Before the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, every summer brought new fears to North Carolina. Through repeated outbreaks in the 1940s and early 1950s, public swimming pools were shut down to discourage the spread of the virus. Movie theaters banned children, and families stuck close to home. The opening of school was delayed until summer outbreaks died down.
In 1944, the Catawba County town of Hickory worked with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to turn a local camp into an emergency hospital - in 54 hours. Officially, it was known as the Hickory Emergency Polio Hospital, but it lives in history as the Miracle of Hickory.
Another enterprising Catawba County effort was described by reporter Marse Grant in 1953.
The polio epidemic in Catawba County which has hit nearly 100 isn't preventing children at the Highlands Baptist Church from attending Sunday school even though the assembling of children in large groups has been banned.
Their resourceful pastor, the Rev. Roger E. Williams Jr., came up with a practical solution to the problem which was halving attendance in most churches. Why not have Sunday school and preaching services out of doors, at a drive-in theatre for instance? Management of the Hickory Drive-In Theatre thought the debris of the Saturday night crowd could be cleaned up in time for services Sunday morning.
Two weeks ago the first service was held and it was a resounding success. Beginning at 9 a.m., with the Sunday school lesson for children and adults, and ending with the pastor's sermon, the entire service was over by 10:30 a.m. The folks liked it and last Sunday morning more of them came - 303 to be exact, in 80 cars. By lifting the speakers in their cars, each family could hear well and vision was not made difficult by some woman with a big hat in front.
"It's a little unusual preaching under these circumstances, " Pastor Williams said, "but the response of the people has made every effort worthwhile. We plan to continue the practice as long as the polio ban is in effect. Our attendance is running better than it normally does in the summer at our church and folks stay for preaching here, " he added with a smile.
Cars are greeted at the entrance by "ushers" who pass out church bulletins, record slips, and a copy of Charity and Children, Baptist Orphanage paper which is usually given out in Sunday School. Early arrivals are treated to recordings of well-known hymns. The offering is taken in a systematic manner and it totaled $621.87 the first Sunday.
The roof of the projection booth and concession serves as the rostrum. After sweltering in the hot sunshine the first Sunday, an awning was stretched over the group last Sunday and it was much more comfortable.
Sunday night services are held at the church as usual. While the polio ban is in effect, children will not attend this service, but they do not normally attend in large numbers at night anyhow. - The News & Observer 8/2/1953