According to the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, the current closure of the Snoqualmie Valley School District due to the novel coronavirus is not the first time a potentially deadly virus has closed local schools.
It happened nearly 90 years ago, when polio (Infantile Paralysis) struck fear into local parents.
Snoqualmie Valley Historian Dave Battey commented, “I would suggest (from personal experience) that the polio virus was a lot scarier than Covid-19. Remember that the polio virus focused on children, and if they did recover, they might be crippled for life. People from my generation generally had good friends, who spent their lives on crutches.”
In the 1990’s, Dave wrote an article detailing the 1932 Snoqualmie School closure to stop the spread of polio in the Valley. He gave us permission to share that article with our readers.
Historical note: in the 1930’s the greater Snoqualmie area had three towns: Snoqualmie Falls (mill town), Meadowbrook and Snoqualmie. Additionally, today there are two Snoqualmie streets named for people in the below story: Allman Ave (Snoqualmie Ridge) and Schusman Ave, which runs behind Mount Si High School.
Mass polio vaccinations began in 1955. Polio was eradicated in the Americas by 1994.
On October 8, 1932, a bright, healthy 13-year old honor student from Meadowbrook Washington died unexpectedly. She was Shirley Allman, daughter of Meadowbrook drugstore owners Mr. & Mrs. Horace K. Allman. When stricken with the disease – Infantile Paralysis – Shirley was rushed to Seattle to a respirator, but died after several hours of unsuccessful help from the most advanced medical machinery of the time.
One day later, little 8-year old Larry Myers, son of Mr. & Mrs. John F. Myers of Meadowbrook died of polio. He had been ill for several days. Additional children, including others in the Myers family, and in the Mack McGinnis family of Snoqualmie were also victims of the disease.
On Wednesday, October 12th King County Health Officer C. L. Dixon ordered the schools of Snoqualmie (including Meadowbrook) and Snoqualmie Falls closed until Monday, October 24th. It was hoped that this would keep the dreaded disease from becoming a full-blown epidemic.
The key to success with the quarantine was to limit contact between young people, up through high school age, until the last local case of polio was past the short contagious phase.
This limiting of contact required extraordinary public support. In fact, King County did not believe the quarantine would work because once children were freed from public school, the urge to play with friends would be overpowering.
Snoqualmie School Superintendent Richard Jacob (R. J.) Schusman talked the county into the quarantine – and then followed through with the total community communications required to make the quarantine work.
By October 20th, it seemed evident that the paralyzing disease had been confined to two groups of children who were either close neighbors or often played together.
Miss Guitteau, a King County nurse, noted, “It seems probable though not certain that all the children now afflicted will recover and that only one will be slightly lame. However, the nature of the disease is such that there can be no assurance of any definite results for some time to come.”
Unfortunately, even this guarded report was too optimistic. Several of those stricken were permanently disabled. There were at least seven local cases, including the two fatalities, but by the time school reopened on October 24th, the danger of an epidemic was past.
Snoqualmie School Superintendent R. J. Schusman expressed deep appreciation to the community at large. He thanked Snoqualmie Mayor Claude Northern, local merchants, the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company and Community Hall manager George Borden, Bill Cochrane, owner of the Brook movie theater, and the “majority” of parents for the success of the quarantine.
Basically, the three towns had worked together to shut off most opportunities for children to congregate. This included closing down the Community Hall, denying young folks access to the Brook movie theater, and even closing down all church and Sunday School activity and cancelling a week-long revival meeting at the Snoqualmie Methodist Episcopal Church.