- Only at Byliner
The dead Japanese carpenter was sprawled on a dirt road on the northern edge of the island of Hawaii, a half-burned cigarette smoldering beside his head. His distraught wife claimed that two white males in rubber overcoats had ambushed them and murdered her husband. She told the story to a doctor, L. S. Thompson, who had seen the woman leading a bloodstained horse. Thompson did not believe the woman, whose name was Kamaka. He sent for the sheriff, and Kamaka was soon arrested.
The next story the widow told differed from the first. She and a Hawaiian farmer named Keanu had become lovers, she said. When her husband had discovered the affair, he told Kamaka that they were immediately moving to the other side of the island, far from Keanu. The couple had set out at dawn. Three miles down the road, Keanu rode out from behind a screen of brush and said, “Aloha.”
Kamaka’s husband, known as Charley, answered, “Aloha.”
Keanu stabbed Charley in the face, knifed him at the back of the head, pulled him from his horse and plunged the blade twice into his throat and once into his chest, then stood panting over his victim, who lay facedown in the dirt. “Charley did not say anything after being struck,” Kamaka later testified. “Charley bled.” A jury returned with a guilty verdict in two hours and thirty minutes, with one juror dissenting. At 1 P.M. on August 2, 1884, Marshal William Cooper Parke brought Keanu before Albert Francis Judd, chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court. An interpreter asked if the prisoner had anything to say before sentencing.
“I am not guilty,” Keanu replied. “That is all I have to say.”
Judd announced that Keanu was to be “hung by the neck … until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul!” A reporter from the Honolulu Advertiser wrote, “During the delivery of the death sentence, the prisoner stood with his eyes cast downward, and apparently never moved a muscle. He evidently anticipated his fate.”
Several weeks after Keanu was condemned to the gallows, Dr. Eduard Arning, a physician working on behalf of the Hawaiian board of health, asked that Keanu instead be handed over to him to use as an “experimental animal.” The men of the government Privy Council agreed to the request. To satisfy his own ethics, Dr. Arning later claimed, he explained in detail to the prisoner what was likely to happen to him. Keanu seemed not to care. In a steady hand Keanu marked his signature on the medical release. “With the prisoner’s permission,” Arning reported, “I commenced operations on the last day of September 1884.”
A horse cart carried Keanu along the narrow causeway away from Oahu Prison. When the buggy reached Kakaako Hospital, an attendant led Keanu to a shed where the doctor waited, along with a frightened nine-year-old girl. Arning asked Keanu to sit. A board physician later described the prisoner: “48 years old, has physique massive, weight about 250 pounds, broad-shouldered, erect of carriage, 5 feet 10 inches tall.” On a table next to Keanu was a short metal pipe fitted with a rubber hose, an apparatus invented by a German chemist who taught at the University of Heidelberg, where Arning had attended medical school. Arning was twenty-nine years old, a blue-eyed, golden-haired young doctor so intoxicated by the new science of microbes that he appeared to suffer from what was known at the time as “bacteriomania.” Keanu and the girl watched as the doctor ignited his Bunsen burner.
Heating a scalpel over the burner, Arning used it to swell a blister on Keanu’s right forearm. He then drew fluid from a leprous ulcer on the girl’s chin, injected it into the blister, and rubbed the remainder onto a patch he had scarified on Keanu’s left earlobe. Next, the doctor washed the girl’s forearm, sprayed it with a diluted mix of carbolic acid, and, using his scalpel blade, split the skin. He sliced free a square of tissue and set it aside. After sewing closed the girl’s wound, Arning turned to Keanu. Opening a deep incision on the Hawaiian’s left forearm, the doctor exposed the marbled belly of the heavy radius longus muscle, which twitched in reflex to the cut. Arning transferred the material and stitched the tissue within the folds of Keanu’s flesh. He swabbed the arm with disinfectant, touched it with ointment, and wrapped it in a sleeve of gauze. Then he waited.* * *
Until the previous decade, doctors had no sure way to determine if someone had leprosy. Often they simply guessed. As a quick canvass among the exiles in the settlement would have shown, quite often these medical judgments were tragically incorrect. In the early 1870s, however, researchers pioneered new methods of studying bacteria by microscope. Various bacteria’s physical characteristics began to be cataloged, including the distinctive shape of a germ that a Norwegian physician named Gerhard Hansen believed was responsible for leprosy. Using a small pair of scissors, Dr. Hansen had snipped samples from the blemishes of several persons with leprosy and slid the unprepared biopsies beneath his microscope. He noticed barely visible masses of dark cellular matter, though he could not determine their composition. Then, in the winter of 1873, Hansen cut a tiny divot from the nose of a man named Johannes Gül. Peering through the barrel of his microscope, Hansen discerned a huge quantity of stick-shaped entities that were making “more or less lively movements.” The same rod-shaped bacilli vibrated menacingly in biopsies taken from Hansen’s next leprosy patient, and the next. These were Mycobacterium leprae.
By identifying the active leprosy bacillus, Hansen had found the first evidence that microbes—germs—could inhabit the human body as parasites and cause chronic disease. More important, Hansen established a link between leprosy and the presence in the victim of those specific rod-shaped bacilli. Hansen’s breakthrough was at the vanguard of a scientific revolution known as bacteriology. In the coming weeks and months, scientists would identify the germs that ignited cholera, anthrax, diphtheria, and bubonic plague. These discoveries would change forever the practice of medicine.
One significant factor in this pathbreaking research was the invention of a process in which samples were washed with dyes before viewing beneath a microscope. The coloring attached to bacilli as a stain, throwing their various forms into sharp relief, and helping physicians to distinguish one germ from another. Hansen had identified Mycobacterium leprae without the benefit of staining—he had not yet learned the technique—but by the late 1870s the procedure was widely known among bacteriologists. By employing it, doctors could microscopically screen tissue for Dr. Hansen’s signature leprosy germ and make their diagnosis with more authority. One critical research obstacle remained, however. Until someone absolutely proved Mycobacterium leprae to be leprosy’s cause, the probability of discovering a cure for the disease was remote.
A bacillus is confirmed as the cause of a disease by meeting a series of conditions formalized by a brilliant German physician named Robert Koch, who is credited with discovering Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 1877 Dr. Koch detailed the steps required to determine if a specific germ is in fact the origin of a particular disease. One of “Koch’s postulates” states that “to prove that a microbe causes a disease it is necessary to extract the microbe from an infected person, introduce it into either an experimental animal or into a human being, and so reproduce the disease,” as one medical historian later wrote. “Obviously in the overwhelming number of cases it is the experimental animal that is used. Human beings may on occasion volunteer for such experiments … but they are very much the exception to the rule.” Despite the alleged rarity of such events, however, both Robert Koch and Gerhard Hansen commonly used human test subjects—as did one of their colleagues, Albert Neisser, who had studied under both men. When Dr. Neisser had become established, he engaged a gifted young assistant of his own: Eduard Arning.
Dr. Arning’s subsequent work with leprosy came to the attention of the Hawaiian board of health by a surprising source, Dr. William Hillebrand. Three decades earlier, Hillebrand had sounded the first alarm in Hawaii about leprosy. Now he was partially retired, residing in Switzerland and monitoring the field from afar. “Probably you have read in the papers of the discovery by Dr. Koch in Berlin of the bacteria which cause tuberculosis,” Hillebrand wrote to the president of the board, Walter Murray Gibson. After sketching a brief picture of the stunning advances happening in bacteriology, he urged Gibson to engage Dr. Arning in an investigation of leprosy. “Only men in possession of all the specific knowledge obtained thus far, experienced in the use of the microscope and practically trained in the different methods of experimental research are competent to undertake it,” Hillebrand advised. “Such a man offers himself to you.”
Gibson replied quickly: “It gives me great pleasure to be able to assure you at once that if Dr. Arning comes here for the purpose of studying the natural history of the contagion of leprosy, he will receive from the Board of Health every assistance they are in a position to give him.” Commission in hand—Gibson had offered $150 a month—Arning boarded a series of ships that brought him from Hamburg to Manchester to New York City. He traveled overland to San Francisco, found the city’s medical supply shop, and filled a carefully packed crate with burners and autoclaves and several heavy brass microscopes. Satisfied that he was properly equipped, Arning climbed a ramp tipped alongside a hundred-foot iron-clad steamer, the Mariposa. The ship slid out through the pinched green fingers of the Golden Gate, and into the Pacific. Aboard the Mariposa were thirty-one first-class passengers, including Arning; thirty-two others rode steerage. After a week at sea, they sighted Hawaii.
At the esplanade in Honolulu a celebratory chaos prevailed, as it always did when a passenger vessel arrived from the mainland, a twice-monthly event. Souvenir sellers swarmed the wharf, toting trays of flower garlands and hollow-eyed idols, bouncing between the drays and the sightseers, who twirled parasols for shade. The Royal Hawaiian Band blared away beneath crescents of colored bunting. Drivers screamed at their teams of skittish horses, screamed again at loiterers to leap aside. Arning moved partway down the gangplank and paused, scanning the crowd. He had assumed the board president, Mr. Gibson, would be on hand to greet him. But he seemed to have been forgotten.
In fact, Gibson stood only a few yards away from Arning, a shambling, skeletal presence who shifted his feet upon the pier in nervous excitement. One Honolulu lawyer had recently recorded his impressions of Arning’s host: “Walter Murray Gibson is a tall, thin old gentleman … with white hair and beard, a mild, cold blue eye, a fine patrician nose, and a tolerably port-wine complexion … . He is an unquestionably eminent-looking veteran, of smooth address, silky manners, and a somewhat fascinating mode of speech, in the estimation of the susceptible and sympathetic—a fine old fellow, I should say; wise as a serpent, but hardly as harmless as a dove.” Had Arning held a description of Gibson, he could easily have spotted the distinctive older man. On the afternoon of the Mariposa’s arrival, however, Arning knew nothing about Gibson, and the board president made no effort to locate the doctor among the crowd. As usual, Gibson was caught in a drama of his own.* * *
By the time Walter Murray Gibson appeared on the Hawaiian political scene, one out of thirty residents in the islands had been exiled. Thus segregation had affected almost every person in the islands, through the banishment of a family member, neighbor, or friend. Campaigning on an opportunistic platform of native rights and compassion for the exiles, Gibson had won a seat in the legislature, and his popularity eventually propelled him to the prime ministry, under King David Kalakaua. In short order, Gibson also connived to acquire each of the major ministry posts, and served—sometimes simultaneously—as minister of interior, minister of finance, and, though he lacked a legal degree, attorney general. The extraordinary consolidation lent Gibson his nickname in the press: Minister of Everything.
Even prior to his ascension in the political firmament of the islands, however, Gibson made for fantastic copy. He claimed to have been born at sea to English nobles, although in the confusion of an Atlantic storm he landed in the wrong crib and went home in the arms of a Northumberland sheep farmer. The Gibson clan later emigrated to Canada, and finally to New York City, where they settled in a Bowery tenement. At age fourteen Walter went south to find his fortune, and was quickly married, made a father, and then a widower. Placing his three children with his dead wife’s parents, the twenty-two-year-old set out in search of a larger life. “My young widowed heart felt free to range again,” he wrote. In Central America he befriended the dictator General Rafael Carrera, and soon agreed to help him found a Guatemalan navy. Returning to Manhattan, Gibson purchased a former U.S. revenue schooner, fitted her for combat, and loaded several tons of guns and ammunition aboard, hidden under eighty tons of ice. The Flirt was slinking from New York Harbor when an alert customs agent discovered the cargo and had the ship seized in violation of the U.S. neutrality acts. Gibson wrote, “[Thus] the pleasant and harmless scheme of the Centralian navy failed.”
Later, an acquaintance remarked of Gibson, “He is a man of considerable talent, unhampered by any scruple.” Within a year the Flirt showed up in Sumatra, with “Captain Gibson” at the helm. Dutch authorities arrested him, believing Gibson planned to spark a revolt and install himself as an island potentate. After a year in prison, he broke down and confessed, “I have allowed my fancy and my vanity to get the better of my judgment.” Sentenced to hang, Gibson escaped and made his way back to America. He then convinced the U.S. secretary of state to press a claim against the Netherlands for false imprisonment. Though the New York Herald demanded that U.S. warships seize the Dutch island of Curaçao “as a guarantee for the payment of the indemnity,” the Dutch ignored the government’s threats. In a futile attempt to secure restitution, Gibson sailed for Europe and ultimately had to beg steamer fare home from the American consul in Liverpool, Nathaniel Hawthorne. The novelist wrote of Gibson, “The vicissitudes of his life appear to have tinctured him with superstition, inclining him to look upon himself as marked out for something strange.”
Once more in the United States, Gibson had turned his attention to the Utah Territory. Aware of the Mormon community’s difficulty in finding a homeland, he offered to help them establish “a Colony upon an island of Central Oceania,” as Gibson proposed in a letter to the Mormon delegate to Congress. It seemed of little consequence to Gibson that he was not himself Mormon. But Brigham Young, the Mormon leader, found the detail inconvenient. Meeting with Gibson in Salt Lake City, Young suggested Gibson study the faith—afterward they could discuss a Pacific mission. On a freezing day in January 1860, Walter Murray Gibson was led though the Mormon baptismal ceremony and confirmed by Young himself. “I have invariably found him to be frank, kind hearted, intelligent, upright, and gentlemanly,” Young wrote of the thirty-eight-year-old. Gibson was now free to investigate fields for the missionary work. Young suggested Hawaii.
For a mission site Gibson chose the island of Lanai, an arid speck ten miles immediately south of Molokai. “This is the nucleus of development,” he recorded in his diary. “I set up my standard here and it goes hence to the islands of the sea.” Quickly, Gibson created a fiefdom. He took the title of “Chief President of the Islands of the Sea and of the Hawaiian Islands for the Church of the Latter Day Saints,” described Lanai as the “Hawaiian Zion,” and insisted on being referred to as a “High Priest of Melchizedek.” Soon he controlled a majority of the island. Ostensibly the property was for the Mormon Church, but Brigham Young discovered that the land titles listed only Gibson’s name. With a little digging, the church found out that Gibson was commingling the mission’s funds with his own. Two elders reported back to Salt Lake City that Gibson was presenting himself as the sole church authority in Hawaii, whose word was above that of Young. He began to sell church offices for $100 each. Rounding the male members of the ward into companies, Gibson began to train them as military recruits. At one point, the elders alleged, Gibson suddenly insisted that church members henceforth approach him on hands and knees. When Young heard the charges, he ordered Gibson excommunicated.
Forced out by the Mormons, Walter Murray Gibson took an oath as a Hawaiian citizen, moved to the port town of Lahaina, and entered politics. Fluent in Hawaiian and a spellbinding orator, he easily won election to the 1878 legislature, one of four white men elected to the twenty-seven-member assembly. Perhaps because disease had destroyed his own family—a childhood cholera epidemic had swept away three brothers—Gibson took particular interest in public health, and especially leprosy. He argued for additional funds for the settlement, and a less doctrinaire approach to exile. After leading a legislative committee on a fact-finding visit to the colony, Gibson raised the possibility of creating small satellite settlements on each island, so that families would not be completely torn apart by exile. Mostly, Gibson delighted in exposing the board’s mismanagement of the settlement. “How can we vote for any measures for public improvements and neglect our unhappy lepers?” Gibson announced dramatically during one legislative session. “Their last cry to me and the members of the special committee as we passed from them at Kalaupapa was ‘Do not forget us!’ And we will not and cannot forget them.”
Although the conservative white business leaders in the islands despised him, Gibson eventually won the respect of King David Kalakaua—in large part by his authorship of a handbook, Sanitary Instructions for Hawaiians. Printed in Hawaiian and in English, the manual offered a remarkably accurate description of germ theory and gave practical advice on how residents could avoid the infectious diseases that had been, and were still, carving away the Hawaiian population. After the book’s publication, Kalakaua named Gibson to the board of health. “Gibson’s persevering and humble bootlicking is producing fruit,” Sanford Dole soon complained in a letter to his brother. “Kalakaua seems to be entirely given over to the devil.” Kalakaua then brought Gibson into his cabinet, and from there Gibson began to collect ministry posts like a child pockets marbles. By the summer of 1883 he had claimed every major position, while also serving on the boards of immigration and education, and as president of the board of health. Though his political enemies decried the power grab, they grudgingly praised Gibson’s skill.“ It is months since we thought that each tomorrow would see our friend Gibson tumble from the premiership of the Pacific,” one Honolulu resident wrote Dole, “and now really the octopus-like manner in which he hangs on to his various appointments is beginning to inspire me with admiration; he is a remarkable man.”
Among the many ambitions Gibson held, however, perhaps the grandest was his desire to be written into history as the man who helped conquer leprosy. Convinced that Hawaii could become the world leader in “the treatment and understanding of the fearful malady,” Gibson had arranged for Dr. Eduard Arning to undertake his research in the islands. Gibson also sought to improve the Molokai settlement. Despite the perpetually empty government purse, he hoped to transform the colony into the model facility of its type. Both the settlement hospital and Kakaako desperately needed competent nurses, but the board could not afford to hire professionals. The most practical solution, Gibson realized, was nursing nuns. Gibson wrote Bishop Hermann Koeckemann, soliciting “eight or more Sisters of Charity to come to the rescue of our sick people.” Koeckemann, a stern, unyielding German who had recently succeeded Bishop Louis Desire Maigret, delegated the search to Father Leonor Fouesnel, Father Damien’s superior in the Sacred Hearts’ mission. On the board’s behalf, Fouesnel sent inquiries to fifty different Catholic institutions in North America. Only one order agreed to take on the task.
On November 8, 1883, seven nuns from the Third Order of St. Francis at St. Anthony’s Convent, in Syracuse, New York, arrived in Honolulu aboard the Mariposa. Gibson waited on the esplanade, along with a convoy of five royal carriages, intended to convey the nuns into town. The steamer sounded its whistle, and slid hard against the pier. Dockworkers wheeled a gangplank into place. Gibson mounted the ramp. On the steamer’s deck stood six young women in black serge habits, wide white collars, and double veils. Knotted cord circled their waists, from which dangled rosaries. At the front of the group was Marianne Cope, the mother superior. Gibson approached Marianne. A head shorter than Gibson, the forty-five-year-old nun offered a study in contrasts to the board president: she full of face to his stark gauntness; her dark hair and gentle eyes to his colorless beard and icy gaze; her wide, red-lipped mouth to his tight and bloodless smile. Gesturing grandly, Gibson bowed before Marianne and announced, “Welcome to fair Hawaii.” She offered him her hand.
Gibson was sixty-one years old. A widower at age twenty-two, he had never remarried. He was, he later confided to his diary, “too sentimental for my years.” When he took the slender fingers of Marianne, curled them into his to place a kiss atop the nun’s hand, Gibson tumbled impossibly, absurdly in love. To his diary he exalted, “Great joy and delight … unexpected happiness.”
Escorting the sisters down the ramp, Gibson eased Marianne into one of the royal carriages, bound for an elaborately planned reception. He scrambled into his own buggy, and the procession clattered away. Quiet resettled on the esplanade, as the last of the passengers slowly scattered. Beneath the pier shed a young man in a too-dark suit dug among the luggage until he located his bag. Dr. Arning glanced around one last time, then began to walk toward town. He wondered what had happened to Mr. Gibson.* * *
While the board constructed a convent house on the grounds of Kakaako Hospital, Gibson installed Marianne and the sisters in a small mansion at the center of Honolulu, the renting of which he arranged personally, using the board’s dwindling funds. For $4 daily he also hired a carriage to shuttle the sisters to mass, sparing them the five-minute stroll. When the convent house was complete, Gibson moved Marianne and the others into the whitewashed two-story wooden structure, which contained their living quarters, a chapel, and a modest visiting parlor—later Gibson had a conservatory built for the sisters, stocked with rare plants and flowers. He also ordered a phone line strung to the convent house and a telephone installed, a rare instrument in Honolulu. Marianne’s most frequent caller was Walter Murray Gibson.
Kakaako Hospital was at the time still headed by Dr. George Fitch, and he had slowly allowed the facility to slide into squalor. The branch hospital stood one mile from the business center of town, on a sun-blighted shoreline that had historically served as a salt flat.“ The site is most wretchedly chosen, and should be abandoned,” Fitch reported to the board in the spring of 1884. Several times a year the sea overrode the low bank and flooded the grounds, and a recent storm had filled the compound three feet deep in water. “Only the most strenuous exertions by the Steward and the inmates saved the place from almost complete destruction,” wrote Fitch. In the past, salt farmers would flock to the area following such storms, harvesting crystal from tidal pools as they bleached in the sun. Now a fence screened the property, and a locked gate barred outsiders. Behind the gate sat a dozen dormitories, a shabby hospital ward, cookhouse and dining hall, and the just-completed convent. The buildings rested atop wooden pilings above the swampy soil, and an unpleasant perfume of saline, rot, and overcrowding hung in the air. Kakaako was designed to accommodate one hundred patients; it currently held more than two hundred.
The board intended suspects to remain at Kakaako only long enough to have their leprosy confirmed and to receive simple treatment. Then they were to be exiled to Molokai. Yet Dr. Fitch permitted scores of patients to linger endlessly at Kakaako. Some bribed the doctor to evade exile, although corruption was only one factor in Fitch’s shoddy execution of segregation policy. Despite the public repudiation it had suffered during his disastrous libel suit, Fitch still clung to his theory that leprosy was the fourth stage of syphilis. “Leprosy is an absolutely non-contagious and non-communicable disease,” the doctor wrote. Thus segregation “has absolutely no effect toward checking” the disease. The board’s concern should be preventing people with the disease from having sex. Fitch advocated closing both the Molokai settlement and Kakaako Hospital and opening a single replacement facility near Honolulu—“a perfect enclosure divided into separate yards” where men and women would be kept apart and abstinence enforced. The doctor hoped the board would hire him to oversee this chaste facility, at a salary above what he currently commanded. But for the scheme to come to fruition, Fitch needed Kakaako to fail as a treatment center and the colony to acquire a reputation as an immoral “leper manufactory,” as he put it.
Fitch’s laxity in enforcing exile—and Gibson’s failure to correct it—infuriated Honolulu’s business leaders. Kakaako had essentially become a second leprosy colony, a squalid camp visible to every reporter and tourist arriving from the mainland. “THE LAND OF THE LEPERS,” screamed an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, after its reporter caught sight of the hospital from the rail of his ship. Mainland officials increased threats of a trade embargo unless the board proved it had leprosy under control. “It will not do to trifle with this terrible disease any longer,” the San Francisco Bulletin announced. As Kakaako expanded, the Honolulu business community pressured Gibson and the board to act. “Health matters have claimed the attention of the thoughtful minded,” wrote one Honolulu publisher, “and no little agitation has been given the subject in the public press at the inaction of the Board of Health … in carrying out the laws of segregation and isolation of lepers.”
When Mother Marianne first visited Kakaako she was horrified. The dining hall and kitchen were “thick with filth and flies,” one sister later wrote, and the living quarters “empty and cheerless.” Patients “were crouched on the floor with their knees drawn up to their chins, and in every face utter despair not a smile from one of them.” The hospital steward was J. H.Van Giesen, “a pompous fellow whom everyone instinctively dislikes,” one visitor later remarked. Van Giesen guided the nuns and Gibson on their tour. “Now let me show you the most interesting place,” he announced, leading the group to a narrow building that teetered on pilings over the surf. The structure had been divided into three dingy cubicles, with warped floors and windows ghosted by salt spray. The first of the rooms was the “morgue.” Van Giesen explained that when a patient’s condition reached a certain point, he was forced into the morgue and remained there until dead. The body was then dragged to the second cubicle, where Fitch performed an autopsy. Finally the remains were moved to the third room, to await a burial team.
On the day of Marianne’s tour, the morgue had one occupant. The young man lay in a stupor on the bare floor, shivering beneath a thin gray blanket. Dehydration had cracked his lips, and he had grown delirious. One of the sisters asked if the patient had eaten or drunk since entering the morgue. Such measures were pointless, she was told, since patients consigned to the morgue always died. A medical log kept at Kakaako recounts a typical experience, describing a ten-year-old boy who had been admitted two years earlier. As the leprosy bacilli became active, lesions erupted from the boy’s chin to his ankles. “Entire body and face resemble the ancient portraits of the ‘Satyrs,'” Fitch wrote. On July 27 Fitch reported that the boy was “very weak, but still eats. Is growing very thin and slowly wasting away.” By September 23 his state had worsened: “Lips and eyes [have] good color, the latter bright and glistening; cannot walk of himself, but can crawl like an infant on his hands and knees.” At this point, the boy was still under treatment in the dormitories. Fitch prescribed solutions of iodine, potassium, and ammonia. “Sol. Magn. Keeps him easy but he cannot last long,” the doctor noted on October 14. The following week Fitch reported, “The end is coming fast.” Fitch decided the boy’s case was hopeless, and Van Giesen “removed him from ward to morgue.” The room lacked beds or mattresses, and the boy lay atop the damp floor for seven days, mostly untended. When Fitch stopped in after two days, he reported, “Still cheerful, poor boy.” Three days later Fitch wrote, “The candle is burning slowly out.” The following day: “Still lives and this is about all: converses rationally, breathing labored. More inclined to sleep from which he wakes up every few moments with a start.” At 2 A.M. on October 29 the boy, whose name was Kaaholei, “awoke, slightly delirious, with his mind wandering, talked of home and horse riding.” He died an hour later, apparently alone. A worker dragged him to the autopsy room, and later that day a burial team carted Kaaholei to his grave.
As they gazed at the young man who currently waited to die, Gibson remarked to Marianne, “I had no idea that the sick were treated like this.” Suddenly indignant, he ordered Van Giesen to return the patient “to his room and give him a nurse and plenty of milk and nourishment even if he should not get well.” He roared, “Never treat any one like this again!” Gibson made it clear that Marianne was to assume control of the hospital. Van Giesen quickly had the patient carried back to his cottage. “With careful nursing,” one of the nuns reported, the young man “soon recovered.”
Mother Marianne had been born in Germany as Barbara Koob. When she was still an infant, her parents emigrated to Utica, New York, and Americanized their name to Cope. They settled Barbara and her siblings in a small house that faced the belching, block-long Utica Steam Woolen Mills. At fifteen years old, Barbara had trudged across Schuyler Street to begin work in the factory. “I was obliged to struggle and wait nine years,” she later wrote, describing her career in the mills, “before it pleased God to open the convent gates to me.” In 1862 twenty-four-year-old Barbara entered St. Francis Convent in Syracuse. She took the name Sister Mary Anna. With use, it became Marianne.
During the summer of 1870 Marianne had been installed as chief nurse and administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, a surprisingly modern Catholic-run facility that served as a teaching hospital for Syracuse University’s medical college. She remained in the facility for thirteen years, accumulating a remarkably complete set of medical skills. Physicians at St. Joseph’s Hospital were among the first in the United States to follow the emerging European philosophy of antisepsis—pioneered by Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, and Robert Koch, among others—and Marianne embraced their techniques. These demanded strict cleanliness, absolute order, and frequent sterilization with solutions of carbolic acid, to keep germs at bay. A Syracuse newspaper reporter described St. Joseph’s under Marianne’s administration: “The hospital wards with their clean, well-aired beds, and the excellent ventilation; the lime-whitened walls and ceiling, and the healthful location of the institution presenting all that is advantageous.” He added, “The same cleanliness, good order, care and attention pervades every department throughout the hospital.”
In his initial entreaties to Marianne on behalf of the board, Father Leonor had suggested that in Hawaii she would be free to administer a similar first-rate facility. “The government supports the hospitals and defrays all expenses,” he asserted—though at the time the priest wrote the letter the government treasury was essentially empty. At no point in his correspondence with Marianne did Leonor mention leprosy. “With regard to the other conditions I find it very difficult to develop them in a letter,” he wrote, adding that he preferred to “explain verbally the matter to you.”
As it happened, the priest did not need to be so coy. Before Father Leonor ever reached Syracuse to make his case in person, Marianne had reached a decision. “I am hungry for the work,” she announced. “I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned ‘lepers.’” In fact, the prospect of the mission had become an obsession. “Waking and sleeping, I am on the Islands. Do not laugh at me, for being so wholly absorbed in that one wish, one thought, to be a worker in that large field.”
Six volunteers from the order were chosen to join Marianne. They packed wicker baskets with jars of homemade ketchup, pickled peaches, and several roasted chickens, then set out by train for San Francisco, where they caught the Mariposa; Eduard Arning was already on board. As was the case with Dr. Arning, Marianne anticipated that she would accomplish her work in Hawaii in a matter of months or perhaps a year. Then she and the other sisters would return home. After seeing Kakaako Hospital, Marianne realized that she had been too optimistic.* * *
Dr. Eduard Arning had finally met his new employer on his second day in town, when Gibson retrieved the physician from the Hawaiian Hotel and gave him a tour of Honolulu. Arning now saw the board president almost daily, when Gibson arrived at Kakaako for his visits with Marianne. Although separated in age by more than three decades, Arning and Gibson discovered they had surprising similarities: Each was slim and gangling, compulsively well-groomed, and convinced of the superiority of his own intellect. They soon disliked each other enormously.
The doctor had set up his laboratory in a small shed on a dry rise of the hospital grounds, within view of the sisters’ convent house. Every day for several weeks following the inoculation of the murderer Keanu, Arning walked along the hospital’s main gravel lane, passed through the gate, and rode to Oahu Prison. A prison turnkey allowed him into Keanu’s cell. Arning snipped a divot of Keanu’s skin at the point of the inoculations. “The microscope revealed the presence of the bacillus leprae in large numbers until the middle of March,” Arning reported. “They have since gradually diminished in number, but a recent excision of a small part of the scar shows them present even yet.” Though the leprosy germs lingered, they failed to multiply. Arning wrote, “There is nothing in the general appearance of the convict which would denote any development of leprosy.”
Throughout the summer, as Marianne and the sisters set about remaking the hospital, Arning continued his “cultivation experiments.” He acquired “a variety of animals of ages ranging from a few days old to grown up beasts, rabbits, guinea-pigs, rats, hogs, [and] pigeons,” he wrote. One day he reported, “I have procured a monkey.” The small, nut-colored animal was called Keko—the Hawaiian word for monkey. Slicing samples from the inmates of Kakaako, Arning injected and transplanted leprosy bacilli into the animals. “Not in a single instance,” Arning wrote in frustration, did “any general symptom of leprosy” result.
Koch’s postulates demanded that a causative link be shown between bacteria taken from a diseased body, and the same disease arising in an experimental animal injected with the pathogen. Until Arning accomplished this, or somehow managed to grow leprosy bacilli in a culture, he had no realistic hope of discovering the cure he desperately sought. “As regards treatment of the disease,” he wrote, “I consider it altogether unwarrantable to call leprosy incurable, and simply to remove the afflicted out of sight. This is a remnant of mediaeval barbarism which every professional man ought to oppose.”
Arning typically remained in his shed deep into the night, working by lamplight. Cages lined the laboratory wall; a collar and chain kept Keko within reach. Atop a wooden table sat ranks of glass slides, carefully labeled. During the day Arning used reflected sunlight to illuminate the slides beneath the barrel of his microscope; when the sun set, he pulled a burner near for light. In the beginning Arning could not spot the distinctive stick-shaped bacilli in tissue taken from patients, but he reported that after adjusting his method of staining and preparation, “I was able to prove the presence of the same microorganism which Hansen and Neisser first demonstrated as leprous tissue.” He had then begun his experiments. “This work is of the most tedious and delicate nature,” he informed the board, “and always associated with many discouraging failures.” Months passed. Although not a single animal inoculation or culture attempt succeeded, Arning refused to be discouraged. “The recent experiments concerning the germ nature of the disease may be the means of showing us the path of rational treatment,” he wrote. “They must and do give a new impulse and new encouragement to us to persevere in trying and experimenting.”
In fact, Arning’s experiments were fated to fail. As researchers later discovered, the leprosy bacillus has proved impossible to grow in a culture, and though Arning attempted to infect hundreds of mammals, he lacked access to the only creature ever proven vulnerable to leprosy: armadillos, whose core body temperature of 93 degrees mimics the ideal growth conditions of human skin. At times, Arning came tantalizingly close to decoding the complicated characteristics of susceptibility. “As every seed requires its peculiar condition of soil, atmosphere, etc., to allow it to strike,” he wrote, “so does the leprous germ.” His best hope for a breakthrough, Arning finally concluded, was his ongoing experiment with, as he termed it, “human soil.”
Across the channel on Molokai, meanwhile, Arning’s work had inspired Dr. Arthur Mouritz. Although Mouritz had no training in bacteriology and lacked both Arning’s moral approach to science and his formidable intelligence, he believed he could find a cure. At the time, several hundred kokuas—helpers—resided in the settlement. These people offered a “splendid field for experimental work,” Mouritz wrote. “Stretching all questions of professional ethics, I did not hesitate to avail myself of the opportunities afforded me for testing the inoculability of leprosy.” Over the next months Mouritz made more than one hundred attempts to induce leprosy in a healthy subject. He spent the bulk of his effort on ten men and five women. One kokua had arrived in the settlement four years earlier to care for his stricken wife. Mouritz carved a pattern of incisions on the man’s forearm, neck, and navel, then coated the wounds with a serum brimming with leprosy bacteria. After the man failed to become infected, Mouritz sliced open his skin and dosed him again. Using a thick needle several inches long, the doctor injected four cubic centimeters of his “leper blister serum” into one test subject’s right buttock; a month later he injected the man a second time. When the disease still failed to appear, an irritated Mouritz insisted the man return to his office regularly to be coated with a pungent salve of borated petroleum jelly and the blister serum—“my favorite application in such cases,” Mouritz reported.
Another subject was a thirty-one-year-old man who had mistakenly been exiled in early 1883. Ten months into his banishment, the board reversed its decision and released him, but a few months later wrongly exiled him a second time. When Mouritz examined the man, he could find no bacteriological evidence of the disease. Hoping to create it, Mouritz repeatedly scored the man’s skin with a scalpel blade and then inoculated him “with leper serum on a surface about the size of a half dollar over each lumbar region.”
Mouritz also experimented on men and women who already had the disease. Using corn plaster, he fashioned two-inch-square boxes, open on one side. Mouritz then strapped the boxes to the arms, thighs, and abdomens of his patients, and filled these tiny cages with hundreds of bloodsucking insects: fleas, bedbugs, spiders, horseflies, and mosquitoes. The insects, his notes record, were “allowed many hours to feed.” Afterward Mouritz etherized the engorged creatures and minced their abdomens, mixed the resulting pulp with alcohol, and centrifuged the solution. Spreading the bloody paste on a pane of glass, he checked for leprosy bacilli. He found no trace.
To explore the possibility of contagious “leper breath,” as he termed it, Mouritz constructed an elaborate apparatus that fit atop the patient’s head, with rods that projected forward at the ears. He hung curtains of antiseptic gauze from the rods, covering the subject’s mouth. For the first twenty such experiments, Mouritz instructed the patient to breathe normally for several hours, so that their exhalations collected in the gauze like dew. On two comatose patients he found in the settlement hospital, Mouritz simply taped the cloth across their mouths for twelve hours. After removing the fabric, he sank it in a solution of carbolized water, let it steep six hours, then centrifuged the liquid. When he could find no bacilli he repeated the process, this time ordering the patients to cough continuously for hours.
On forty-two female patients Mouritz conducted gynecological examinations to determine if the disease might be sexually transmitted. Male subjects were asked to urinate and ejaculate, and their issue was checked for bacilli. Every week for more than a year, Mouritz hosted bizarre dinner gatherings in the hospital dispensary. Guests arrived to find the doctor had prepared a feast of salt salmon, mullet, and mackerel, all fish common to the Hawaiian diet. Before serving, Mouritz took the meal and reduced it to a paste, then tested the material for the bacillus. He portioned the food out in spoonfuls and instructed the patients to chew for exactly two minutes and then spit the pulp into a cup to be tested. Next, he served poi. Each guest was told to plunge his fingers deep within his mouth, coat the digits with saliva, then bury them into the communal bowl. When they had done this, Mouritz rushed in and pulled samples from the bowl. Circling the table, the doctor thumbed open his guests’ mouths and collected additional samples.
To determine if bacilli traveled freely from the nose to the mouth and throat, Mouritz threaded long swabs through his subjects’ posterior nasal passage, painfully forcing the object up the nose and then maneuvering it down the back of the throat before finally plucking it out of the patient’s trembling mouth. The experiment proved nothing, although Mouritz was able to state conclusively, “The tears of the leper contain no bacillus leprae.”* * *
Whether Father Damien knew the full extent of Dr. Mouritz’s experiments is unclear. Certainly Damien would have noticed the panicky reaction that a Mouritz sighting created among some residents, but if Damien objected to what the young doctor was doing at night in his dispensary, none of the parties involved ever mentioned it. And Damien had other concerns. The recent hard winter had taken an extraordinary toll on Kalawao. According to a report written by an English physician named J. H. Stallard, who toured the settlement in March 1884, the mortality rate in the colony was now “more than ten times that of any ordinary community of an unhealthy type.” One hundred and fifty men, women, and children had died the previous year, and the death rate for 1884 was running 25 percent higher.“ The excessive mortality alone condemns the management,” Stallard wrote. “There is not a bandage in the settlement, nor even an adequate supply of rags.” Residents were being “starved to death, imprisoned, and neglected,” Stallard observed, and despite Damien’s valiant efforts, the administration—specifically the board of health, Rudolph Meyer, and Clayton Strawn—was “defective and incomplete.” After some quick calculations, Stallard determined that the settlement was receiving as little as half the food necessary for the population, a penury that Stallard claimed was contributing to the awful death rate. He wrote, “The leper cannot stand up against starvation.”
In defense, Rudolph Meyer sent an angry letter to Walter Murray Gibson, refuting the remarks of this “stranger.” The thrust of Meyer’s argument was coldly familiar: no matter how generously the board provided for their needs, the exiles were going to die. Meyer pointed out that even under the best circumstances, the average life span in the settlement was five years. “There have been many lepers who had friends and means to attain the very best of living, and not one of them exceeded this period,” Meyer wrote. Given the board’s limited resources, the situation was as favorable as one could expect. The residents, Meyer announced during one board meeting, were “comfortable and happy.” Their exile was “the very opposite of inhumanity.”
Father Damien disagreed, and wrote Rudolph Meyer that the patients were greatly suffering and something must be done. Meyer responded with distressing news: the government was broke. Already in the current funding period the board’s accounts had become overdrawn by $7,640, and vendors had stopped filling the board’s orders. “Prospects are daily becoming worse,” Meyer wrote. “There is no money, and I cannot even obtain a dollar to pay the bills on the food rations for this year nor the half of last year.” As the food shipments dwindled, a rumor flared among the settlers: The government had decided to solve its budgetary problems by starving them to death.
At Kakaako, inmates also heard whispers that Molokai was being turned into a charnel house. Terrified that they would be sent there to die, several Kakaako inmates announced that if the board tried to banish them, “blood would be shed.” Then one morning six inmates “broke open the door of Van Giesen’s house and made an assault upon him in his bed,” the Advertiser reported. Splashing the hospital steward with kerosene, they threatened to burn him alive and destroy Kakaako. Walter Murray Gibson raced to the branch hospital and helped put down the uprising. After checking to see if Marianne was safe, he ordered Van Giesen to ready a large group of patients for exile.
Thirty-nine patients from Kakaako arrived in the settlement on March 8, accompanied by Dr. Arning. As he often did, Ambrose Hutchison had ventured to the Kalaupapa shore to meet the boat. Arning approached the young man. “I am telling you unofficially,” Arning said, “but you will know before the day is over.” He confided that the board had decided to remove the corrupt Clayton Strawn as resident superintendent. Hutchison was to succeed him.
Later, Hutchison would write, “The position of superintendent of the Leper Settlement of Kalawao was not a rosy one.” He soon felt caught “between the upper and the nether stone of the grist mill.” On one side were the board members “who sit in their wheeled office chairs in Honolulu.” Opposite these men was an unhappy community of exiles, and the “lawless elements among [those] people.” It was a delicate situation, Hutchison remarked, but “to clean an Augean Stable was a Herculean task which had to be dealt with a firm hand.” Within a day of being named luna, Hutchison had ordered his first arrest. Later, Dr. Mouritz wrote of Hutchison, “He displayed marked ability and highly creditable administrative powers for a man so young.” Although “the target for all the growlers and kickers” in the settlement, Mouritz remarked, Hutchison “stuck manfully to his post, and often alone and unaided met serious and unforeseen difficulties with commendable foresight and judgment.”
By the time Hutchison came to power in the colony, he had fashioned for himself a surprisingly normal life. He had married, in a union blessed by Damien, and fathered a daughter. Although both Hutchison and his bride had leprosy, their daughter remained free from infection. More than a dozen similarly healthy children resided in the settlement, born to patients or kokuas or some combination of both. When their parents passed away, the children were typically taken in by other residents or placed under Damien’s care in his Kalawao orphanage. An unlucky orphan might fall victim to sexual exploitation or be forced into servitude, but for many parents the most worrisome possibility was that their child would remain in the settlement and contract the disease. When David Kalakaua’s wife, Queen Kapiolani, made a tour of the settlement, Hutchison held his daughter aloft and announced, “Here is a nonleper child, one of many other children like her, born of leper parents. Must she and the other children like her be left to their fate to become victims of the dread scourge?”
To outsiders, the sight of healthy children among the sick was one of the most disturbing aspects of exile. Dr. Arning had already mentioned the matter to both Marianne and Gibson, and when Queen Kapiolani became involved, more than $6,000 in private funds was raised to construct an orphanage in Honolulu. The facility was to house only girls; until a second home was funded, male orphans would remain with Father Damien. By the autumn of 1885, the Kapiolani Home for Girls, the Offspring of Leper Parents, was complete. It stood within a “clean” fenced area on the grounds of Kakaako, next to the convent. Gibson placed Marianne in charge of the home.
The steamer to collect the orphans arrived two hours after nightfall on October 29, 1885. Gibson had instructed Hutchison to have the girls packed and waiting, including Hutchison’s own daughter. “All was in readiness and expectantly serene,” Hutchison later testified.
As parents and daughters said their good-byes by lamplight, the foster father of an eleven-year-old named Abigail began to escort her toward the rowboat, carrying the girl’s trunk. Board regulations forbade patients from coming in contact with the crews of ships, so a settlement constable reached for the trunk, to pass it to a crewman. Abigail’s father resisted, as one resident later testified, “and in the struggle the lid of the trunk opened and its contents, the girl’s clothes, fell into the sea.” Describing events afterward, Dr. Mouritz wrote, “Then the bolt fell, and another leper tragedy happened in the twinkling of an eye.”
Suddenly hysterical, Abigail’s father pulled a butcher knife from his coat and began to stab the constable. Then Abigail’s brother attacked two other officers, punching his knife deep into one man’s stomach. The girls shrieked in the darkness. As Hutchison ran to the scene, one of the wounded men gazed at the pool of blood at his feet and announced casually, “I am hurt.” Damien and Mouritz tried to stanch the officers’ wounds, while Hutchison herded the screaming children into a rowboat. He knelt to kiss his daughter good-bye, and then he and his wife watched the steamer sail into the night. The girls arrived in Honolulu the next morning, in time for an elaborate dedication ceremony Gibson had arranged. To close the event Gibson led the girls in a rendition of “Home Sweet Home.” Wrote one reporter: “The voices of the children were sweet and melodious, and they apparently entered into it with much spirit.”
Two of the wounded officers died—one of them Ambrose Hutchison’s brother-in-law. A third constable recovered after six weeks. The subsequent murder trial took place in Lahaina. Fifteen witnesses were called to testify, including Hutchison, Mouritz, and Damien. Sheriff Peter Treadway met the group when they landed and led Hutchison and the other patients to the island’s prison; Hutchison thought they were going to visit the killers. Then a guard took the witnesses inside and locked the gate. “We were as much prisoners as the other persons were,” Hutchison wrote. When he asked about food and blankets for the witnesses, the guard only shrugged. With a touch of grim irony, Hutchison remarked, “Hard luck for us outcasts.”
The witnesses were imprisoned for a week. On the fifth day Hutchison was called to testify, and lawyers asked a single question before returning him to his cell. Both defendants received ten-year sentences, though Abigail’s foster father died before serving his term. On the morning that Abigail’s brother was released from prison, a health agent arrested him and dragged him back to the settlement.* * *
After the murders, Gibson had sailed to Kalaupapa to investigate. Resentfully sarcastic, Dr. Mouritz reported the result of Gibson’s inquiry: “The priest got into hot water, the doctor also, and deputy superintendent Hutchison, because we all had willfully and stupidly disobeyed the clear (?) instructions of the Board of Health.” The Honolulu press blamed Gibson for the disaster, however, and uncoiled a merciless round of attacks. By now, Gibson was an extraordinarily polarizing figure—beloved by some yet reviled by an increasing number. His most dangerous antagonist was the Hawaiian League, a shadowy group of prominent businessmen led by Sanford Dole and his colleague Lorrin Thurston. The league’s primary goal was to topple the Gibson-Kalakaua regime and install a pro-business democracy, and the unending profligacy of the administration made for an easy target: According to the most recent budget, the government had fallen more than $2 million in debt. Since assuming the prime ministry, Gibson had fed both the king’s and his own extravagant whims—all at government expense. The outlays included a lavish royal palace, a pair of custom-made crowns costing $10,000 each, and a grandiose coronation ceremony for Kalakaua, despite his having been in power for almost a decade. As the league’s attacks eroded his public support, Gibson clung to office by further indulging the spendthrift royal. “Yet an empty treasury,” Gibson lamented to his diary, “and the King wants so much.”
To narrow the budget gap the government sold rights to an opium monopoly and licensed brothels. Dole and Thurston, both sons of Protestant missionaries, denounced the measures. David Kalakaua then decided that Hawaii required a navy, one that would allow him to subdue a vast Pacific empire. Gibson scraped $20,000 from the threadbare treasury and bought a former British guano steamer, rechristened the Kaimiloa—“Far Seeker.” Once the vessel was fitted with Gatling guns and cannons, Gibson gathered a dozen teenaged boys from a Honolulu reform school to serve as her crew. Gibson then dispatched the Kaimiloa to Samoa, as the first step toward realizing Kalakaua’s dream.
Dole and Thurston stepped up their campaign.Upon being elected to the legislature in 1886, Thurston launched a series of partisan assaults from the assembly floor. “Bitter spirit of opposition in the House,” Gibson complained to his diary. At Thurston’s urging, the legislature sent a committee to investigate conditions in the settlement, hoping to impugn both Gibson and the board. “An unsatisfactory reception by the lepers at Kalawao,” Gibson wrote after returning from the trip, during which the exiles assailed him with angry complaints. “I feel they have been prompted by the Opposition from Honolulu.”
In an effort to distract his enemies, Gibson had begun to assemble a massive volume chronicling the board’s fight against leprosy. He intended his report, “Leprosy in Hawaii,” to climax with the sensational details of Dr. Arning’s experiment with Keanu. But when Gibson asked the doctor to submit his findings, Arning replied, “I do not consider my experiment with Keanu concluded, or mature for scientific publication.” Annoyed, Gibson demanded that Arning release his research notes. Arning again refused, and Gibson had him fired: “You will vacate the offices situated in the Kakaako Hospital enclosure,” the board informed Arning, “leaving therein such articles as have been supplied to you by the Board.” Arning swept the supplies from his desk, packed his microscope and other personal items, and caught the next steamer home. After they realized that the doctor had departed for Europe, patients released the experimental animals he had left behind, keeping possession of several large hogs. During the previous months, Arning had repeatedly injected the hogs with a serum teeming with leprosy bacilli, to no visible effect. The patients roasted the hogs in a pit, and served the pork at a luau.
Dr. Mouritz took over the study of Keanu. Much to Arning’s frustration, the prisoner had not exhibited any signs of infection, and the doctor departed believing that his experiment had failed. Only a few weeks later, however, blemishes erupted on Keanu’s face and trunk. “Twenty-five months after [his] operation,” Mouritz reported, “Keanu showed the maculation of nodular leprosy all over his body.” A board photographer hung a sheet on a wall and posed Keanu in front of it, to document the scientific breakthrough, and the image shows Keanu’s face disfigured with a series of deep ridges and fleshy waves. Keanu frowns unhappily, and his eyes are cold with anger.
Officers took Keanu from Oahu Prison and brought him to the colony, where Ambrose Hutchison had him locked in one of the settlement’s two small jail cells. After learning that his subject had contracted the disease, Eduard Arning contacted the board. “Of course I do not know whether the reports of Keanu’s leprosy are based on facts,” he wrote, “and I feel most anxious to know what particular symptoms, if any, have developed.” If Arning could prove that his inoculation of the prisoner had caused the infection, then he would have met one of the conditions of Koch’s postulates and could proceed toward a cure. There was also the equally pressing issue of Arning’s guilty conscience: “I consider it my duty to do my best in helping to arrest the disease I myself have inflicted,” he wrote. Arning asked the board to send Keanu to him in Germany, where he would attempt a cure. The board declined the offer. Keanu remained on Molokai, imprisoned in a windowless cell.
Later, when he discussed the Keanu episode, Arning defended his behavior. “Will it not stand as having been done in the interests of, not against, the laws of humanity?” he asked. The case shadowed him for years, in both academic and popular circles, and Arning eventually stopped responding to questions about Keanu. Then one day the doctor contracted pneumonia. His heart started to fail. Physicians at a Munich hospital kept the organ beating by using a series of new, mostly untried remedies. “For 6 weeks … his suffering [was] prolonged due to the administration of cardiotonic drugs,” one of Arning’s relatives later reported. Arning’s heart finally stopped one warm August morning. After they had buried him, his three children complained angrily about “the way their father had been artificially kept alive,” one relative later wrote. "They found the way he had been treated ‘unmenschlich’—inhuman.* * *
With his hold on the government weakening, Walter Murray Gibson rushed around Honolulu in a frantic effort to forestall his fall. “A strong opposition feeling has been aroused, that is turning the popular current of thought against me,” he reported in his diary, adding, “I can correct this.” He cut an odd figure, dressed formally in a long black coat with gray silk vest, a top hat farther stretching his elongated frame. Every day, Gibson whipped his buggy from his home on King Street to Iolani Palace, raced to do battle on the floor of the legislature, dashed off to a cabinet meeting, then a tense session with the government’s bankers, and finally back to the palace. Soon he stopped presiding over the regular board of health meetings. Then the board meetings stopped altogether. Segregation ground to a halt.
Even in the midst of such political chaos, Gibson found time to make daily, often twice daily, pilgrimages to Kakaako Hospital. His love for Marianne had become obsessive. On Sunday mornings he would hurry to the cathedral, hoping to sight her. He phoned the convent repeatedly, wrote her note after note. Gibson dispatched endless gifts to Marianne and the sisters, delivered personally or via a servant: “Sent to Convent at noon a chicken pot pie & custard pudding, with note. No reply—disappointed.” Page upon page of his diary chart the emotional chaos of Gibson’s romantic pursuit. “A few sweet minutes at Br. H. [Branch Hospital] this morning,” he wrote. “Sent a bot. of wine and some flowers to Convent. Got a sweet note in return.” At times the only detail he considered worth preserving after his busy days concerned Marianne. “With M. this aft.,” one day’s entry reads in its entirety; another remarks, “Another very happy day at Kakaako.” Following one visit, Gibson joyfully wrote, “A happy hour with my little girl—so faithful to her duty—so good—so pure. What a noble character. I reverence as well as love her.”
Though his original plan had called for several of the sisters to be stationed in the settlement to assist Damien, Gibson now felt hesitant to send any of the women away. The prospect of Marianne on Molokai, exiled among the sick, alarmed Gibson, and he confided to his diary, “We will never be separated.” When Damien made a rare visit to Kakaako, to meet with the sisters and try to speed up their dispatch to Molokai, Gibson behaved like a jealous lover. “I called on Father D.—and still have some misgivings—he talks too much.” Two days later, after Marianne purportedly confided to being exhausted from the demands of Damien’s visit, Gibson exalted as if he had bested a rival suitor. “S. M. [Marianne] told me she was completely wearied out with Father Damien’s talk—will be content when he returns to Molokai.”
From the accounts several of the sisters later offered, Marianne apparently endured Gibson’s smothering attention with kindness and patience. Most of their meetings included a chaperone, usually one of the sisters. Marianne seems to have given Gibson little on which to pin his romantic hopes, yet Gibson invested every utterance and action of Marianne’s with soul-shaking importance. “Annoying event at Kakaako,” he wrote one evening. “I am afraid I am becoming tiresome.” Two days later he gushed, “At Kakaako—all happy again. My misunderstanding.” After Marianne encouraged Gibson to write to a former female acquaintance in London, he apparently believed that she was trying to divert his attentions from her. “I did not like it,” he wrote. A few days later he had forgiven the slight. “S. M. telephoned me to come—took my lunch to the convent—a happy and inspiring visit.”
Even as the viability of his government narrowed and his health declined, Gibson remained focused primarily on Marianne. “An invalid today,” one day’s entry reads. “Sent turkey to Kakaako. The King distresses me with a Nicaraguan canal scheme.” By the winter of 1886-87, Dole and Thurston had the Hawaiian League positioned to roust Gibson from power, yet on February 12 he wrote simply, “At Kakaako this P.M. about half an hour—very happy with my little girl.” Two days later, when Marianne told Gibson that “she was ready and cheerful to go to Molokai” to aid Damien, a wounded Gibson wrote, “This expression annoyed me—that she was cheerful to go—but I suppose a mere expression of willingness.” A few weeks later Gibson arrived at the branch hospital bearing a small box, which he offered to Marianne. Inside, she discovered a gold ring. Engraved on the band were the initials W. and M., separated by the figure of a heart. Inside the band an inscription read, “Ruth 1:6, 17.” Marianne knew her Scripture: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge.”
Gibson did not record Marianne’s reaction to the gift in his diary. She apparently decided to insert some emotional distance into the relationship, however. In his entry five days later, Gibson describes sending a “tender note” to Marianne at the hospital. “Messenger went at 3 P.M.—no answer—no return message not even by telephone. I was disappointed. About 9 P.M., M. telephoned to me about a supply of fish for the sick tomorrow. Was at prayers when my messenger came. Had not thought to send a message afterwards. More disappointed after the explanation. Did not go to Kakaako.” His “unsatisfied and painful yearning,” as he had described it, remained unfulfilled. “I need a companionship she cannot give me.”
Through it all, Sanford Dole and the Hawaiian League pressed ahead. “The tempest seems to be rushing to a climax,” Gibson wrote. “I am weary, languid, listless, oh, so weary.” By early summer the league had formed an armed military wing, the Hawaiian Rifles, and its uniformed officers included Lorrin Thurston. Frightened that the coup would toss him from the throne, the king signaled that he was ready to meet their demands. These, Thurston announced, included dismissing Gibson “from each and every office held by him under the government.” At the height of the revolution, Gibson appeared at Kakaako, where one of the sisters found him, “his bowed white head, drooping shoulders and snow white beard.” She went to get Marianne. The sisters gathered around to comfort him. “His words were not many, but very kind,” one of the sisters later wrote. “‘You need not fear,’ he said, ‘they will not harm you, it is only me they are after.'” When darkness fell, a mob trapped Gibson in his home, and at dawn a detachment of the Rifles marched Gibson to the esplanade, intending to hang him. When Gibson saw the noose, he snatched a scrap of paper from his breast pocket, shoved it into his mouth, and swallowed—it was a note from Marianne.
The mob did not follow through with their threat. Sanford Dole caught wind of the lynching, interceded, and allowed Gibson to flee Hawaii on the next boat. He died in San Francisco just six months later. “A LIFE FULL OF ADVENTURE, PERIL AND VICISSITUDE,” the New York Times headlined his obituary. Walter Murray Gibson’s remains were carted aboard a steamship and returned to Hawaii for burial. The casket cleared the Honolulu customhouse with the rest of the ship’s cargo. On the outside of the crate, a customs officer wrote, “W. M. Gibson. One Corpse. No Value.”