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


Editor’s note: the following is 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.


Part 1: “ Are the Polio Rumors True?”

By Mayor John Ludlow:

It is very nice to be with you tonight.

Mr.Werle, who, by the way is probably the smartest arbitrageur on the New York Stock Exchange, paid me a great complement by inviting me to speak here.

There is a word in our own language that I think has not been given due importance. The word is "sociability," which I'll take the liberty of terming "vocal, hospitable, friendliness." You must have much of it in this association or you would not be the success that you are. Sociability is friendliness of by word as well as by deed: it is when you enjoy having people in for supper equally as having supper at their house; when during a walk around the block you meet and have a friendly greeting from eight or ten people.

Such is the type of life that we have at Saltaire. We are a small incorporated village of one hundred and ten cottages, a part of the Town of Islip, to whom we contribute taxes yearly. We have our excellent water system, we have trash and garbage collection three times a week, we have a post office during the summer, we have a Yacht Club to which almost everybody belongs and which is the social center of the community. We have wide boardwalks and we have one of the finest bathing beaches in the world. Mothers let their children play without close supervision -- -- no child has ever drowned at Saltaire. We have a Director of Recreation with three assistants and a life guard. We have two large well equipped playgrounds and supervised classes with a membership of about one hundred children. And we have no public bars.

Into this Paradise for children came to the tragic disease of polio.

Upon my arrival at Saltaire on Friday night, August 6, women asked me "are the polio rumors true?"

I checked immediately with our Village doctor. He had treated no polio in the week he had been at Saltaire, but had been told that three and possibly four persons, one adult of 28 and three children had been found to have polio upon examination after their departure from Saltaire.

The symptoms of polio, according to our doctor, are a sore throat and a muscle pains, especially in the neck, sometimes accompanied by nausea. When the neck becomes practically rigid it is almost a sure sign of polio. However, no actual confirmation is possible without a spinal tap, and this must be done at a hospital. As the hospitals do not advise us, it is easy to see why we were not accurately informed at once.

At any event, the as the Mayor of Saltaire, the responsibility was mine.

A party at the Yacht Club was being held. I took the doctor there and explained to the people that I had just learned of the development of polio in several people who had left the island. I stated there would be no recreation classes for two weeks and no congregation of children would be allowed. I had the doctor tell the people the symptoms of polio and to urge that children have plenty of rest and no cold shock or violent exercise.

Precautionary measures were outlined in detail by letter the following day and sent to every resident. At their request 120 copies all this notice were also sent to the people of our easterly neighbor, Fair Harbor.

We reported to the County Health Commissioner. He had no reports of polio, but by contacting Meadowbrook Hospital he later confirmed one case.

There followed a subdued, apprehensive atmosphere. We had a water analysis made, shut off public drinking fountains, and ordered paper cups to be used at the Yacht Club and Soda Shop.

Sunday night in the early darkness a low siren sounded several times. As this normally signals the alarm for fire, the people ran out of their houses to be of help. I saw lights bobbing near our dock, and my heart sank. One of our nicest boys, a handsome 15-year-old, whose father in his day had been a famous runner at Notre Dame, had been under observation all day by the doctor. I knew this must be the Coast Guard boat to take the boy to the mainland. So it proved to be. The doctor told me the boy's neck was practically rigid, and we learned the next morning he had polio. That night I woke with a sore throat and an ache in my own neck and I learned later that the doctor also had slept poorly.

Continued tomorrow:

Tomorrow at Saltaire38: part two of the Ludlow speech: “The 1954 House of Needles.”

1 comment:

JOH said...

A note on the provnance of the Ludlow Manuscript:

In 1974 JO'H went to ex Mayor Ludlow and we mutually spoke about it being 20 years since the polio epidemic. JO'H offered to write an article, and the mayor provided a handwritten copy of a speech about the epidemic through his eyes as mayor that he had delivered to an organization on the mainland. This is that speech, taken directly from a xerox copy of Ludlow's manuscript.

The article never got written since the Fire Island News indicated that they were not interested in running a "depressing" story. JOH retained a copy of the Ludlow speech, and the copy has been in his possession ever since.