By John Wilder
In early November your Historian attended a reception for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Shrine Hospital representing the Aleppo Archives. We brought along some items related to the hospital for a display. We also included some items related to Robert Gardiner Wilson Jr. The only Noble from Aleppo to become Imperial Potentate, he was also the man most directly responsible for the founding of the Boston Hospital. Added to our display were some items related to Noble Wilson which had been lent to the hospital from his family. These included his Potentate’s fez from 1940, one of his five star Imperial Potentate’s fezzes, some paperwork, and a small crutch and brace.
The crutch and brace were visibly old. The crutch was all wood that was worn smooth and the leg brace was crude iron with leather padding that was dry rotted. We had previously heard something of their connection to Noble Wilson, but we didn’t fully understand how central they were to his life’s work.
The story is a heartfelt one which gives a personal insight into what motivated this Noble to do everything he did, but why should we tell it when you can hear from the man himself? The following passage is an excerpt from an address given by Robert Gardiner Wilson Jr. as Imperial Potentate. This was recited by his daughter Mary at the Boston Hospital’s 50th anniversary reception.
“Once upon a time, a good many years ago, longer than I sometimes like to remember, I wore an iron splint and wooden crutches. And I remember how they used to say, that even as a boy of six, and even on crutches, I could make the distance from the front porch of that old house on Westcott Street, Dorchester, to the corner of the street, faster than any boy of my age in the neighborhood. But that was one of those records of athletic prowess that you don’t put in any record book. Because always, inside, there was the lingering hope that someday, somehow, I might be able to walk, and run, and play, just like the other boys. And I remember the day that great Boston surgeon, Joel Goldthwaite, came into the front parlor of that house on Westcott Street. We called them “parlors” back in the golden days. And I want you to believe me when I tell you that I can remember to this day the location of every piece of furniture. I remember how the doctor took the iron splint off my right leg, and set the splint up in a corner of the room, with the wooden crutches. And how he said “Now walk across the room!” And I was afraid. I remember my mother sitting in a green armchair by the side window of that parlor room, and how she was smiling happily, but there were tears in her eyes, as she said “You don’t have to be afraid; walk towards me.” And I walked, without an iron splint, and without wooden crutches, for the first time in two long years!”
Imperial Sir Wilson Jr. (and later his family) preserved this crutch and brace as a reminder of the work that needed to be done for crippled children. We are honored to announce that these items will be coming to Aleppo to be preserved and displayed in the Aleppo Archives Museum Room.