When you have lived 81 years you have seen it, heard it, and done it – whatever “it” may have been at that time. History Repeats Itself is a quote used to make a point that what we are experiencing in the moment has happened before in like events or circumstances.

The current Coronavirus pandemic is creating panic with closures of schools, churches, businesses, etc due to no vaccine to prevent or control this virus.  

During the 1950s, poliomyelitis was at its peak across the USA, with iron lungs the only device to help those who could not breath on their own to live.  Photos of children in these huge machines with only their tiny heads visible were splashed across billboards, in magazines, and March of Dimes brochures. Those who survived polio had to wear leg braces and use crutches.  

News from Wharton’s newspaper 1950-53 editions and includes fight against Tuberculosis:

December 8, 1950: New polio cases are up in Texas, 20% increase over 1949. To date 2,684 cases reported and may reach over 3,000.  Texas among the hardest hit and has received over $300,000 from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis [polio].

January 12, 1951: Two Wharton polio patients are in Jeff Davis Hospital in Houston.  It is hoped Frederich Ullman and Anita Fretz can come home for Christmas. 

April 13, 1951: Wharton County’s TB Mobile X-ray unit has completed a total of 3,548 x-rays of county children at all schools with 38 suspicious TB infections and 29 with other pathologies.  LULAC asked to contact non-citizens in the Hispanic community to have this service provided.

June 22, 1951: Sheriff Lane led the race to Jeff Davis hospital to get 4-year old son of Elmer F. Peterson for treatment of suspected bulbar polio. As the boy was in critical condition, the cars drove at speeds up to 85 mph on Hwy 59 and 70 mph down Main Street in Houston.  With Mrs. Peterson holding Gary in her lap, the caravan made the 75 miles in only 65 minutes.

July 15, 1951: El Campo VFD has an emergency vehicle to be used for transporting polio patients needing Houston’s hospitals. It contains a portable iron lung ($1,2000), E&J resuscitator ($621), 2 Scott airports ($187), stretcher ($90), First Aid Kit and fire extinguishers  This 1950 panel auto is fire engine red with lights, siren and 2-way radio.  

October 5, 1951: Wharton County Fair drew large crowds and they responded to presence of the TB mobile unit offering free chest x-rays.  1950 only 486 persons took advantage of the service but this year 939 x-rays were made.

December 7, 1951: Odessa Texas closed all businesses in an effort to halt polio siege there which struck 68 of the city’s 30,000 residents in less than 30 days; 9 have died.  Church holiday activities cancelled; although schools are open, few parents are sending their children as most of the newest victims are children.

January 1952: Mother’s March on Polio is January 31st with over 100 moms walking and driving through neighborhoods collecting your donations to fight polio.  Turn your porch lights on to signal you want to be a donor.

February 15, 1952: George W. Boerger, 32, diagnosed with polio and transferred to Jeff Davis Hospital for treatment. 

June 20, 1951: City of Wharton authorized Ragen’s Pest Control to spray the city with DDT dust in combination with other pest control insecticides to ward off a polio epidemic in Wharton.  Treatment will kill flys, fleas, mosquitos, and other disease bearing pests.  County commissioners made arrangements for their districts to be sprayed to keep polio from gaining a firm foothold. Town of Moulton is in epidemic mode. Christine Meyer, 20, of Needville, nurse at Rugeley & Blasingame Hospital was diagnosed as having polio.  

August 1, 1952: Wharton doctors advised City Council to close the city swimming pool as precautionary measure.  The pool itself may not be contributing to spreading polio by bathers nor does swimming help spread the disease, but closing is advisable as Michael Crump and Virginia Lou Crawford, who recently patronized the pool, are the latest polio victims.

September 28, 1952: Tuberculosis Fund Drive to be conducted Sept 8-13 by Wharton County TB Assoc. the only voluntary health agency in Wharton County.  TB is #1 killer of those ages 15-35. Stats show 11 persons in Wharton County died of TB during 1951 of the 44 known cases; 20 new cases during 1952 with 7 deaths. 100% of all donations stay in Wharton County. TB is preventable and curable – donate today.

July 1952: Wayne Klingsporn, 11, Wharton’s latest polio victim.  He entered Caney Valley Hospital with a high fever and rushed to Hedgecroft Hospital in Houston for treatment. His legs are now paralyzed. Darrell Janecka, age 4 of Needeville, dies in Wharton hospital after suffering from polio for 5 months.

December 12, 1952: Wharton County TB Assoc made 2,887 chest x-rays during 1952; 185 were “confirmation” of the disease and asked to get a larger x-ray.  Of the 185, 20 were to be sent to a TB sanitorium; of the 20, 16 were admitted and 2 died prior to admission and 2 still waiting for available room. Wharton County had 12 TB deaths and 36 new cases in 1952, but only represent known cases; many too scared to get x-rayed. 

January 16, 1953: Texas State Health Dept reports Wharton the only city on the Colorado River that still dumps raw sewage into the river.  A disposal plant is needed as the fly problem there is above average and they could be spreading polio, dysentery and other death dealing diseases.  Wharton’s garbage disposal and storage system needs to be dealt with and numerous outhouses still exist within the city limits.  East Bernard has its own disposal plant and proper garbage containment making its sanitation systems far above that of Wharton’s.

Merle Hudgins is Wharton County’s official historian.

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