you remember about the fear surrounding polio epidemics:
My dad, Carmen Thronson, shared two additional memories of the fear his
parents had. When he was growing up in the 30s and 40s, his parents wouldn't
let him or his brother or sister go to the County Fair - too many people. They
had moved back to Minnesota when
he was about 6. In the summers, he was sent to the farm to live with
grandparents, instead of staying in town.
And once, when he was in high school in Minnesota,
a man came to the parsonage, to see his dad about funeral arrangements. A
family member had died of polio. My dad said his “mother was aghast!” He
remembers walking home from school that day and his dad came to the front door
and called out to tell him to "go to the Blakely's" until they came
for him. Then his parents disinfected the entire house. There was such fear.
Tell us what you
remember of the impact of polio:
My dad talked about two strong impacts. He has been told that when he saw
his mother again, after her hospitalization, the family realized that he didn't
recognize her at all. I have a photograph of my dad when he is about one. His
parents missed him learning to walk and talk that first year. He's outside and
dressed warmly and holding a man's cowboy hat. I imagine it was his dad's. On
the back of the photo, someone has written, “At Otteson's when mother had polio”.
In the story told by my dad about his mother's polio, he also talked about the
medical costs. He remembers when he was 25 years old or 25 years later,
overhearing his Dad say to his mother that he was mailing the last payment to
reaction of your family and others you knew to the development of the vaccine:
When the vaccine became available, my dad shared that we “eagerly
participated in the program. Some people were afraid of the program but we knew
what the polio could do.” I do remember as a little girl taking the vaccine -
the sugar cube and the little paper cup. Reading
“A Splendid Solution”, I realize that we were taking the live vaccine and not
receiving Salk's vaccination. I don't know if it was available to us in Wisconsin
at that time.
My grandmother, Borghild Thronson, had polio in 1931 and I asked my dad,
Carmen O. Thronson, to share that story.
“I was born in Montana in
March of 1931 and Mother came down with polio when I was six months old - about
August, Sept. That would be the polio season, wouldn't it?”
I was too young at the time, but I've been told that there was a sense of
urgency in getting her help because of the paralysis. My dad, Carmen P., had 6
uncles - Thron, Christian, Hans, Emil, Ingvald, and Hjalmer and his father,
Otto, back in Minnesota. As it
turned out, Christian hadn't done well in farming, so he had become a salesman
for a logging boot company. He went from lumberjack camp to lumberjack camp in
northern MN and made a very small fortune. He moved to Minneapolis
and invested in Benson Optical Company. That fortune was shared more than once.
One time, his brother, Hjalmer had a bank in northern Montana
and Christian was able to save that bank during the Depression by loaning him
all the money needed.
“What he did for my father was to loan him the money to bring mother back to
Minnesota to stay in the hospital
during her recovery. At the time, we lived in Saco, MT.
where my dad was the Lutheran minister. We came East on the train, the Empire
Builder, which started passenger service in 1929. Because of the polio, they
had to buy tickets for a Pullman car for the family only. So it was just my
dad, mother and me in that car. It was a frightening time for people because it
was so contagious.
“The goal was to get mother to the University of Minnesota Hospital and to
leave me with my mother's parents, Otto and Annie Otteson. They had a small
farm between Benson and Starbuck, MN.
“It was only a whistle stop at Benson. The train slowed and my dad did not
get off the train, but did hand me over to my grandfather and grandma and I
lived with them for the next 10 months while my mother went to the hospital and
my dad went back to Montana.
“At the hospital, the University was trying a new treatment based on the
work of Sister Kenny. She was actually from Australia
and when she encountered polio in 1911, she didn't know about the treatment
using splints to make the limbs immobile, but instead applied hot packs so they
could stretch the limbs. I don't know how many polio patients there were, but
later the Sister Kenny Institute was built in Minneapolis
and the hospital treatment had been highly recommended.
“The story has been told to me that my mother stayed there for about six
months and I've been told that when I saw her again, I didn't recognize her.
When she came to her parent's home, they say that her mother and her brother,
my uncle Magnus, were so good to help her with the hot pack treatments for her
legs that had been started at the hospital.
“I do remember one thing when I was about four and we lived in Montana
again. There were hot springs near Saco and I remember a
time that I stayed in the car while my dad carried my mom to the springs for
her legs, so she must have been weak even then. After her treatment, all ten of
her toes didn't completely heal, so she said that she always had trouble with
balance. But before the hospital, she couldn't walk and she recovered.”