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Brain Tumor Registry Timeline

Brain Tumor Registry Timeline


 Timeline Event


Johns Hopkins Pathology Department ‘misplaces’ a pituitary cyst from Ms. Mary Donnelly. The ‘lost’ specimen drives Harvey Cushing (HC) to insist on retaining his own collection. (Wahl, p. 23)

1902 - 1932

Specimens collected and traveled with HC through his 2000th surgery.  Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale


Earliest patient photo available (Legacy, p. xx)

1903 - 1930

Portraits “of every patient Cushing touched, almost always photographed before and after an operation, but many times serially during the hospital stay particularly if the patient was deteriorating, and when there was nothing more Cushing could do – he documented the unrelenting course and death.” (Legacy, p. xxi)


Begins to request all his neurosurgical patients write him on the anniversary of their operations (Fulton, p.241)


Relocates to Boston – Mosley Professor at Harvard and surgeon-in-chief of the new Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (PBBH)


Latest patient photo available (Legacy, p. xx)


April, approaching his 2000th verified tumor operation; cause for celebration


HC retires from PBBH; thus begins the formal organization of the Brain Tumor Registry. Harvard is initially interested in housing the collection in the Warren Museum but costly structural improvements and a new Harvard president combine to stall the project. Over the next year, HC determines that the project has lost momentum and decides to move the entire collection to New Haven.


November, HC returns to Yale and rents a house at 691 Whitney Ave, New Haven


September, Eisenhardt accompanies the specimen collection to Yale

1935- 1936

HC decides to have  “the clinical records of each one of his 2201 cases of verified tumor (along with a few hundred others) reproduced photographically and brought to New Haven with the Brain Tumor Registry…The services of Frederic Ludwig of Yale…were enlisted and during 1935 and 1936, 50,000 sheets of Brigham histories were photographed for Cushing’s New Haven files.” (Fulton, p. 628). By Summer 1936, Eisenhardt had the records arranged in the Brain Tumor Registry.


Cushing, Eisenhardt, Bailey and Oldberg are “in accord on the theory that the entire Registry should be moved again, this time to Chicago [University of Illinois, College of Medicine], where Bailey and Eisenhardt could continue the work on problems not addressed.” (Wahl, p. 52).


HC dies


Mr. Howard M. Hanna of Cleveland endows the collection at the time of HC’s death, in memory of his son of the same name who had succumbed to a malignant brain tumor. (Fulton, p. 628) Allows both the collection and Dr. Louise Eisenhardt to remain at Yale.

1939 - 1967

Dr. Louise Eisenhardt curates the collection while it is housed in the Brady sub-basement. During the first years, the collection is well used by young neurosurgeons and neuropathologists studying intracranial pathologies.  During the 1940s and 1950s many scholars travel to New Haven to utilize the collection as they studied for their certification boards. (Legacy, p. xviii)


Eisenhardt dies leaving the Tumor Registry in the capable hands of Dr. Elias Manuelidis.


Dr. Elias Manuelidis needs to move the specimens as the Section of Neuropathology prepare to secede from Pathology. Waning use of the collection combined with subsequent space issues causes Dr. Manuelidis to seek a space to store the collection.  He “acquired permission to store the entire collection – photographic negatives, gross specimens, laboratory materials, and dyes, even an old gurney into a locked room near the [fallout] shelter.  He employed the help of faculty and students, and moved everything save the microscopic slides (which are still in use today) below the dormitory.” (Wahl, p. 54)

1968 – 2009

Medical Students use the eerie sub-basement as a ‘rite of passage’
“Over the years, in what became a rite of passage, Yale students would break in – by unscrewing a door panel and squeezing inside – to a room in the basement of Harkness Dormitory.  It is a daunting trek, dimly lit, beneath oversized heating and ventilating ducts and through spaces that haven’t seen a broom or a mop in years.  The students came to see the brains.  Hundreds were lined up on dusty metal shelves, submerged in cloudy formaldehyde, their gray matter crumbling at the edges.  Since the mid 1990s and continuing to this day, students pay their respects by signing a poster in the room, thereby becoming members of the “Brain Society”.” (Yale Medicine, Spring 2010)
The poster says “Leave Only Your Name; Take only Memories”


Cushing Tumor Registry Restoration Committee formed: Dr. Lycurgus Davey, Dr. Robert Gifford, Dr. Laura Manuelidis (Wahl, thesis dedication page, 1996)


During the early 1990s along with the resurging interest in the brains coming from the medical students, the Sections of Neurosurgery and Neuropathology were also interested in evaluating the collection. It was in February of 1994 that a generous donation from Dr. Albert W. Diddle made the continued work on the Cushing Tumor Registry possible. While a struggling Yale medical student, Dr. Diddle received a sum of money in return for several projects he had completed to benefit the Medical School (Wahl, p. 56). He was returning the favor; his donation stipulated that it be “given to a student willing to contribute a substantial portion of time working on a project to directly benefit the institution”. (Wahl, p. 56).


Medical student Christopher Wahl, supported by Albert Diddle’s gift, with supplemental grants from the National Institutes of Health and a James G. Hirsch, M.D. Endowed Medical Student Research Fellowship, completes a research year writing his MD thesis entitled The Harvey Cushing Brain Tumor Registry:changing scientific and philosophic paradigms and the study and preservation of archives.

Yale photographer, Terry Dagradi, became involved with the Registry while making exhibition prints from original glass and film patient negatives used in Christopher Wahl’s thesis exhibition. She continued to work with Dr. Dennis Spencer, chair and Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Neurosurgery, as he initiated plans for a ‘museum’ space for the entire collection.


Dr. Dennis Spencer asked Dr. Laura Maneulidis if he might take Cushing’s collection to the Fulton House on Deepwood Drive, Hamden – for easy viewing and upkeep. Fund-raising begins.

1997 - 2008

Turner Brooks, Professor at Yale School of Architecture, and principle of Turner Brooks Architects is hired to explore and design various sites as potential homes for the Brain Tumor Registry.


The Legacy of Harvey Cushing: Profiles of Patient Care
Edited by Aaron A Cohen-Gadol and Dennis D. Spencer
New York: Thieme: American Association of Neurosurgeons,2007


Fall, Dr. Dennis Spencer and R. Kenny Marone, Director of the Medical Library agree on the utilization of sub-basement space within the Medical Library as ‘museum’ for the Brain Tumor Registry and other Cushing Memorabilia.


Nicole St. Pierre, forensic scientist, carefully cleans jars, specimens, and replaces preservative in over 500 one-gallon specimen jars. Safety restrictions require the jars be packed in individual buckets and that Yale’s Environmental Health and Safety team escort the specimen jars as they are transported two by two at night to the Pathology laboratory.


Cushing Brain Tumor Registry finds its final resting place in the Cushing Center, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, Yale School of Medicine with the opening of the Cushing Center, Alumni Weekend, June 2010


  • Blair J. Cushing Collection once again open for research. Yale Medicine, Spring 2010: 4-5.
  • Cohen-Gadol AA, Spencer DD. The Legacy of Harvey Cushing: Profiles of Patient Care. New York: Thieme: American Association of Neurosurgeons, 2007.
  • Fulton, JF. Harvey Cushing: a biography.  New York: The Classics of Medicine Library, Springfield, IL: C.C. Thomas, 1946.
  • Wahl, CJ. The Harvey Cushing Brain Tumor Registry: changing scientific and philosophic paradigms and the study and preservation of archives. MD Thesis, Yale University, 1996.