Portrait of Dr H H Clark

Tue, Aug 14, 2012

Marla Novo

Marla Novo - Catalizadora de Archivos y Colecciones

Artifact of the Month: A Remedy for Sadness, Portrait of Dr. H. H. Clark

I’ve never been into scary movies, and I don’t get spooked by ghost stories. It may be because I grew up in an old house, and never saw anything supernatural or heard unexplained footsteps, doors slamming, etc. But I appreciate the people that do.

Several years ago, I got a call from a local homeowner. The man and his family lived in the house once owned by Dr. H. H. Clark. He wanted to know if the MAH would like to have Dr. Clark’s wooden stethoscope and some of his other belongings. Intrigued, I made a house call.

Dr. Hulbert Henry Clark lived in Santa Cruz in the 19th century. Along with Fred Swanton, Dr. Clark formed the Santa Cruz Electric Light and Power Company in 1890. He served as mayor from 1896-1898 and was the first Santa Cruz doctor to use an X-ray machine. Dr. Clark resided in a Victorian house near downtown.

I met the current owner of the Clark house. He showed me the stethoscope and a box with Dr. Clark’s name on it, containing some of the doctor’s notes on patients and empty medicine bottles. One bottle was labeled “anodyne for infants” and another with “diarrhea pellets.” Wonderful artifacts, I said. I’ll take them. The man then looked at me and said, “but will you take him?”

I looked up and saw an elaborately gilded framed portrait of the good doctor himself. It was a photograph of Dr. Clark, his steely gaze softened by the charcoal and pastel that were used to give the photo a more brushed, painterly appearance. The current owner of the house said that his small children had heard and seen odd things in the home, and Dr. Clark might have something to do with it. The story goes that Dr. Clark’s child had died in the house and he never got over it, thus haunting his old residence. If I took the portrait, maybe the unusual happenings would stop.

While the man went to gather the other artifacts, I was alone in the room with the portrait. I looked Dr. Clark right in the eye and thought, I’m sorry you’re so sad.

The portrait of Dr. H. H. Clark has been on display in an exhibition, but most of the time it hangs in a collection storage room. Dr. Clark is in good company among the maps and other historical paintings and photographs. Every once in a while I look up at him, just to see how he’s doing, if his gaze has changed, if he’s winking at me (he is not). Maybe he just needed a change of scenery, a remedy for his sadness.