All previous attempts to install radio receivers that would enable the residents of Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement to hear radio had failed. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, the leprosy settlement was considered "the loneliest place in the world."
Then, in 1925, electrician R.L. "Doc" Cooke of the Mutual Telephone Company of Honolulu successfully installed the receivers, winning the respect of the people of Kalaupapa, who considered him a Kahuna of great power.
When a successor was needed to replace the out-going Superintendent, Doc was hired, despite his lack of experience. Two years later he tried to resign, but the settlement residents petitioned the state to convince him to stay.
This the story of Doc's time at the Leprosy Settlement, from 1925 to his death in 1939,
told through newspaper articles, letters, and photographs.
Note: Although the term "leper" is used in the historic references on this website, the term is outdated.
Leprosy is now called "Hansen's Disease" and those who have it are called "Patients."
The people of Kalaupapa call themselves "residents."
The Footprint Girl
In the beginning, it had nothing to do with the old footprint in the sidewalk - very few people even knew it existed.
In the end, this tiny piece of Kalaupapa's history would be the centerpiece of a celebration, and the little girl who's small feet were pressed into the wet cement on Sept. 10, 1932 would be welcomed back home, 70 years after being sent away.
In 1993, with her health and eyesight failing, my 91-year-old maternal grandmother Wilhelmina Cooke Carlson decided to sell her Santa Barbara apartment and move into a senior care home. She'd set aside a box of letters and mementos along with a small black photo album to give me.
The album was very old and worn, and full of photographs and newspaper clippings about my grandfather, R.L. “Doc” Cooke, who had been the superintendent of the leprosy settlement at Kalaupapa on Molokai for 14 years until his death in 1939. As I looked through it I was stunned. She had never talked about her life at the settlement, and had never once mentioned the photo album.
I wrapped it carefully and put it in a safe place.
It would lead to a wonderful quest and the adventure of a lifetime with my mother.
The "Doc" Cooke Years 1925 - 1939
In Loving Memory
Robert/Ralph Leslie “Doc” Cooke
July 22, 1887 - May 18, 1939
Wilhelmina Kiesel Cooke Carlson
May 3, 1902 - February 14, 2000
E. Leslie Cooke Mayer
March 13, 1928 - August 8, 2017
Allister Bennett "Biff" Cooke
August 5, 1929 - November 17, 2017
Eugene Deitrick Mayer
March 8, 1930 - July 10, 2018