Updated: Mar 13, 2022
Update: Here is the video recording of the webinar:
If one follows Eyjafjördur south of Akureyri about 10 km, just before reaching the well-known Jólahúsið or Christmas House, lies the village of Kristnes that boasts not only a modern-day hospital, but Hælið, a museum highlighting another time in history when another infectious disease confounded the world. Tuberculosis, the “White Plague or White Death,” was widespread and without treatment other than isolation, good food, and fresh air.
Hælið, designed by the same architect who designed Hallgrímskirkja, Guðjón Samuélsson, was built by hand in only 16 months, opened in 1927, and closed in 1970. It was one of two such shelters or “sanatoriums” built in Iceland, with many more built around the world to try to provide a safe haven for those infected with tuberculosis, Mortality for those infected was high with sufferers and their families understandably experiencing sadness, despair, and loss, in addition to isolation.
The creation of Hælið museum was the brainchild of native daughter María Pálsdóttir, who grew up on a farm adjacent to this area, before leaving to pursue her interests in Reykjavik. While on a 2015 visit to her parents at the home farm, she was struck “to see the deterioration of the area with some of the houses empty, closed down, nobody living in them and nobody caring for them…I thought, why doesn't someone do something? Then it struck me...why don't I do something? And because this village grew around a TB sanatorium in the early 1900’s I knew I wanted to connect to the history, whatever I could do. Then the idea about a museum/center for the story of the White Plague developed.”
Maria, her husband, and three children moved back to Kristnes and It took four years of hard work to research, fundraise, design and renovate buildings before the museum was ready to open in the summer of 2019. Since conceiving the project, Maria has been receiving visits, mementos, and personal narratives related to the Hælið staff, patients, and their families. Hælið was home to people of all ages, from children to the very aged and the museum tells their deeply personal stories, some filled with great sadness and grief while others share the joy and even romance. Included in the exhibit are the stories of the staff as well as some of the equipment and procedures employed to try to relieve symptoms - many of which seem very primitive, even barbaric, by today’s standards.
Maria is now the owner and operator of Hælið Museum, along with the adjacent café and event center.
Icelandic Roots is hosting a public webinar with Maria on January 22 to learn more about the journeys of the former patients and staff members at Haelid and discover that, despite the challenges, there was a reason for optimism and a sense of peace, tranquility, and hope.
You can DONATE HERE or you can send a donation directly to Hælið: IBAN: IS210302260022666102180590, Hollvinir hælisins, Vidimýri 2, 600 Akureyri
Swift code: ESJAISRE, Arion banki hf, Borgartúni 19, 105 Reykjavik, Iceland
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