THE POLIO EPIDEMIC OF 1955
The Polio Epidemic of 1955
By Lifetime Member Lynn E. Koenigs
Headlines from the Seymour Press
• August 11, 1955 - Polio Scare, Hot Weather Throw Outagamie County Fair For Loss
Attendance of 75% less people spelled disaster for the fair. The average attendance in former years was 40,000. This year it was 13,000. The fair was granted $10,000 in emergency funds to make up loss. The fair was held despite the polio scare. Attendance was left to the parents’ decision. The board would have called off the fair if it had known six weeks in advance that the polio scare would hit the area.
• August 18, 1955 - All Scout Meetings Cancelled In Seymour During Polio Threat An announcement has been made that all Girl Scout and Boy Scout meetings have been cancelled until further notice. This action was necessary because of the serious polio threat in this area.
• August 18, 1955 - Corn Roast Postponed Due To Polio Threat
The annual free corn roast sponsored each year by the Seymour Businessmen’s Association has been postponed because of the current polio threat in this area. No new date has been set.
• August 25, 1955 - Opening of Schools Postponed Until September 12
Dr. Louis Sieb announced Tuesday morning that the Seymour Public Schools and St. John’s Catholic School will open one week late because of the seriousness of the polio epidemic in Outagamie County. It is hoped that the polio situation will level off.
• August 25, 1955 - Polio Conditions Here Unchanged
Polio conditions here in Seymour and in Outagamie County remain unchanged as the number of cases increase daily. Reports list that Outagamie County with 221 cases is by far one of the severest hit. The local health officials request that children remain at home, away from the general public.
• August 25, 1955-Graduate of Seymour High Dies of Polio
William Cleven, 18, route 1, of Oneida, became Outagamie’s sixth polio fatality of the summer when he died Friday morning at St. Vincent Hospital.
Interview with JOYCE ANN BRICK, age 12, a victim of polio in that dreaded summer of 1955.
"It was a frightening time because there wasn’t a known cure for it, and I was one of the children to contract it. It started with a sore throat and leg movements that didn’t feel quite right. Dr. Groendahl, from Seymour, drove to our farm and I was given a penicillin shot. He later said, 'I think that is what saved you.'
I entered Saint Vincent Hospital unable to see, hear, work my legs, or swallow. I was very near death and not expected to pull through. My parents, Elmer and Valita Brick couldn’t stay because I was in quarantine. My dad was so upset after leaving the hospital that day, he got lost driving from Green Bay to our farm near Crystal Springs Golf Course.
There were several children across the hall from my room which were using iron lungs to help them breath. I remember that one youngster died. The concerned nurses kept asking me, 'Can you breathe without difficulty?' I could. That summer was one of slow recovery. Due to difficulty swallowing I lived on soup and Jell-O. Without physical therapy in the 50s, I was lucky enough to have a mother that helped me strengthen my limbs.
After my health improved, I spent a lot of time in Seymour ice skating, and I was enrolled in a tap dance class. I eventually regained the use of my lower limbs. Mom was a wise lady to think of ways to help me exercise in fun ways. I am very thankful for all that she did for me. However, I still feel the effects of polio today. My throat is still partially paralyzed, so I must eat carefully.
I received many cards and presents during my recovery at the hospital, but everything had to be burned. It was still unknown what caused polio and the hospital staff wasn’t taking any chances. I felt badly about that."
Those of us lucky enough to live in a time when vaccinations are readily available will never know the terror that permeated the lives of so many just a few decades ago.
For the curious: Google "Polio" and find out what caused it. You might be surprised. Find out about the cure and Dr. Salk. It is an interesting story.
Research by Lynn E. Koenigs