Triumph at Carville A Tale of Leprosy in America

Triumph at Carville premiered March 2008.

"If this film had been an opera," writes former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, "I would have stood and cheered, 'Bravo!'"

Carville's graveyardMany lay buried in Carville's graveyard under white granite headstones carved with pseudonyms and only their patient numbers to identify them.
Triumph at Carville documents the triumph over one of mankind's most feared diseases: leprosy. The program outlines the history of one of the most unusual communities in America, the 100-year-old national leprosarium in Louisiana known as "Carville." Crafted from contemporary interviews, old radio shows, movie news accounts and other archival materials—including exclusive photographs taken by a longtime patient—the film takes viewers inside Carville and introduces them to patients, nuns, doctors and staff who lived and worked there. Cinematographer Allen Moore spent weeks shooting—on the ground, in the air, and from the river—a "portrait" of the hauntingly beautiful hospital grounds—350 acres of a once-famous, antebellum sugar plantation on the Mississippi. The personal narratives are underscored by original music composed and performed by Grammy-winner Bela Fleck, accompanied by bassist Edgar Meyer and other world-class musicians.

Political consultant James Carville grew up a mile-and-one-half down River Road from U.S. Marine Hospital #66, the hospital's official name. The local general store and post office of this tiny, crossroads community were run by four generations of his family. All patient mail ran through the Carville Post Office, so the hospital became known around the world simply as "Carville."

Patient entering through Carville's front gatePatient entering through Carville's front gate, from the mural, Medicine in Louisiana.
U.S. citizens diagnosed with leprosy were required by law to be quarantined at Carville. Sometimes they had to be brought against their will in shackles. Newborns were taken away without their parents ever being allowed even to touch them. So great was the stigma, patients routinely changed their names to protect their families. Today, many lay buried in Carville's graveyard under white granite headstones carved with pseudonyms and only their patient numbers to identify them.

Despite the horrific personal stigma and forced confinement at Carville, life there wasn't all gloom and doom. Patients celebrated Mardi Gras, published an international newspaper and even fielded a championship softball team. They regularly crawled through the infamous "hole in the fence" to picnic on the levee with their visiting children or secretly taxied to Baton Rouge to attend LSU football games.

After decades of risky, frequently painful patient experiments, U.S. Public Health Service researchers finally developed a "cure." What happened at Carville changed the world forever. Some call it a "miracle."

Carville wasn't just for adultsCarville wasn't just for adults. Its school was integrated long before others in the Deep South.
Triumph at Carville challenges many popular misunderstandings about leprosy and provides fresh insight into the ancient affliction that is today called "Hansen's Disease." For example:

  • Leprosy is one of the hardest diseases to catch; 95% of us are immune, yet millions around the world still suffer from it.
  • Leprosy is the only disease for which U.S. citizens lost the right to vote.
  • Armadillos are the only animals besides humans known to get leprosy.
  • Scientists still do not know how the bacteria that cause leprosy are transmitted to humans.

"The interweaving of old photos with modern video, the resurrection of children's words with the adult memories, and the consequences of institutionalizing and stigma all blend to make this film a unique treasure," writes Jose Ramirez, Jr. of The STAR, a publication run by Carville patients.

Triumph at Carville was produced by The Wilhelm Group.

To see a three-minute video clip from Triumph at Carville and to view an online interview with the film's co-producer/co-writer Sally Squires of The Washington Post, visit www.kaisernetwork.org/health_cast/hcast_index.cfm?display=detail&hc=2520.

To see details of a companion exhibit to the film, visit www.nmhm.washingtondc.museum/exhibits/triumphatcarville.

 
 

Funded by:

Celgene
Irene W. and C. B. Pennington Foundation
Henry J Kraiser Family Foundation

A Sponsored project of the:

nyfa

Produced by:

The Wilheim Group
 
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