Monday, March 23, 2020

Remembering Polio

As we struggle with Coronavirus (COVID-19) some may remember another epidemic disease – infantile paralysis, better known as polio.  It spread through the feces of someone who was infected. In areas of poor sanitation it could get into water or, by touch, into food. It was highly contagious. It could attack a person of any age, but children were most susceptible. In the hot days of summer before air conditioning the young often headed to public swimming pools, lakes, streams, rivers and the ocean to cool down, but these bodies of water could also be a source of the disease. Our parents and grandparents were terrified that infantile paralysis might strike one of their own; for my own family it did when a cousin was diagnosed with polio, unable to breathe after the virus paralyzed muscles in the chest. He was placed in an iron lung, with everyone praying for young Billy B.

           Poliomyelitis has been with mankind since the dawn of history, but it wasn't until the 20th century that major polio epidemics occurred.  The disease first struck Southern California in 1912. In one week, twenty-one cases were reported and one death.  Long Beach, which was free of the disease, suffered $100,000 ($2.6 million today) in lost revenues because of rumors of outbreaks in the city. On the morning of August 13th, city health officials, trying to keep the disease out of Long Beach, passed an ordinance prohibiting youngsters under fifteen years of age from congregating together in one area.  This was disastrous for business, coming in the midst of the tourist season, but it undoubtedly helped curtail the spread of the disease.  Theater owners were particularly hard hit and suffered large economic losses.  Pike merry-go-round entrepreneur Charles Looff was so upset he decided to disobey the new law and was arrested.  Because of the success of the quarantine, Long Beach did not suffer a single case of infantile paralysis, something city health officials were proud of.  Businessmen, however, viewed the quarantine as extreme, considering there was not a single case of the disease reported in Long Beach.  Because of public pressure, the ordinance was repealed on September 5th, and Looff's case dropped. (Daily Telegram 9/5/1912) 

       One of the worst outbreaks occurred as the world was trying to recover from World War II. Fathers recently returned from battle, who had fought for a better world for their families, were now witnessing their children suffer from a disease that had no cure. Would their youngsters, if they survived, still be able to enjoy life without permanent physical disabilities? Such thoughts raced through Long Beach parents' minds as they witnessed an epidemic in the making. Polio cases in the city had jumped from a mere 28 in 1947 to 275 in 1948. (Press Telegram 1/1/1949) 

        The epidemic was not just happening in Long Beach but nationwide as more and more children experienced headaches, nausea, upset stomachs, sore muscles and unexplained fevers, all symptoms of infantile paralysis. In 1949, the number nationwide for polio outbreaks set record numbers, soaring to 41,173 with 2,720 deaths.  In Muncie, Indiana, the infection was so bad the city was forced to ban public gatherings, including funeral services.  The outbreak was not as severe in Long Beach, the number dropping to 111 cases from the city's record of 275 the previous year. Perhaps this was due to city health officials asking residents to avoid crowds and close contact with other people.  Also to be avoided was swimming in polluted water, over exertion and sudden chilling.  Residents were also asked to observe strict personal cleanliness, keep food safe from flies and make sure lids on garbage cans were tightly covered.
An iron lung ward for the young

            The polio virus operated by attacking  nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord, often causing paralysis.  The virus got into the body through the nose and mouth and into the intestines.  The infection then traveled along nerve fibers or through the blood to the central nervous system.  There the virus entered a nerve cell, multiplying so rapidly it killed the cell.  Paralysis resulted when the majority of the nerve cells were destroyed.  Surprisingly, some people who became infected by the virus did not always get the disease.
            Doctors believed fatigue made the disease more severe.  Complete bed rest and simple treatments such as a hot, moist bandage was recommended to relieve pain.  When the fever abated it was important to start gently moving the limbs.  If this didn’t happen deformities and painful tightening of the muscles could occur.  Splints, braces and crutches were needed by some patients, though exercises helped strengthen and retain the muscles.  Often breathing muscles became paralyzed and doctors put the patient on a respirator called an iron lung to help with oxygen intake.  With the help of a respirator two-thirds of patients would eventually recover their natural breathing. Sometimes as little as two weeks in an iron lung was needed for treatment, in other cases it lasted a lifetime.

           Can you imagine placing a young child in an iron lung, trying to keep the frightened child calm? There wasn't much for youngsters to do but keep still.  There was a mirror in front so they could see what was going on behind. There was a frame over the top where they could put a book or a newspaper, but they had to have someone to turn the pages. There was the radio they could listen to, but no television. That was still being developed. Patients could only be let out for about 15 minutes several times a day, gradually increasing as the lungs began to work again on their own. 
            Hospitals such as the Adelaide Tichenor Orthopedic Clinic in Long Beach helped children, who were most susceptible to the disease, regain the use of their limbs.  The Tichenor Clinic was supported by endowments, fees and donations and was available for children up to the age of 18 with orthopedic complaints whose parents could not afford the needed care. In 1948 the clinic treated 511 children, half of whom were victims of polio. (Press Telegram 1/2/1949).

          Many "boomers" may remember the March of Dimes drives to raise money for polio research and treatment. The dimes collected helped aid victims and search for a cure for this much feared disease. It was estimated that just one polio case a year cost $3415 to treat with more money needed for continued therapy. (Press Telegram 1/1/1949).  Often the money collected through the March of Dimes was not enough to cover local expenditures. In 1949, for instance, the March of Dimes spent $102,750 to treat Long Beach polio victims, but just $56,831 had been raised through city donations. (Press Telegram 1/18/1950)
            From 1912 onward a polio epidemic appeared each summer in at least one area of the county. Research continued, resulting in the invention of the iron lung in 1927. In September 1949, Dr. Harvey E. Billig Jr. on the staff of Community Hospital gave a glimmer of hope to sufferers of the disease.  Dr. Billig had experimented by injecting glandular secretions into muscles.  These steroid injections, he claimed, caused the ligaments to relax.  His research showed that when this treatment was used in the first stages of the disease it worked miracles.  The down side of his research, however, showed some glands failed to recover and the use of artificial steroids had to be continued. (Press Telegram 1/15/1949)
Lining up for the Salk vaccine
             Despite years of  research it wouldn’t be until 1955 that a partial cure would be found. That year anxious parents rushed to have their children immunized with the Salk polio vaccine.  Free mass polio immunization got underway in Long Beach on April 18, 1955.  Eleven thousand first and second grade students lined up for the first of three injections.  Following the first shot a second shot was given two to four weeks later, and a third, or booster shot given seven months to a year later.  The series of shots provided three years protection from the paralyzing virus.  But all was not well. Within a few days of the injections reports appeared stating that some of the Salk vaccine manufactured by Cutter Laboratories was unsafe.  One Pocatello Idaho girl died one week after being vaccinated.  The vaccine was recalled and inoculations halted; despite this precaution several Long Beach youngsters suffered polio attacks after being given the Cutter produced vaccine.  All, however, recovered.
Given on a sugar cube it tasted fine
            Salk’s vaccine was only partially effective. It did not prevent the initial intestinal infection. In the 1960s the Sabin oral vaccine was released by Albert Sabin, who refused to patent his vaccine so the low price would guarantee coverage for all. The Sabin vaccine blocked the chain of transmission the Salk vaccine did not, effectively obstructing the polio virus from entering the bloodstream.

            Infantile paralysis didn’t just strike the young, it infected adults as well. Perhaps the most well-known instance is that of Franklin D. Roosevelt who contracted the disease in 1921.  A lesser known case is that of Long Beach's Don Hornsby, a tremendously gifted concert pianist and composer who performed at the Jack Lasley Cafe in Belmont Shore. Here he combined his piano artistry with song parodies, magic tricks, unusual facial expressions and hilarious ad lib comic. His talents were recognized by NBC who signed Hornsby to a five-year television contract to present a late-night show out of New York. Broadway Open House was network television's first late night comedy variety show.  It was televised live on NBC from May 29, 1950 to August 24, 1951, airing weeknights from 11 pm to midnight.  It went on to become the Tonight Show. Unfortunately Hornsby did not even get to perform one show...he died May 22, 1950. His name would most likely have been as well-known as Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson and Jay Leno if death brought on by polio hadn't overtaken the 26-year-old Long Beach comedian. 

            For the younger audience reading this, which never experienced the battle against polio and fear of epidemics, rest assured. We have been through similar times before, as my last article Coronavirus vs. 1918 Influenza pointed out.  The United States has been polio-free since 1979, though it still exists in underdeveloped parts of the world. We have also developed vaccines to help combat other diseases and will do so with the Coronavirus. Oh yes, my cousin Billy B. survived polio after six months in an iron lung, followed by physical therapy, with no ill effects and is still enjoying life today.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Coronavirus vs 1918 Influenza

            “Council Should Act on 700 Citizens’ Request for Mask Ordinance.” “Individual Quarantine Should be Made Permanent in Fighting Influenza.” “New Flu Law Enacted for Quarantine Emergency: Guards to be placed if ordinance is disregarded.” “Deaths by Influenza Top War Casualties.”
            Such were the headlines in the Los Angeles Herald from the fall of 1918 to the spring of 1919.  There were many similarities to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) we are now experiencing. Read for yourself what was happening during the epidemic that struck the world more than a 100 years ago and make your own comparisons with what is transpiring today.  

            In the fall of 1918 a deadly disease began to sweep across the United States--influenza. In October, the epidemic reached Long Beach.  Years later it was determined that it probably started on a pig farm in Iowa.  After the annual Iowa Cedar Rapids Swine Show in September 1917, a mysterious ailment gripped its pigs.  Millions of hogs fell ill and thousands died.  At the same time the pigs got sick, Canadian hunters found moose and elk with flu.  The pig virus also hit bison and sheep and eventually humans.  Doctors didn't recognize the epidemic potential until American troops had already introduced the flu to war-weary Europe.  Coughing Germans called it the "Blitz Kartarrh" while feverish English solders named it "Flanders Grippe." American troops added to the confusion by calling it the "Spanish Flu" or "Spanish Lady."
            In September 1918 the flu overwhelmed Camp Devens outside of Boston.  The overcrowded military camp housed 45,000 men where only 35,000 were intended.  The first case appeared on the first of September and by the eighteenth had multiplied to 6,674 cases.  Many of the soldiers, men in the prime of health, turned blue, bled from the nose and died in forty-eight hours, struggling for air.  In the book the Fourth Horseman by Andrew Nikiforuk, one physician called it the most vicious type of pneumonia he had ever seen, and reported that "mahogany spots" spread over the face "until it was hard to distinguish the colored man from the white." In one day 90 men died.
            Having had no previous experience with the 1918 swine flu strain, the adult immune system overreacted.  All of the inflammation and water in the body allowed wandering bacteria to deliver lung dissolving infections.  Crowded barracks, fetid trenches and sealed troop ships guaranteed that there was no shortage of meningitis of staphylococci to stalk soldiers.  By the end of October, one in five U.S. servicemen had the flu.
            The Southern California epidemic started with the arrival of an infected ship in the San Pedro harbor.  On October 11th, following the lead of Los Angeles County health officials, Long Beach city commissioners ordered all schools, churches, theaters, dance halls, bath houses and fraternal lodge houses closed.  Public meetings were forbidden.
            Other ways were tried to stop the spread of the virus.  One small town in Arizona made it a criminal offense to shake hands.  Every morning the army forced its recruits to gargle with salt and water, the men then drilled twenty yards apart.  In many places, people seized upon the imagined flu-fighting properties of vegetables; some tied cucumbers to their ankles while others put a potato in each pocket.  One Oregon mother even buried her four-year-old daughter neck-high in onions.  The more scientific-minded added sulfur to the soles of their shoes.

            Perhaps the most popular protection against the flu was a white cotton mask.  In San Francisco, public health officials started a cotton craze by passing an ordinance that forbid people from appearing in public places without a mask over their nose and mouth.  The only place people didn't have to wear masks was at home or in a restaurant while eating.  At the beginning of the epidemic, the mask had such appeal that even frightened newlyweds wore gauze when they made love.
            Despite all the precautions the influenza spread.  In the first two weeks of October between 400 and 500 cases of influenza had been reported in Long Beach and five deaths had occurred.
            The disease itself resembled a very contagious kind of cold.  It was accompanied by a fever, pains in the head, eyes, ears, back or other parts of the body. In most cases the symptoms disappeared after three or four days; some patients, however, developed pneumonia or meningitis and died.  Nurses and others were warned to guard against breathing in the germs by wearing a fold of gauze or mask while near a patient.  Some, such as Doctor William J. Cook, physician at Seaside Hospital, caught the disease despite taking all the necessary precautions.  Doctor Cook died of influenza on October 26, 1918.
            Tragic stories were everyday reading in the obituary section of the local newspapers. On October 16, 1918, death invaded the Harry Poor home for the second time in two weeks.  First Poor, a mining engineer, passed away from influenza.  Two weeks later his son Allen, aged 3 was buried at Sunnyside Cemetery.  Twenty-year-old Pearl Phillips pleaded that her husband George not be buried until she recovered from the flu.  Instead she joined her husband in the same grave when she died a few weeks later – both victims of influenza.  Second Lieutenant Edward Stout survived the war, only to become a victim of the flu.  One month after his arrival home, his death notice appeared in the February 2, 1919, Daily Telegram.  His son had just been born five days earlier.
            On November 23, 1918, the ban on public gatherings in Long Beach was lifted.  On December 9th, schools reopened.  However, a second influenza epidemic hit the City in January 1919.  Schools, theaters and other places where the public gathered were again closed for ten days, but not before Detective E. V. Denney of the Long Beach police force had a curse put on him.
            Denney was in the process of arresting a young Gypsy fortune teller who was plying her trade on the Pike without a license when she told him he was under “a spell of death.”  According to the comely fortune teller Denney would soon be attacked by influenza.  Only by wearing a coffee strainer over his face, and thereby appearing ridiculous, could death be avoided.  Denney didn’t believe a word of it!
            2437 Long Beach men and women had gone to war; 50 of them did not return.  In comparison, 9000 cases of influenza were reported in Long Beach between October 1, 1918 and February 1, 1919; 148 Long Beach residents died.
                The flu buried more than 50 million people throughout the world in eighteen months.  The death rate stunned physicians.  It took the battlefields of France four years to kill 15 million men but the flu did the same work in much less time.  In the United States alone more people died of the flu (550,000 adults) in 1918 than the U.S. military lost to combat in both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.  In Alaska, whole Indian villages disappeared while India lost more than 12 million people.  Adults with flu finished a poker game or army drill one minute, only to drop dead the next.  Although the epidemic initiated the biggest plague die-off in world history, it is remembered, when it is remembered at all, as no more than a bad outbreak of "the flu."

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Long Beach’s Golden Spike

Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869
On May 10th the nation will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental rail line at Promontory Summit, Utah.  On that day Leland Stanford drove a 17.6-karat gold final spike into the tracks connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.  But did you know that Long Beach also had a final gold spike marking the completion of the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad? 

            On November 7, 1891, twelve carloads of people flocked to the Long Beach seashore to witness the opening of the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad (known locally as the Terminal Railroad).  Flags were flown from housetops and a large crowd of people awaited the visitors.  A stop made at Pacific Park (today's Lincoln Park) allowed many more to board the train before it reached the terminus on Rattlesnake Island (later renamed Terminal Island in honor of the railroad).
Los Angeles Terminal Railroad
            At the end of the line, passengers disembarked. They were given time to see the site of the city’s proposed new wharf.  They then returned to Long Beach, got out and mingled with the crowd.  A dedication ceremony followed with a golden spike driven into the rail line by Miss Lucia Burnett (no relation to the author), daughter of the general manager of the rail line.   

           The spike was a facsimile of the regulation railroad spike, but made of solid gold, according to the Los Angeles Herald; it was engraved with the inscription: “Last spike driven by the Terminal Railroad at Long Beach, Cal.” The mallet then passed to W.H. Goucher, President of the Long Beach Board of Trustees, and Mayor Hazard of Los Angeles, each of whom gave the spike a couple of blows and drove it home. 
            Edward Lockett, Secretary of the Long Beach Board of Trustees, gave a welcoming address.  He was followed by C.M. Wells, President of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce who spoke about the importance of transportation to a region.  T.E. Gibbon, general attorney for the Terminal Railroad, followed Mr. Wells, thanking the people for their good will and welcome.  As legal counsel, he pointed out the Terminal Railroad was building a rail line all the way to Salt Lake by themselves, but was working with other rail lines to secure as direct a route as possible to form another transcontinental line.
San Pedro Bay - 1897
            Talk then turned to building a harbor at San Pedro to carry the sea bound cargo of the new rail line.  Mayor Hazard said that $500,000 would be sufficient to make a harbor at San Pedro big enough to hold all the shipping on the Pacific Coast.  Judge Savage of San Pedro reminisced about landing in San Pedro in 1866 when there was only eighteen inches of water over the sand bar. Since that time $800,000 had been spent on improving the harbor. He felt that a few hundred thousand dollars more would make the harbor perfect.  Long Beach’s Dr. J.P. Widney told those gathered that it was now time for the people to wake up to the fact that San Pedro had been chosen by government engineers as the best place for public harbor improvement and that both cities should leave behind their differences and unite in one great effort to secure adequate appropriation for the establishment of a deep-water harbor (which they successfully did in 1899).
Long Beach 1890
            After all the grandiose speeches came what everyone was waiting for --- the barbecue.  A hungry crowd of 1500 rushed from the speaker's stand to the large tables set up in Pacific Avenue alongside the park.  Two plank tables resting upon piles of railroad ties extended 200 feet along the thoroughfare.  They were heaped with smoking meats, stacks of white bread, coffee and apples.  The men carved meat while dozens of boys and girls carried the portions to the eager guests.  There was plenty of meat (beef, mutton and pork), bread, coffee and apples to go around.  The Long Beach band and Ahrend's band of Los Angeles furnished the music.  The festivities ended with a grand ball.  Some visitors even brought home the bones from the barbecue as souvenirs!  (Los Angeles Times 11/8/1891)

A Trip Over the Terminal Railway Described

           A preview run of the rail line was held October 23, 1891, when manager Thomas B. Burnett arranged a trip for 200 farmers in Los Angeles for a convention to travel over his new line to Long Beach.  The line, just completed the day before, was ready for a trial run.  Nine cars were comfortably filled with the farmers, their wives and children as they anxiously anticipated this unforeseen honor.  Burnett had promised to make the trip in 30 minutes, the fastest time ever made to Long Beach.  But after the train had gone three or four miles at this high rate of speed, Burnett called a halt and ordered the train to go a little slower.  It seemed the farmers were not used to going at such a high rate of speed as the railroad men and some were getting a little squeamish.  As it was, the trip was made in 50 minutes and everyone arrived healthy and happy.  The farmers were greeted to a rousing reception; the band played and crowds cheered as the farmers left the train for their complementary lunch.  Following lunch, carriages were available to give those who did not care to stroll on the beach a ride about the city.  When it came time for the train to leave, the farmers gathered on the depot platform and gave the new road and the people of Long Beach a round of cheers that could be heard for blocks around. (Los Angeles Times 10/24/1891)

             A July 1898 article in an issue of Terminal Topics, the monthly magazine of the Los Angeles Terminal Railway, described a rail trip from the Terminal Station in Los Angeles to Long Beach and on to Terminal Island.  The cost of the fifty-mile round trip from Los Angeles to Terminal Island was 50 cents.  There were two terminals in Long Beach, one at First and Alamitos, the second on the northeast corner of Ocean and Pacific.  Passengers who did not leave the train at Long Beach found themselves whirling along the ocean to Terminal Island, described as “a new and very attractive resort, where neither money nor labor is being spared to make a most charming place of amusement and recreation for the people.”  From Los Angeles the train passed through “a luxurious country of gardens and dairies, acres of blackberries and strawberries, green alfalfa fields and waving corn, passing flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.”  Four trains daily and five on Sunday made it easy for a businessman to summer at the beach and continue to work in Los Angeles.

            In November 1900 the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad became the Salt Lake and Los Angeles Terminal Railroad when it was decided to extend the line to Salt Lake City (San Francisco Call 11/27/1900).  On January 29, 1901, the board of directors of the Salt Lake and Terminal railroads formally transferred the Terminal to the Salt Lake, Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad. (LA Herald 1/29/1901).  It was William Andrews Clark, a Montana mining baron and United States Senator who was the main investor in the project, giving the rail line the informal name of “The Clark Road.”  The railroad operated independently until April 1921 when the Union Pacific acquired Clark’s interest in the rail line.
            Clark County, Nevada, was named for W.A. Clark bringing the railroad through the state and creating the city of Las Vegas. Clark also had major investments in the Long Beach area. For more on Clark, and the railroad read my January 2014 blog - A fortune, an heiress and sugar beets.

And my September 1914 blog - the Burnett District and the Terminal Railroad. 

What Happened to the Gold Spike?
            The 17-5 karat gold spike from Promontory Summit is now displayed in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. But what happened to the Terminal Railroad spike?  If it was indeed “solid” gold as reported in the press it would have been too valuable to leave in the track and would have soon been removed, turned over to the railroad company and replaced.  Most likely the original or replacement spike had little gold and may have just been painted a gold color.  In any case, around 1911 two boys pried the 8 inch long spike out of the rail track, thinking it was pure gold.  The police recovered the spike and placed it in the junk room at police headquarters where it was discovered in 1913. It was then put on display at the Chamber of Commerce. (Los Angeles Times 4/13/1913) What happened after that remains a mystery.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Pearl Harbor

            December 7, 1941, is a date few will ever forget, for on that day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  The United States was at war.
            Following news of the attack, Long Beach along with the rest of the world was stunned. Hundreds of church goers leaving their places of worship at noon gathered before the windows of the Press Telegram to read late news bulletins.  Many Navy wives residing in Long Beach were visibly shaken, for practically every one of them had a husband serving in the Pacific.  The Army asked the city to loan them a sound truck so they could cruise the streets and broadcast orders for enlisted personnel to report to their stations, but no truck was available.  It turned out OK, the truck was not needed --- most servicemen, on hearing news of the attack had already reported back to base to find out what to do next.  At the Long Beach police station all was routine, yet tenseness could be detected as department heads kept near phones to find out more about the tragedy and a possible invasion of the west coast.
Japanese village of Fish Harbor on Terminal Island
Federal agents and Army troops rushed to establish a blockade around Terminal Island where several thousand Japanese, chiefly engaged in the fishing industry, made their homes.  Their fishing boats were turned back into the harbor and not allowed to proceed to the off-shore fishing grounds. Frank Ishii, president of the Long Beach chapter of the Japanese-American Citizens League pledged support of the United States in its war with Japan.  He mentioned that thirty local Japanese youths were serving in the U.S. armed forces and that the entire community would give their support to the United States.  Despite Ishii’s assurances everyone viewed any Asian as a possible spy or saboteur.
            At the Municipal Airport, which was next to the Douglas Aircraft plant and the U.S. Army and Navy air bases, action was immediate.  Because of its vital military importance, civilian aircraft were notified that they would not be allowed to fly over or near the air field.

            On December 8th the City Council was asked by the Navy to issue an ordinance requesting a complete, all night blackout.  This meant all illumination which could be visible from the air or street be banned --- blinds drawn and any outside lights turned off.  Many, including all city agencies, complied by painting their windows black.  Merchants announced stores would close at 4:30 p.m. daily and open a 8 or 8:30 a.m. to take advantage of daylight hours.  All outdoor advertising, street lights, traffic lights and auto headlights were banned from dusk until dawn.
            December 9, 1941, the evening of the first blackout, was tragically memorable: one was killed and six injured in auto crashes on darkened Long Beach streets.  Harry Riggs, a tourist from Walla Walla, Washington, died when he was hit by a car while he was crossing Ocean Boulevard near Chestnut.  Because of the darkness, witnesses were unable to determine if the pedestrian was in the cross walk or outside of it.

Long Beach and Signal Hill Dead at Pearl Harbor
            By December 13th families began to receive word of casualties at Pearl Harbor.  Josephine Smith, of 234 Prospect, was the first wife to receive word of her husband’s death.  Albert J. Smith had recently been promoted from warrant officer to lieutenant in the Navy; he had been killed in the early attacks on the Hawaiian Islands by the Japanese.
            Mrs. Fae Crawford of 3216 Vista Street was especially worried because both her husband and son were on duty on the same ship “somewhere in the Pacific.”  On December 18th she heard her son, Richard, had been killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, but her husband, James, had escaped unharmed.
Long Beach men: Isaac C. Kidd, Franklin Van Valkenburg,
 Samuel G. Fuqua, Edward J. Hill. Other man Paul McMurtry
            Word followed about the deaths of John Connolly and Wilbert F. Yost (5906 Brayton Ave.) , but many more men were missing.  Anxious family members didn’t learn until late January 1942 that Carl R. Brier (17 Neptune Ave.), Robert R. Clayton, Clyde Brown and Frank Head (1052 ½ E. 5th St.) had been killed in action.  Further anxious moments awaited four other Long Beach families who didn’t learn until the end of February that Ludwig.F. Weller (122 E. 52nd St.), Ralph A. Derrington (5640 ½ Cerritos), Allen R. Teer (270 Newport Ave.)  and Robert L. Kelly had been casualties in the bombing attack at Pearl Harbor.
            The 160 widows of Navy men killed at Pearl Harbor who resided in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area were offered jobs at the Lockheed owned Vega Aircraft Company in Burbank.  It was a chaplain from the Navy Relief Society who approached the Lockheed Company with the idea.  The Navy Relief Society was not subsidized by the government, but supported solely by contributions.  It realized the widows would need more help than their agency could provide.  Nearly all the women took the basic tests for Lockheed: for now, with their husbands dead, they needed to support their families themselves since no government aid was authorized.

           On February 22, 1942, marking the 210th birthday of George Washington, nearly 6000 people packed the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium to attend memorial rites for the Pearl Harbor victims.  The stage, draped with a blue backdrop, was centered by a huge white cross.  Masses of American flags stood at the sides of the stage and on the stage sat men in Army and Navy uniforms.
            As the Long Beach Municipal Band began to play religious melodies, the sound of sobbing could be heard throughout the auditorium.  Unannounced, actress/singer Jeanette MacDonald appeared from the wings, moved across stage singing “Ave Maria.”  California governor Culbert Olson followed her moving rendition and talked about the historic tragedy.  U.S. Navy chaplain John Johnson then led the audience in prayer.  Everyone in attendance had a lump in their throat and pledged that America must go on.

For more about Long Beach and Signal Hill's role in World War II, you'll find more in my book Fighting Fear.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Veteran's Day

Why we celebrate November 11th

          At 9:06 in the morning of November 7th, 1918, the Long Beach Daily Telegram received a United Press wire---the World War in Europe had ended. The armistice took effect on November 11th, at 11 o’clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. In 1926 November 11th would officially become a U.S. holiday. In 1954 the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans.
           But festivities in Long Beach began on November 7th with news of the German surrender. The war was over!! The newspaper staff immediately got on the telephone and spread the news throughout the town.  The bathhouse siren roared, automobiles everywhere began to honk their horns, street cars and trains set bells and whistles going.  In an amazingly short time the streets were jammed with autos and trucks draped with flags.  Businesses closed.  Thousands of people, despite the influenza forced ban on public gatherings, paraded down the streets yelling, weeping, and waving flags.
Long Beach celebrates the end of the war.
          A semi-official parade began at 2 o'clock from the corner of Fourth and Pacific.  One automobile in the procession had a representation of the Kaiser's goat mounted on the hood; another carried the Kaiser's coffin.  Patriotic adults distributed packages of firecrackers to kids on the street.  At 3 P.M. three German flags were burned.
          Cecil W. Ayers, formerly a member of the British Royal Flying Corps, was part of the celebration, but it nearly killed him.  During the festivities, Ayers rode about Long Beach in an automobile of the British Ambulance Service, waving a large flag and shouting with his friends. A few hours later Ayer’s experienced what the Los Angeles Herald described as a “mind lapse” that led him back to the war and the battle trenches of France. He had been severely wounded during the war when his airplane was shot down in a battle with German aircraft.  In addition to suffering from shell shock, Ayers’ spine was injured by the fall and to make matters worse he had lost his wife to influenza three weeks before Armistice was declared. He was just one of the many who would suffer from this new form of illness called “shell shock” back then, but now recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

          An "official" celebration to commemorate the end of World War I had to be delayed because of the influenza quarantine. 
"Victory Day" was eventually held on Sunday, December 8th. 3,500 people thronged the Municipal Auditorium for the three hour program.  Allied nations were represented by speakers from Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and America.
          Another celebration was held the following year, when 400 men and six women were welcomed home to Long Beach on September 9, 1919.  All were given bronze medals following a parade in which the latest war veterans were honored. 
Veterans welcomed home.
That evening eulogies were spoken for those that died.  The weather-stained city service banner, which had flown over the city since the war started, was retired.  Attached to the banner was a mammoth gold star inscribed with the number 50, signifying the number of local men who gave their lives in the war.  A blue star bore the numbers 2437 showing that 2437 Long Beach men and women had stood willing to die, if necessary, in the cause of humanity.  

The Long Beach Service Flag  would have looked
 like this but the numbers would have been different.
    The first local casualty was Donald Edward Erickson (7/3/1896-6/13/1918) who died on a battlefield in France.  He was wounded in action at Chateau Thierry on June 9, 1918. Four days later he died as a result of his wounds. His mother, a widow, was supported by her three sons---Donald, Derrell and Fred---before the war. 
   When her sons approached her about enlisting she readily gave her consent. When asked by the Long Beach Press to express her feelings about having three sons in the war and Donald’s death, Mrs. Ada Lulu Erickson replied: "Each must die in time. None can die a more glorious death than this; but, oh, it's hard to feel it all, all the time." (LB Press 6/20/1918).
          Donald’s body was returned to his mother. Marines at the San Pedro submarine base were in charge of the funeral service at Sunnyside Cemetery. His brother Derrell (1886-3/26/1920) is also at Sunnyside. Derrell died in 1920 from wounds and exposure incurred during the war. Brother Fred survived and helped support his mother, he died in 1964 (3/9/1890-9/17/1964) and is buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. 
Named for Arthur Lincoln Peterson,
killed September 12, 1918.
     Many of those Long Beach/Signal Hill lads who died are buried in France and Belgium. Five are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D. C. Long Beach American Legion Post No. 27,  was named for Arthur Lincoln Peterson who was killed on September 12, 1918, while leading a voluntary advance to cut barbed wire before a troop invasion. Corporal Peterson is buried in the Saint Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial in Lorraine, France.  
   Some Long Beach men never made it to the war. Homer T. Rathbone (7/25/1894-1/23/1918) died at Camp Greene Hospital in North Carolina. Walter Lawrence Wickham  (9/29/1897-10/8/1918) died while on a ship in the harbor at Liverpool, England. Harold Moughan Ketels  (9/16/1896-10/29/1918) died just prior to receiving orders to report to Nautical School, at Washington D.C. Charles Edwin Livingstone  (11/18/1891-11/4/1918) was receiving training in Delvin, Washington, when he passed away. Mundie Woodard, George Tupper, and Theo Robinson also never made it to the war. All seven men had one thing in common. They all died of influenza. 

Walter Wickham
Howard Ketels
Charles Livingstone

          Following a tribute to the returned war heroes and to those who would never return, the Mayor adjusted a white silken streamer diagonally across the banner, partly obliterating the numbers on the service stars, indicating the closure of this chapter in the history of the City of Long Beach.  For sixty seconds, the three thousand people in attendance stood in silent reverence before the service banner, bidding unspoken farewell to the flag that for more than two years had stood as a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by residents of Long Beach during the Great War.
          As indicated on the blue and gold banner, 2437 Long Beach men and women had gone to war; 50 of them did not return.  In comparison, 9000 cases of influenza were reported in Long Beach between October 1, 1918 and February 1, 1919; 148 Long Beach residents died.

         The flu buried more than 50 million people throughout the world in eighteen months.  The death rate stunned physicians.  It took the battlefields of France four years to kill 15 million men but the flu did the same work in much less time.  In the United States alone more people died of the flu (550,000 adults) in 1918 than the U.S. military lost to combat in both world wars, Korea and Vietnam.  In Alaska, whole Indian villages disappeared while India lost more than 12 million people.  Adults with flu finished a poker game or army drill one minute, only to drop dead the next.  Although the epidemic initiated the biggest plague die-off in world history, it is remembered, when it is remembered at all, as no more than a bad outbreak of "the flu."
          So remember to get your flu shot AND the Coronavirus vaccine when it becomes safe and available!