Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stuck in the Emerson Iron Lung

(a follow up of: Emerson's Iron Lung and Quonset Hut, Cambridge)

Recently, I visited the Public Health Museum at Tewsksbury Hospital and came across an object I mentioned in my past post.

I live close to the former main office of J.H. Emerson Co. in North Cambridge. The company was the leading manufacture of a negative pressure ventilator a.k.a Iron Lung during the polio outbreaks between the 40's and 50's. It was a temporal measure for the majority of the patients, but some remained to rely on an Iron Lung permanently.

After the development of the vaccine in the 60's, the company had been manufacturing the "cough assist" products. The company was sold in 2007, and the office became empty. But rusty Iron Lungs in a Quonset Hut were left visible from the sidewalk for few years. They are already cleared, and the Quonset Hut is waiting to be demolished.

More modern one

At the Public Health Museum, I was with two museum guides. (Hey, I'm a VIP!) Looking at a more modern version of an Iron Lung embellished with cute stickers, one of the guides -- a lady in my mom's age -- told me that she personally knew people had contracted polio.

The other guide, a tough looking grandpa with Boston accent, is a retired hospital worker at the Tewksbury. Looking at an older version of the machine, he mentioned about the photo full of Iron Lungs taken during the highest of the epidemic. What a coincidence, I've cited the photo in my past entry... In his generation, this is the vision of the polio epidemic.

He told me the PBS crew used the above machine to shoot a documentary.

"They recreated the hospital ward, and a child actor, a boy, went inside of this."

"If you were the child actor, could you be inside of this ?"

"No thanks."

He frowned a bit. The voice had a tone admiring the kid's professionalism. I agree with him, no thanks for me, either.

He or she would sure learn how to tell a person approaching from the shoes.

"Why is there a mirror here?", I asked.

"They were lying down, the bodies were inside of the tank. You couldn't move your neck towards a person talking to you."

There was a metal plate; manufactured by J. H. Emerson Co. at an address in Cambridge. Yep, it's from North Cambridge.

FDR and polio

Locate Public Health Museum/ Tewksbury Hospital @ Google Map

Public Health Museum:
Last breath, Mass High Tech:

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