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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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"Miracle of Hickory"

by Richard L. Zuber, 2006

1944

The "Miracle of Hickory" refers to an emergency hospital established in Hickory during the summer of 1944 to treat infantile paralysis (polio). The descriptive name comes from the title of a pamphlet issued by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (March of Dimes) later that year. The hospital was started in response to a serious epidemic that developed in June and was centered in the Catawba Valley. When the facilities at Charlotte Memorial Hospital and an orthopedic hospital in Gastonia were filled, it became necessary to treat patients at Hickory. The ‘‘miracle’’ was the speed with which the hospital was conceived and put into operation. The decision to open a hospital was made on a Wednesday at noon, and the first patients were admitted on Saturday morning, a mere 54 hours later. The initial building was a stone structure that was already occupied as a summer camp. Army hospital tents were used throughout the summer, and several additional frame structures were built. Much of the construction and other work at the hospital was accomplished by a massive local volunteer effort. The March of Dimes provided doctors and contributed more than $500,000 for the hospital. The American Red Cross recruited several hundred nurses, most of whom were housed at theHotel Hickory. Numerous other specialized medical personnel came from throughout the country. Several leading medical schools, including Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Bowman Gray, had research teams at the hospital. Treatments at the facility were a vindication of the methods of Sister Elizabeth Kenny, who had been fighting the medical establishment for several years to substitute heat treatments, massage, and hydrotherapy for the conventional splinting and immobilization. Over 500 patients received treatment. Almost from the time it was built, the hospital was controversial. It received national publicity, particularly in Life magazine, and Hickory became known as ‘‘the polio city.’’ Some parents left town with their children, and shoppers and visitors were afraid to enter the area. A quarantine was in effect for several weeks. One faction wanted to keep the hospital and another group wanted to get rid of it. By December, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis believed that it should be closed. An arrangement was finally made to transfer the remaining patients to Charlotte Memorial Hospital. The last patients were moved from Hickory to Charlotte in a highly publicized motorcade on 5 Mar. 1945.

Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff: 

The "Miracle of Hickory" refers to the hospital more formally known as the Emergency Infantile Paralysis Hospital or the Hickory Emergency Infantile Paralysis Hospital.  It has appeared under both names in historical records.

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

I was in the Orthopedic Hospital in Gastonia when I was five years old and stayed there for three months for a burned hand. Can i find out anything about the time I spent there? Thank you.Cardinal

Comment: 

Hi Barbara!

Thank you for your comment and for contacting the Government & Heritage Library through NCpedia! That is an excellent question!

The State Archives of North Carolina does keep records from the North Carolina Orthopedic Hospital in Gastonia that was in operation from 1919-1979.  For more information on what records they have that might give you some insight into your time there, you can reach the State Archives through their contact information here: https://archives.ncdcr.gov/contact. 

I also took a look in our library's catalog. You can search it on our library's website: https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/. There are some documents in there about the hospital. I'm not sure what time frame you were at the hospital, but you might want to see if any of those documents are helpful.

I hope this helps and please let us know if you have any further questions! Best wishes!

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

Hi Barbara!

Thank you so much for visiting NCpedia and for your sharing your question! I am referring your inquiry to our library's Reference Team for further assistance. A staff member from our library should be reaching out to you soon!

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

How many orthopedic hospitals were set up in North Carolina in the 1940s and 50s?
I know about the Orthopedic Hospital in Gastonia and have just learned about emergency hospitals set up in Asheville and Hickory. It seems like 'demand' would require a larger number across the state.

Comment: 

Hi Anne!

Thank you for sharing your comment! That is an excellent question. I am referring your question to our library's Reference Team so that your inquiry can be looked into further. A staff member should be in touch with you soon via e-mail!

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

My mother was a patient there when she was four years old, and her photo was in a booklet that circulated during that time. I have an original booklet that she saved all these years. To put the importance into perspective, I would not be here today without the Miracle of Hickory saving her life.

Comment: 

I was talking with my grandmother about this, and she mentioned the film that was made on it in 1997. Does anyone know where I might find a digital copy?

Comment: 

In Diane Chamberlain's novel The Stolen Marriage, her main character is a nurse there in Hickory at the hospital.

Comment: 

In about 1945, a News of the Day-type broadcast was shown in theaters and titled The Miracle of Hickory. It told about the way the hospital was started and showed the various treatments: iron lung, etc. I was a kid in Charlotte at that time and it was of great interest to me.

Comment: 

I really like this article and I would like to know if I have permission to use some of the information in this article for my National History Day Project?

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