Friday, March 27, 2020

Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 (Maynard, MA)

Revisiting a column written in 2018, so much more germane now.

Since the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 there have been 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 worldwide. And now, COVID-19, a coronavirus pandemic of uncertain severity and duration.

Fort Devens, MA: Influenza epidemic afflicted thousands of soldiers. No
 ventilators. No antibiotics. Click on photos to enlarge.
September 1918, Camp Devens (later renamed Fort Devens), west of Littleton, was a major staging area for tens of thousands of 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”, 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. Nationwide, more than 675,000 Americans died (out of a total population 1/3 of what it is today). Worldwide, within little over two years, the flu infected an estimated one-fourth of the world’s population, killing between fifty and one hundred million.

Deaths were unevenly distributed by age and by region of the world. In developed countries – those with hospitals and nursing care – deaths were on the order of one 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. 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.

Town of Maynard, Annual Report for 1918, shows the impact in late Sept.
and early Oct. The number columns are age in years, months, days. 
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 was 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, whereas in countries at war, bad news was censored. Without real-time information, communities within these countries were slow to institute isolation and quarantine.

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 the influenza pandemic damage was threefold: 1) the virus getting into cells, replicating and then killing 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 damage creating an opportunity for bacterial pneumonia. The flu caused so much damage because it reached deep into the lungs (as does COVID-19), rather than just the upper respiratory system, and because it triggered a massive inflammation response. In effect, many 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 were at high risk of succumbing to bacterial pneumonia.

Glenwood Cemetery, Maynard, MA. People dying from
influenza who had no families to claim them were buried
 in unrecorded and unmarked graves. 
Locally, the arrival of influenza is documented in the Town of Maynard Annual Report, which reported deaths with causes noted. 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, twenty times that number had become ill but recovered. Schools were closed for five weeks. Theaters, movie houses, dance halls and places of worship were ordered closed.

Then and now, the goal of prohibiting public gatherings and closing businesses was to slow the rate at which a contagious disease spread. Slow, not stop. Slowing allows healthcare facilities to keep ahead of the demands for staff, equipment, supplies and hospital beds. Slowing gives time to test existing and new drugs, even time for work on a vaccine. Back in 1918 there being no antibiotic drugs to combat the bacterial pneumonia. Influenza vaccines were first mass-produced during World War II, used primarily to protect military personnel.

Surface proteins on influenza virus change so quickly that a new vaccine is developed every year. Preliminary research on corona viruses suggests that the mutation rate is lower, so that a successful vaccine could be good for years, and also that people who survived an initial infection with this corona virus will be resistant to reinfection.

Not in the newspaper column:
Interestingly, deaths in the U.S. may have been in part caused by a recommendation from the the US Surgeon General, the US Navy, and the Journal of the American Medical Association to treat the flu with very high doses of aspirin (8-30 grams). The theory, poorly tested, was that aspirin would lower fever and blunt the immune over-response, but it was not understood that aspirin itself could cause pulmonary edema. An example of too-hasty, try-anything treatment. Starko KM. Salicylates and pandemic influenza mortality, 1918–1919 pharmacology, pathology, and historic evidence. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 49(9);2009:1405–10. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - Diversity

Digital’s core commitment to growing beyond being a white, male dominated technology company moved into higher gear with the hiring of John Sims as Manager of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity in 1974. He rose to become Vice President of Corporate Personnel in 1984. Early on, the “Efficacy” program was available to help hundreds of employees to deal with uncertainty, take responsibility for their careers, and manager their own career development. In addition, in a 1986 interview for US Black Engineer, Sims explained, “Very early on we recognized that there were not enough minorities and women flowing into technical careers.” The company started programs in scores of high schools and junior colleges with equipment gifts and funding. The company also deliberately located manufacturing plants in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and trained staff there to qualify for promotion to management.

This quote from Deborah Pace, who had been an employee at the Springfield facility, from a collection of quotations and tributes compiled by Gordon College in 2006: “I want to thank Mr. Olsen and his family for providing people in the black community with excellent job opportunities, corporate training & other great skills that were ahead of so many other Fortune 500 companies. Because of Mr. Olsen, his brother, and their passion to bring Digital Equipment Corporation into the world; a vision that help others to dream and realize their potential, I was able to work, purchase my first home, take care of my two daughters, finish my college education and gain skills that I will utilize the remainder of my life. DEC will always be a part of my life and memory. I would love to work for him again. I salute the leader, hero and great visionary man today and always.”

Women at work at Digital Equipment Corporation,
Maynard, MA. Second floor, Building 12.
Barbara Walker, an African-American lawyer with years of experience s Director, Office of Civil Rights, in the federal government, joined DEC in 1979. She started “Core Groups,” as monthly meetings at the senior management level, later expanded downward across the company, with the premise that “Affirmative action is for everyone.”  Walker’s training program began with self-assessment of one’s own stereotypes. Workshop participants were expected to build relationships with people they felt were different from them. People were expected to talk about how they felt victimized by those perceptions. These groups of 7-9 people met on company time several hours per month to discuss the different expectations of people who were racial minorities, were women, were people from different countries, of different religious beliefs, or were people with other than heterosexual orientation. Even within the confine of white male employees, the company came to realize that people in Engineering, Manufacturing and Marketing misunderstood the motivations and expectations of people outside their department.  

Women at work at American Woolen Company, 1904.
Possibly same room (ceiling higher?). Click on photos to
enlarge. Courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
The “Valuing Differences” program, which evolved from the core groups in the early 1980s, called for employees to acknowledge differences among their co-workers rather than pretending they did not exist. One of the tools was a mock questionnaire that inverted questions so frequently asked of homosexuals, to wit: “Is it possible that heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?” A New York Times article from 1991 mentioned that the U.S. Labor Department had praised only three large companies for a commitment to affirmative action: Pacific Gas and Electric, IBM and DEC.

Digital was ahead of its time with this work. The company had a zero tolerance, non-discrimination policy toward gays, and provided for internal gay support groups. This was in addition to the diversity/differences Core Groups. Support groups were also encouraged for women. Managers who violated anti-discrimination policies were terminated. Were benefits quantifiable? DEC gained a reputation as a good workplace for minorities and women. The company attracted top talent, and staff turnover was below national norms. All employees felt empowered to identify problems and propose solutions. This fit well with a DEC mantra: “He who proposes, does,” meaning that a person identifying a problem was often charged with putting together a team to fix it. Clearly, it came to encompass “She who proposes, does.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

50-Year Businesses (part 2)

A handful of Maynard businesses present at the centennial made it to the sesquicentennial, criteria being no name change. Last week featured the oldest – this week includes those that just crossed the line.

Pleasant Cafe, est. 1945 Maynard, MA (This is the old sign,
currently mounted on an inside wall.)
Pleasant Café: Maynard's oldest food/drink establishment. Per the website: "Serving cold beer since 1945." According to a walking tour compiled by the Maynard Historical Commission, the building was built around 1899. Earlier tenants were the Cleary & Williams Dry Goods and Millinery, Jersey Butter Company, Arena & Sons Grocery, and the Royal Cafe. The Pleasant Cafe, also known as the "PC," actually dates further back. The town's 1936 business directory lists an establishment by that name at a different address. The current owners confirm that the family business opened at 157½ Main Street around 1934-35, closed for World War II, then reopened at the current site after the war.

Fine Arts Theater: Although the Coughlans, father James and son Burton, were both involved with Peoples’ Theatre, on Nason Street, Burton decided to build his own theater on the family property at 17 and 19 Summer Street. James had started there with a horse stable in 1897, later converted to an auto repair shop. Burton’s vision, the luxuriously appointed Fine Arts Theatre, with 400 seats, opened on June 29, 1949 with a showing of The Red Shoes. As a student, Burton had been heading toward the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but switched to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He had a studio next to the theater, and was responsible for the murals that adorn the main theater and hallway. An adjoining second theater (later split in two), was added in 1969. One employee reminisced: "...the projectionist had to scamper across the roof to get to the [projection] booth for the smaller of the theaters." The theater remained a Coughlan-owned property – Burton’s daughter – until sold in 2013. Steven Trumble has been the owner since then, carrying on what the Coughlans had started.

John's Cleaners, est. 1963. Maynard, MA
Click on photos to enlarge
John’s Cleaners: Oldest mention is as a sponsor of the Maynard High School yearbook “Screech Owl” for 1963. Business may be a few years older than that. Started by the son of the owner of the Maynard Coal Company, with which for a while it shared the building. The site – with a two-story, wood-frame building – was home to the business of William F. Litchfield, Dealer in Coal and Wood, started around 1900

The Paper Store: Began in Maynard in 1964 as newspaper and magazine shop, by Bob Anderson. Over time, his wife, sons and daughters joined the business. Still family-owned, the business has expanded to more than 80 stores across New England and into the mid-Atlantic states. Intriguingly, the name appears to be far older than the business. Starting 1908, James “Jim” Ledgard had a store at that site that was informally known about town as “the paper store,” as it sold newspapers and magazines. When Babe Ruth, a young Red Sox pitcher at the time, was wintering in Sudbury, he came here for newspapers and dime novels.

Jarmo’s Auto Repair: Located east of the east end of Main Street, Jarmo’s is a full-service automotive repair center. The business was started by R. Michael “Jarmo” Jarmulowicz III in Concord, moved to Maynard in 1969. Previously the site had been Barber Chevrolet. The building itself dates to 1920 when it was erected by William Holly and John and Herbert Comeau for their moving company. Earlier still, the site had been Maynard’s two-classroom high school (1877-1892).

Ray & Sons Cyclery: Serving the bicycle business since 1969. Prior to that, same site, same family, Ray’s TV. In the early 1950s, different family, different business: Millstream Café (restaurant main floor, barroom downstairs). Explains the fancy wood floor.
Maynard Outdoor Store: Under this name, just makes 50 years. An Army & Navy Surplus store opened in Maynard in 1950 just south of the Peoples' Theatre building. It moved to 24 Nason Street in 1968 and shortly thereafter changed its name to the Maynard Outdoor Store, one reason given being that Levi Strauss & Co. would not sell jeans to Army & Navy stores. Same site, 1942 to 1967, had been home to an A&P supermarket. A&P (short for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company) was the Walmart of its era. Its self-service stores, with sections that provided groceries, baked goods, meat, produce and dairy, plus its low prices and preferential selling of its own A&P branded products, put thousands upon thousands of small shops and suppliers out of business. The façade of the Outdoor Store features a panel that reads "CASE BLD 28." Nason Street addresses 24-30 were once the Case Block, built 1892, home to W.B. Case & Sons, dry goods (clothing, shoes, hats, gloves, etc.). Case went out of business around 1935.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

50-Year Businesses (part 1)

A handful of Maynard businesses present at the centennial made it to 2020 – a year before the sesquicentennial – criteria being no name change. Gruber Bros. Furniture gets honorary mention even though the doors closed in 2015.

Fowler-Kennedy Funeral Home, Concord St., Maynard, MA
Fowler-Kennedy Funeral Home: This establishment will celebrate its 150th anniversary the same year as the Town of Maynard! Henry Fowler – a signer of the 1871 petition to create the town of Maynard – was an undertaker. His son Orrin S. Fowler followed into the family business in 1887. Orrin’s son, Guyer Fowler, moved the business to the Concord Street location in 1941. There, he continued the family trade until a year before his death, selling the business to John A. Kennedy in 1955. The business was renamed Fowler-Kennedy. Kennedy sold the business to John E. Erb, his son-in-law, in 1981. Business in turn sold to Glenn D. Burlamachi in 2014, to Matthew M. Farrow in 2017. Thus, we have a business without a current connection to the owners that gave it a name, but the occupation remains the same.

Parker Hardware: Thomas F. Parker opened a store in the Amory Block building (later, Gruber Bros. Furniture). Parker Hardware moved to Nason Street, back to Main, and then to its present location at 239 Main in 1980. An envelope in the Historic Society collection reads "Since 1892, Your Friendly Store", providing “Hardware, Paint, Oils, Etc.” The present-day owners – no relation to Parker – have been running the business since 1970.

Gruber Bros. Furniture, Maynard, MA
Gruber Brothers Furniture: The original building, three stories tall, known as the Amory Block, dated to 1868. A meeting hall on the second floor served as host to Maynard’s first town meeting, April 27, 1871. Julius and Benjamin Gruber started their business there in 1917, bought the building 1919. Starting in 1922, upstairs was Riverside Theatre (motion pictures), managed by Samuel Lerer. After a 1934 fire the re-build was to a one-story building with Gruber Bros. Furniture as its sole occupant. Next generation went to Burton “Burt” Gruber, Julius’ son. In a 1982 interview he had recounted a story about selling $69 worth of office furniture on credit to a couple of guys starting a business named Digital Equipment Corporation. When Burt retired operation of the business went to his nephew, Joel B. Cohen.

Gruber Bros. closed its doors November 2015 – three generations and 98 years as a family business. As Joel put it, "When I was 16 years old my mother sent me over to the store to help with a furniture delivery. Now, 54 years and one hip replacement later, it’s time for me to get off the truck and retire." As of 2020 the building is slated for destruction to make way for a four-story brick apartment building with retail tenant(s) on the first floor.
Hawes Florist, est. 1932, Maynard, MA
Hawes Florist: The Hawes family was operating out of Sudbury, with greenhouses. In 1932 Hawes opened a florist’s shop on Nason Street. Victor Tomly worked there part-time while in school, then in 1961 he and his wife Marion bought the business, as the next generation of Hawes family members was not interested. They moved the business to 70 Powder Mill Road in 1971. Victor still works there and his daughter Melissa is carrying on the family tradition.

Butler Lumber, est. 1938, Maynard, MA

Butler Lumber: Doing business since 1938, currently going by “Butler Lumber, Pipe and Stone”, the company has been at 67 Parker Street since 1947. The name comes not from being Butler family owned, but rather that it got started on Butler Avenue. Ron and Helga Starr owned it from 1973 to 2019. Mike Sawvelle then made the transition from long-time manger to owner. Butler offers construction supplies of all sorts, plus a wide assortment of tools, etc. That “etc.” is much larger than you can image, the concept being that if every possible thing is in stock, nothing will ever have to be special ordered. Wander around the store – excepting things such as left-hand threaded bolts – Butler probably has it.

Erikson's Ice Cream employees, in E-shirts (2011). Click to enlarge.
Erikson’s Ice Cream:  Hans Eriksen starting a dairy farm and milk delivery business in Stow, along White Pond Road, in 1902. Home delivery was by horse and wagon. His son, Hans Eriksen, Jr., returned from serving in the U.S. Army in France during World War I, and took up the family business, which by this time had shifted to buying milk from local farmers rather than milking their own cows. Hans Eriksen, Jr., moved the dairy to its present site, just inside Maynard’s border, in 1937, and started the ice cream operation next door, making 2020 the 83rd year in the ice cream business.

The fourth generation now manages the business and their children have put in time scooping ice cream. Over the years, Erikson’s has provided employment to hundreds of high school students. Many of the alumni make a point of stopping in at Erikson’s when visiting family or old friends still living in the area.