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The Madera Tribune

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Polio didn’t stop Madera Scouts

January 11, 2019

Photo courtesy of Pat Emmert Manning
Keith Emmert, shown here in 1937 in his Scout uniform, was one of the leaders who went with a group of local Boy Scouts on a trip to New York City in 1935, after the Boy Scout Jamboree, set for Washington, D.C., was cancelled due to an outbreak of polio. Emmert spent six years as a Boy Scout, four years as assistant Scoutmaster, and seven years as a Scoutmaster in Madera.

The headline in The Madera Tribune read, “Scout Jamboree Cancelled Due to Polio.” The decision to cancel the first Boy Scout World Jamboree in the United States was made because of an outbreak of infantile paralysis in Virginia.


Plans had called for 30,000 Boy Scouts to assemble in Washington, D.C., from the 21st to the 30th of August 1935. With the outbreak of the dreaded disease, however, telegrams were sent to scout troops all over the country. On Sunday afternoon, just as scouts from Madera were preparing to leave on the train from Fresno, the message came. “Don’t come to Washington D.C.”


Five Madera lads, Red Arnold, George Barnett, Dean Curry, Jack Desmond, Jim Desmond, and Assistant Scoutmaster Keith Emmert, were part of the large contingent of scouts who had gathered in Fresno that day to depart for the jamboree.


The Valley scout officials quickly held a meeting and decided to make the trip anyway. After all, the special 18-car train was ready, and so were the scouts. They would make the trip but would spend the time planned for Washington D.C. in New York City instead. So off they went. Emmert kept a journal of the trip and later recounted the highlights to his daughter, Pat Emmert Manning.


The Scouts took the Southern Pacific to Portland, Oregon, and on to Seattle. From there the boys took the Great Northern to Chicago after taking a side trip to Mount Rushmore.


Once they reached the Windy City, the Scouts stayed in the Stevens Hotel, which laterbecame the Chicago Hilton. They were stunned by the size of the building with its 5,000 rooms.


After a tour of Chicago, which included a planetarium and two museums, the next stop was Dearborn, Michigan, and Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village. Upon reaching the village, they proceeded by horses to visit the courthouse in which Abraham Lincoln practiced law and the one-room schoolhouse, which Ford attended. Before they left, the boys were taken to the Henry Ford plant where they saw first hand the assembling of the 1936 V8 Fords.


Next on the itinerary came Pittsburgh and the Heinz 57 Company, where they sampled the firm’s soup. Then it was on to Niagara Falls, New York and West Point on the Hudson.


By this time, the Scouts were ready for the Big Apple. They descended the Hudson to New York City, where they spent 10 days.


The scouts boarded in the YMCA where Emmert answered some mail from home on stationery from the ship that had brought them down the Hudson River. One piece of Emmert’s correspondence survives to give his impression of New York. It was written on August 24, 1935, to Mrs. Barnett.


“Dear Mrs. Barnett, I was happily surprised to receive your letter this morning. We are all having a wonderful time. The Madera boys have proved well able to take care of themselves.”


“It is so different here in New York that it is like being in a foreign country. The noise of the elevated (trains) overhead and the subways below, the pushing, the jostling of the crowds, the very looks and speech of the people are so different. Even the air you breathe is different.”


“The boys have been so busy they have not had time to think of home or get homesick, but I know as soon as we get started for home and the boys begin thinking of home, they will be awfully glad to get there.”


“The Hudson River is a beautiful place. There are heavily wooded bluffs on both sides. Every little while you can see the sheer solid bluff of colored rock (not granite).”


“The country is different and beautiful, but I still love California, and the very words have a new and greater meaning. Your friend, Keith Emmert.”


“P.S. This stationery is furnished by the boat company free, but you have to buy your own paper cups if you want a drink of water. You buy the cups at the newsstand on board. K.E.”


Emmert and his Scouts left New York after 10 days and headed for the Mississippi River, which they descended to New Orleans where they toured the French Quarter and swam in Lake Ponchatrain.


From New Orleans, it was on to New Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns and then to Madera.


Once they had returned home, the Madera Scouts let no grass grow under their feet. They began preparing for the rescheduled jamboree to be held in the nation’s capital in 1937.


Next week we will follow Emmert as he takes his scouts to Washington, D.C.

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