The Sick Shriners
Hundreds of Shriners were in town for an annual high school all-star football game and pre-game parade. What started out as a festive day, filled with miniature motorbikes and capering clowns, turned chilling as the Mary Hitchcock Emergency Room began to fill up with sick Shriners.
Saturday, August 27, 1966, in Hanover, N.H., was one of those hot and humid dog days that had everyone seeking shade. But even though the temperature was in the 80s, many inpatients at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital were delighted at the prospect of being transported out to the sidewalk along Maynard Street.
It was the day of the Shrine parade, the prelude to the annual Maple Sugar Bowl football game between New Hampshire and Vermont high-school allstars. It was the custom to grant patients who couldn't see the parade from their rooms, and who could be safely moved, the privilege of leaving the hospital.
By parade time at noon, the Maynard Street sidewalk was crowded with gurneys, wheelchairs, and IV poles—and patients excited about a little relief from the tedium of a hot weekend in the hospital. It took as much as an hour for the parade to pass by—bands, majorettes, clowns, and hundreds of Shriners from all over the Northeast: Shriners on unicycles, in elaborate costumes, waving from banner-festooned convertibles, and revving miniature motorbikes.
The purpose of the festive event was serious, however. The Shriners were raising money for their network of children's hospitals (see here). So they always put on a special show as they passed by MHMH—sometimes pretending to drive a vehicle right onto the sidewalk, only to veer off at the last minute. One patient was clearly not amused by these antics, however, and demanded to be taken back inside. It was later learned that he was in the hospital because of injuries sustained when he was struck by a motorcycle.
Otherwise, the parade went off without incident, and after all the patients had been returned to their rooms, the hospital staff settled in for what they hoped would be an uneventful weekend.
The parade continued right into Dartmouth's football stadium and around Memorial Field's cinder track, where the various Shrine units passed in review before a stand of dignitaries and a near-
capacity crowd of 13,000. High above the field in the press box, under the watchful eye of David Orr—a 1957 Dartmouth graduate who would later become senior associate director of alumni relations for the College—the sportswriters were focused on the upcoming 2:00 p.m. kickoff. But, Orr recalls, "there was an obvious problem with one of the [parade] units. The marching was ragged, and several Shriners even keeled over. We thought it might be the combination of heat, excitement, exertion, or, more seriously, heart attacks or heat stroke. But the game went on as scheduled."
As the action progressed on the field, however, there was a good bit of action in the stands, too. Emergency personnel from the two ambulances posted at the stadium could be seen periodically picking their way through the crowd and trying to assist or carry out spectators in obvious distress.
Another person with vivid memories of that day was that year's general chairman of the game, Shriner Frank Maynard, who still lives in West Lebanon, N.H. He was told by fellow Shriners that a number of
"You've got to come in
and help me," Dr. Harry
Bird recalls a colleague
saying. "We have an
emergency room and
a lobby full of sick
Shriners. They are trying
to be gentlemanly, not make a mess, and some are vomiting
into their fezzes as they come through the door."
men from the Springfield, Mass., unit were quite sick. He turned on his portable microphone, which activated the stadium's loudspeaker system, and announced that anyone who was ill should come down to the sidelines, where they'd be picked up and transported to the hospital.
At around 3:30 or 4:00 that afternoon, Dr. Harry Bird, a staff anesthesiologist at the Hitchcock Clinic and the "second on-call" for that weekend, answered the telephone at his home. It was his colleague Dr. Brian Burke, now deceased, who was the first anesthesiologist on call. "This is not a joke," Bird recalls Burke telling him. "You've got to come in and help me."
When Bird asked what was going on,
The authors are both longtime members of the DMS faculty. Smith is the Irene Heinz Given Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology Emeritus and a regular contributor to Dartmouth Medicine. Jacobs is a professor emeritus of microbiology and immunology. The August 29, 1966, issue of the local daily, the Valley News, carried extensive coverage of the stricken Shriners; some of the facts in this article were drawn from that account.