Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Influenza Epidemic of 1918 (Massachusetts)

Fort Devens Hospital, Massachusetts (Click images to enlarge)
September 1918, Fort Devens, west of Littleton, was a major staging area for U.S. Army troops preparing to ship off to Europe, we having entered into World War I in April of that year. Fort Devens was also one of the two earliest stateside sites of the “Spanish Flu” pandemic, the other being among Navy personnel stationed in Boston. At Devens, the first case was reported September 8. By September 23 the number of men ill exceeded 10,500. Deaths reached 100/day. More than half a million Americans died. Worldwide, within little over two years, the flu infected an estimated half billion people, killing between fifty and one hundred million.

Deaths were unevenly distributed by age and by region of the world. Influenza typically kills the young and the old. What was unique about this flu was that there was a high risk of death for people ages 15-35 years, the reason being that their immune systems responded too vigorously. In developed countries – those with hospitals and nursing care – deaths were on the order of two percent of the population. With poorer medical care, more like five to ten percent, and in remote reaches of the earth where people had fewer prior exposures to any strains of influenza, exceeding twenty percent.

Men, sick with flu at Fort Devens, MA. For a period
in the fall of 1918 deaths exceeded 100/day.
The fact that World War I was ongoing contributed to the speed the flu spread worldwide. Troops were constantly being moved. War-time censorship hindered knowledge of the extent of the problem. This censorship was why the popular name is the “Spanish flu,” as Spanish newspapers, in a country neutral in WWI and hence not censored, produced lots of headlines and articles about the disease. (In Spain it was referred to as the “French flu.”)

Viruses have been described as being a bit of bad news (in the form of a strand of DNA or RNA) wrapped in proteins. For this influenza virus damage was threefold: 1) the virus getting into cells, replicating and then killed those cells so as to re-enter the blood stream to find new cells, 2) the patient’s immune system reaction to the foreign proteins coating the outside of the virus, causing more damage than the actual virus, and 3) viral infection created an opportunity for bacterial pneumonia. This particular virus caused so much damage because it reached deep into the lungs rather than just the upper respiratory system, and because it triggered a massive inflammation response. In effect, people were dying of collateral damage as their immune system over-reacted while trying to neutralize the virus. At autopsy, lungs were often blueish, signifying oxygen deprivation, and filled with fluid. Those the virus-triggered reaction did not kill outright succumbed to bacterial pneumonia.

In Maynard, the first death attributed to influenza was 
Patrick D. Meagher, Curate at St. Bridget's Church.
Locally, the arrival of influenza is documented in the Town of Maynard Annual Report, which reported deaths with causes noted. Regardless of whether the contagion reached Maynard from Fort Devens or Boston, the first death identified as either influenza or “la grippe” dates to September 22, 1918, the last on July 21, 1919. In that interval there were 38 deaths identified as influenza and another 18 attributed to pneumonia. Combined, a bit under one percent of the population. Likely, ten to twenty times that number had become ill but recovered. Schools were closed for five weeks. Glenwood Cemetery has a section (7-O, old cemetery) with unmarked graves of Maynard citizens who died from cholera, smallpox and influenza epidemics. A single stone was erected in their memory by the Maynard Boy Scouts.
Deaths from influenza continued into 1919 (not shown)

The Town of Stow Annual Report listed 11 deaths from broncho or lobar pneumonia, the first occurring September 21, 1918. Population was 1,100 compared to Maynard's 7,000 so this would have also been around one percent.

Glenwood Cemetery, Maynard, MA,
monument for section with unmarked graves.
True ‘Ground Zero’ for this pandemic is disputed to this day. Influenza viruses are pan-species, moving back and forth among people, pigs and birds. Researchers propose Kansas, or a troops staging and hospital camp in France, or perhaps China (?!). To this last, military historians point out that with so many men of France and Great Britain in uniform, nearly 100,000 Chinese laborers were transported to France for purposes of behind-the-front labor. There is some evidence that a respiratory illness recorded in China was a precursor to what mutated into this extremely lethal virus.

Since the influenza pandemic of 100 years ago there have been other, smaller pandemics – the Asian flu of 1958-59 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 each killing on the order of one million people. Each spring, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the three or four strains of flu likely to be prevalent in the pending fall and winter, and prepares an injectable vaccine. New vaccines are needed each year because the rapid mutation rate of influenza RNA means that the immune system virus identification ability engendered by the previous year’s vaccination will not continue to be effective. The CDC has already determined which strains will be used for the 2018-19 flu season.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Babe is Back! (Babe Ruth)

Maynard mural by Jack Pabis, September 2018. Click to enlarge.
The long-empty Murphy & Snyder building at the corner of Waltham and Parker Streets is now graced with murals on both sides – an abstract-to-real portrayal of a hummingbird approaching a flower on the south side; swooping colors, mosaics of birds in flight, and Henry David Thoreau looking down out of a window to see Babe Ruth in a Rex Sox uniform on the north side. The latter is a creation of Jack Pabis, an experienced muralist working out of Maryland, who has an intriguing website statement “I can paint anything. I can paint anywhere.”

Why Ruth? Because he was here. During the off season of 1917-1918, George ‘Babe’ Ruth and his wife Helen rented a small cabin on the shore of Willis Pond, Sudbury. At that time Ruth, age 22, was well-off, but not rich, his pay for the 1917 season had been $5,000 ($98,500 in today’s dollars). He had been with the Red Sox since late 1914. In 1917 he was a pitcher, his at bats only in those games he was pitching. His win/loss record was 24-13. Only later did he switch to being an every-game player lauded for his home run hitting – the “The Sultan of Swat.”

George 'Babe' Ruth, with Red Sox
from 1914-1919; then sold to Yankees.
From north Sudbury, Maynard was the closest place with shopping. According to one account, George ‘Babe’ Ruth and his wife Helen would drive to Maynard, where Helen would shop at Woolworths and other places while George would buy cigars and play pool at the Maynard Smoke Shop. Ralph Sheridan, younger brother of the owners, recounted that he recognized Ruth the first time he walked into the store. At times, Sheridan and other young Maynard men would walk to Willis Pond. Once they got there George and Helen would invite them inside for hot cocoa and cookies. Helen would play piano and everyone would sing along.

The Babe also drank in Maynard. According to an account from Bob Merriam, heard from his grandfather, Ruth would show up at Bughouse Corner, a small bar on the south corner of Waltham and Parker, buy everyone drinks and stay till closing. (Meanwhile his wife of three years was alone back at the cabin.) Sometimes Ruth was too drunk to make his way home, and would sleep it off on a couch at someone’s house. Years later, with the Yankees, Ruth was required to sign a morals clause addendum to his contract, promising to abstain entirely from the use of intoxicating liquors, and to not stay up later than 1:00 a.m. during the training and playing season without permission of the manager. 

Henry David Thoreau looking out of a
window (detail from Maynard mural)
And for that matter, why Thoreau? Again, because he was here. Thoreau and a friend walked through Maynard before it was Maynard. The date was September 4, 1851. Their plan was a roundtrip walk of about 20 miles to Boon Pond and back. Approaching what was ‘Assabet Village,’ at the time a hamlet in growth mode because of the woolen mill that had started operating in 1846 and the railroad in 1850, Thoreau wrote in his journal of passing the gunpowder mill and the paper mill, the latter standing where the Murphy & Snyder building is now, then proceeding south on Waltham Street. He turned right on Old Marlboro Road to the pond. On the way home he walked the railroad tracks, crossed the Assabet River at the White Pond Road bridge, made a connection to Concord Street, and so back to Concord.   

Hummingbird mural, Maynard, MA August 2018
The opposite side of the Murphy & Snyder building was recently graced with a mural “Hummingbirds,” painted by Eric Giddings and Ben ‘Berj’ Braley. Together, the murals are a first effort of “Maynard As A Canvas.” This concept was brought to fruition by Erik Hansen, a Maynard artist, who had been impressed by public murals during a visit to Iceland. His proposal was acted on by the Maynard Cultural Council. An announcement in 2017 for proposals from experienced murals artists yielded 80 entries, winnowed down to six finalists, and then two winning entries. The result represents a commitment from the Town of Maynard to support public art and the recent Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognition of the Assabet Village Cultural District.

Children, waiting for a bus to take
them to the United Co-op day camp.
(Maynard Historical Society)
Alpert Murphy and John Snyder started their printing business in 1917, and for many years printed the high school yearbook. They were in several Maynard locations, the last being a move to this building on Waltham Street, in 1957. The business closed its doors in 2003. The building has been empty since then. Prior to Murphy & Snyder, it had been a branch store of the United Co-operative Society, constructed for the Society in 1936.

Not in the newspaper column: The Co-op had its beginnings as the Kaleva Co-operative Association in 1907, started by Finnish immigrants who worked at the mill. The name was changed to United Co-operative Society of Maynard in 1921. At its peak, the Co-op operated a supermarket, bakery, dairy delivery, coal and fuel oil delivery, gas station, ice delivery, restaurant, educational programs in Finnish and English and a children's summer day camp.The Co-op's existence continued into the 1970s. Two columns about Babe Ruth and Maynard posted November 2013.   


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Treeless in Maynard

Clearing for the Assabet River Rail Trail involved cutting
hundreds of trees, some more than a foot in diameter. This
photo of section behind Cumberland Farms gas station.
Instead of “Sleepless in Seattle,” how about “Treeless in Maynard?”  From either Google’s satellite map or casual driving around, there is a first-glance sense that Maynard is adequately treed, but arborist history tells a different and continually changing story. The de-treeing of our town is a consequence of deliberate deforestation, species-specific diseases, invasive insect species, invasive plant species, uncompensated storm damage, deferred maintenance, and even the consequences of the return of deer and beaver to eastern Massachusetts.  

The colonists’ approach to a wooded New England was “The first thing we do, let's cut down all the trees." The resultant landscape was farmland and pasture. Massachusetts gradually became rewooded after the mid-nineteenth century as farms were abandoned, people either shifted toward factory jobs in cities or relocated to the fertile, flatter lands of western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Demand for wood for fuel was superseded by coal and oil.

Abandoned farm land reforested naturally, but a conscious decision was necessary for industrial era towns – trees or no trees? In that era of people not having cars or air conditioning, trees provided shade for sidewalks and homes. There are studies showing that in urban and suburban environments, more trees per square mile leads to cooler, cleaner air, happier people, and even lower medical expenses for treatment of physical and mental ailments.

Two tree diseases caused dramatic changes to public-space plantings. Chestnut blight, an airborne fungus accidentally introduced to the United States around 1904, killed as estimated three billion trees from Mississippi to Maine within 50 years. Subsequently, many cities, towns and college campuses were planted with rows of elm trees – note streets named Elm or Elmwood – but in 1928 a shipment of logs from the Netherlands that was infested with elm bark beetles led to a fungal plague that killed between 75 and 100 million trees.

Hurricane damage, Sept 1938
Invasive insect species had a massive impact. The caterpillars of Gypsy, Brown-tail and Winter moths (plus native tent caterpillars) can completely defoliate trees. If this happens for several years in a row the trees become weakened and suspect to disease. The larvae of Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Longhorned beetles have a more directly fatal impact on ash and other deciduous trees, as does the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid on hemlocks. The impact of invasive plant species is subtle, but still considerable. Oriental bittersweet vines grow into the tops of mature trees, overshadowing the trees’ leaves and breaking branches with weight, until the trees die. Japanese Barberry and Garlic Mustard release chemicals into the soil that hinder the growth of other plants.

Eastern Massachusetts suffered extensive tree damage from a September 1938 hurricane. Maynard’s annual report for that year mentions 900 trees blown down in streets, parks, cemeteries and on houses, and an additional 800 trees severely damaged. The report goes on to mention that 780 trees were planted to replace what was lost. Closer to now, creating the Assabet River Rail Trail caused the cutting of more than 600 trees four or more inches in diameter, with replacement plantings of smaller trees perhaps one-fifth that number.

Hurricane damage, Sept 1938. Photos courtesy of
Maynard Historical Society. Click to enlarge.
Deer browse on small trees. The result is a forest of mature and old trees, but no replacement trees in the understory. Beaver have returned to the Assabet River and are killing many of the trees bordering the river and millpond.          

Lastly, the Town of Maynard will need to decide how to manage what had once been scores of trees planted along Nason and Main Streets and other public places. Most of these are either long-dead, stumps cut flush with the ground, or standing dead, or standing sickly. Consequently, the streets are becoming shade-free zones, the sidewalks punctuated by squares of dirt from which nothing is growing.

How to combat the treeless trend? Have a program to promote trees on town property and giveaways for plantings on private property. As new buildings are proposed, have a master plan that preserves greenspace, providing for both recreational parks and nature reserves. The City of New York posts an Approved Species List for urban plantings, with division into large, medium intermediate and small trees: https://www.nycgovparks.org/trees/street-tree-planting/species-list. Trees rule!

Not in article: Norway maple was a popular urban and suburban tree choice in the second half of the twentieth century, but was designated by Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an invasive species in 2006, sales banned. Removal of existing trees not required. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

World War II: Maynard's Observation Tower

World War II observation tower built atop Summer Hill, Maynard, MA.
Staffed initially by volunteers from American Legion, replaced by
U.S. Coast Guard. Abandoned after war, and burned October 31, 1951.

Once the war commenced in Europe, Maynard appointed Guyer W. Fowler as Chief Air Raid Warden. Women were trained as volunteer air raid wardens. The American Legion – veterans of service in the U.S. armed forces – took it upon themselves to use the hose-drying tower at the fire station on Nason Street to serve as an airplane watch tower. Then, three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Maynard’s Selectmen declared a “state of emergency.” A decision was made to build an observation tower atop Summer Hill. Louis Boeske donated the gravel for an access road – the same road used to service the town’s water tanks today – and townspeople, including many high school students, provided the labor. The tower became operational January 12, 1942. An open house event was conducted on March 1, 1942, attended by 500 people! The tower was staffed around the clock.

The concept of civilian observers was loosely modeled on the Royal Observer Corps, Great Britain’s civilian spare-time volunteers, who provided invaluable enemy plane observations to the Royal Air Force during World War II. The ROC started out as untrained civilians with binoculars. It evolved to a uniformed corps of men and women, still civilian, deeply involved in guiding RAF planes during the Battle of Britain, and then for the Normandy invasion, ROC men were stationed on Allied ships to help them avoid firing at their own planes.

Here in Maynard, the operation of the observation tower remained in civilian hands until January 1943, when staffing was taken over by the 605th U.S. Coast Guard Artillery. Maynard was a valid strategic target. The mill was making blankets for the U.S. Army. A quarter of Maynard land on the south side had been taken by eminent domain in April 1942 to create a munitions storage and transfer facility called the Maynard Ordnance Supply Depot. Gunpowder was being manufactured on the Maynard/Acton border at the American Powder Company.  

In retrospect, the creation of the observation tower on Summer Hill, complemented by formation of a committee to implement blackout drills, and having the streets department filling with sand any buckets or other containers people placed outside their homes, for purpose of extinguishing fires started by bombs, was all moot. Germany had no aircraft carriers. German battleships never operated in the western parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Plans for German long-range bombers were initiated, but never came to fruition. The only serious reach of the Axis forces across the North Atlantic was the operation of submarines up and down the coast (and into the Gulf of Mexico), which sank hundreds of ships, some within sight of major cities.

The U.S. Army constructed concrete watch towers along the east coast, including sites in Massachusetts such as Marblehead Neck, but the intended purpose was to scan the ocean for submarines. Back then, submarines spent most or the time on the surface because that allowed propulsion from diesel engines. Once submerged, all power came from batteries. Underwater, the boats were slower, and time underwater was limited. Coastal watchtowers made sense. Inland, not so much.

Reservoirs on top of Summer Hill. Old tank (left), built 1888,
concrete, roof added after this photo taken. New tank (right)
was steel construction, built 1972. Gravity provides water
pressure for town's water system (and fire hydrants).
Combined capacity approximately 4.6 million gallons,
the equivalent of a 4-6 day water supply for the town. 
After the war ended, Maynard’s observation tower was obsolete. The government returned it to the town. It deteriorated. In 1947 the tower was turned over to Maynard’s Boy Scout Troop. The night of October 30, 1951, the tower was completely destroyed by fire. Paul Boothroyd, lifelong resident of Maynard, mentioned that his father put in time at the observation tower, and said that the location was where Maynard’s second water reservoir tank was built in 1972.

CODA: There are rumors of German POWs working at the woolen mill during the war. This is not true. While there were scores of prison camps scattered across the United States to hold some 400,000+ prisoners, only a few camps were in Massachusetts, and no POWs were assigned to work in the mill. The closest prison camp was Fort Devens, host to 3,100 “Anti-Nazi” prisoners. These were men who had been in the German Army, but opposed Nazi government and philosophy. (Many were socialists or communists.) There were segregated from other German prisoners for their own safety.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Maynard Garden Club 1938-1962

Peony (click on photos to enlarge)

The garden club we have now – Maynard Community Gardeners, 1995-present, is not a continuation or rebirth of the Maynard Garden Club that came into being September 1938 and apparently ended circa 1962. The Maynard Historical Society has copious notes on the first garden club, including minutes from many of the early meetings.

The decision to form a local garden club was triggered by a presentation by Mrs. Walsh, President of the Winthrop Garden Club, on the topic “Garden Clubs.”  Early on, a constitution and by-laws were composed. Initially, membership was limited to 25 and annual dues were $.50, later changed to 35 members and $1.00. Per the MGC constitution: “The object of the Club shall be to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs.” In comparison, the present-day Maynard Community Gardeners has approximately 90 dues-paying members, dues of $20/year and as its mission statement: “Dedicated to sharing a common interest in horticultural activities, promoting town beautification, and creating gardening opportunities for all.”

In comparison, the present-day Maynard Community Gardeners has approximately 100 dues paying members. Per the MGC constitution: “The object of the Club shall be to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs.”

There is an interesting letter from 1939, advice from the same Mrs. Walsh, on whether the Maynard club should join the Federation. This was apparently the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Mrs. Walsh wrote “The Federation activities are run by a group of wealthy women, Groton, Lexington, Concord, Newton, etc., with large estates and they have plenty of money to do things with…there is quite a feeling that the smaller clubs are like ‘poor relations’ if you know what I mean.” There is no record that MGC joined. The Federation still exists. Maynard Community Gardeners is not a member.

The club’s finances were modest in the extreme. The 1940 Treasurer’s report noted $13.00 collected in dues and $4.50 in entry fees for the annual flower show. Expenditures included $16.50 paid to speakers and $3.00 for membership in the Massachusetts Agricultural Society.

Cover art on the
1960-1961 program.
The annual programs, which for most years described monthly meetings spanning September to June, were printed on card stock with an artist’s drawing of a flower arrangement on the front cover. In addition to educational speakers presenting at the meetings, the club also performed public service – there are thank-you notes from the Bedford Veterans Hospital expressing thanks for the donation of flower arrangements, and a note that at least for a time the club was helping maintain a garden at Emerson Hospital.

Sometimes gifts to other organizations were modest in nature. A record of donations for 1951 to 1955, inclusive, totaled $23.00. That included $5.00 to Maynard Girl Scouts, $5.00 to the Jimmy Fund, $5.00 to MA Heart Fund and $4.00 to Red Cross. 

There were parallels between the garden club then and the garden club now, including bringing in outside speakers, corresponding with other garden clubs, field trips to places such as Garden in the Woods, a holiday season party with exchanges of gifts, and an annual plant sale.

Maynard Community Gardeners plant sale, 2013
One difference is that the present-day garden club does not have a judged flower arrangement contest. A second difference is that the present-day club has a community outreach program that includes the perennial plantings at Maplebrook Park, plantings at the “Welcome to Maynard” signs and the historic horse watering troughs, plus flower barrels scattered about downtown on Nason and Main Streets. For the last, the town provides the barrels; members adopt a barrel and are then responsible for planting and watering. The town gathers up the barrels in the fall. 

Toward the end of the existence of the Maynard Garden Club there were 24 members – all women – and the annual program ran from September to June. Meeting presentations were mostly by members. Topics included such as: Flower Arrangements, Dried Flower Arrangements, Christmas Corsages, Valentine Arrangements, Day Lillies, and a joint meeting with the Maynard Woman’s Club (itself in existence 1904-1976). There is nothing in the files to show that the Maynard Garden club Continued beyond the 1961-62 year.