Images Of Poliomyelitis

Franklin D. Roosevelt
At Campobello

Mainstream Images

Franklin D. Roosevelt is struck by the poliovirus at his summer resort on the remote, edenesque island of Campobello. The author, June Goodfield, for example, portrays these conventional images in "Courage in adversity", World Health (Jan-Feb, 1995):

This mentions the Bay:

FDR, aged 39, arrived at Campobello in 1921 exhausted, but on 10 August, after an active day, he decided he wanted to swim.  So he jogged two miles to swim in the icy waters of the Bay of Fundy.  Early that evening he felt chilled and went to bed.  The next day he had a high fever, and pain in his back and legs.  By Friday he couldn't move his legs at all.

This mentions a pond:

[Johnson family describes a modern day visit to Campobello:]  It was at Campobello that F.D.R. contracted polio.  Among many other activities, he swam at Glensevern Pond the day he became ill.  Upon our return to the camp, Charles and the girls went for a cold dip (or wade) at this pond, which is near the campsite.  The water was red, they told Maman when they returned.  --Johnson family tourists [defunct]

This mentions the Bay and a lake:

During one day in August of 1921 that echoes the manic energy of his cousin Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin had sailed with visitors and fallen into the bay, remembering later that he had “never felt anything so cold as that water.” He tried to shake off a sudden malaise by leading his children on a two-mile jog through the woods to swim in a lake, and then they all helped put out a fire on a deserted island. That night he collapsed into a painful, paralytic illness that was only diagnosed as polio at the end of several awful weeks. After that, FDR revisited his beloved island only three times. -- American Heritage, Vol 52, Number 5

The descriptions are fairly typical, limited to portrayals of a wealthy, connected, intelligent, healthy man who has allowed himself to become over-exhausted and exposed to cold, intimating that his immune system was weakened, and that he thus was overcome by parasitic microbes, i.e., the predatory poliovirus while swimming in a remote, natural environment. The stories are told as a mother would describe her child catching a "cold".

Another source focuses on other aspects without contradictions:

In August 1921, FDR was summering in Campobello, New Brunswick, Canada. After returning from Washington and New York, he took his family sailing on 10 August and on the way home spotted on a nearby island a forest fire, which he and his son fought. When he returned to his cottage, he felt a chill and went to bed. The next morning he found that his left leg dragged and was too weak to sustain his weight. By night-fall his temperature had risen to 102 degrees, and he had considerable pain in his legs and back. FDR had not become exposed to polio at Campobello, since the incubation period for the virus ranges from three to thirty-five days. He may have contracted the disease during the summer in Washington or at a Boy Scout outing in New York. After initial misdiagnosis by the local family doctor, FDR's uncle Fred Delano consulted Dr. Samuel Levine at the Harvard Infantile Paralysis Commission, who in turn diagnosed the illness as poliomyelitis. They reached Dr. Robert Lovett, the foremost specialist on infantile paralysis (as polio was then called), and shortly Lovett was on his way to Campobello. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, His Life And Times: An Encyclopedic View, Edited by Otis L. Graham, Jr. and Meghan R. Wander., (c) G.K. Hall & Co. (1985), p332)

The combined effect of the two images is that FDR was infected by the poliovirus and that through overexertion and exposure to cold he was stricken with paralytic polio.

Missing Images

There should have been a consideration of the obvious toxicology.

The environmental context of a case of acute paralysis should not be limited to "icy waters". "Polluted waters" should be included because of the existence of heavy industry directly upstream from Roosevelt's swim site, as described in Encyclopedia Britannica Micropaedia (1986):

St. John's, St. Andrew's, Digby and Hantsport during the late 19th and early 20th century were the sites of varied industries, shipbuilding, oil refining, brewing, tanning, clothing manufacturing of hardware, engines, paint, furniture, lumbering, shipping, shipbuilding, and several deep water harbours.

The image of an island in a natural setting is now deflated. The causal image of "swimming in icy water" is now deflated.  The "red" water in the pond might indicate iron, that the pond was a catch basin for some industry.

The unpleasant reality of industrial pollution enters the scene.

All of the industries, listed above, utilized and, according to common practice at the time, dumped chlorinated hydrocarbons into the waterways leading into the Bay of Fundy.  St. John Harbor was a deep-water harbor suitable for international shipping.  Ships dumped chemicals from storage and bilges prior to loading or inspections.  In later years, a major hydroelectric project would be planned for this industrial bay region.  In 1921 toxic chemical dumping regulations were severely lacking.

A study in 1964 by chemist Soren Jensen found evidence of unpublicized global pollution of DDT-like chemicals (PCBs) during the early part of the 20th century.

In 1971 scientists chose the Bay of Fundy as the site for a study of high levels of DDT and DDT-like chemicals in porpoises (Gaskin, Holdrinet & Frank (1971), from Handbook of Ecotoxicology, pub. Blackwell Science Ltd., London (1994, 1998), p384).

The Bay of Fundy, like most bays can be viewed as a huge lake that opens towards the ocean.  It contains water from rivers and the ocean's oscillating tidal flow.  The Bay has an immense volume as can be known from its width which ranges 30 to 50 miles, and this volume reduces the effective flow to less than a crawl.  Thus, the organochlorines and other dangerous wastes flow slowly in various concentrations, surrounding Campobello, as they drift from several industrial sites, certainly St. Andrews, probably St. John, and possibly Digby, towards the Atlantic.

Paul Hermann Muller, the J.R. Geigy chemist who won a Nobel Prize for reviewing, testing, and selecting DDT for the pesticide market, was previously an "investigator of dyes and tanning agents." (Encyclopedia Britannica Micropaedia (1986), v10, p322). Generally, if not specifically, Muller had participated in the development of DDT-like chemical products which the "exhausted" FDR swallowed and/or absorbed while swimming "in the icy waters of the Bay of Fundy."

If New Jersey is said to be in the “Cancer Corridor” then would it be presumptive to call the Bay of Fundy in Roosevelt's era – "Acute Flaccid Paralysis Paradise"?

Summary Of Toxic Exposures

Many industrial toxic chemicals could have lead to FDR's polio.  Here is text analysis:

Text JW Comment
"he swam at Glensevern Pond... the water was red" Red may be iron oxide from pipes or tanks, indicating other chemical pollution, possibly solvents.
"he decided he wanted to swim.  So he jogged two miles to swim in the icy waters of the Bay of Fundy" Different account than below.
"fallen into the bay... sudden malaise" This bay is downstream from toxic industries.  Bay water is slow moving water where inlet effluents could accumulate.

1971 onward, bay Dolphin studies show mainly organochlorines such as PCB and CHB, with some DDT.  DDT was not in use until after FDR acquired polio (1921), after 1939, but its presence indicates regional pesticide usage.

Toxicity can be sudden (FDR's sudden malaise).  Yet, so-called virus incubation takes a few days.  Coldness and toxicity of bay may have added substantially to stress.

"two mile jog through the woods to swim in a lake" Contents of this lake water?
"a nearby island a forest fire, which he and his son fought." Coup de Grace:  Smoke inhalation alone can paralyze, depending upon the content of the smoke.

Roosevelt's acreage on Campobello is today a public park, owned jointly by the United States and Canada.

Proposed Study

The strength of a theory is its ability to predict future events. Thus, in addition to the above mentioned study of DDT in dolphins, what would be the results of a comparison study regarding the statistics of neurological disease and chemical toxicity in the region of the Bay of Fundy?  The pesticide/polio thesis predicts such a study would reveal a high correlation between the presence of industrial central nervous system poisons and CNS disease (such as poliomyelitis) incidence in the region of the Bay of Fundy. The pesticide/polio thesis predicts that FDR's polio would best be described by Dr. Ralph Scobey's chart on polio etiology.

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