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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Great Enchephelis Scare of 1959

Two comments were recently posted on the Blog regarding the encephalitis scare of 1959. They are reprinted below.
Didn't the encephalitis outbreak occur in 1959? My grandmother Estella Harris Adams Mathis died in the fall of 1959 and my grandfather "Boot" Mathis told my mother not to bring my sisters to NG because the outbreak was affecting both the very young and the very old. Mosquito spray was being distributed to everyone, too.

Beverly Mathis Robinson

1959 sounds right. I was four years old at that time living on Marine St in Tuckerton. The little boy across the street died from it. I remember my parents not allowing us to go outside to play and wrapping us in blankets to carry us to and from the car when we went to New Gretna to visit 'Memom', 'Pepop', 'Mom mom '& 'Francy' (AKA Lizzie Mathis, Joseph Mathis, Virginia Gray Sears & Francis Sears)

As young children my brothers and I used to like the smell of the mosquito spray from the trucks that dispersed it around town.

Cindy Gray Dickey

Seems that Beverly and Cindy are pretty much on target. The great Encephalitis Scare did occur in 1959. The following newspaper article deals with the scare. Unfortunately I don't know what newspaper it came from (It would either be the Tuckerton Beacon or the Atlantic City Press.) Nor do I have the exact date, except that it definately was in 1959.

In order to fit the entire article in the narrow format of the Blog, I had to divided it into multiple sections, so that it is readable. Sorry about that, but that's the function of the Blog program.

Renard "Jack" Wiseman spraying for mosquitoes during the Great Enchephelis Scare of 1959.

How many of our Blog readers can remember the Great Encephalitis Scare of 1959? I know Rickie "White Shoes" Steele and Mike Allen should have some recollections, as their mothers, Mrs. Clarence Steele and Elaine Allen (Mrs. Benjamin Allen), were interviewed in the news article. Let's hear from anyone who has memories of the incident.

Pete S


  1. I believe that I had it! The 1959 time frame is about right, I don't remember specifically.

    Given the year, I was 11 at the time. I remember having a fever and the worst headache I've ever had. I was begging my mom to get the doctor to see me. Remember when doctors made house calls! Dr. Rupert in Absecon. My mom knew something was wrong because by that time I had broken my right arm twice and both times walked in the house and announced it, no crying.

    Dr. Rupert showed up late in the afternoon, sized me up, gave me some medicine and a shot. A conference in the kitchen with my mother and he was gone. I began to feel better immediately, but stayed on the living room couch.

    My dad came home from work. Another conference in the kitchen without me. My mom served dinner for my dad, brother, and herself. I heard a thump in the kitchen, my mom screaming my dad's name. I jumped up from the couch, took a couple of steps and collapsed to the floor. It turns out the doctor had shot me up with probably morphine. That is why my head stopped hurting.

    My dad had passed out at the dinner table. He came to, and was okay, but the shock of the possible diagnosis apparently got to him. My brother was on the phone to call for help and our party line (remember party lines!) was asked to get off for an emergency call. They heard the commotion in the background and came to the house to see that all was okay. We knew our party line people.

    As it turned out, my dad didn't need a ride to the hospital, nor I.

    My fever broke, and I recovered. So I never was sure I had it, but I'm certain it was raised with my parents as a possibility. The doctor probably told my mom that if I showed any signs of getting worse to get me to a hospital.

    So I don't really know if the medicine worked, or if I really had it. The symptoms were right. But not being sent to a hospital gives me a little doubt.

    But the scare was very very real for my family.

    John Yates

  2. Hi,

    My name is JoAnne Lamson, daughter of the late Robert Donald Lamson (son of Donald and Phyllis Lamson), and Joan Cramer Lamson (daughter of the late Louise Gray Cramer and Charles Nelson -Squak Cramer).

    I was a vicitm of the Encephalitis Scare, contracted it when I was about 5 or 6 years old which would of been 1958-1959. We were enjoying the summer in Barnegat Light. My parents rented a house near the Lighthouse House. My Dad was an officer in the Coast Guard stationed there. Our family home was on Bartlett Lane in Tuckerton, which was sold to the Tuckerton Bay and Decoy Museum off the creek.

    I remember I was very, very sick and the Health Department came and drew my blood for years after that.

    Guess I was lucky. No effects after the fever went away.

    My Great Uncle is Ferron Lamson of New Gretna. We spent may times at Cape Horn with Aunt Dot and Uncle Ferron on Great Bay Blvd. I think Uncle Ferron owned Cape Horn at one time. Betty Lamson West and her husband Floyd West still live in the Lamson family home in New Gretna, next door to Bucky (Ferron Lamson, Jr.

    I know I am related to so many Tuckerton and New Gretna folks. Reading your articles have brought back so many fond memories. I wanted to respond and get involved too, since my family is such a huge part of that history.

    Thank you for writing about this.

    JoAnne Lamson

  3. Pete,

    I saw the blog about the mosquito disease. We had just came back from working in Townens Inlet. The house next door to the present post office was the Cramer family homestead then. Mr. and Mrs. Kalfman bought the "post office" house from Sara Mathis and were living there. Mr. Kalfman came down with that deadly disease. I helped the Tuckerton Amblance Squad take him down the winding stairs. He was snoring like he was in a deep sleep and never woke up. It was on the evening news. It was a scarry time in little New Gretna. They said it came from mosquitos after they have bitten a horse.

    Don Cramer