We love, honor and cherish the special people in our lives, but memories fade and good people and deeds are forgotten. This year as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering the Great War, we can also acknowledge the 50th anniversary, this month, of a veteran of that war’s death, through the remembrance of his life and deeds.
Dr. Frederick Collins Sabin was a “Person Worth Knowing,” according to a newspaper article in 1957. He was born on Oct. 12, 1893 to an English father whose ancestors had landed in Massachusetts around 1641. As a 13-year old, he lost his mother, Nellie A. Lawson Fairchild Sabin, 40, to cancer and his father, Peden (Peter) James Sabin, a conductor for the railroad, was killed five years later in a train accident. Maybe it was these tragedies that provoked him into the medical profession, but his father had, as a single parent, legally appointed a brother to be a guardian for his three children, perhaps invoking a selfless caring for others in his son. This caring for others would be a major theme in Dr. Sabin’s life.
Fred C. Sabin entered medical school in Maryland. When the United States entered World War I, he asked for an exemption from the draft, but volunteered to work for the Navy at the hospital as an apprentice first class. The brown haired and blue eyed man served from Dec. 7, 1917 for 339 days, then continued in the Reserves for three years. He finished medical school, interned a year at Faxton Hospital in Utica, married Esther Chapman on Aug. 11, 1923 and immediately moved to Little Falls. Their life in Little Falls was one of selfless serving the community and tragedy.
Dr. and Mrs. Sabin became members of the Presbyterian Church, and the American Legion and Auxiliary. They had three children and lived at 23 N. Ann St., with his office in the back of the house and the entrance on Church Street.
Dr. Sabin’s concern for the community had begun almost as soon as he located here. In 1923, he was a member and officer of the Exchange Club, now known as the Civic Club, participating on its committees and promoting to the Common Council recreational facilities in the city to include playgrounds and tennis courts. The club also sponsored a third Boy Scout troop.
As a member of the Presbyterian Church he presided over the Herkimer County Older Boys Conference held in Little Falls in 1936. There were meetings and a main speaker from the New York State YMCA. One reverend spoke on “What Should Be Our Attitude on War,” another’s topic was “Citizenship That Counts” and Supreme Court Judge Abram Zoller spoke of “The Challenge of Youth.” Those were important topics in the United States as Europe seemed to be on a road to war.
As a legionnaire, he worked on committees for a feather party dinner and entertainment for the Legion members. At one time he commanded the post and was awarded a lifetime membership in 1962.
He was assigned by the Board of Charities to serve as city poor physician for $500 a year, and led a joint effort with Fire Chief Cooney and firemen to provide boxes of toys, candy and oranges for 80 needy families, including 400 children in the winter of 1935.
He was concerned about safety at schools, movie theaters and those driving on city streets. A safety drive week was held, with Dr. Sabin’s leadership, in which state police tested brakes and local police concentrated on drivers obeying traffic devices. Three years later at a Civic Club meeting, Dr. Sabin questioned the effectiveness of police in the enforcement of the traffic laws. He was supported by Dr. Tanzer about the 90-minute parking law on Main Street not being enforced, but Mr. Ernest Sheldon, at an open meeting discussing civic issues, defended the police and said more one-way streets might help solve some problems.
Tragedy came again to Dr. Sabin when his wife Esther, a member of the Rock City Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star Mothers’ Club, and having just completed her presidency of the Church Street School PTA, suffered a cerebral embolism on the evening of May 13, 1936. She had complained of a headache previously and her husband had administered a sedative. She was rushed to the hospital where Dr. Vickers directed crews from the Utica Gas and Electric company through the night, using their inhalator and pulmotor to ventilate her but to no avail. At age 40, she too, left three young children, Fred Chapman Jr., and five-year old twins, Robert and Marion. Dr. Sabin married Gertrude Moynihan, a nurse, in 1937.
Dr. Sabin added to his civic responsibilities by becoming one of four county coroners. He dealt with many tragedies while verifying deaths. There were attempted suicides with jack knives and guns, successful love lost suicides by poison, drownings in East Canada Creek and young drivers or passengers killed because a tire blew and the car hit a tree. He even examined a man from Kentucky, as a vagrant picked up by the police and taken into custody, who claimed to have kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. Mr. Harden Lavender was committed to Marcy State Hospital for 30 days on questionable sanity.
He examined a watchman who was killed with a blunt object while working at Gilbert’s Knitting Mill, but no perpetrator was ever found. When Senator Patri, 61, died suddenly alone in his home in Dolgeville, Coroner Sabin ruled it was due to Angina Pectoris. He, also, recommended the elimination of the Gulf Curve in his report on the train tragedy of 1940.
In 1941, Dr. Sabin investigated bones discovered in a gravel bed in the town of Danube. He determined that they were at least 200 years old and belonged to an Indian child. That same year he attempted to remove an atomizer top from an asthmatic man who had accidentally inhaled it during an attack. The man was sent to Utica and then Temple Hospital in Philadelphia where a bronchoscope was located and the top was successfully removed from the lung.
During World War II, Dr. Sabin led the county Emergency Medical Committee which allotted supplies of blood plasma to the hospitals then in Ilion, Herkimer and Little Falls. There was much concern in Dolgeville about medical services after Dr. H.F. Buckbee and Dr. Max Leventhal enlisted in the service. The mayor, Raymond Mang, reached out to Dr. Sabin and the County Medical Society for assistance for remedies and to calm the residents. He also served as the medical director of the Herkimer County Draft Board.
After the War, Dr. Sabin, in an attempt to improve conditions for veterans, attended the statewide Medical Advisory Committee that approved a study of the water regime at the newly established veterans’ facility at Saratoga Spa.
Always civic minded, he was in a Memorial Day Parade that honored the last two surviving Civil War veterans in the city, Victor Adams Sr. and Martin P. Durney.
The county cut back to two coroners in 1946, Dr. Sabin then took the county physicians’ job. They were paid $1,200 a year and $.08 a mile for traveling expenses. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he served as city and town of Danube health officer.
Throughout his life, he attended several family reunions in Turin and held one at his camp three miles north of the city. He and his first wife had built a log cabin on what is now Sabin Road. Many Little Falls families and children were able to enjoy the outdoors and campfires there.
An interest in American history led to his involvement in the preservation of an Erie Canal site in Fort Hunter and in being placed on the board of Herkimer Home by the governor of the state.
In furtherance of this interest, in 1951, Dr. Sabin and his second wife, Gertrude, had begun to collect antique industrial equipment, medical and other antiques found in barns and attics from the Mohawk Valley and New England. They gathered these items, preserving history, and shared with friends and historians. They had a country store, a 19th century complete doctor’s office, a dress shop and barn and blacksmith tools.
Dr. Sabin died unexpectedly on June 7, 1967 at Little Falls Hospital after being stricken at his summer home “Three Acres.” He is buried in the Church Street Cemetery in Little Falls.
After his death, his wife felt she could not continue the upkeep of the buildings and artifacts. A huge auction held over several days was arranged. Some items went to collectors and some to museums.
Dr. Sabin had helped many people of all ages, served his community and nation with honor and dignity, while traversing tragedy during his lifetime. A person well worth knowing and remembering.
This Writing Series was first published on the Times Telegram on September 25, 2017.