You never know where surprising information about Fulton history might show up. It doesn’t always come by digging through piles of old newspapers or interviews with eyewitnesses. Sometimes it only takes a suggestion from a friend.
A few months ago, I got a call from a high school classmate, Tim Carroll, who said he had some paperwork about a prominent doctor from Fulton’s early 1900s. He wondered if I might be interested in reviewing it. When we met, Tim explained how he’d acquired the large box of newspaper articles, photos and personal correspondence. His mother, Natalie, was a next door neighbor and good friend with this doctor’s daughter, and when the woman passed away, Natalie helped close up her home. While doing so, she found the box of paperwork, and from reviewing its contents, I have been able to learn about an extraordinary Fulton doctor: Albert Llewellyn Hall.
Dr. Hall was born in 1855 on a farm outside Central Square. He attended local schools and graduated from Cazenovia Seminary, which functioned like a prep school for high-schoolers. Later, Hall taught school for several years and then served as principal for Parish, Cleveland and Constantia schools. But his purposeful life was just beginning.
In 1874, Hall, who had a growing interest in the health field, won a Cornell University scholarship to study medicine there. Four years later, he continued his studies at Syracuse University, graduating in 1879. The new doctor opened a practice in Fair Haven, where he served 20 years as a general practitioner. By this time, Dr. Hall had developed a specific medical interest which would earn him a measure of fame.
Hall’s area of concentration, forensic ballistics, wasn’t something I was familiar with, but a quick Google search revealed the doctor’s specialty as the science of analyzing firearms used to harm or kill people. Much like actors on detective shows trying to crack cold cases, Hall became an expert in identifying firearms that factored into murder trials. A few of them sound like plots for those TV shows: the 1897 case of Charles Allen, charged with murdering two women in Sackets Harbor; and the 1898 trial of George H. Smith, charged with his wife’s murder in Churchville, New York.
During Hall’s groundbreaking work in forensics, he and his family moved to Fulton, where he began to turn his medical attention from brutal deaths to improved health. He became an active member of our community, including his offer to advise Fulton’s municipal leaders in their creation of a water purification system, an important matter for a new city in the early 1900s.
In May 1904, Dr. Hall earned his place in Fulton’s history by serving as the first doctor at our city’s new hospital. The medical facility, actually a house on West Fifth Street, was so new, in fact, that it was not yet fully furnished or officially “open for business.” Nonetheless, when its first patient arrived – a man who’d suffered a near fatal injury at a local mill – it was Dr. Hall who amputated the man’s arm, saving his life.
Twenty-five years later, Dr. Hall was still researching ways to ease pain and save lives. Local papers heralded his development of a less-complicated procedure for removing fish hooks from unlucky anglers, which doesn’t sound life-threatening until you consider how serious a bad infection was before the discovery of antibiotics. Hall developed his method while working on a Fulton boy, spraying the boy’s finger with ether to numb his pain, forcing the hook until the barb was in view, snipping it off and then pulling the remains of the hook back and out of the skin. The “operation” could be performed in a doctor’s office, eliminating the need for hospitalization to monitor for signs of infection.
All of Dr. Hall’s accomplishments are noteworthy, but there was one in particular that I found inspiring. While working to fight disease and illness, Hall was also professing theories for a long life. Among the paperwork I reviewed was this medical essay: “When Are We Old? When Should We Be Old?” An early Fulton newspaper, The Observer, covered his 1914 presentation of the paper to our city’s social club, Borrowed Time. The club, for men who’d lived “three score and ten years,” would have been particularly interested in Hall’s longevity theories.
In the early 1900s, while Hall was promoting his theories, the average human life spanned 55 years. At the time, there were about 5,000 known cases of a person living to be 100, which Hall considered “a remarkable fact.” He compared “the growing years” of a human (from birth until age 18) to the growing years of animals, some that lived five times as long as their growing years. If humans could be more like animals, Hall theorized, they would be able to live to age 125 or even 150.
Here’s how Hall justified his “prescription” for a long life: “By the close of the present century [the year 1999], man will not be regarded as being old at 70 years, but on the contrary, he will be active and energetic…He will conserve his energies, regulate his working hours, improve his living conditions and, above all, he will find time for a proper amount of recreation. He will live with the hope of being active at 80 years of age and not old until the century mark of his life has been reached.”
Dr. Hall’s predictions of a long life weren’t far off from the 2018 norms. Today, the average American female lives to age 81; males to age 77. The 5,000 centenarians who broke records in Hall’s day have grown in number to over 50,000. Though Hall himself only reached the age of 76 when died at his home in Fulton in 1931, his meaningful life, which was devoted to educating and healing people, is a feather in Fulton’s cap. The next time I reach a milestone birthday, I’ll take a moment to remember one of our city’s first doctors.