The doctors in charge, Part 1

OK, now that I’m back in NOLA from Seattle and recovered from our amazing trip, time to stretch out the boundaries and get back to some serious and non-Louisiana business.

First up is my most consistently harped-on subject, Cannonball Dick Redding’s death in a Long Island mental asylum in 1948. I’ve written a slew of posts about this in the past few months, so I won’t include links to all of them, but here’s where things basically stand …

Well, actually, “stand” might be an appropriate term for things, because I’m at a standstill, at least until either: 1) a relative or descendant suddenly pops up; 2) I hear back from the national military archives; or 3) I get an official letter of declination for release of records from Pilgrim State Hospital. That last one would only be a formality at this point, but I always like to have things in writing.

However, because I’m stubborn and obsessive and on’ry, I don’t want to let this rest, and I’m still looking for any avenue of investigation. Thaaaaaaaat led to …

The doctor who signed Cannonball Dick Redding’s death certificate. Macabre, yeah probably. But, as it turns out, somewhat intriguing.

The death certificate dated Nov. 1, 1988., is signed by a doctor named “L. Kris,” with an address at Pilgrim State Hospital. The document says the doctor “attended deceased” from May 24 of that year until Oct. 31, when he “last saw him alive on October 31, 1948” and that “To the best of my knowledge, death occurred on the date stated above, at 11:45 a.m.”

As has been reported by me and a few others before, the cause of death is completely blanked out — or, as they say in officialdom, redacted.

Turns out “L. Kris” is Ludwig Kris, a staff psychiatrist at Pilgrim. Now, trust me, I personally know how important, knowledgeable and well-roundedly trained psychiatrists are. They’re MDs, which means they go through the same schooling as any medical doctor, from a heart surgeon to a dermatologist to Dana Scully. (X-Files dork alert!)

But you still have to wonder how qualified a psychiatrist — who specializes in disorders in the brain, not the corporeal body, per se — would be to do what Kris did with Dick Redding. Look at it this way: Would you trust, say, a podiatrist (i.e. foot doctor) to perform delicate brain surgery? I’m not sure.

That certainly doesn’t imply that anything deliberately hinky went on. But it does beg the question of whether a hospital with 20,000 patients would be staffed well enough to treat physical ailments like cancer or heart disease/attack, etc.

But apparently Ludwig Kris did, in fact, “attend” to Dick Redding for several months, which means one of three things: Either that’s when Redding was first committed to the hospital — May 24, 1948 — or that’s how long Kris treated him for any mental illnesses, or that Redding started suffering from a physical ailment that required attention beginning that date. Which, again, circles back to the paragraph above.

(On a side note, I’m just now fully realizing something else about the death certificate — all the spaces for location of death, i.e. town/village/city, county, address, ward) are left completely blank. Empty. Kind of weird. Was this done in a huge hurry? Or was this type of death so routine at Pilgrim that all that stuff was just common knowledge?)

But about the doctor … Ludwig Kris was born, according to WWII draft card, on April 3, 1895, in Podwoloczyska, Poland, and is listed on a ship manifest as “Hebrew” under race or people and as a “physician” under calling/occupation. He was bilingual, speaking German and English.


Ship manifest listing Ludwig Kris and family


Ludwig Kris’ draft card

Kris appears to have immigrated to the U.S. in August 1940, which is certainly understandable given what was happening in Poland, and especially to Polish Jews, at the time. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen five years later, on Dec. 4, 1945 at the age of 50 in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

On his naturalization form, Kris’ residence is listed as “Pilgrim State Hospital, Brentwood, NY.” But on his 1942 draft card, his address, as well as place of employment, is stated as 106 West 69th St. in NYC.


Dr. Ludwig Kris died in 1950, just five years after becoming an American and two years after attending to a legendary Negro Leagues pitcher’s death. Other than that — you know, the whole med school, escaping Nazis, emigrating to another country, becoming a successful doctor thing — his life in the U.S. seems pretty mundane.

Well, at least certainly compared to his wife, who appears to have been a bigwig in New York psychiatry circles.

Else Kris was also a psychiatrist, and was also an emigre from Europe. According to the same ship’s manifest on which her husband is listed, Else was born in Czernowitz, Romania. Her occupation is “doctor” and her race/people is “German.” Both she and Ludwig are listed as citizens of Germany. Interestingly, Else is the only German listed on the manifest sheet; everyone else is “Jewish” or “Hebrew.” Again, interesting given what was happening in Europe at the time.

As yet another side note, also immigrating with the couple was their son, 8-year-old Hans Robert Kris, who was born in Vienna, Jewish and a Germany citizen. But in a way, it isn’t a side note, because take a look at his country of birth: At first it was listed as “Austria,” which was then crossed out with “Germany” written in its place.

The national origin and citizenry of all three Krises reflects a continent — and, soon, a world — in turmoil, with “national borders” changing constantly and national and ethnic identity becoming more important than perhaps ever. For example, Hana Kris at first identified himself as Austrian, but technically, thanks to Der Furher, in August 1940 Austria was part of Germany.

The fact that the Krises could very well have shifted locales so much and ultimately moved to the U.S. because they were fleeing fascism and genocide. And that is made even more intriguing given that Else Kris was an ethnic German married to a Jewish man. But Czernowitz, her hometown, has a deep heritage of Jewish residence and culture; at one time it was a very popular destination for Eastern European Jews.



Scenes from modern Chernivtsi, Else Kris’ hometown

In addition, today Czernowitz is known as Chernivtsi and is a city in … western Ukraine, which once again, with current developments, brings us back to issues of ethnic and national turmoil.

And, aha! Today, Podwoloczyska is an urban settlement known as Pidvolochysk in … Western Ukraine! That, of course, explains how Else and Ludwig met — they’re from the same region in Europe, a region that seems to have shifted “nationalities” numerous times over its history, including, most recently, spending decades as part of the Soviet Union.

It also could be worth mentioning that because Ludwig Kris was probably being sadistically persecuted for his Jewishness, he might have been sympathetic to African Americans (including Dick Redding), who also knew — and continue to know — about bigotry and racism.

But I digress … according to U.S. Social Security records, Else Kris was born on May 24, 1900, and died in July 1975 in Hallandale, Fla. She was naturalized as an American citizen on Dec. 18, 1945, exactly two weeks after her husband, in Brooklyn. Her naturalization card lists her residence as “State Hospital, Brentwood, L.I.”


Once Else arrived in the U.S., she launched an extremely successful career in psychiatry as well as sociology. In addition to immigrating to the States as a medical doctor, she later earned an MA in sociology and became a faculty in Adelphi College‘s Department of Sociology, becoming in the 1950s one of the leading experts in the reintegration of formerly institutionalized sufferers of mental illness.

But in the 1940s, Else Kris was the senior psychiatrist at Pilgrim State Hospital, where she and other hospital officials apparently went out of their way to prove that the facility was not a “house of horrors.” But more on that coming up soon in Part 2 …


One thought on “The doctors in charge, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Holy cow! A Cannonball answer at last! | The Negro Leagues Up Close

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