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Home North Carolina Catawba County City of Hickory Historical Markers Miracle Of Hickory

Miracle Of Hickory

US 321 at Old Lenoir Road, Hickory, NC, USA
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Outbreak of polio in June 1944 led to the founding of an emergency hospital 1/2 mile N.E. Closed, 1945."
     Although short-lived, the hospital established at Hickory in 1944 to combat an outbreak of infantile paralysis was a testament to the ability of citizens to face a domestic enemy with strength and compassion. The “Miracle of Hickory” received publicity in its day in national publications and even in a short documentary feature produced by Paramount. The site of the hospital today is the headquarters of the municipal recreation department.

     The polio epidemic of 1944 nationally struck fourteen persons per 100,000, making it second in severity only to the flu outbreak of 1916. Poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis, was caused by a virus that enters the body through the nose or mouth and then can spread to the spinal cord and attack nerves controlling muscles (the Salk vaccine in 1955 practically eliminated the disease). Among the regions hardest hit in 1944 was the western Piedmont around Catawba County. On June 1, 1944, the first case was diagnosed; within twenty-four hours, six cases were identified in the county and sixty-eight in the region.

     “At this moment,” according to an article in Coronet, “the town of Hickory became great--for all time.” Meeting in a high school auditorium, community leaders mobilized efforts, seeking help from Raleigh and from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis but relying primarily on local resources. A local fresh air camp was evacuated and, with contributed materials and labor, fifty-five hours later a full-scale hospital was constructed, equipped, and staffed. Specialists traveled to Hickory from Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins. Various treatments were employed, among them iron lungs and “hot pack” therapies. Over the course of nine months 454 patients, some from Virginia and South Carolina but most native Tar Heels, were treated at the facility. On March 5, 1945, patients were transferred to Charlotte Memorial Hospital where beds were by then available.

     Many patients returned to Hickory for a fiftieth anniversary reunion in 1994. State Treasurer Harlan Boyles, a native of Lincoln County, was stricken by polio at age of fifteen and was a patient at Hickory in 1944-45.

Alice E. Sink, The Grit Behind the Miracle: A True Story of the Determination and Hard Work Behind an Emergency Infantile Hospital, 1944-1945, Hickory, North Carolina (1998)
Carol Hughes, “The Miracle of Hickory,” Coronet (February 1945), 3-7
Lisa Yarger, “Epidemic in the Piedmont,” Tar Heel Junior Historian (Spring 1997), 28-29
J. Weston Clinard, Clinard Looks Back (1962)
Hickory Daily Record, various issues