Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Part II: The 1954 House of Needles


Editor’s note: the following is the second installment of the complete text (in three parts) of a speech given by Mayor John Ludlow in 1954 or 1955 to a civic group about the Polio epidemic of 1954 from his viewpoint as Mayor. This may be the only extensive contemporary account of one of the most significant events in Saltaire history, one that shaped a whole generation. The only editing is the headings, which we have added, the fact that we are breaking the speech into three parts. It was delivered as one speech. For notes on the provenance of the manuscript, click on the “Comments” section at the bottom of the post.





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Part II: The 1954 House of Needles









by Mayor John Ludlow


Monday we reported our new case to the Commissioner and pleaded for gamma globulin. He promised to, and later advised us to prepare for inoculations Wednesday. A notice was posted immediately that all children below 15 and all pregnant women would be inoculated. The effect upon the morale of the people was electric. The thought that the children you love may become crippled for life is not pleasant. I myself have a boy of twenty-two, the Assistant Director of Recreation, and what with my concern over the health of the Village and my worry over his health, the following days were a somewhat dubious vacation.


Tuesday, Miss App, the medical supervisor for the Commissioner arrived and outlined the needs this for the inoculation program. We found her not only efficient but a very charming person.

We decided to use the Village Hall for the procedure, with three teams consisting of a doctor, a trained nurse, two trained helpers and a registrar within assistant for each team.

A wire was strung across the hall and this section was then divided into three cubicles by screens. Sheets were requisitioned and pinned over the wires and screens so that there was definite privacy, necessary for more than one reason. We used desks and tables, covered with blankets and sheets for the inoculations.



"...no mother hesitated for a moment to agree to my request for help."






I set out on my trusty bicycle to round up volunteers. Just remember, if you will, that no one is sure of how polio spreads and that an older person may be a potential carrier by association with children who may develop the disease. Having this in mind, I was very proud that no mother hesitated for a moment to agree to my request for her help.

We sent a private boat for Commissioner Rafle, Dr. Backer, three nurses on Wednesday morning and the inoculations started at 10:15 a.m. and continued until 1:15 p.m.



Benches were set out along the walk at the main entrance to the all area and a man stationed outside the door and gave each family a number. As this number was called the family and was admitted and the door shot so that the weeping and sometimes screaming children inside would not disturb too much those waiting their turn. Once inside each mother registered each child and he was weighed to determine how much gamma globulin to inject: i.e.: one CC per five pounds of weight with a maximum of a 20 cc per person.

I might say that’s a pretty hardy inoculation. A mother of , say, three children would take one child into the cubicle and women would shepherd the remaining two. After inoculation the child was led by a woman to the other side of the hall, given a lollipop, not only for his enjoyment, but to effectually block some of his crying, and was taken out the far door where additional women cared for him until his mother came until his mother completed her not too pleasant task.


Picture, if you will, two little girls of about six entering the cubicle, one tearfully, one serious but with almost a swagger. The latter emerged a minute later with a trace of a tear and just a suggestion of a strut. From the second cubicle came an agonizing scream "no, no, mommy not again.” Once during the morning a child let out such a high-pitched scream that it seemed like a fierce whistle. I learned later that even the attending doctor straightened up as thought startled.

Meanwhile, the cartons containing the packaged gamma globulin were being opened and the bottles arranged for easy handling and two women constantly washed the syringes for use in the inoculations.

At 1:15 p.m. the doctors took a break and the nurses had a light lunch at my home. Meanwhile, some mothers from Kismet appeared and pleaded for our help. The Commissioner, after lunch felt rested enough to tackle the added starters and by three o'clock the job was finished -- 183 persons were inoculated. Most of these had a two separate injections with a one refill for each needle. And that's really a lot of jabbing. The gamma is almost as thick as molasses and it takes considerable pressure to clear the needle.

There followed watchful waiting. The playgrounds were deserted for two days and most of the children limped around because of decidedly sore rear ends.


Tomorrow: part three of the Ludlow speech: “Tears rolled down his cheeks... “my granddaughter has polio”



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