“May the force be with you, Doctor Letterman.”

Into the lives of most grad students a thesis shall fall. Into my life it has, indeed. A thesis is not a biography. Instead one picks a topic of interest, asks some pointed questions about it, and then researches the heck out of things to see if the questions might be fairly answered. This did not bode well for my writing about Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. I am not honestly sure all the research in the world would justify my claims that he is the Father of the National Guard, the First Patriot, or the Most Important Death in the Civil War. I decided to go in another direction.

Dr. Jonathan Letterman

The topic of my thesis is Doctor Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac from July 1862 to January 1864. He was really a terrific thinker, and one with whom I can live for a long while, but there are things no professor tells you about . . . like when things get just plain odd.

Those who know anything about Letterman would probably agree that “odd” is not a word usually associated with the man. A straighter arrow it is difficult to imagine, and yet . . . things got odd, even with the good doctor. Who would have known he had a direct connection to Han Solo? Or perhaps I should say Han Solo had a direct connection to Letterman . . .

After he resigned from the Union Army, Letterman went out West. He had been stationed in California earlier, and loved it. The weather was/is unbeatable, and opportunities seemed to be knocking. It was not Doctor Letterman’s future, however, to become rich by California scheming. Soon he was looking for a job, and got one in San Francisco. Within a few years he was elected Coroner of San Francisco, serving from 1867 to 1872. After the death of his wife, he became depressed, came down with several severe illnesses, and died on March 15, 1872. He was only 47 years old, poor fellow.

On the grounds of the San Francisco Presidio, an Army base for 218 years, stood an Armyhospital built in 1898. Thirteen years later it was renamed the Letterman Army Hospital to honor the now deceased Jonathan Letterman. The hospital was a feature of every U. S. foreign conflict in the 20th century but, as everything does, it aged.

Letterman General Hospital at the Presidio

In 1969 an attempt was made to upgrade the hospital. The historic part of the hospital was demolished. New buildings were built and more beds were added to help the returning Vietnam veterans. The hospital got a new name to go with its facelift–the Letterman Army Medical Center. It remained in service as long as it could hold out, but was finally abandoned in 1994. A year later it was decommissioned, and the entire base was transferred to the National Park Service. Letterman’s namesake building was almost completely demolished in 2002.

And this is where things get odd. No disturbance in the forces of good go unanswered! The site, along with some of the remains of the former Letterman Army Medical Center, magically transformed into . . . wait for it . . . the Letterman Digital Arts Center! It became the new combined home of Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts, and Lucasfilm’s marketing, online, and licensing units in 2005. Opening ceremonies were held June 25, 2005. The $350 million, 850,000 square foot center is currently home to 1500 employees, and even won an award because parts of the old Letterman hospital were designed into the new complex.

Letterman Digital Arts Center, Building B (side view) in the Presidio of San Francisco (Photo by Frank Schulenburg, Wikicommons)

Best of all, a bronze fountain of Yoda, Jedi Master extraordinaire, welcomes visitors to this luscious geekiness, which loved by Dr. Letterman I think would have been.

George Lucas had every chance, indeed every right, to name his workshops anything he chose. That he honored Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Father of Battlefield Medicine, is just lovely. Not too many things are, nowadays. May the Force be with us all.

Yoda Statue at Lucasfilm headquarters! (Photo By R. Sheridan, starwars.com)

9 Responses to “May the force be with you, Doctor Letterman.”

  1. Another remarkable article by Meg Thompson. Keep on goin’ girl. You write with such authority and humanness.

  2. A really wonderful blog. Thank you very much. It’s always great to see my two great interests, the Civil War and Star Wars, brought together in creative ways.

  3. I saw today on C Span coverage that a Go Fund Me Page existed for the Marker for Jonathan Letterman in his home town of Canonsburg, PA. Any info?

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