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The right to bare arms

Jan 17, 2013 3:05 PM | 0 comments

W hrd tht sm f y r hvng prblm wth r spllng f th wrd Bklyn n r nw lg. Lt m jst sy, chll! Pprntly y hv nvr trd t lrn Hbrw.

If by chance you are thinking that the title above confirms your suspicion that some people--I might even say, some libraries--cannot be trusted to follow generally accepted rules of spelling--you would be wrong!  We have people here who are walking dictionaries, nay, ambulant lexicons! And we can run spellcheck!

Nor, I might add, are are we foolish enough to embroil ourselves here in an argument over gun control.  

No, our subject today is inspired by the viruses lurking this season on subway poles, door handles, the hands and faces of friends--influenza! Scientists first developed a flu vaccine in the 1940s, and by the 1950s Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was saving thousands of lives. A stable vaccination for smallpox also became available in the 1940s--a fact confirmed by the sudden appearance during the 1940s in our image files of a score of photographs showing people waiting for or enduring vaccinations.   

If you have recently undergone a flu shot at a pharmacy, you might have had to wait on line. I trust your experience, tedious as it might have been, was more comfortable than that of the long-suffering crowd above, shown standing in the rain at 8 p.m. on April 15, 1947 on Flatbush Ave Extension, waiting for their smallpox vaccination.


Here young people exercise their right to bare arms at Long Island College Hospital during the same vaccination drive. These images, almost all from 1947, beg the question, why was smallpox vaccination suddenly de rigueur? 

On March 8, 1947, a businessman named Eugene Le Bar left Mexico City for New York. Traveling by bus, he passed through Texas, parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey before reaching his destination. On March 10th, Mr. Le Bar died at  the Willard Parker Hospital for Contagious Diseases, located on the Lower East Side.  The cause of death was given as bronchitis with hemorrhages.

Less than two weeks later, a baby and a young man were admitted to hospital with suspected smallpox. Both had been at the Willard Parker Hospital during Mr Le Bar's stay. When tests revealed that all three were infected with smallpox, the City's Health Commissioner sprang into action, recommending that everyone who had not been vaccinated since childhood should receive the smallpox vaccine. Free vaccination clinics were set up all over the city. In all somewhere between 5 and 6 million people were vaccinated before the end of April, and a smallpox epidemic was averted.


Few people love having a needle stuck into their arm, but some approach this trial with more fortitude than others. This gentleman at the Red-Hook Gowanus Center looks less than happy. 

The grim-faced workers at Todd Shipyards steel themselves for the assault on their bared arms.

Perhaps this toddler doesn't quite know what's coming. The little fellow behind her is a trooper.

Waning eyesight can play strange tricks. At first glance the sign on the steps seemed to say, "Vaccinations To-Day 1 P.M. No Rednecks." I know New Yorkers can sometimes be prone to urban snobbery, but I did find that to be a surprising official communication.

I looked closer. It actually says "No Rechecks."

Those librarians. Can't spell, can't read....