were a lot of wonderful queer characters. There was Johnny Green, who always bobbed around at us, flashed his eyes back an’ forth and said that if he exercised his eyes enough, that he wouldn't have to wear glasses, and then he had a man who was his assistant, very big dignified fat man that always put his paws down in front of you as though he was going to bite you, Spencer, but he wouldn't. He'd scare the hell out of you. Then I could go on and talk about the rest. My particular sidekick in these days was Bill Turner, six foot tall, a big bass voice, a bachelor. He took care of his mother and sister and always acted as though something was going to push him around into something. He was so afraid that people would misunderstand him, get him into trouble. He even came to me once and said, "I'm going to quit," and I said, "Well, let me look things over a bit for you." And I says, "No, you're not going to quit. You're going to work a little harder than you have worked and you're gonna do it more this way and you aren't gonna get mixed up with so many people." And when he came to me five years later and said, "I'm gonna quit," I said, "Yep, you’re gonna quit now, but not before. You hadn't finished your job." It's a wonderful feeling to be able to say I helped a professor as much as they helped me, but I didn't, because he and his mother and his sister fed me Sunday night’s dinner for a good many years. God knows I couldn't sing, I couldn't do anything else, but I traveled with the Glee Club with the sublime feeling that I didn't have to worry because he told me, "Make your mouth go big, smile good, and for God's sakes, if anybody’s out of tune, shut up.”

Now let’s stop a minute. It seems that along about my sophomore year in Colgate I got on the pan, and I never blamed them. I suddenly decided, figuring closely that they were going to let me have my degree in three years, why couldn't I do three years’ work in two and a half—get the degree? And to go on, I made the mistake that so many young fellows do, and old fellows maybe, of thinking that rubber stamping something and throwing it over your shoulder makes it get in your head. It doesn't, and I remember when Dr. McGregory and Dr. Bryant and Cookie Cutter and a few of the others, Brigham, looked at me point blank when I said I wanted to get through in three years, and they argued that it wasn't for my benefit to get through in three years—I'd do better if I stayed four—and I decided that eating those last year was kind of important and much more important than just getting through, so when Hog said that he wouldn't allow for it and he was objecting to it, I said, "OK, Dr. McGregory, just for that, I'll major in your subjects and give you every opportunity to flunk me you can get." He tried to talk me out of taking a couple of subjects instead. But I got through in three years, and they were probably the happiest three years I have ever spent, because Colgate is a beautiful, wonderful institution. I'm glad Craig went there.

Afterwards I was tempted or persuaded and almost sure that I was going to go to Cornell in order to get my medicine, but I looked around and I saw that Cornell started a class at Ithaca and a class in New York, and at the end of the year without saying anything you just became half out and half as big as you were before, so I didn't think that was very good, and then Sukie Higgerman said I was nuts. And I started for Buffalo where John, Dr. John Lappious, had helped me get registered. Well, I arrived out there on the train, then went up the street to High Street. I went in, they were very nice to me but I still don't know who saw me—who had anything to do about it, what happened to me, and I think maybe it was the fact that my class, instead of being seventy-six, succeeded in rounding up nineteen for our first year. So, you see, if they do raise the requirements there is a very definite reason for it. Then I had to snoop around and see if I could get a job. Didn't get anywheres on that ’til somethin’ happened down in the so-called jail and the Erie County Penitentiary because of the flu, because of the—because of the, and in came the flu—a most gorgeous mess. So, I had to eat and live, so John took me down to the penitentiary, and they looked at me and took off my soft hat—my, ah, cap, insisted I wear a soft hat—and I was fully signed in as a doctor in the Erie County Penitentiary, which became famous afterwards—after having had three weeks of medicine. Well the first thing I did was told I oughta clean up the drug room—so I started to, and got some nice little country boy. Didn't know why he was in jail, but he did the cleaning with me and helped me, and he'd light my cigars and gave me his tobacco. God, it was awful—couldn't touch it—but he was very proud of being an associate of mine. That was when I had my funny time, when I met the Diamond Lill fame—when I met a lot of other unusual people. Diamond Lill was an operator in a carnival, and in her teeth she had two diamonds—above and one below, so that she could smile as she did the loop the loop on a bicycle and hoped that she was sober to keep on the track. I always remember when they—Dr. Frost, who was in charge, said, "Why hello—when did you—how long you've been back?" and she says, "Why, Doctor—why, you know—I haven't been out yet." This was the kind of stories we would hear.

Then we found out if somebody got into a mess that they were more afraid than we were, so we went on and enjoyed it, and that's when I made a reputation, because the waiter, who was a prisoner, leaned over my shoulder one night and wanted to know if I had any good cathartics. I said, "Yes," and rolled him off a half dozen of C.C. pills, asked if he knew how to take them and he said, "Yeah," so I went on back to quarters. The next day I didn't have anybody waiting on me as a waiter, and the day after I didn't have anybody waiting on me as a waiter, but on the third day, when I sat down in my chair, I noticed that I was taken care of when the chief wasn't, and over my shoulder came a faint whisper saying, "You sure do handle powerful drugs, sir.”

Buffalo—that's the place where I was supposed to learn medicine. I guess I did. Leastwise I'm still studying it to find out if I didn't. It's hard to understand the study of medicine. My sidekick, the first one, had been a chemist in Canada, got chased down by the police, so on and so forth, so he taught me chemistry and I was supposed to teach him, well, I guess the rest of the stuff. Another chap took the anatomy. I took physiology, pharmacology, and that's the way we divided up our work, so we all had the chance to pile in as much as we wanted to and learn from each other. My class in medicine started out as nineteen. We lost a bunch and brought a bunch up from Fordham University our sophomore year, and then we stayed about the same and only lost one, making it twenty-five instead of twenty-six our senior year, but then the fight came for internships, and what an interesting story it was. They wanted me to go to the Edward Meyer Memorial [Hospital] in Buffalo and I said "No.” I wanted the General, and if I couldn't have The General, I was going down to Blockley in Philadelphia—of course I didn't know anybody in Blockley—I never did get there—I never saw the inside of the place, but Dr. Ryman from our class, from the class ahead of me, went down.

[End of Tape I]

[Tape II]

Dr. Benson: They gave me a royal ride also on internship, because they handed me a fraternity pin when I was already wearing a fraternity pin and asked me if I had lost that in the nurses’ home and would I please tell them which room it belonged in, for sarcasm. Oh, the full money that we were to receive for one year of work, starting at about 8:30 or 8 o'clock every morning and maybe getting one or two evenings after seven out, but otherwise knowing that we were on call all night long, was a very valuable swapping proposition. We got three suits of white clothes. I don't imagine they would be, would be worth something today. I think they were linen, but in those days we didn't think much of them. No socks, no underwear—we had to find that from someplace else—and four meal—three meals and a lunch, and we went on pretty well living but it was damned embarrassing. You didn't have any money to spend.

You didn't have any cigars unless you inherited them or somebody gave them to you. Cigarettes were out of question and the nurses got more money than we did, but it was fun. I always remember that at 10 o'clock at night they came around with lunch, usually big pieces of chocolate cake, and after Mary Storm, the night superintendent, had gotten in wrong, the second time we posted ourselves in very advantageous positions, and when we saw her coming, somebody yelled and we all ran out in the hall looking back—looking the other way—and turn around suddenly, and we actually hit her broadside with no less than nine out of the twelve pieces of chocolate cake. Nice treatment for a supervising nurse. I got the blame for the whole thing and rightly so.

Then we had to have some parties. ’Course we were learning a lot, and at the parties we took, yes, we took the big machine TV—we took it upstairs to the private operating room and we had a dance and a lovely concert and a lovely time. We pushed the thing out on the roof to hide it, and the only thing they got mad at was, they were afraid we were trying to start a fire to roast some hot dogs on the roof and they couldn't see the sense that we could stake the fire out. Then I got caught riding down the aisle with so and so on my shoulder when I walked into Mary Storm, the night superintendent—of course the fact that we had stolen the liquor from the training school office the day before didn't make any difference. She wanted to talk to the girl, so I put her down in front of her and let her talk. When I heard she was sending the girl home the next day, I went to the training school office and said, “Don’t blame the girl, blame me—she had nothing to do, she was just sitting on my shoulder.” So, it was fun.

The next year—my second year I went out to Meyer Memorial, and what a glorious time I had. I was supposed to have three months of contagion, three months of TB, and six months of medicine, especially cardiology. What did I end up with? I ended up with one month added on, of venereal diseases. I ended up with two months off from contagious diseases. I ended up with particular care on pediatrics, which is a whole lot of kids, and I ended up with most of the rest of my time on cardiology and doing it all, oh, yes, one month I was in Boston. It was a lot of fun but you never knew what was gonna happen to you the next day, and then I finished and the big scramble came. Dr. Green said I was getting hospitalized. I was having too good a time in hospitals, and time I got out and earned a living. The rest of them didn't dare disagree with him because he was the chief, so I did, and the first thing I knew, I was running a sanitarium in Dansville that belonged to doctors. That was when they looked at me and said that anybody [who] could vault over the cushions and seats and chairs and couches in a fashionable place, or turn somersaults over them, certainly couldn't know medicine. Of course I lost those patients, but I made up for it, and travel I did, back and forth, all around, and finally I came back to Binghamton. That’s when I had my big surprises—even my father seemed to think it was time I went to work, and Mother couldn't understand why I took two weeks of sitting on the hills around the town thinking, figuring out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it and how I was going to do this and how I was going to do that. I started to set up an office on 104 Oak Street, I well remember to this day. My mother decided that, ah, in as much as they had helped educate me and do things for me, that I was going to supply her with amusements for the rest of her life because she was going to sit and watch me work—of course, that didn't work. She got mad at me because I tried.

Then Harry came down from Buffalo, tried to give me a check for $50,000 to set up the kind of an office I wanted. I could easily have spent the money but I didn't think I should, because after all, so far all I had received from running the sanitarium was a couple of, three, four blank checks asking me to please put my amount—they were all signed down—and tell them how much I wanted for my work. Nobody ever raised any questions about it and I went over the stuff in the kitchen every day to see if there was anything better I could eat. Didn't do much good, though, ’cause Dr. Goodell's wife was with me as superintendent or something, and then W. George left me and the fellow that come in his place [who] was supposed to be trained as a hotel man happened to be a Christian Scientist, and I've heard that I had the ability to drive anybody nuts, but the next day, when I watched him plunge from a six-story building down onto the ground and splatter around the floor, I wasn't too happy. I hated to think it was my fault. It really wasn't, but it's something I'll never forget by the fact in that time I had an all—all-American swimming instructor. She didn't like me and I didn't care very much for her, but I had one, and I had a staff that was quite remarkable. The old place had established the Boulaire Baths. I had a training school office of about twelve, and I was supposed to teach physiotherapy massage and the various things, I don't know—I think it was just something to keep me from being lonesome, but then I went on home just because they were unkind enough to try to move my folks up to the sanitarium and give them private quarters just to be with me.

Now we ready to start the practice of medicine. My God, when you start to think about it, I remember the first thing I did was to talk to the man at Norwich Pharmacal, and he came up and he said, "Well you'll need a lot of this and a lot of that and a lot of this and a lot of that." He said, "I've got a wife that's sick. I want you to take care of her." And I did, and we both fared pretty good. I fared better than he did. His wife died, and I still found some medicine from there the other day when I shut the place up and my office died.

Then I became fascinated in studying the various things that happened. I never did find out where I got all the degrees I got after my name. I know there are two others I can't even think of, but somebody told me if you got enough of the alphabet dearranged, never had to know any of it because you'd say, "Yeah, I think so,” and that would be more important than trying to be smart. Yes, I've spent a lot of time hanging around Rochester trying to learn somethin’, and even when I was out in the west, out to Ann Arbor, and when the man that was supposed to have this nice course in electrocardiography looked at me and said, "What the hell do you want to take it for? You know more about it than I do now," I didn't agree with him, or it made me feel awful good to hear him say it.

Money—they tell me I've made a lot of it, lost a lot of it. I think the funniest thing was in World War II—er, World War I—when I got back from World War I, Uncle Sam wrote me a letter and said, "We don't think you're able to afford to put as much of your money into insurance as you are doing." I never argued with them. I think he was right but the funny part is that insurance has all disappeared and then the other batch that I had, that's disappeared, so maybe someday somebody will find a way to have me put away insurance as they say I can't now. Nobody ever had more fun in medicine than I did. Nobody ever worked any harder. It's not a plaything. It's a real honest-to-God tough job, but the satisfaction of knowing that you're doing something for other people to help them is the greatest satisfaction in the world. Yes, here in town I had the cardiology at the Binghamton General Hospital. I was on cardiology at Lourdes. I was offered the job of laboratory man at Wilson and at the General. I was a cardiologist at Hancock, but the fun was in trying to diagnose and make up the things when nobody else knew what to do and how to do it. What you did for the cases was easy, but trying to understand them was difficult. I don't know, if I had it to do over again I think I’d probably do the same damn fool thing. Thank you.

Oh, by the way, I have had a couple things that have kept me busy, one of them for the last nineteen years. I took care of the blind for the Lions Club, yeah, for the club—

Susan: —Lions Club—

Dr. Benson: —Lions Club, or rather I took care of Mrs. DeWitt, because I started back in the beginning when she lived downstairs under me in my home. Then we had a disagreement, not Mrs. DeWitt, but I and the Lion's Club, so I disappeared, and after that, out of a clear sky, after having spent some time in the Masons and gotten up into the Shrine back around in 1928, I was suddenly got told that I was no longer Medical Director, but I was in charge of the Charities, and what a surprise that was for me—that meant that I had to hunt up the kids that might be damaged by burns, and believe it or not, one of the hospitals that I represent is the only hospital in the world that ever brought back a child 91% burned. The rest of them think they're damn lucky if they can bring back 50% or 35%. I've made many trips to Boston and to some of the other hospitals and I've had them all do work for me on the burn kids, and then before

that we had nineteen orthopedic hospitals. That didn't seem enough to me, anyway, no matter what I found that was wrong, I usually was able to decide it was orthopedic, and you'd be surprised how much my training taught me to make the other fellow think twice. I haven't made as many trips this year, but a little while ago I kept track of them. I think I've gotten stuck in the snow down around Boston at least six times. I think I've been down through over the Hudson when it was frozen solid four or five times, and I get to the clinic once a year, and most people can't understand why my hobby is helping to spend forty-nine million dollars a year and I don't think it keeps me busy. I'm willing to have some help, but the thing that interests me is that very few people understand that this isn't just, ah, patch-me-up stuff. This is a thing of building people, kids, and trying to make them live happy and enjoy things. Sure, it takes longer than it does if you're going to just give them a kick up and let them startle them, but I think it's the greatest charity in the world. What do you think about it?

Susan: Well, I think it's remarkable what you've done, and I think you oughta mention that you have several awards for your work and that you were Man of the Year in 1973—was it?

Dr. Benson: All right, if it will make you any happier.

Susan: Well, you deserve some credit.

Dr. Benson:They're urging me to talk about awards. I don't know whether I told you, I have 21-22 letters dearranged after my name. It isn't enough to make an alphabet, but some of the letters I've got so many of I don't know what to do with. The other thing they kid me about is brass plaques. Yes, I've got a bunch of them. When you're young they're important, when you’re old you wonder if you're worth it. I've, yes, this last year I received the award from the American Legion—Man of the Year—then found out that on ‘73 I had the Shriner of the Year from Kalurah, then I got a whole lot more of them, but the thing I think you ought to get is to come along and see the fun and find out how much fun work is when you do it right.

Susan: Well, thank you very much, Dr. Benson. It's been very enjoyable talking with you.

Dr. Benson: Well, now, there is a lot more if you want it, so if you get stuck just call me.

Susan: Fine.

Dr. Benson: And we’ll try and see if they’re—because, I don't know, ah, for instance, somebody might get somewheres, like taking a film like this—why I enjoyed being a doctor—

Susan:That's right.

Dr. Benson: Why I don't want to be a lawyer, do you see what I mean?

Susan: Right.

Dr. Benson: And I think you might get further ahead with such ideas. Put down a list and then half a dozen of us go through what we can add or take off of it on each one, and then go ahead and get it dictated by someone that you can pick out as being the person that will do the best job, because that's what you gotta do.

Susan: Well, certainly if I know someone in trouble, you’re the man to call, Dr. Benson. Thank you again.

Dr. Benson: You’re entirely welcome.

Susan: This is Susan Dobandi, interviewer, and I have been talking with Dr. Carl S. Benson, who lives at 109 Murray Street, Binghamton, NY. The date is June 8, 1978.

Date of Interview



Dobandi, Susan


Benson, Carl S.


Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Benson, Carl S. -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Physicians -- Interviews; Binghamton (N.Y.); Colgate University; World War, 1939-1945; American Legion; Binghamton General Hospital; Lourdes Hospital; Hancock Hospital; Shriners; Lions Club International

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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.


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The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

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“Interview with Dr. Carl S. Benson,” Digital Collections, accessed June 17, 2024,