Iron lung serves as testament to Marshfield’s medical history
By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD – A very heavy piece of history now sits in the bottom floor of the 2nd Street Community Center, as the Marshfield Museum becomes home to an iron lung retained from St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“When the hospital disposed of their many iron lungs, they saved one. They stored it in the old brewery, which the hospital owned at that time,” said museum co-founder Shirley Mook.
“When they were going to demolish the brewery, the maintenance men called Margaret Peterson, who was an employee of the hospital, and told her of the impending destruction of the iron lung. She called Denny Nelson, who was president at North Wood County Historical Society at that time, to see if they would be interested in acquiring it. He consented and it was moved to the back corner of their garage.
“Somehow, we were told that they had it and wanted to get rid of it. We thought that it would be great in the hospital exhibit since many today do not know what polio or an iron lung was. It weighs approximately 800 pounds and is 7.5 feet long.”
The iron lung is synonymous was polio – a contagious illness causing nerve injury leading to paralysis. As the virus paralyzed muscles in the chest, the iron lung helped maintain respiration artificially, run by an electric motor and two vacuums.
The disease was eradicated in the 1970s and with advancements in medical technology, very few of these units now exist.
Kept safe from the thought of destruction by the Historical Society, the hospital’s iron lung has now found a permanent spot in Marshfield’s expanding museum in the community center.
“Now, the problem was how to get it to the museum and down 18 stairs,” added Mook. “I explored several sources with no success.
“I am in Rotary with Dr. Tom Nikolai and was telling him about the iron lung. He was a resident at the hospital when polio was at its height and he vividly remembers the iron lungs in the hallways. Through the weeks we talked and I told him of my plight in getting the machine moved. He became very interested in the project and determined to call his nephew from Nikolai Construction to move it.
“We collaborated the next few weeks and the result was the moving on (Jan. 11.) We thought they would chain it or ratchet it down the stairs but…they carried it down the stairs.”
The iron lung will now serve as a testament to Marshfield’s deep medical history.
“We have lots of restoration to do but it will be awesome when done.”
For more information on the museum, visit http://www.marshfieldmuseum.com.