The Footprint Girl, Part 6



The next day we headed out to do some exploring and visiting. Right out front of the Visitor’s Quarters is the old “Long House”, or “Callers House”. It’s a long, narrow room divided by a table that runs the entire length of it. For many years, a chain link fence ran down the middle of the table, separating the ma’i pake, as the patients called themselves, and the kokuas, or non-patients.

Then in 1969 the Committee on Leprosy filed a report with the legislature concluding that the advent of sulfone therapy in the 1940’s made the isolation policies obsolete. However, even though the legislature acted upon the committee’s report, and patients were no longer isolated, archaic notions and stigmas still made it hard for the leprosy patient to lead a “normal” life as an “average citizen with a disease that needs medical treatment”, as proclaimed by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that improved cooperation between state officials, residents, and the general public resulted in the emergence of a new spirit of understanding for people with “Hansen’s Disease”.


Father Hendriks stopped by the Long House and invited us to watch another movie at his house after dinner and so, with our evening planned, we carried on. We went to the gift store and Gene bought a Kalaupapa T-shirt, and then we went to the book store, and Leslie bought “Olivia – My Life of Exile in Kalaupapa” by Olivia Robello Breitha. We were hoping we would be able to meet Olivia while we were there.

We saw the beautiful grave of Mother Marianne Cope in the garden of St. Elizabeth’s Convent. A painted rock to the right of the entrance says: “Peace to all who enter”. When we had watched the movie about Kalaupapa with Father Hendriks, a beautiful young actress played Mother Marianne, and I thought “How Hollywood!”, but I saw pictures of her later and actually, Mother Marianne was a very pretty woman.

In 1883, she and a small group of Franciscan sisters made the long journey from Syracuse, New York to the Kakaako Branch Hospital for leprosy patients on Oahu. It was located in a salt-pond swamp and conditions were deplorable. The corrupt superintendent was removed and Mother Marianne put in charge. Soon conditions were so vastly improved that King Kalakaua awarded her the Royal Medal of Kapiolani for her work and dedication.

By 1888 many patients had been exiled from Oahu to Kalaupapa, so Mother Marianne and her sisters went there and established the Bishop Home (built by a wealthy civic leader, Charles R. Bishop) for women. She consoled and cared for the ailing Father Damien, whose body was wracked with leprosy, and five months after her arrival he died.


She arranged for him to have a proper burial, and with the help of Brother Dutton, saw to the administration of the Boys Home at Kalawao, founded by Damien. Despite nursing, feeding, bandaging and bathing the sick, none of the sisters ever contracted Leprosy. Mother Marianne died in 1918 at the age of 80, loved and admired by all who knew her.

Just a little further on we came to the monument to Father Damien, donated by the people of England through a committee headed by the Prince of Wales, who would go on to become King Edward VII. The memorial is a Celtic cross of red granite with a marble sculpture of Damien by the artist Edward Clifford. It was erected in 1893, and the inscription reads: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15.

With all of these reminders of the injustices suffered by the early patients, and the monuments to these selfless individuals, you might think that there would be an air of sadness about Kalaupapa. Not so. As we walked the streets of Kalaupapa, everyone who passed us smiled and waved a greeting or stopped and talked briefly with Val.

At times, Kalaupapa had a “Northern Exposure” quirky kind of feeling: a pick-up truck passed us and we laughed to see a dog walk from the truck bed into the open passenger window of the cab. We saw one resident determinedly wheeling his wheelchair down to Elaine’s Bar. Elaine had been gone on one of her many treks to Las Vegas, but today she was back and open for business. Val and I stopped in later for some ice cream.


In the corner of one yard, right next to the street, was a small monument to a past resident. Val said that years ago, after this person had died, the “powers that be” had decided that a memorial in her name was required. Apparently, this woman was, for some reason, not well liked by the patients, and so no space could be agreed upon for the monument. No one wanted her monument in their yard. Then the good-natured man who owned this property said “Oh, why not”, and let them put it in the corner of his yard.

Looking up past the monument, next to his garage you can see a wonderful, ancient, rusted pick-up truck with a tree growing out of the bed….a monument itself, really.