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The Iron Lung

The iron lung was once a symbol of a dreaded disease known as polio. Every summer until the mid-1950s, health personnel feared an outbreak which would wreck havoc on defenseless infants and children.

Iron lungs are full-body respirators that provide a mechanical means of breathing. In these machines an excess pressure alternates with a reduced pressure. When the pressure surrounding the patient's body is reduced, the chest expands so that air streams into the lungs. Then when the pressure is increased, the air is automatically expelled. Iron lungs were only intended to provide temporary relief until the patient recovered.

The iron lung at Luckey Hospital Museum is fully functional.


The Cooling Board

Death before modern refridgeration and heavy digging equipment presented unique challenges in cold winter climates. A body couldn’t always be buried due to frozen ground.

A cooling board was used to present a body. Wrapped in a shroud and placed on the board, the body would cool and could then be stored in an unheated barn until burial was possible.

The board had holes drilled, often in intricate and artistic patterns, that allowed the air to circulate around the body. Cooling boards have been celebrated in song - Son House makes a reference to a cooling board in his well known song “Death Letter” - and a quote from Marling (2008) Ice: Great Moments in the History of Hard, Cold Water:

Benjamin B. French witnessed Abraham Lincoln’s remains, after transfer from the Peterson House to the White House, being “taken from the box in which they were enclosed, all limp and warm, and laid upon the floor, and then stretched upon the cooling board.”


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