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Summers of Fear

Apr 5, 2011 10:50 AM | 0 comments

Summertime--the name alone conjures up images of days filled with fun and freedom.  Warm lazy days spent at the beach, or by the pool eating ice cream, going to the amusement park, or catching fireflies.  The daily pace slows down just a little and childhood takes on a more carefree feeling.  But as a new decade began, summertime in the 1950's was anything but carefree for Brooklyn families.  Something had stolen the "joie de vivre." It was the continuing threat of infantile paralysis, or polio.

Polio slowly began its insidous march in the U.S. at the turn of the century, affecting the future President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1921.  The 1930's and 40's saw a steady increase in cases, but by 1952 the infection rate skyrocketed to 58,000 people.                 


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle covered all aspects of the dreaded disease, from the search for a medical breakthrough, the galvanizing community efforts to raise money, and the stories of courageous individuals who showed Brooklyn their indomitable spirit.  

The March of Dimes was the most prominent but there were many groups, large and small that helped in raising money and awareness        






This Brooklyn Daily Eagle caption from November 7, 1952 reads, STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART - Blond and pretty 3-year old Joan Brickfield of 2522 E. 19th St., named Poster Girl of the Greater New York Mothers' March on Polio, asks you to pitch in and help.  Winning her own battle against the crippling disease, she is out to enlist assistance for other victims.  Some 200,000 volunteers are needed for the drive, which will be climaxed on Jan. 28, when canvassers will call on their neighbors for donations to the March of Dimes.  

 The indiviual stories of people who had contracted polio were especially compelling. 

Graduate with Honors - Roberta M. Ickman more than two years a polio victim, holds diploma and Gold Medal for Scholarship and Courage, on graduation from Samuel J. Tilden High School







                            For Learning and for courage. Raymond Saxton, 19, of 806 13th Street, stricken by polio in September 1951 during his senior year at Midwood High School, receives diploma in his home today from Principal Jacob I. Bernstein. Women, left to right, Hazel Kopf of Board of Education, Helen Crimmons, home instruction teacher, and Mrs. Saxton, Raymond's mother. Youth wears respirator contributed by March of Dimes.                                                                                                                   

 Leading up to the the Salk and Sabin vaccines Dr. William Hammond conducted experiments with a gamma globulin serum that would prevent the infection of polio.  Parents from East New York desperate for protection for their families protested at the Health Department Offices in Manhattan for access to the serum. Their children had been in contact with several polio victims from the Boulevard Houses.  They were requesting the serum be used to inoculate 180 children from that project.  Although gamma globulin was deemed impractical for mass use, its discovery was an important step in the development of the Salk vaccine.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Years of research culminated in the the Salk and Sabin vaccines introduced in the mid 50's, and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle kept their readers abreast of every medical development


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle did its own part in the fight against polio.  It ran a series of beautiful photographs by Al Lambert in January of 1955 with an appeal for reader donations.   




Do your eyes rattle loosely and look like roadmaps?  The furnace needs fixing, there's a dent in the car's fender and the mortgage payment is due.  Those Christmas charge account bills will be coming in soon and it's only three months till April, when the Uncle comes around.  Trouble, trouble, trouble--that's what New York looks like, doesn't it?  Now take another look at these engaging kids in the picures above...what does the New York hold for them?  A promise of health ? A chance to run and play? A reunited home?  No one can say for sure,  but see the strength and steadfastness, the gaiety and faith in their faces.  Big-eyed, merry little Ismail, a 1/2 os a [post-polio patient at Jewish Chronc Disease Hospital]; Nurse Dolores Villaini smiles while five-year-old Shelly, another post-polio case, gazes steadily into the future.  Cute and alert despite polio, Arlene, 2 1/2, faces the New Year with a rounded, undaunted chin while at right five-year-old Gloria gives a protected, charming smile in the arms of Sister Isabel of the Daughters of Wisdom at St. Charles Hospital.  These pictures are symbols of needy, worthy people and organizations in Brooklyn who must face the New Year wtih courage and strength and need your help to do it.  Resolve today to remember their problems and to count your own blessings in the coming year. Happy New Year!