Thirty Rooms to Hide In
Insanity, Addiction, and Rock 'n' Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic
Publication Year: 2012
Author Luke Longstreet Sullivan has a simple way of describing his new memoir: “It’s like The Shining . . . only funnier.” And as this astonishing account reveals, the comment is accurate. Thirty Rooms to Hide In tells the story of Sullivan’s father and his descent from being one of the world’s top orthopedic surgeons at the Mayo Clinic to a man who is increasingly abusive, alcoholic, and insane, ultimately dying alone on the floor of a Georgia motel. For his wife and six sons, the years prior to his death were years of turmoil, anger, and family dysfunction; but somehow, they were also a time of real happiness for Sullivan and his five brothers, full of dark humor and much laughter.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, the six brothers had a wildly fun and thoroughly dysfunctional childhood living in a forbidding thirty-room mansion, known as the Millstone, on the outskirts of Rochester, Minnesota. The many rooms of the immense home, as well as their mother’s loving protection, allowed the Sullivan brothers to grow up as normal, mischievous boys. Against a backdrop of the times—the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, fallout shelters, JFK’s assassination, and the Beatles—the cracks in their home life and their father’s psyche continue to widen. When their mother decides to leave the Millstone and move the family across town, the Sullivan boys are able to find solace in each other and in rock ’n’ roll.
As Thirty Rooms to Hide In follows the story of the Sullivan family—at times grim, at others poignant—there is a wonderful, dark humor that lifts the narrative. Tragic, funny, and powerfully evocative of the 1950s and 1960s, Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a tale of public success and private dysfunction, personal and familial resilience, and the strange power of humor to give refuge when it is needed most, even if it can’t always provide the answers.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
Title Page, Copyright, Epigraph
Rochester, Minnesota, is a privileged white enclave of conservative Republicans nestled in the southeastern part of a Democratic state. It is the little town where kings come to fight cancer and presidents go for surgery. ...
Rochester, Minnesota, is a rich little town. The Clinic had been producing buckets of cash since the 1920s—and let it be noted here, 1920s money was real money. The large houses that began springing up around the Clinic were baronial estates built in a time when “cutting corners” meant cutting actual corners, ...
Skeletons in the Closet
I squint back at the photos. I can see the details. They’re right there in front of me, but no matter how I try to inhabit the moment captured there, it is a fly suspended in amber—I can see but not touch. ...
He wanted to be the next Albert Schweitzer,” Mom says, sitting now with a fresh cup of coffee. “He dedicated his career and life to a service so altruistic. He was going to be a medical missionary.” ...
Grandma Rock Sentences Everyone to Hell
H. L. Mencken described Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be having a good time.” Irene rarely seemed to be having one, and certainly nobody standing near her did. She was a chilly woman who banged the Bible more than she did her husband, ...
Little Christians, All in a Row
Watching my mother try to get us to Sunday school an observer might have thought we were vampires being dragged out into the noonday sun to fry. We made the process of getting dressed and off to Sunday services such a whiny mess that, except for our father’s funeral, ...
Little Monsters in Every Room
A wag observed that a firstborn’s birthday is enshrined with detailed memory: “Our beloved son entered the world at precisely 1:19 a.m. on Monday, the sixteenth of August, in the year 1947.” ...
A Library of Her Own
There in the same town, several miles away in the halls of Seabreeze High School, walked our other grandfather, the school principal. The clipped approach of his steps got the attention of students lingering outside classrooms, but it was his voice that ran Seabreeze High for thirty years. ...
Forts, Death, and Bedtime
The Civil War was not my introduction to the whole idea of “sides”—that had been formed by fighting with my brothers. But the fact that grown-ups had once broken off into warring groups so clearly defined they even had uniforms, well, this was fascinating: conflict institutionalized. ...
For now, the thick walls of the Millstone were a safe place for my mother to raise six little boys. But beyond the gates at the end of the driveway the country drift ed into a period of dangerous intolerance: the Cold War was getting into high gear and civil rights were more than a decade away. ...
Five O’clock Shadow
A few years ago, an arsonist nearly burned down my brother Chris’s house. Neither Chris nor any of his family was there at the time, though the family hamster died. The morning after, Chris and I drove back to his house to examine the damage. ...
Shit Gathers in General Area of Fan
In 1958, the term “chemical dependency” didn’t exist. “Boozer” might have. “Party guy,” definitely. But “alcoholic”? “Chemically dependent”? Forget about it. Alkies flew under the radar. You could smack the wife, wreck the car, take a shit in the neighbor’s birdbath, and as long as you showed up for work on time all anybody did was roll his eyes. ...
Cyclops and the Fallout Shelter
The Millstone sat on its hill in Minnesota for nearly thirty years before the first television was carried across its threshold, or lugged, rather. In 1958 Dad brought home the single heaviest object ever to exist in the house—a “portable” TV. ...
Hidden Books, Hidden Letters
Mom’s making dinner and you’re having a snack at the kitchen table maybe thinking about Spider-Man or Daredevil, and a rabid dog leaps gracefully up on the table and walks down the length, grinning through its foam. ...
It is 10:30 p.m. and I am tired. But before I leave this day, it is fitting I should write down its date, as it is one none of us will ever forget. So exhausted am I in mind and spirit I cannot find other words. Good night, my dear ones. I know how much this day’s infamy has shaken you. ...
Fun at the Foot of the Volcano
We had no Nine Eleven to compare with Eleven Twenty-Two but looking back, similarities exist. The exact freeze-frame answer to the question, “Where you were when you heard?” The empty feeling the adults must have had when returning to work, ...
Any anthill inhabited by the stinging red kind was subject to, forgive me, “The Red Anthill Solution.” This usually involved a magnifying glass or peeing on the colony, and it brought more joy than pest control ought to bring. Fireflies, too, were sacrificed matter-of-factly to produce glow-in-the-dark war paint. ...
Cause of Death: Unknown
The Millstone was home to many hamsters over the years—so many we had a nickname for the species. The word hamster, when spoken as if you had a stuffy nose, was “habster.” We shortened it to “hab.” ...
The sexual and political repression of the 1950s created its own worst nightmare—longhairs playing rock and roll that made the girls shake their boobies. It made the men with short haircuts and white short-sleeved shirts put down their slide rules and try to stop all the tomfoolery. ...
“Spats with the Wife”
Chris says every “reason” is simply an excuse to drink. As an example he facetiously mimics one patient whose circular logic went, “One day, it’s ‘Yay! The Yankees won! Let’s have a drink.’ And the next it’s, ‘Shit! The Yankees lost. Let’s have a drink.’ There’s always a reason. ...
The Alcoholic’s Guide to Ruining Evenings
At the Millstone we had no father figure, and when a sane adult male drifted into our lives, we swarmed him like a lifeboat. There were two such men in our world—the Tonys. ...
Snowballs Somehow Made in Hell
Lukee is not getting along with Christie. They’re constantly arguing about who’s going to have the big, brown chair in Dad’s study. Christie will cross his right leg over his left . This makes Christie’s knee get in Lukee’s half and when that happens, ...
Leaving the Millstone
By the fall of ’64, Roger’s drunkenness reached a level that even Mom, thick of skin from years of abuse, could no longer bear. The night’s booze had begun to linger on Dad’s breath when he arrived at work the next morning. His boss, Dr. Mark Coventry, weighed in expressing concern, ...
“We’ve Always Lived in This Castle”
My good brother Jimmy just phoned to tell me about your illness, Papa. As I told Jimmy, if only I had delayed the move out of the Millstone by two short days I could have found a housekeeper and come to you in Florida. But to leave the boys out here in this little house at this time is out of the question. ...
Snowfall has gathered unplowed for a month and almost entirely blocks the driveway. Chris, thirteen, is sitting on the stone gateposts at the end of the driveway, looking at the house he used to live in. A scarf covers his mouth. Of the six boys, he is the one who looks most like his father: ...
Ceiling Tiles over a Psychiatrist’s Couch
The snows were melting in Elton Hills, running off the great hill where the convent still frowns over the small houses of north Rochester. I’d come indoors from snow-damming the cold waters as they came in freshets down the edges of Thirteenth Avenue and was warming up in my bedroom when Jeff leaned in and told me Stan Laurel was dead. ...
Things That Were Scarier Than Dad
We used to play an incredibly scary version of hide-and-seek called “Beaster.” It was the last organized game any of us remember playing with Dad before he went over the edge. ...
“I’m with the band” is the essence of borrowed cool. If there had been a 1965 bouncer who stood between the Pagans and me, my patter might have been different. ...
Hiding in the Bathroom from Bullets
By the summer of ’65, we found ourselves back in the Millstone playing Beaster for real. Now we crept through the house at high noon wondering when Dad’s anger would lurch from a corner. It could come for any of a hundred reasons now: for roughhousing, for being a child, for existing. ...
Hiding in the Tower Library
BOOM! The oak door rattles. My father is outside the door. He is drunk and pounding with a flat hand. In his other hand is either a drink or the rifle. From inside we think we can hear that ice-in-glass clink, but we can’t be sure. ...
Dutch was the guy who sent the hoods upstate to the juvie in Red Wing. He also had say over which bands were allowed to play in the police-sponsored mixers at the armory. Dutch became acquainted with the Pagans in both capacities. ...
Eye of the Hurricane
Psychotherapy has continued, however little progress has been made. The focus has tended to remain on the marital conflict and we have made little progress in terms of therapy. The situation has reached the point that he can no longer really function effectively in his work ...
No Help from God
For decades alcoholism was considered a lack of willpower at best, a moral failing at worst. It wasn’t until 1956 that it was even classified a disease by the American Medical Association, and even then treatments for addiction were medieval: electroshock therapy, insulin shock, heavy sedation. ...
On my desk, dropped carelessly by the office mail-room boy, is a manila envelope that may contain some answers to my father’s death. Inside are his psychiatric records that I’d ordered months ago from the Institute of Living in Hartford; ...
Jeff has had his Beatles ticket for many weeks—locked away in a drawer and he checks it every day or two to see it is still there. I have not yet had the chance to talk to him about it but I know he’ll think of it as an experience of a lifetime. ...
One Last Good Christmas
I have just returned from Hartford very much encouraged and—this you will find hard to believe but will have to accept as a fact—in love with my husband! This whole thing is so mysterious to me—the working of the mind and the heart—that I realize you cannot be expected to understand any of it—nor do I. ...
Tiny Details in Family Pictures
Dad’s sudden return to the Millstone was a car crash in backward motion. The metal popped smooth, the pieces of glass flew out of our hair and assembled into a window, the grill of the Mack truck that hit us backed away—and there was Dad again, sitting in the kitchen, smiling. ...
The weather records for Rochester, Minnesota, say January 29, 1966, broke a record when it reached thirty degrees below zero. It couldn’t have been much warmer five days later, the day my father started back at the Clinic and got the call about his mother. ...
There was now only one bottle of booze in the Millstone: gin, kept on hand for visitors and Clinic gatherings. Mom and Dad had agreed it would be okay to keep one bottle around the house as long as Mom was in charge of it and it was kept in a locked cabinet in the dining room. ...
Meltdown in West Palm Beach
Few alcoholics recover without reaching this place, one that AA describes as a point of “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” By now Roger had racked up quite a few excellent candidates for rock bottom—publicly accusing his best friend of sleeping with his wife, jail time for a DUI, a fistfight with his son. ...
“Do I Owe You Any Money?”
On the phone is Myra Longstreet’s best friend from Seabreeze High School, class of 1941. Tacy Moore, now eighty-nine, is speaking from her home, still in the Daytona Beach area, ten miles up the road from R. J. Longstreet Elementary School. ...
The Famous Final Scene
“I’ll show them,” thinks the drunk as he leans over the bridge and looks into the swirling waters below. In the movie playing in his head, he writes the Famous Final Scene. It will be a scene so touching, audiences everywhere will weep and as they cry, they’ll blame themselves. ...
Zee Tortured Arteest
Back in May 1961, Mom was at the sink peeling potatoes when she saw Ernest Hemingway walk by the road out in front of the Millstone wearing his trademark turtleneck sweater and knitted cap. For a woman whose library included copies of the famous writer’s best works, ...
Phone Calls from the Dead
The last time I saw him was the morning I took him to the airport, June 28th. Roger leaned in the car window to kiss me goodbye and heaven must have been watching over me, for my last sight of him was one which filled me with tenderness and the old love. ...
This Mortal Coil
The body was embalmed by arterial injection. The heart weighed 310 grams. There were no congenital anomalies. The heart valves and myocardium were normal. The coronary arteries showed grade 1 arteriosclerosis. The trachea was filled with partially digested food material. There was no blood within the aspirated material. ...
Investigation revealed that this 45 year old medical doctor, who lived in Rochester, Minnesota, had arrived in Augusta on June 30th relative to securing a position at the Medical College of Georgia. He had conferences with the Chief of Orthopedic Service at the college. ...
The Irish Flu
On the dresser of the room where my father died were three pharmacysized bottles of Placidyl and Librium, a total of 700 pills in a prescription filled, according to the labels, just twenty-six days earlier; 442 of the pills remained, leaving 258 unaccounted for. ...
Sunday, July 3, 1966
When I woke Sunday morning 10:00, I was sick. The room was whirling about me and when I stood on my feet I grew instantly nauseated, faint, and broke out in a clammy sweat. I sent one of the boys for a Dramamine (seasickness pill) and went back to sleep. ...
Pagans in the Temple
This joke used to make us howl. We’d collapse to the floor, delighting in its blasphemy. Yet even as we professed active disbelief in God or an afterlife, we did in fact believe in an unseen world—ours was the one full of all the scary shit. We little ones believed in ghosts and monsters. ...
One Last Look
The only thing that bugs me is to see how Mom is hurt. She crys a lot. It just broke her when she took her wedding ring off and had Kip put it in Dad’s pocket. We had to pick a casket today. Tomorrow is the reviewal. ...
Sunlight Streams through a High Window
Aft er days of oppressively hot weather, Wednesday, July 6th dawned clear and cool. I wore a plain black dress, with ¾-length sleeves— white cuffs and a wide white horse-collar which I had pinned up from its low line—it was a favorite dress of Roger’s. ...
The Big Bad World
Dearest Mother and Father: Four weeks have passed—and it’s still July. I’ll be glad to be rid of this month. 1966 is more than half over and has not turned out to be the year we expected it to be. The long struggle is over (for both Roger and me). And my problems have been reduced to two—one an old one, one new. ...
Take a Sad Song and Make It Better
The deep unhappiness that occasionally overtakes me has two forms: one, that Roger’s life was such a misery to him—to him who seemed to have so much. The other, that the boys have not had in the last ten years a father—and never will have. ...
This Very Room
There are places in the world where bad things happened. In these places the illusion of time grows weak and if you stand still enough you can hear what happened there, lingering like the last notes of a sad song. If you go to Dallas and stand in Dealey Plaza where Mr. Zapruder stood, ...
“And Every Winter Change to Spring”
Well, I look over these 74 years and consider myself fortunate, a child of Providence, that I have been granted 74 years of life on this interesting planet; that I found a wonderful woman to take care of me and give me two wonderful children; that I have had many friends who out-numbered my enemies; ...
How I became dependent on booze and drugs will have to be a story for another day. As for this story—about the years I spent wondering what my father was like—it turns out he was like me. ...
My gratitude to Dr. Tony Bianco and the entire Bianco family, Anne Brataas, Maria Carvainis, Dr. Mark Coventry, Mike Ferrer, Karen Gregory, Karen Jacobs, Mike Lescarbeau, Dr. Tony Lund, Jill Marr, Evan Mathews, Andrea McAlister, Tacy Moore, ...
There’s no fake stuff in this memoir. All the events in this book happened as depicted. Some quotations from the diaries or letters have been edited for readability. Many of the original documents are available for review online at thirtyroomstohidein.com. ...
About the Author
Luke Longstreet Sullivan worked in the advertising business for thirty years and is now chair of the advertising department at the Savannah College of Art and Design. ...
Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012
OCLC Number: 859381790
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