Pella Chronicle

March 20, 2013

Full skeleton discovered in hospital basement to go on display at ORHC

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Everyone has skeletons in their closet, including St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Crews were shocked to find one person left in St. Joe’s when they began cleaning it out in early spring 2012.

The full skeleton has been dubbed “Mr. Bones.” A maintenance worker uncovered him in the basement of the 88-year-old hospital when staff began cleaning it out last year to prepare for the open house and blessing of the hospital, which is slated for demolition.

“We went floor by floor, cleaning out every room, closet and drawer,” said Suzie Wood, executive director of development at Ottumwa Regional Health Center.

Mr. Bones had been hanging out in the closet for 70-80 years, Wood said, before the maintenance worker opened the closet door and was greeted with the gaunt face.

“But he’s been very well preserved,” Wood said. “He has all his teeth, his toes, his fingers and his vertebrae — even his cartilage is still attached.”

But staff have been unable to find any information on the identity of the man.

“I contacted the Sisters [of Humility], who have their archives of information on the hospital in Davenport,” Wood said. “They have archives and archives of photos and testimonials, but they have no record of him at all.”

Current ORHC employees even asked their parents and grandparents who had worked at St. Joe’s in the 1930s, 40s and 50s; nobody had ever heard of the skeleton.

The most accurate information hospital staff have found is that he was donated to St. Joe’s around 1937 or 1938 to be used as a teaching tool in the X-ray department.

And Mr. Bones is, in fact, a “mister.” Dr. Bradley Scott, an orthopedic surgeon at ORHC, confirmed his sex earlier this year. Scott also identified the man as being in his mid-80s when he died due to the structure of the bones.

“We think he died in the 1920s,” Wood said. “But we don’t know if he’s from here.”

Phil Dionne, CEO of ORHC, said Mr. Bones should be preserved, so he was encased last week to protect him from the elements.

Before he was encased, he had hung on a pole in Wood’s office.

“Every time the A/C would kick on his head turned and looked at me,” Wood said with a nervous laugh. “I would flip the lights on every day and say, ‘Good morning, Mr. Bones.’”

Other staff decided to prank Wood after they discovered Mr. Bones in the basement, knowing her penchant for ghost stories.

Wood had been cleaning on the fourth floor of St. Joe’s when workers in the basement buzzed her on her walkie talkie, saying they had something to show her.

“I pushed the elevator button to go down ... and he was in there,” Wood said.

In a video captured by another staff member, Wood can be heard letting out a blood-curdling scream as she laid her eyes on the skeleton.

He will soon be on display in ORHC for a public viewing before he’s shipped to the University of Iowa Medical Museum in early April.

“They were just thrilled to death,” Wood said. “They’ll further preserve him, because he has some dark spots right now from dust, dirt and air conditioning or a lack of air conditioning.”

Hopefully, the university will be able to conduct DNA testing on the skeleton, though that doesn’t seem likely to produce results, she said, since he was likely born in the 1840s.

“It may be a mystery forever,” she said.

If anybody has any information on Mr. Bones’ real identity or how he was used at the former teaching hospital, they can submit information at www.ottumwaregionalhealth.com by going under “Contact Us.”