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Doug Clark: South Hill attic held doctor’s century-old papers

Sun., Nov. 9, 2014, midnight

A chest filled with lost pirate plunder would’ve been more of a National Geographic discovery, to be sure.

Ditto for a bag of D. B. Cooper’s missing cash.

Still, the five book-size boxes that workers found while replacing a South Hill garage roof are a treasure to anyone who values local history.

Charles and Virginia Brondos certainly do.

They own the stately brick home built in 1914 at the leafy intersection of 20th Avenue and Rockwood Boulevard.

For two weeks, the couple have been fascinated by the scores of receipts, documents and faded photographs they found packed inside those aforementioned boxes.

The paperwork offers “an amazing glimpse at somebody who lived in this home 100 years ago,” said Charles, a retired neurologist.

That somebody is Dr. Herbert Edward Wheeler, a once-prominent member of Spokane’s upper crust and the medical establishment.

Internet research by Charles along with references I dug out of age-yellowed newspaper articles show that Wheeler was born in 1883 in Grant Park, Illinois, and came to Spokane in 1910 after finishing his medical internship in Chicago.

The following year he married Beulah M. Smith and began making a name for himself. Wheeler and his family (they had three daughters) called this Rockwood address home from about 1918 through the mid-1940s.

He died in 1955 at age 72.

On Friday, I accepted the Brondos’ generous invitation to take a gander at their attic time capsule.

Charles escorted me to a basement rec room, where I found the life and expenditures of H. E. Wheeler spread all over a round table.

My host handed me the first item up for inspection.

It was a receipt showing that Wheeler paid his Spokesman-Review subscription fee for April 1910.

Forty cents.

Laughter erupts when I explain that the newspaper could charge much less back then because I wasn’t in it.

Quite a few of the documents predate Wheeler’s move to Rockwood Boulevard, which can mean only one thing:

Like many of us in the modern age, the man apparently had a difficult time getting rid of outdated paperwork.

Wheeler, for example, kept his 1911 receipts from the Marshall Field department store, where he spent $1.75 for a sweeper and 11 bucks for chairs.

More receipts were from firms like Spokane Taxicab Company ($2.20) and Grand Blvd. Grocery, where he once dropped $40. That must’ve been for a party because 40 bucks was a whole lot of cabbage in those days.

The Great American Steam Laundry Co., V.M. Mueller and Co. Surgical Instruments, Spokane Falls Gas Light …

Not all of these items are frivolous.

One booklet, for example, contains names of what appear to be Wheeler’s patients.

I’m betting he got the booklet free from a pharmaceutical rep since each page advertises something called “Manola,” which apparently “is invaluable for the aged.”

I need some of that.

Medicine is a business, of course. Which is why I especially loved the papers on which Wheeler ranks patients on how fast or slow they are when it comes to paying their bills.

Also included is a certificate granting Wheeler the right to practice medicine and surgery in Washington.

I’m hoping this column will spawn some more information about Wheeler and these subjects in the photographs from relatives or perhaps even from someone who remembers him.

Wheeler’s death wasn’t all that long ago. Plus, he apparently kept his private practice going up until 1950, just five years before he died.

That information didn’t come from old papers abandoned in a garage. My first stop after leaving Charles and Virginia was to the newspaper’s library, aka The Morgue.

Sure enough, I soon discovered that Dr. Wheeler had his very own clip file.

I figured he would since Wheeler was a true Spokane “somebody.”

“Wheeler Estate Worth $1,066,146,” read one headline following the man’s death.

Wheeler did a lot of good during his 45 years in Spokane. He was chief surgeon for the Great Northern Railway and for one year, 1928, was the “Spokane police surgeon.”

He prevailed in a malpractice case in 1936. A woman whose appendix Wheeler removed sued the doc because he wouldn’t operate on one of her ears while she was in the hospital recuperating.

She alleged that the delay harmed her hearing. A judge disagreed.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Wheeler’s life came from his love of horses.

Wheeler made headlines in 1939 when he bought a famous Arabian stallion named Natel and had the animal shipped here from California.

In 1943, Wheeler’s stable celebrated what was hailed as the Inland Empire’s first birth of an Arabian colt.

Life is ephemeral. People and their stories come and go.

I’m glad this one got some new life because Charles and Virginia Brondos needed a new roof.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

 

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