Scrapbooks are unpredictable. Each page turn may reveal some obscure, interesting piece of ephemera, photograph or letter. But it’s still a bit surprising to unearth x-rays of a man’s head and chest as we found in one of two enormous scrapbooks of Melville E. Stone Jr.
Born in Chicago in 1874, Stone was an 1897 graduate of Harvard who followed his father, Melville Sr. and brother, Herbert, into the publishing trade. In 1909, he became president of the Metropolitan Magazine Company in what looked to be a major step in a promising career.
Though there is no information accompanying the x-rays, other documents in the scrapbooks and extant biographical details suggest that they are indeed Melville Jr.’s and were made around 1911-1912. Admittedly, since medical x-rays were made rather soon after German physicist William Roentgen’s discoveries in 1895, the x-rays aren’t among the earliest; however, at barely a decade and a half old, it was still a relatively new medical procedure.
As a modest example, the New-York Historical Society holds a small collection of a New York physician’s papers which helps document these early stages of radiography. According to an obituary, Brooklynite Sinclair Tousey was “one of the first men in America to experiment with X-ray machines and radium.” The collection includes the typescript of an essay that appeared in The American Journal of Physiologic Therapeutics in 1911, titled “Protection of Patient and Operator in Radiography and Radiotherapy.” While in the course of the article Tousey presents important details about how to safely x-ray a patient, between the lines, it also reveals a procedure that remained to be a little rough around the edges. In fact, there is a certain “do it yourself” air that might cause a 21st Century patient more than a little apprehension at what is today a drama-free medical procedure:
If you are a beginner, find out from the manufacturer or from some friend who has used the same apparatus what is a perfectly safe exposure and what exposure should produce a good radiograph of the hip joint. But don’t let your initial attempt at radiography be upon your patients or yourself or friends. Experiment upon a sugar-cured ham until you can make an excellent radiograph with an exposure that would be safe for a patient.
Returning to Mr. Stone, according to a later editorial, he made great strides in his first two years at the helm of Metropolitan Magazine, during which he turned into a more respectable publication. But his tenure was to be unfortunately short after illness forced Melville Jr. to leave his post in 1911 for a year of “complete rest.” This date would suggest that the x-rays, which were made roughly around that same year, were a part of the investigation into the cause of his ill-health.
The diagnosis was tuberculosis, and despite his attempts at recuperation, which included a move to California, Stone finally succumbed in January 1918. Sadly it was must have been a loss that only compounded the grief already suffered by his parents and sister after losing his brother Herbert on the Lusitania’s fateful voyage in 1915. Like many documents, these x-rays help tell the very personal story of Stone’s life and illness. But they’re unique in that they do so in such a profoundly literal way.