The Man Who Brought Sunshine

by Frances Thornton



            The world knows Dr. John Harvey Kellogg as a famous doctor, surgeon, author, inventor and philanthropist, but he was also a humanitarian who brought sunshine into the lives of many adults and children in Battle Creek.


            According to Leta Browning, Kellogg’s personal secretary and later social director at the Sanitarium, Dr. Kellogg always had time to go out in his garden on a starlight night and commune with the stars.  He was a man “to whom the smallest and most fragile flower was of major importance, to whom the laughter of a child was divine music.”[i]  In both his personal and public life, the doctor repeatedly demonstrated this concern for the youngest and most fragile members of society.


            To start at the beginning, when he was a child prodigy of thirteen, Kellogg sat in the sun on the back step of his father’s house.  He saw a vision of a little red schoolhouse on a hill with a group of children coming toward him with arms outstretched.  He pictured himself standing in that doorway, beckoning the children to come to him.  So vivid was this boyhood vision that in later years he found himself searching the faces on passing children to find those in his dream.[ii]


            As a successful doctor and director of the world-famous Sanitarium, Kellogg found himself in a position to offer substantial help to those members of society less fortunate than himself.  Known around the world for his accomplishments as an author and health reformer, in the slums of Chicago he was better known as the founder of the Life Boat Mission.  The Mission tried to rescue men from the streets through a combination of Gosper teaching, a free medical dispensary, the first free baths in the city a soup kitchen and free lodging for 400 homeless men.[iii]           


            One cold night in December 1910, when Dr. Kellogg was visiting the Mission, a five year old boy wandered into the shelter, seeking warmth.  The staff of the Mission was unable to gather any information about the child, so Dr. Kellogg gathered him up in his arms and went out into the wintry Chicago night to learn the boy’s identity.


                        Every painted girl in Clark Street, every wretched pan-handler in Van Buren Street, knew the doctor.  But none could tell him whose was the child he carried in his arms.  In and out among the scenes of sordid revelry he went, searching to find where the baby belonged.  Through the dance-halls and dives and back rooms, he inquired in vain until he met “Slippery Joe” coming with a “pail of suds” from Hinkey Dink’s saloon.  “Aw, if it ain’t Katie’s kid,”             volunteered Slippery Joe.  Katie hadn’t been seen for months, and the child had been living mostly from garbage cans.

                        Now that he had heard the child’s history, Dr. Kellogg hugged the little one to his heart, and boarded a midnight train to Michigan.  When he reached Battle Creek on Christmas morning, the town was white and quiet under a new             snowfall.  His latch-key opened the door of the great house set in a grove of oak trees.  The sleeping bundle still wrapped in a shawl, he laid softly in a Morris chair in the library.  There the other children later found it.

                        “Oh, the Christ-child,” murmured one little maid in awe.  “No, a new little brother,” cried the rest.[iv]


            Dr. Kellogg and his wife, Ella Eaton, had no children of their own, but they adopted a houseful of children – more than forty in all.  Some of these children were adopted as infants, some as older children, some came from broken families around the country, some from abroad. 


            To accommodate this growing family, the Kelloggs built a 20 room mansion on the NW corner of Manchester and North Wood streets, on the site of the old race track and fairgrounds.  They moved into “The residence” in June 1894 and lived there for the rest of their lives.  The nine acres of grounds around the house extended three blocks north from Manchester to Greenwood Street, between Wood and Hubbard streets.  Around the house was “the grove” of stately shade trees, bushes and flower gardens.  A fenced area held the famous “Deer park” where a herd of tame deer were kept to the delight of young people and the occasional consternation of neighbors, when the animals escaped their enclosure.[v]


            According to Leta Browning, “The Residence” was the “most lived in house she had ever known.”[vi]  Ella Eaton Kellogg described her home and its pastoral setting in her diary:


            The summer is passing very swiftly by.  I wonder if I shall ever see another one.  I hope so for I love summer time and the beauties of this grove around our home.  I think it is the most wonderful setting for a house I have ever yet seen.[vii]


            Each adopted child was given a choice between a Shetland pony and a bicycle.  The ponies were housed in a large barn and stable located near the end of Ann Avenue.  This was the barn which was later converted into the Sunshine center.  There was also a small zoo for the collection of animals kept by the children.


            Between Oaklawn and Ann Avenue the Kellogg’s also constructed an elaborate playground for their active family.  The playground area was surrounded by a high wooden fence, painted green, which also divided the park area into two sides, one for boys and one for girls.  There was a wading pool for small children and a larger swimming pool, 75 by 25 feet, which graduated in depth from 18 inches to four feet.  The pool area was equipped with modern dressing rooms and toilets.  Alice Davis remembers “the outdoor lockers, with white canvas curtains and the wooden crate-like stands on the floor so that water could drip down into the cement troughs below.”[viii]


            The playground was also fitted out with teeter totters, swings and sand boxes, a baseball field and drinking fountain.


            A large sand box was build around a huge oak tree. …There were two toboggan slides.  One was small and straight, the other taller with a dip in it for the more adventurous.  There was a row of lovely swings with oaken seats.[ix]


            As one of the children growing up in the west end, only a block away from The Residence, I can remember that sometimes beautifully gowned women who were visiting the Kelloggs would come outside and ask us neighborhood children to push them on the swings.  We would swing them as high as we could and all enjoyed it.


            Many parties were given at The Residence and often when my family would be driving by after dark, we would see the driveway and grounds lit up with Japanese lanterns.  Ella Eaton Kellogg described one evening in 1918:


            Some two weeks ago I gave the youngsters an outdoor frolic on the playground where I have been giving of late several entertainments for San students.  The             grounds were lighted with Japanese lanterns over electric lights and a huge             bonfire in which the children toasted marshmallows.[x]


            As the family of adopted children grew older they lost interest in the play equipment.  As early as 1911 neighborhood children were encouraged to use the playground.  Ella Eaton Kellogg wrote in her diary in the summer of 1916:


            A hot day.  The playground is in full swing and the children come in floods.[xi]


            Alice Davis remembers the days when:


            Children were lined up at the gate when it was opened every weekday morning at 9:00.  On several occasions…Dr. Kellogg stood in his white splendor by the gate and gravely shook our hands as we entered.  Sometimes the pony cart and groom were put at our disposal and we would line up for a ride around the neighborhood.[xii]


            In 1915 Dr. Kellogg employed Arch Flannery, then a student at the School of Physical Education, to supervise the playground facilities while area children enjoyed them.[xiii]


            To fully understand the extraordinary nature of the gift Dr. Kellogg was offering to neighborhood children, it should be noted that in this period there were no recreational programs – or recreational facilities – available for children anywhere else in the city.  During the summer, children were left to their own devices, to play in dangerous, unsupervised situations, or to get into trouble. 


            Until a boy reaches a certain age he cannot work.  Under that age, if he lives in the city, he must spend the days either about home wishing for something to do or else play in the streets, in constant danger physically and morally.[xiv]


            A nationally recognized expert on recreation and development of playgrounds cited alarming statistics to make his point about the need for organized recreation:


            It has been found that 45 percent of the children who are out of school are on the streets and in the alleys, that 52 per cent of them are doing nothing, and that 65 per cent of the juvenile crime is due to faulty recreation.  Last year [1915]…14,000 children under 16 years of age were killed while playing on railroads.[xv]


            Until 1918 the only recreation program offered to Battle Creek’s children was at the Kellogg playground.  Arch Flannery maintained that the Kellogg playground was “one of the first in the country and was a model for many of the children’s playgrounds established by municipalities and schools.”  He said that “representatives from all over the United States came to see Dr. Kellogg’s experiment.”[xvi]


            Finally that summer of 1918 the board of education “decided to establish two playground centers” to “take care of the large leisure time the ordinary boy and girl have upon their hands” in the summer months.  Miss Frances Seibert, school play supervisor, was hired to coordinate the programs at #1 school (Central High School) and #4 school (Jefferson School at Fountain Street).  A day nursery for children of working mothers was also established at school #7 (Nichols School on Shepard Street), staffed by volunteer high school students.[xvii]


            The first day of the city’s new recreation program was a “hummer” with 127 children attending.  But the facilities were limited and no swimming was available.[xviii]


            While the city struggled with developing a recreational program, Dr. Kellogg continued to open his fully equipped and staffed private playground to Battle Creek’s children.  “A splendid schedule of events: was offered each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., supervised by staff and students of the Normal School of Physical Education.  The day’s program opened with flag salute, marching, hygiene and patriotism, and continued with games, gymnastics, story telling and quiet games, singing, Good Citizens club and current events.[xix]


            In the summer of 1920 Dr. Kellogg formally turned over supervision of activities at his playground to Frances Seibert and the developing city program.  For the next decade the Kellogg playground drew the largest attendance of any of the city’s facilities.  Average daily attendance at the Kellogg playground was usually over 200 children.  During the summer of 1928 over 21,000 children refreshed themselves in the Kellogg pools.[xx]


            During the 1920s the city expanded its program and opened recreational centers at Franklin, Jefferson, Nichols and Wilson schools.  But the favorite continued to be the “splendid playground” on Wood Street:


            Groups from the different school playgrounds…were each given one day a week             to visit the Kellogg playground.  Activities were kept up at the other grounds, but             the one day the youngsters really looked forward to was the day at the Kellogg grounds and the swimming pool.[xxi]


            The swimming pool continued to be the primary attraction for many children.  Originally the boys and girls swam at different times during the day:


            A board wall painted green surrounded the pool, and the door was unlocked only at the proper times.  Once in the morning and once in the afternoon it would be our privilege to enter the inner sanctum.  If the girls were first to swim in the morning, then the boys would be first in the afternoon.  They never swam together.  This policy was changed later, but that is how it was at first.[xxii]


            Even older children, who had outgrown the teeter totters and sand box, returned to the Kellogg playground.  I can remember going back with my friends when I was a teenager.  Thinking back to those days it seems as if the sun was always shining.  There were huge shade trees to sit under, green wooden chairs where we sat and played checkers, plus many other board games.  We made many friends from all over the area and would sometimes just sit under the trees and talk.


            The Kellogg “Sunshine playground” continued to be an integral part of the city’s recreational program through the summer of 1946.  For the first time in 1947 the Kellogg site was not among the 10 sites, including three swimming pools, which were open to the city’s children.[xxiii]


            In the 31 years that the Kellogg playground with its recreational and educational program was available to the city’s youngsters, thousands of boys and girls amused and refreshed themselves in the shady “grove” and in the swimming and wading pools.


            In addition to the recreational activities available at the Kellogg “Sunshine playground,” special programs reflected the doctor’s concern for the health and physical well-being of the area children:


            Each child who enrolls at the playground undergoes a physical examination and if discovered to be undernourished is sent to…nutrition class and given a lunch of             health food and milk each day at noon.[xxiv]


            Miss Lorna Barber of Battle Creek College started “experimental work in health and nutrition” in which special attention was given to undernourished children or those with “nutritional defects.”


            The advanced nutrition class of the college will do individual work with the children to see how much improvement can be made by each during the summer playground period.[xxv]


            Beginning in 1928 a series of “Nutritional Afternoons” were offered “for the benefit of children who suffer from nutritional defects.”  On the first “Afternoon” in July, the children presented:


            a little health pantomime, some being dressed as good foods and some as             undesirable foods.  In a tug of war, the good foods won out.[xxvi]


            Dr. Helen Mitchell, director of the nutritional laboratory at the Sanitarium, extended “an open invitation to any mother in the city” to attend future programs.[xxvii]


            The staff of the playground nutrition programs recognized the importance of the remedial work they were doing every day with the undernourished children.  They also realized that the whole family, especially the mothers, had to be educated if good health and nutrition habits were going to be instilled in the children.


            Gertrude Estill, Dr. Kellogg’s secretary and confidante, approached the doctor about the possibility of offering a full educational program for mothers and children.[xxviii]


Dr. Kellogg saw the value of the program and agreed to convert the unused pony barn into a “community house” for classes.  On July 12, 1928, the newspaper announced the opening of the new facility where Gertrude Estill was “hostess and superintendent:”


            A community house where mothers may gather to talk over problems of home and children and where classes will be given offering the latest scientific principles in home management, nutrition and home nursing is the latest gift of Dr. J. H. Kellogg to the Battle Creek community...[xxix]


            The setting of the remodeled barn enhanced its appeal:


            It is surrounded by spacious grounds with large spreading oak trees and when             landscape work has been completed a more attractive place should be difficult to             find.  A broad porch extends across the entire front of the building and the outside has been attractively painted in light shades.[xxx]


            The Friday “Nutrition Afternoons” were to be held in the new building and the work of the community center and the playground “will go hand in hand.”


            Health instruction for the children has been made a part of the playground work and the Community house will provide an opportunity for the mothers to keep in touch and also learn principles which will help them…at home.[xxxi]


Dr. Kellogg and the teaching staff of the new Community center planned a wide variety of classes to fill the “needs of mothers and children.”


            Proposed classes include physiology, in which simple home treatments, emergency needs, care and structure of the body, etc. will be taught;  nutrition and home cooking and serving, the proper way to prepare and serve attractive meals; how to entertain properly; how to train the children for the niceties of life and its responsibilities; sewing for infants and children in which the young girls will use various sized dolls for models; an extensive line of beautiful handcraft             work.[xxxii]


            In August “classes in cooking, paper folding and clothes mending will be new features” in activities in the Sunshine Center, as the new Community center was now called.  Health and craft classes for girls began every day at 2 p.m. with programs for mothers at 3 p.m.[xxxiii]


            The Kellogg playground closed in August every summer, but the new Sunshine center activities continued into the fall and winter.  Children were taken on “little trips through the city, where they visit historical points.  This is in order to have an objective for their walks and also give them the benefit of fresh air.”  Classes in singing and folk dancing also continued from the summer sessions.[xxxiv]


            However, the primary purpose of the Sunshine Center was to teach the mothers of Battle Creek “how a modern home, in all its departments, should be conducted.”  The Center offered classes in home nursing techniques, including equipping the home medicine chest and making fomentation (hot compress) cloths.  Upstairs, in a large open room, exercise classes were held in inclement weather.[xxxv]


            Domestic science, from cooking classes to setting an attractive table, was taught in the upstairs room.  Food grown in a garden adjacent to the Center, as well as food from Dr. Kellogg’s own garden, was used in food preparation.  Women and girls also learned canning and food preservation techniques using the fresh garden produce.  Occasionally demonstration meals, with the “simple home foods…” all cooked and served by the members of the classes,”  were served in the dining room.[xxxvi]


            Doris Sootsman Postma lived in the Kellogg park neighborhood and remembers playing in the park as well as attending classes at the Sunshine Center.  She took Home Nursing classes in which she learned how to make beds and prepare and give hot fomentations.  In cooking programs she remembers using vegetables from Dr. Kellogg’s own garden.  At Christmas time there was a decorated tree in the center and presents for everyone.[xxxvii]


            In 1922 Dr. Kellogg had helped to form a group of men and women seventy-five years of age an older called the Three Quarter century Club.  The group met in various locations around town.  After the Sunshine Center was opened, the Club met there frequently and I can remember attending with my foster father, George Wilber.


            The Sunshine Center continued to serve the mothers and children of the city through 1943 when Dr. Kellogg died.  However, by 1940 at least part of the building was converted into a residence.  Jim McFarland remembers living there after he graduated from high school and worked on the lawn and grounds of Dr. Kellogg’s house.[xxxviii]


            By 1945 Cecile Hatch Pickard, one of the adopted Kellogg children, was living in the Sunshine Center building and it was no longer open to the public.  After she died in 1947 the building was vacant and presumably demolished with the Kellogg residence itself in 1958.[xxxix]


            Dr. Kellogg believed in the physical and emotional value of sunshine.  He knew that exercise in the fresh air and sunshine improved health.  His practice of wearing white clothing from top to toe began before World War I as a recognition of the value of sunlight, which penetrates lighter clothing more easily than dark clothing.


            In an essay on Optimism, Dr. Kellogg summarizes his credo:


            Fear is darkness, death, despair.  Hope is sunshine, life and energy.[xl]


            We owe a great deal to Dr. Kellogg for bringing so much sunshine into our world. 


[i] Leta Browning,  untitled typescript, undated (probably c. 1958).  p. 1.

[ii] Richard W. Schwarz, J. H. Kellogg, M.D. (Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, TN, 1970), pp. 15-16.

[iii] Mabel Potter Daggett, “A Father to Forty, The Homeless Child is Given a Chance by Sharing All the Advantages and Responsibilities of Dr. Kellogg’s Own Home,” The Delineator, December 1910, p. 464.

[iv] ibid.

[v] When Dr. Kellogg established his deer herd in the 1890s, the animals were relatively rare in southern Michigan.  After decades of commercial market hunting to supply restaurants with venison and the inroads of farmers on grazing lands, the once-plentiful white-tail had virtually disappeared.  Kellogg’s herd was one of the few collections of the animals in the area.  It was not until the 1940s that deer were again plentiful in this area.  (See Rollin Baker, Michigan Mammals, Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI, 1983), pp. 581.

Battle Creek residents and visitors to the Kellogg residence had mixed reactions to the deer park.  Interested in the unusual herd, they also had occasional problems with the wild animals living enclosed behind a fence in the middle of the city.  Dr. Lauretta Kress, a physician at the Sanitarium from 1894 to 1898, wrote in her autobiography, Under the Guiding Hand, of a winter evening when she was returning from a house call.  A buck deer spooked the horse pulling her cutter, landing the sleigh, and the doctor, in a snow drift.

A 1923 newspaper reported that the herd of fourteen deer, “one of the largest in this part of the state,” sometimes gave the doctor “some little trouble, especially in the spring when they usually hop over the tall fence and roam the country.” Mischievous children and curious canines also stampeded the deer over the fence on occasion.  Dr. Kellogg offered to donate the herd to the city, to be housed in the newly created Leila Arboretum.  Apparently the city was not interested in building a high fence to contain the herd in the new park.  (See “Who Wants This Fine Deer Herd,” May 8, 1923, Enquirer and Evening News). 

[vi] Browning, p.1.

[vii] Ella Eaton Kellogg, unpublished diary, 1915-1919, July 23, 1915.

[viii] Alice Davis, “Alice’s Adventures in Kelloggland,” unpublished, undated typescript, p.4.

[ix] ibid.

[x] E.E. Kellogg, October 21, 1918.

[xi] op. cit., July 11, 1916.  “Dr. Kellogg Quits Rearing Children.”  July 7, 1911.  Evening News.

[xii] Davis, p. 5.

[xiii] op. cit., p. 3.

Arch Flannery went to Western Michigan University in 1916-17.  He returned to Battle Creek to coach in the public schools before leaving for World War I.  After the war he initiated the city’s civic recreation program while serving as the first full time director of physical education in the Battle Creek public schools.  In 1923 he went to Hawaii for two years.  After he returned to Battle Creek he continued the civic recreation program and teaching in the public schools.  By 1929 the recreation program became so large that he left the school position to become its full time director.  (see “The Castle on the Hill” in this issue, pp. 4-10.)

[xiv] “School in Summer is Advocated by Keeler,” June 26, 1916.  Battle Creek Enquirer.

[xv] “Interest Aroused in Recreation Congress,”  Battle Creek Enquirer, June 17, 1916.           

[xvi] Quoted in Davis, p. 3.

[xvii] “Expert Engaged For [sic] Playground Center,” June 27, 1918; “City Will Have a Third Play Center,” June 28, 1918, both from Battle Enquirer.   

[xviii] “First Day at Play Center Is ‘Hummer’,”  Battle Creek Enquirer, July 7, 1918.

[xix] “Playground Is Open to Kiddies.” Moon Journal, July 21, 1919.

[xx] “Playgrounds’ Average Attendance,” January 1, 1925 and “Sports of All Sorts Drawing 3,000 Locally,” November 1, 1928, both in Enquirer and Evening News.

[xxi] “Playgrounds Are a Big Need Here,”  Enquirer and Evening News,  January 1, 1924.

[xxii] Davis, p.4.

[xxiii] “Many Recreational Activities Available for Local Children,”  Enquirer and Evening News, June 15, 1947.  The ten sites operated by the Civic Recreation department were East End on East Kingman Avenue, Oliver-Exchange playground, Southwestern and Northwestern junior high schools, Verona, Ann J. Kellogg, McKinley and Washington elementary schools (the last three were new in 1947), Kellogg Company playground.  Pools were available at Southeastern and Southwestern junior highs and at the Youth building.

[xxiv] July 10, 1926, Moon Journal.

[xxv] “Sunshine Plays Important Role,”  July 9, 1928, Enquirer and Evening News.

[xxvi] ibid.

[xxvii] ibid.

[xxviii] “Sunshine Center Fills Genuine Need.”  January 1, 1929.  Enquirer and Evening News.  Gertrude was the youngest of three sisters who worked for the Sanitarium.  Angie was a dietitian and the eldest sister, Mabel, was a nurse.  Their brother, Harlan owned and operated the Estill Café, a health cafeteria in the basement of the Elk Temple at North McCamly and State streets.

[xxix] “New Structure Given Mothers,” July 12, 1928.  Enquirer and Evening News.

[xxx] ibid.

[xxxi] ibid.

[xxxii] ibid.

[xxxiii] “’Center’ Plans New Features,”  August 20, 1928, Moon Journal.

[xxxiv] January 1, 1929, Enquirer and Evening News.

[xxxv] ibid.

[xxxvi] ibid.

[xxxvii] Interview with author, March 1994.

[xxxviii] Interview with author, March 1994.

[xxxix] Obituary Mrs. Cecile M. Pickard, October 13, 1947, Enquirer and Evening News.  After Dr. Kellogg died in 1943, the house was vacant except for a caretaker.  In 1949 the Army purchased the site for $49,000, intending to tear down the Residence and build housing for commissioned and non-commisioned officers attached to Percy Jones Hospital.  After the Korean War ended, these plans were put on hold.  In 1955 the city considered purchasing the site “for public use.”  In the next year the property was finally sold to two Ypsilanti developers who intended to build an apartment house and shopping center.  This plan was also abandoned.  The house was finally demolished in 1958.  The Washington Heights Community Ministries bought the land in 1965 and built the present church/community building in 1977.  (Enquirer and Evening News.  September 7, 1955 and July 17, 1957.)

[xl] “Optimism,”  Good Health magazine, vol. 79. #1, January 1944, p. 16.