According to “The Arkansas Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,” a project of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock, the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium was established by the state of Arkansas in 1909 and was located just outside of Booneville.
It started small, but by the 1940s, the sanatorium had become a state-of-the-art facility and was completely self-sufficient. The center of the facility was the Nyberg building, completed in 1941; it was five stories high in the center with a four story wing on each side and could house up to 511 patients. Booneville, a small town, had nothing to compare in size to this hospital.
The sanatorium closed in 1973 when the development of new drugs made the control of tuberculosis possible. A lot of the buildings have been demolished, but some still remain. The state uses the Nyberg building to this day as a Human Development Center, and there are several museums housed in the historical buildings located on the grounds.
“The Hill” by Kevin Johnson starts in the present, but with a thunderstorm and a lightning strike, Jake Myers tumbles through a portal and is transported back in time to the 1940s. He had been taking a tour of the old sanatorium and was in the Nyberg building when he suddenly fell down a flight of stairs only to wake up in a hospital bed. It didn’t take long for Jake to figure out that he was not in the era he had been in earlier in the day.
Now it’s a simpler time, and everyone is quite willing to accept Jake’s story of just passing through and looking for work. They are even fine with his having lost his I.D. But when one of the hospital’s doctors catches him taking pictures with his cellphone, that is a different story. This book tells of life with very few telephones and no television. For entertainment, people listened to the radio or go to the movies and on picnics. They seemed more trusting of the people around them, making the bond of friendship seem stronger.
This is a great mystery that tells the story of our historical past.
Kevin Johnson grew up in Booneville within sight of “The Hill,” which was the way the locals referred to the Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Johnson’s love of history didn’t develop until he was out of school. Like the main character in his book, Johnson has been on several guided tours of the historical buildings. Johnson now lives outside of Muldrow with his wife. He credits her love of football with giving him more time to write, and he is currently involved in a new project. He started life as a Stephen King fan but has since transferred some of his interest to exploring the works of John Hart. Johnson has several ideas for a new project, but I for one would like to see a sequel to “The Hill.”
The book is available on Amazon.com.
Linda Laughlin of Fort Smith writes book reviews and author profiles focusing on local authors for the Times Record. You can follow Linda on Facebook, email her at BookNook.TR@gmail.com or check out her webpage at LindaLaughlin.com.