Want to own an iron lung? A Wolf Lake hospital museum is up for auction

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WOLF LAKE, Ind. (WANE) — A piece of Noble’s County history is being auctioned off. After nearly two decades, the Luckey Hospital Museum and its collection will be sold at auction.

The hospital-turned-museum sits on the corner of U.S. 33 and S.R. 109 in the town of Wolf Lake. The hospital was founded by the great uncle of current museum owner and caretaker Shirley Hile Schotterback.

Shirley along with her sister Mary founded the museum as a way to preserve their family’s history and show the public what medical treatment was like in the past. However, with the recent loss of her sister and her recent marriage, 84-year-old Schotterback is auctioning off the collection to the public.

“It’s sad,” Shirley said. “But it’s time to move on.”

Background

Dr. James Luckey was born just west of Wolf Lake in 1865. When Dr. Luckey graduated from medical school, he returned to his hometown to practice medicine in the 1890s. He started his practice out of his home, which sat where the hospital museum sits today. After more than three decades of work, the practice and his family outgrew the home.

Dr. James Luckey

Dr. Luckey’s son Robert trained in surgical procedures in Vienna, Austria. At the time, Vienna was the surgical capital of the world. Once home, Robert began seeing patients alongside his father.

“It got really really busy,” Shirley said. “The closest hospital at the time was at Kendallville, about a 25-mile drive, and there was a private hospital in Columbia City, but it was too small to accommodate all the patients they were seeing.”

Dr. Luckey’s middle son, Harold, designed the hospital in 1929 after graduating with a degree in engineering. After a year of construction, the three-floored hospital was complete, and at the time, it was considered state-of-the-art – with a fire alarm system throughout the whole building and an oxygen tent. The hospital had an emergency room, a room for x-rays, a pharmacy, and a surgery room. A tunnel underground was also built connecting the hospital to the house.

During 1930, Shirley said the hospital performed 400 surgeries in the 20-bed hospital. During that time, the population of Wolf Lake was around 500. The hospital saw patients from four counties.

Harold eventually returned to school, trained in Vienna, Austria, and joined the family business. The three worked together until James’ death in 1938.

“People that worked here were relatives or friends,” Shirley said. “You knew everybody.”

The hospital always had a registered nurse on duty and was mostly run by nurses aids. Doctors from Fort Wayne and other areas would come to Luckey Hospital to consult on cases and some even performed surgeries. According to Shirley, Robert and Harold were considered to be the best in the area.

The hospital continued to be successful over the next three decades and the third generation joined the family business. Then in 1955, Columbia City built a brand new community hospital. Luckey Hospital ran until 1957. Three generations of Luckey doctors worked for the hospital before it closed. After the hospital closed, Robert and Harold continued to have office hours.

The old hospital became a nursing home, apartments, a private residence, a tanning salon, and a movie store. Then in 2002, Shirley, a registered nurse, and her sister Mary, a retired school nurse, purchased the hospital and turned it into the museum.

“We told them (our kids) it was our beer and cigarettes,” Shirley said. “It’s our passion.”

In 2013, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The second floor stayed as apartments while the first and third floor remained a museum up until 2019, when Shirley decided to but the place up for sale.

A tour of the museum

Shirley’s grandmother was Dr. James Luckey’s sister. While talking about the hospital, Shirley would oftentimes refer to her great uncle as ‘Uncle Doc.’

Both sisters graduated and served as registered nurses, but Shirley said that the hospital closed before she could join the family business.

Mary Adams (left) and Shirley Hile Schotterback (Right)

Over the years, Shirley and Mary collected medical equipment as it was replaced by new devices and technology, so when the pair purchased the hospital, the place was soon filled. What room was left was filled by items purchased at auctions.

The first floor of the hospital was transformed back in time. One room had a working iron lung that helped polio patients breathe; another room displayed a tonsillectomy chair, surgery table, forceps, and scalpels. In the former lobby, a dresser filled with canceled checked shows who received treatment and when at the old hospital. Shirley’s favorite collection is the room dedicated to nurses. On one wall is a rack full of nursing uniforms dating back to the hospital’s early days to scrubs of present day. On the other wall is a display of nursing caps, each different.

“I think the uniforms nowadays are atrocious. I call them pajamas,” Shirley said. “I’d like to see my nurse come in with a cap on and a white uniform. That way I know it’s a nurse. It’s was an honor to get your cap and wear the uniform.”

Over the years, the museum saw visitors from across the country. In the past few weeks, the museum has been getting ready for the auction, breaking down displays, labeling, and marking items that will go up for sale.

But that didn’t stop Shirley from giving WANE 15 one of her legendary tours.

“They used to put a timer on me when I was doing tours,” said Shirley. “They’d say, ‘Shirley, wear this timer and when it goes off, shut up.’ But it’s hard especially when it’s your passion.”

While walking the halls, Shirley’s passion shines through. Every instrument, every room, and item had a story.

After the death of her sister, Shirley tried to give the building and its collection away, hoping someone would want to continue the museum. She received no offers, though. Some of the artifacts have been given to other museums, but due to a lack of space, a majority of the collection will be sold at auction.

“As much as I like to, I’m 84,” Shirley said. “I would have loved it if someone would have just come in and done this. We are losing a lot of unique artifacts.”

Shirley is currently working on a book about the history of the Luckey Hospital and the Luckey family.

Auction

The building and a majority of the medical artifacts collection will be for sale Saturday, Oct. 3. The auction will take place in person and online. Prospective buyers may park at the nearby Central Noble Primary School and ride a shuttle to the site.

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