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The Indy Issue from Friday March 12, 2021

 

 

Visions of the Development of Salem

By Kevin Zorn

An oil on canvas mural is displayed in the post office in Salem, West Virginia. It was painted by an artist named Berni Glasgow and its production was funded
through the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It is titled “Visions of the Development of Salem” and depicts a group of people
receiving mail, in the background is a village and cattle.

 

Berni Glasgow was one of more than 800 artists commissioned to paint 1371 murals, the majority of which are featured in post offices.
Often mistaken as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative, these Treasury funded murals were created with the intent of fostering i
nspiration in the American people who were still feeling the devastating economic and social effects of the Great Depression.

 

It is a testament to the shift in the ideological landscape today that I cannot believe the US Government, in tandem with local governments,
was capable of doing what the WPA accomplished. Yet, here are just some of the facts: from 1935 to 1943 8.5 million unemployed men and
women were hired by the government to build over 10,000 bridges, 620,000 miles of streets and roads, 40,000 new and 85,000 renovated
buildings including thousands of schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums, playgrounds, parks, libraries, college dormitories, tennis courts, and skating rinks.

 

The WPA employed artists, writers, historians, and musicians whose work directly affected the lives of millions of Americans during some of the
country’s most painful years. Musicians hired under the Federal Music Project taught free lessons to 132,000 children and adults every week.
Those hired in the Federal Writers’ Project, in addition to their popular state tourism guidebooks, recorded over 2,300 slave narratives -
an invaluable collection for scholars and historians. Under the Federal Theatre Project 1,000 plays were performed across the country every month.
Incalculable is the number of children and adults inspired by this work.

 

Through the colossal endeavors of the WPA in both its pre-war effort and its public projects America achieved full employment by 1942,
the same year “Visions” was painted in Salem.

 

It is clear that the America many of us grew up in, the structures that supported our lives, the parks we enjoyed, the schools we attended,
the infrastructure we relied upon for travel, even the art classes that inspired the next generation of creators was largely built under the
auspices of the WPA and the New Deal.

 

This is a salient reminder that capital “H” History is not simply a collection of memorized facts and figures, dates and obscure names.
No, History is alive in the communities in which we live. It not only teaches us, it haunts us as well. It haunts us with what was
possible before and what is possible tomorrow.

 

Perhaps that is the greatest battle waged in the spectacle of media and politics today - the question of what is possible.
Our expectations are managed lower and lower. We learn that the climate crisis is inevitable, that homelesness is natural,
that workers are essential until they ask for a living wage. All to say that change is impossible. Visions of better futures recede from view.

But history haunts us with an alternative. By the time Berni Glasgow painted the mural in the Salem post office, the American
government had provided millions of meaningful jobs improving, with concrete and paintbrushes, nearly every community across the nation.

 

Nick Taylor, the author of “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA”, writes this: 

 

“These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation.
They were golden threads woven in the national fabric. In this, they shamed the political philosophy
that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them,
thus fulfilling the founding vision of a government by and for its people. All its people.” 

 

This weeks front page:

 

 

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It swooped over their heads, below the stone arches and across the stained glass windows of the cathedral. Some in the congregation stared ahead, actively ignoring the disruptful winged creature. Children laughed and pointed as it flew closer to their parent’s heads, they squealed as it soared between the pews. A dexterous church-goer swung his missal, knocking the creature to the ground. It lay there on its stomach, brown, furry, with little claws at the ends of its wings. Fifteen year-old animal lover, Jeanna Giese, knelt over the bat. Determined to save it, she grabbed the brown creature by its wing and, despite its horrendous screams, took it outside. Under the blinding sunlight the bat grew more agitated, writhing and twisting. It curled up to Jeanna’s finger and bit down, hard. Jeanna gasped and threw the bat up into the trees. Rubbing her aching finger, Jeanna returned to the service and thought nothing more of the bite.

 

The volleyball was set, hanging in the air at its apex. Jeanna placed her feet and jumped ready to catch the ball at its sweet spot. There was only one problem, she saw two volleyballs. With blurry vision she swung for one and missed. Immediately a sharp pain developed in her shoulder, a sort of uncontrollable spasm. After a couple days with no reprieve, Jeanna’s parents took her to a doctor. He sent her to another doctor. Jeanna’s condition slowly deteriorated while doctor after doctor was unable determine her sickness. It wasn’t meningitis and although she had a fever it wasn’t the flu. Her brain scans were appeared normal despite her now slurred speech. The situation had quickly become grim. Then her parents mentioned the bat incident. Jeanna’s pediatrician, Dr. Dhoneau, became pale as he listened to the story of the bat bite. He walked out of the room and immediately called for a test to determine whether Jeanna Giese had rabies. Rabies is a virus, carried in the saliva, that has a 100% mortality rate in humans if left untreated for over a week. Jeanna had been showing symptoms for over a month.

 

The rabies virus attaches to the victim’s nervous system at the point of the bite. From there it slowly climbs toward the brain. Before it reaches the brain, rabies can be effectively treated with a vaccine and a brief hospital stay. Once the virus reaches the brain, the chances of survival plummet to almost zero. Patients affected by rabies show extreme aggression, produce infected saliva, and develop a fear of drinking water. The fear of water, or hydrophobia, is a result of the virus telling the brain to keep anything that may dilute the host’s potent saliva away. Jeanna was rushed to the children’s hospital diagnosed with rabies virus. At this stage the normal protocol in 2004 was to either bed the patient until they passed in the hospital or send them home expecting the same result. With Jeanna’s death only several hours away, her new doctor, Rodney Willoughby, suggested to Jeanna’s parents an experiment. He would induce a coma in Jeanna and maintain her vitals through IVs and intensive care hoping that a coma would buy Jeanna’s immune system precious extra time to fight the rabies virus. Her parents agreed to what would soon be called the ‘Milwaukee Protocol.’ The battle was intense. After seven days in a coma, Jeanna was slowly woken. Only able to move her eyes, Dr. Willoughby asked her to look at her mother. Jeanna fixed her gaze directly on her mother’s face. She had survived. In all, Jeanna spent three months in the hospital learning to walk again. Physical therapists trained her to use her arms and legs, and how to speak. Now Jeanna has completely recovered and the ‘Milwaukee Protocol’ has been refined and used in forty other cases. Of those cases, four others have survived. While those numbers may not appear hopeful for those who’ve passed the vaccination stage, the previous alternative was 100% mortality. Jeanna’s case has provided hope and insight into a virus that has plagued mankind for over four-thousand years.