Dr. Carl L. Brimi

Dr. Carl L. Brimi practiced medicine in Cooperstown from 1898 to 1925, taking an active part in the life of the community for twenty-seven years.  The oldest of nine children, he was born in 1876 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where his father, Sever E. Brimi (1853-1936) had settled after immigrating from Gudsbrandsdal to Chicago in 1869.  Since Sever's story belongs to Wisconsin we won't pursue it here except to mention that he was an early conservationist.  As a member of the Wisconsin legislature in 1887 he wrote and secured passage of a bill that outlawed the wholesale slaughter of songbirds by hunters for the millinery industry and for sport.

Upon finishing high school at sixteen Carl entered Rush Medical College, Chicago, in 1892.  Like many other students then, he took part-time jobs as guard and gate attendant at the world's fair - the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93.

After graduation in 1897 Dr. Brimi completed his internship at Norwegian- American Hospital in Chicago.  What led him to Cooperstown we really don't know, perhaps a medical placement service, but we suspect the good proportion of Norwegian settlers in this area was an important consideration.  He had grown up in a Norwegian speaking family, been churched and confirmed in Norwegian, and throughout his life he enjoyed speaking and reading the language.  Many of his patients were to say that it made them feel better to discuss their illnesses with him in the mother tongue.

Dr. Brimi arrived in Cooperstown on January 17, 1898.  He had established some credit with a St. Paul medical supply house and began to practice, taking an office in Syverson's bank building kitty-corner from the Palace Hotel.  Dr. F. W. Rose, Cooperstown's longtime dentist opened his office in the building a few years later.

The Palace, where several young and not so young bachelors and a few married couples lived (as well as the transient guests, mainly salesmen) was, in its heyday, an attractive center for sociable gatherings or for casual visiting with the occupants of the chairs that faced the passing scene, shaded by trees and the balcony (an added improvement to the original structure) that ran along the south and east sides.  The proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Stone, were responsible for the remarkably pleasant, family atmosphere of the hotel.  Evenings when a piano player was present an unscheduled dance could start up in the dining room.  Maynard Crane was considered the most elegant ballroom dancer in town.  His daughter, Kathleen, was much admired as a singer and pianist.

Here in 1903 Dr. Brimi met Elizabeth Manske, who was working at the Palace on loan "for maybe three months" from the Kindred Hotel in Valley City.  The Kindred's proprietor, Mrs. Lane (a well-known early Dakotan) had asked Elizabeth to help out her friends, the Stones, who were shorthanded at the time.  In the long run, as Carl married Elizabeth in 1904 - in St. Louis during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition - her "three months" in Cooperstown stretched to over forty years.

From the first Dr. Brimi discovered his practice made him cover a lot of ground.  Calls were made as far as Dazey, McHenry, McVille, and Finley.  Livery stable teams and rigs, and later, livery autos (weather permitting) were hired for many of these trips.  For some years he had his own buggy and Hambletonian team - Nancy and Fanny.  And by 1910 a gray Hudson roadster, then a cream Buick roadster, which Albert Larson's son Oliver fell in love with and persuaded the doctor to let him buy, and the inevitable Model T's that were all over the landscape by 1920.  And there was one - one only - terrific ride with Reverend Charles Evans in Chet Piatt's homemade kerosene -burning boneshaker with a plank seat.

There were some car-related emergencies in the days before outright car accidents became common.  The doctor once delivered a baby in a Studebaker touring car.  pioneer Millard Washburn died of a stroke in his car one July 4th near Mose.  and there was the man from Karnak who threw his wife from his moving car - she suffered only minor injuries if immeasurable mental anguish.

Kitchen-table surgery, if not always dramatic, had to be performed sometimes in emergencies.  There were even a few appendectomies, one for a member of the Hill family near Hannaford in 1899.  The usual emergency was a farm accident involving hands caught in machinery or a broken bone.  There were always kids falling off the windmills.  And there were tragedies like these from the early 1920's: 

two girls from Finley who drowned near the Qualey bridge.  two children who died in a farmhouse fire at Sutton.  a suicide in a lonely hotel room.  a drifter who fell from a train.

Outbreak of scarlet fever, typhoid, and diphtheria called for house quarantines and school closings, virtually unknown today.  Worst of all was the historic influenza epidemic of 1918.  Dr. Brimi, just out of the army, found himself to be one of the few physicians available to the county in this crisis, as Drs. Almklov and Westley were still with the service.  The disease struck hardest at young adults and the elderly, with many deaths, and kept the doctor on the road day and night.

Andy Tufteland, who often drove the rig in the early days once said that on clear nights Dr. Brimi would point out the constellations, and on the way back to town would sometimes make Andy stop for a spell to study the sky or take in the Northern Lights.  Then Andy, eager to get home, would hear a lot more about astronomy than he really wanted to know.

Sometimes a friend like I. D. Allen or Dr. Winsloe would ride along to help pass the time in conversation.  The roads were run over the hills, not cut through them, and an extra shoulder to the wheels could be a great help.  Mrs. Brimi recalled drives to the river with Mrs. Julia Stevens and her daughter Ida, Mrs. Iver Udgaard, and Mrs. Vic Nelson, in the Stevens's Ford touring car.  When the car balked at a steep grade the girls got out and pushed.

Dr. Brimi was a constant reader.  Apart from keeping up a medical library, he read just about everything that came his way.  He was a pushover for itinerant book agents.  Mrs. Brimi thought they had their secret mark on his door in the style of the old-time hoboes.  He collected books about the plains Indians and the Indian wars.  Chet Piatt's father often told him about the campaigns along the Missouri River from firsthand experience.  The Civil War, a favorite topic of the GAR veteran, E. C. Butler, and the western mining experiences of T. J. and R. C. Cooper, and their early days in Dakota, also deeply interested him.

Religion, philosophy - the heavier ponderables of life - were often taken up with P. A. Melgard, Will Carleton, Reverend Charles Evans, Carl Scott, Basil Edmondson, and Reverend Sweger, who all exchanged books on occasion.  John Syverson and Dr. Brimi were readers of John Burroughs, a nature writer now almost forgotten.

The doctor's all-time favorite preacher was one of the old school, mild-mannered and soft-spoken except when in the pulpit: 

then, when Pastor Vikingstad assailed the dark designs of the Pope at Rome and envisioned the frightful possibility of the Vatican moving to St. Paul - and all this in high-flown Norwegian - "he made us shake in our pews today! "

Dr. Brimi's daughter, Mrs. H. A. Leighton, remembers how much her parents enjoyed the golden wedding observances for the Ole Rorvigs at Binford in 1923, and near that time, a ladies aid lawn social with Japanese lanterns at the home of Mrs. Emma Berg.

For many years Dr. Brimi was superintendent of the board of health, county coroner, official physician for the railroads, and held various offices in the state medical association.  He belonged to a number of fraternal organizations - naturally the Sons of Norway, and in February 1900 he became a Shriner at Fargo along with Peter E. Nelson, John Syverson, and P. A. Melgard.

Dr. Brimi died suddenly at the age of 48 on January 19, 1925.  In the Sentinel -Courier Gerald P. Nye wrote: 

"he lived to serve mankind.”

Mrs. Brimi died in Minneapolis on February 23, 1947, at the age of 66.  She reared four children, the youngest born shortly after his father's death in 1925.  Their children are: 

1.     Elizabeth, now Mrs. Horace Leighton

2.     Dr. Robert, physician in Knoxville, Tennessee

3.     William, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota and Carl, an employee of Amtrak railway.

For the record, there are two Dr. Brimis practicing medicine today, in Tennessee: 

a son Robert, in Knoxville, and a grandson John, in Memphis.

Source: Griggs County History 1879 - 1976 Page 61


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