Polio Vaccination at the Delray Drive-In Theater: A Spoonful of Sugar Made the Medicine Go Down

Memories Sparked

In a recent email to the Boynton Beach Historical Society, Robin Raborn described how she and her brother would go with her dad, Dr. Robert (Bob) Raborn to the Delray Drive-In Theater to drop off little paper cups to dispense the oral polio vaccine to children and adults.

Dr. Robert Raborn

“My father, Dr. Bob Raborn, ran the distribution at the Delray Drive In. He had worked in the United States Public Health Service and my mother, Lenore, was a medical social worker, so they made a good team. I was nine. I remember running back and forth, delivering tiny paper cups with the sugar cubes to the families driving through. Dad was also in Rotary which championed eliminating polio worldwide.”

Dr. Bob Raborn Obituary, The Palm Beach Post, Apr 28 1999

Historic Note

During the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of Americans, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd United States President) were stricken by poliomyelitis. Polio, as it’s known, is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed. The affliction paralyzed Roosevelt from the waist down, confining him to a wheelchair. You might recall the movie Forrest Gump that started out with young Forrest Gump limping and wearing leg braces. In Florida, the contagious disease shuttered swimming pools and theaters warned moviegoers to not sit too close to one another.

Drs. Salk & Sabin

Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine as an injection of inactivated (killed) polio to give immunity. This discovery led to a remarkable decline in polio beginning in 1955.

Polio Pioneer Pin

Another medical researcher, Dr. Albert Sabin, created a “live” oral polio vaccine that was low cost, eliminated the needle, and tasted great.

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Sabin gives his oral poliovirus vaccine to a girl. Courtesy of the Hauck Center for the Sabin Archives, University of Cincinnati Libraries

Sabin’s vaccine required three doses administered over three months. Three drops of polio antibodies were added to sugar cubes or cherry flavored water for quick, painless, and tasty immunity.

The 1964 Mary Poppins song “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down” was inspired by the Sabin vaccine. Interestingly, in 1964 my parents fed me a spoonful of raw honey to conceal antibiotics hidden inside for several weeks as I recovered from surgery.

Polio Vaccine Poster

Sabin Oral Sundays

How to effectively administer the vaccine to entire families most effectively? Mass applications of the Sabin vaccine began in the early 1960s with “Sabin Oral Sundays.

Sabin on Sunday, 1965 Jaycees Photo Collection, Courtesy of the Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives

Drive-In Theater Program

Dr. Raborn sold the Palm Beach County Medical Society on holding a local public health program at drive in theaters. As the Delray Beach/Boynton Beach polio representative, Dr. Raborn partnered with the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce members) to get out the “SOS” and schedule a series of massive “Sabin on Sunday” events at the Delray Drive-In on Federal Highway. The programs goal was to immunize at least 80% of the local population—adults and all children over six months—and it worked!

Fort Lauderdale News, Feb. 24, 1964

Immunity in a Paper Cup

Thomas Bruce Smith recalls his family driving to the theatre on a Sunday afternoon. “When you got in, they sent the cars into three lanes, you pulled up and they gave you little paper cups to drink and then you left. You had to come back for a second dose.” 1960s Palm Beach Post and Sun Sentnel newspaper articles confirm Smith’s memories. The lanes were segregated with two lanes for white families and one lane for black and brown residents.

An Army of Volunteers

The polio eradication program took many volunteers. The Health Department, schools, churches, and civic organizations distributed authorization forms that households could pre-sign permission to vaccinate entire families or minors. Block captains went house by house and helped to sign up neighbors. School nurses and mothers volunteered as site coordinators and vaccine administrators. Seacrest High School students who served as candy stripers at Bethesda Memorial Hospital volunteered at SOS events.

Each dose of three pale drops of Sabin vaccine in a small cup of distilled water cost about 25 cents, and participants received the vaccine regardless of their ability to pay. Quarters raised went back into the program to educate and fortify more people against the crippling disease.

“Some 161,400 persons sipped their Sabin vaccine in Palm Beach County yesterday [January 19, 1964], 57% of the 280,000 target. 90% immunization mark. In Delray Beach 12,100 persons gulped the polio-preventer at the Delray Drive-In Theater. Dr. Robert E. Raborn and Delray Jaycee President Charles Gwynn lauded Paramedics and Seacrest High School students.”

Mass Vaccination Program Eradicates Polio

Boynton’s population in 1960 was just over 10,000. “A total of 21,966 persons received the third and final dose of Sabin oral vaccine at stations in Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton. The vaccine feeding station at the Delray Beach drive-in station had its biggest day to date yesterday [April 5, 1964]. Chairman Charles Gwynne said that 9,150 persons received the vaccine at the drive-in” (06 April 1964, Fort Lauderdale News).

Polio Vaccine Memories from the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page

The vaccine was distributed at schools, churches, the Health Department, and of course the Delray Drive-In Theater.

Edward Morley
Delray drive in. Rode my bike there.

Dyle Cronenweth Warren
At the Delray Drive-in. Our parents drove in, the guy at the entrance booth passed out our sugar cubes and we drove out.

Robin Pierce Morgan
My mom had polio when she was 18, she almost died. When the vaccine came out, we stood in line.

Barbara Brooks
I got a certificate saying I am a polio pioneer. Never had any problems after I got the shot

Ann Carter
I’m sure I got a shot when I was little (born in 1954), but I remember in 1963 or 1964 going to North Grade Elementary school for Sabin Oral Sunday, where we were given a little cup of vaccine. We had to go back a week or two later for the second dose. At that point, several of my siblings and I had mumps, so someone brought the tray of cups out to the car for us.

Susan Sheehan
I remember being so afraid of shots! I was so happy to get an oral vaccine!

Rick Cummins
Got mine at the Delray Beach drive in 1962 or 1963.

Leslie Worrell Jurney
I got it with my family at the Delray Drive in!

Joan Anderson
People were lucky to get the vaccine…. most don’t remember the polio epidemic before the vaccine. I do as I was hospitalized with polio as a child, very scary. I was blessed not to have effects like some did. I wish the vaccine were around for me.

Kathleen Kidd
My whole family went together to the cafeteria at North Grade Elementary after church to get it as a liquid in a small paper cup.

Teresa Wilhelm
My parents and I went to Lantana Elementary, on a Sunday afternoon (I think) a couple of times to drink a tiny cup of liquid. Do not remember it tasting bad.

Nelda Hall Erwin
It was ‘64, I was 5 and I remember standing in a long line with my mom at Canal Point Elementary School. My oldest brother had and survived Polio without any handicaps.

Karen Dutch
At Boynton Beach Elementary my third-grade class was called Polio Pioneers. We did not know if we were given a placebo or the real vaccine. We were given a wallet size card and a little metal button, you bent in half on a pocket to wear.

Richard Katz
Line of cars …. little paper cups…we lived on 5 acre farm on two-lane Atlantic Avenue.

Video Links

From The Vault: Dr. Albert Sabin’s oral polio vaccine helps eradicate the disease around the world

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” 1964

Forrest Gump Movie clip 1994 “Run Forrest Run”

Happy 100th Birthday to the Boynton School!

1st Permanent Schoolhouse in Boynton, ca. 1907

1st Permanent Schoolhouse in Boynton, ca. 1907

It is hard to imagine a Boynton Beach without a schoolhouse. In 1895, only a handful of people lived here, and for most of those, formal education was unnecessary. Between 1900 and 1910, the little settlement, known simply as Boynton, grew in population from less than 100 people to nearly 700.

Though they had no children of their own, Fred and Byrd Spilman Dewey recognized the need for a school in the growing settlement of Boynton. In 1897, Fred S. Dewey appeared before the school board and petitioned for a Boynton school, as reported in the August 5, 1897 Tropical Sun. A small, one-room schoolhouse on stilts was erected on land donated by the Deweys, in the area of the present day Dewey Park (Ocean Avenue and NE 4th Street). Miss Maude Gee was the first teacher, referred to in the Tropical Sun as Boynton’s “Instructoress.” A makeshift school for African-Americans; known at that time as a “Colored School” opened in 1896 in the area of today’s Poinciana School.

Article from Tropical Sun

Article from Tropical Sun

 

Albert P. Sawyer donated the land for the first permanent schoolhouse for White children, from his Sawyer’s Addition to the Dewey’s original Town of Boynton plat on November 29, 1902. In 1904 the two-room wooden school which was located near present-day Ocean Avenue and Seacrest Blvd. (then Green Street) opened with W.S. Shepard as Principal and Agnes Halseth as teacher. A few years later, in 1909, Palm Beach County was carved out of Dade County.

The Boynton School, ca. 1913

The Boynton School, ca. 1913

In 1912, the Palm Beach County School Board approved a contract with A. Mellson to construct the first part of a new school building. The original plan left the upstairs unfinished and did not include the fire escape. The Board approved a contract for William W. Maughlin, an architect from Baltimore to design a new masonry vernacular school. Maughlin, born in 1847, had previously designed the Palm Beach High School in 1908-1909 and was a draftsman for the Florida East Coast Hotels. Maughlin and his firm of Ruggles and Weller constructed the schoolhouse. The Boynton School was Maughlin’s last project, he passed away suddenly in October 1913 at his office and is buried in Woodland Cemetery.

Architect Wm. Maughlin's Woodmen of the World Monument (1847-1913) at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Architect Wm. Maughlin’s Woodmen of the World Monument (1847-1913) at Woodlawn Cemetery.

In December, 1912, the Board of Instruction authorized work to be completed on the two-story, six classroom building. The structure, one of the first in Boynton to feature indoor plumbing, had a signature portico, large sash windows and transom windows to facilitate the flow of sunlight and fresh air. The floors were made from Dade County Pine, and walls affixed with bead board.

The sturdy school featured a new system in masonry, known as Dunn Tile. The molds, designed by the W.E. Dunn Mfg. Co. of Chicago, the largest manufacturer to make concrete block forms, transformed the building industry. The Dunn Co. used a revolutionary concrete and plaster mixer to make concrete  for block, a precursor to the concrete block house.

Miss Annie Streater (Shepard) with her 1st to 4th grade pupils, ca. 1913

Miss Annie Streater (Shepard) with her 1st to 4th grade pupils, ca. 1913

The school opened September 8, 1913 for grades 1-12 with 81 students in attendance. Little Glenn Murray, age three, was hastily added to the list of pupils so the school had adequate students for the staff of three teachers and a principal. Miss Annie Streater taught the first year and Howard Frederick Pfahl, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, served as school principal for the years 1914-1915. Pfahl motored to school on an Indian motorcycle.

Principal Howard Phahl, ca. 1915.

Principal Howard Phahl, ca. 1915.

The Boynton School served grades 1 -12 until 1927, when the Boynton High School opened next door. For the next three decades the building served as a traditional 1-8 grade school, until Boynton Jr. High opened in 1958. The structure served as a school for primary grades and elementary students until its closing in 1990.