The Working Man Interview - Episode 2

History of Hysteria: How Coronavirus Compares with Another Historical Panic, Polio

Has there ever been a time in our country when working families were so concerned over a pandemic like COVID-19? The panic over coronavirus in the United States in many ways mirrors another mysterious epidemic from our country's past: Polio. Warner Books author Pat Cunningham Devoto is our guest. Her book "My Last Days as Roy Rogers" is about the polio summers in the south during the 1950's. We compare and contrast similarities and differences between the current panic, rumors and innuendo, quarantines, public policy of the 1950's vs what we're going through today in a fascinating conversation about history that gives some perspective on what we are currently experiencing. (Recorded March 13, 2020)

Links to read about and purchase Pat Cunningham Devoto's Book Trilogy:

My Last Days as Roy Rogers | Out of the Night that Covers Me | The Summer We Got Saved

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(Transcript) Pat Excerpt: You can do all the precautions you want and you can be as concerned about it as anything, but when somebody that you knew got it, or when you pick up the paper and it would say, two cases have been reported, they're in the polio wing of the hospital, that really brought it home.

Opening: You're listening to The Working Man Interview, a podcast about building purpose with conversations on issues facing men in the middle class hosted by Rutland Walker, founder of Union Up.

Rut: So with all the hysteria around the Coronavirus pandemic, I began to wonder if this is unique in my lifetime and if there was ever such a time in our country when a disease captured the imagination and stoked fear like this and I began to think about polio. Joining me today is author Pat Cunningham Devoto who has written at least five novels that I know of, including Out of the Night that Covers Me, The Summer We Got Saved and the book that I'm going to reference in this conversation a lot called My Last Days as Roy Rogers published by Warner Books, which is a very well researched historical fiction novel set in the early fifties about the effects of the polio epidemic in Alabama. Pat, welcome to The Working Man Interview.

Pat: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Rut: So my concern is the ripple effect that this will have everything shutting down and business' coming to a halt. My concern is the ripple effect it'll have on the economy, specifically on the middle class and working class families. And I got to thinking about your book and your research on polio and I wondered, is it fair to compare the hysteria about what's going on now to the polio epidemic in the forties in the fifties that you wrote about?

Pat: I think yes. I think it is. The reason I began thinking about writing my last days as Roy Rogers was because I was visiting my mother several years ago and we were talking about the AIDS crisis that had just come national news and everybody was scared to death about it and people were taking their children out of school. And it was really scary. And my sisters and I were sitting around the breakfast table talking about it saying, wait a minute, I've never heard of anything like this. And my mother said, "Oh my goodness, yes, the polio summers were absolutely like that. You didn't know where polio came from. You didn't know who would get it, you didn't know how you got it, you didn't know anything about it. And absolutely scared people witless." And when she said that, I began to go back and several subsequent visits to my hometown, which is up on the Tennessee river and North Alabama, and look at the newspapers back then. And sure enough people were scared to death. And on the front page of the paper, it would have things you should do to help stay away from polio. And one day and then have another hint the next day and then they would talk about how the planes were coming in. I had a special program that they had that was kind of a pilot program. The planes would come in and spray down court street and because they thought at the time maybe mosquitoes gave it to you and there were all sorts of things going on like that. And so I decided to write about it and instead of writing from the voice of the adult, I decided to write about it from the voice of the child because it would be to maudlin to write it in the adult's voice. And the little girl who is the narrator in the book talks about how they close the movies and they close the swimming pool. And of course to the child, it was more of an inconvenience because they didn't have any idea about how terrible it was. But the parents did and they realized what a terrible situation it was because it was unknown. It was so fearful because they didn't know just like it is today.

Rut: My 13 year old said to me, I'm carting in, you know, I feel like I don't want to overblow it, but I also don't want to be the last sucker on earth that's not prepared, you know. So like most people, I went to the grocery store and we stocked up on some staples and bought far more groceries than we normally do. And my 13 year old said, dad, and we've been talking about to him and he sees from his adolescent perspective, you know, he sees the schools closing, and his parents buying all kinds of groceries and supplies. And he said, dad, I feel like we're preparing for war or something. Is this panic that set in with events being canceled in government and corporate officials taking unprecedented action? How similar is that to if our officials responded to the polio epidemic?

Pat: I think it's very similar. One episode I have in the book is the mother comes in and the little girl says, Mrs. Jakes down the street says bananas will give it to you. And the mother says, Oh, no, bananas are not going to give it to you. But that was the, that was the... Bananas? Bananas, yes. Bananas will give it to you. That was the thing of the day, you know, everybody had some cautionary tale because they were scared to death of it. And the other end, the book says no bananas are not gonna give it to you, Mrs. Whoever-her-name-was was just, she doesn't realize she's scared. And her little boy, one of my other neighbors down the street that my mother told me about, had a little boy that she was so devoted to that in the summertime, she would put him in the basement, clear out the basement, and put all of his toys in there and he would stay in the basement in the summertime. Is that typical of today? You know, it's just, it's kind of like that. And he would stay in the basement. We could go by and, raise up, he could raise up one of the windows and say hi to us, but he was perfectly happy down there. He had lots of toys and everything, but she was so afraid for him that she did that and the rest of us were running all over the place. Our parents weren't that afraid, but everybody was doing their particular things to assuage their fear.

Rut: Where they stockpiling things and buying staples to stay at home or what?

Pat: Yeah, I don't know. I don't remember stockpiling staples, that kind of thing, because this was back in the 1950s. You really didn't have a lot of stockpiling going on, but, people handle it differently. As I said, as a child, I was allowed to run all over the place and so were most people, but John, the little boy up the street could not, he had to stay. Everybody had different things.

Rut: You said the polio summers, was it a seasonal thing?

Pat: It was a seasonal thing, and especially in some towns and the town that I grew up in on the Tennessee river in North Alabama, Florence, it's about an hour west from Huntsville. And, we would get really bad epidemics and I'm sure it was because we were hotter than most areas. And when we did that in the summer, a lot of times my mother, and there were five of us, actually, there were three of us at the time, the twins had been born yet, but there were five of us that would go up to my mother's hometown, which was Knoxville. And we'd stay there for the summer because she got so afraid of it. And different towns would have really scourges, you know, and until Salk invented, or came out with a vaccine in 1955, just ran rampant in places that got started.

Rut: And what was the thought of going to Knoxville rather than somewhere else?

Pat: Knoxville where my mother was from, the thought was that it was up in the kind of mountainous area beginning of the Appalachian chain there. And they didn't have it. It didn't have as much, I should say that. But as you say, every generation, mother told me one time that the reason they were in Knoxville, my grandfather went to the University of Tennessee is because, he had been in Florida, University of Floridq before this and his wife said, we are not staying another summer down here and exposing these children to malaria and malaria was the big thing back then. And that's how they ended up in Knoxville.

Rut: Interesting. So it happened over years. Not like now where everybody's panicking on one. I mean, we've had other sort of sudo epidemics, SARS and MERS and that sort of thing, but it never, and H1N1 and all that. But it didn't seem, it's not like polio where it was every summer you had to worry about it. And only in the summer or what?

Pat: Yes. Only in the summer it would die down after the summer, but in the summer we would worry about it and I do remember the pool closing and, and movies closing. Of course we didn't have any TV way back then. So yeah, that was a big deal. Sometimes the churches would shorten services and that kind of thing. Yeah. It was very, very scary for everybody. And of course, we didn't have the research mechanism that the CDC and that kind of thing have now. We didn't have any of that.

Rut: Did they have any governing body that had some sort of information outlet to let everybody know what the official word was?

Pat: You know, the March of dimes was the big thing that everybody contributed to and had been started during Roosevelt's administration. And it was building money to research and to try and figure out what the deal was. And also they had specialty places that you could go for rehab, like Warm Springs that Roosevelt had gone to, places like that. And one of the characters in my book was an African American kid who I played with all the time. And I, she was one of the characters. She got polio and she had to go down to Tuskegee because that was a place that African Americans went for polio back then. And I went down there to research. It was very interesting. They still had the building where they had polio and the huge iron lungs that the children and a lot of adults would be put in and yes.

Rut: What was the effect of polio? Why an iron lung long? What was the, cause I think of polio, I think of FDR, you know, being sort of handicapped?

Pat: His muscles were affected. There were two, as I understand it, I'm certainly not an authority, but there are two different general types of polio. One is bulbar which affects the lungs and the other affects the muscles of the body. And if you got lungs effected then you were put into the iron lung. And of course people nowadays are never heard of it and it was a huge machine that you would lie in and it would help you breeze. And it was interesting because I was talking to Dr Hume who headed the polio facility in Tuskegee and he was saying it was, it was very scary, especially when the electricity went off.

Rut: You researched, you talked to him when you were researching your book?

Pat: Yes, yes. Dr Hume was African American doctor that headed up the hospital down there. He was great guy and he was saying when they had, they might have 10 or 15 people in iron lungs that were like great big metal tubes that you put the person in and it would breathe for you by compressing your lungs in and out. And when the electricity went off, then all of the iron lungs had to be pumped manually so they would dash in and start pumping manually until the electricity went back on. But it was scary time.

Rut: Whatever happened to her, whatever happened to the little girl, did she survive or she, you know, whatever happened to her as a result of polio?

Pat: I ended the book right there.

Rut: Oh, you did?

Pat: Yes. She was headed down to Tuskegee and my publisher and my agent said, okay, you've done one now I want you to do two more to go with it. It's kind of an Alabama trilogy. And so I said, okay, I had sent my character down to Tuskegee. So I thought, okay, I've got to go research that. And Out of the Night That Covers Me is a story of her and John, the little boy who was in the basement down there. And then Summer We Got Saved the same time. It's just a continuous, it's kind of a trilogy of what happened to everybody. And it's combined with the Civil Rights movement that was starting to bubble up back then and everything. When we would go to the movies. That reminds me when we would go to the Saturday movies when I was a child at the end of the movie, they would have a short, before they played the news and someone would come out and say, we'd like for you to contribute to the March of Dimes. And they would have somebody standing there talking to somebody in an iron lung, movie would go off and the lights would come up. And a girl scout troop, and I remember doing this, or boy scout troop, whatever. We'd come down the aisles of the movie and collect dimes and through all the the movie theater and I think it probably collected great deal of money. But I think the effect was probably just as important because you felt like you're all contributing to it and I'll try to help out. A very unifying kind of thing because fear usually will do that.

Rut: Yes. Usually.

Pat: Usually.

Rut: It doesn't seem to have...

Pat: It doesn't seem to have done it this time as much. Yes or not yet, but maybe people will come together really get discouraged by all of this backbiting kind of thing. Cause we are in this together. We need to come together and research it and do as much as we can, which is what we did back then.

Rut: I agree. You may have been too young to remember, but, and but you're so well researched, and such a history buff. Do you remember the effect on the economy? Um, back then? I mean, I'm worried about all of this stuff, shutting down these, you know, hourly workers and people that are reliant on day to day work. And all these sporting events that are shut down and people that are working, the events and the venues, you know, do you remember any long lasting effect as it relates to the economy back then?

Pat: I don't remember that because I don't think we had the ability to stop working back then. You didn't have a lot of big sporting events. You had them, Alabama football and Auburn and Georgia and that kind of thing. But you didn't have the ability to stop. You had to go on and work. You didn't have any cash saved up or anything. I remember, this is the 1950s. We were just a few years away from the end of World War II and people were coming back and re-settling in and it was entirely different times. So no, I don't remember there being any surplus that you could rely on. People went on, went to work, they had to,

Rut: So there weren't any stores that closed or anything. It was just sort of like public congregation areas like churches and movie theaters?

Pat: Yes. I don't remember any stores closing. I do remember that every summer the hospital would open up a wing for the polio nurses that would come in and help nurse and take care of the children and adults that had polio. And that changed everything. But I don't remember any additional closing.

Rut: Was there any way to test for it or was there, like what did you, how did you interact with your family physician? Did you have a family physician? What was the medical situation like back then?

Pat: Yeah, surely we all had family physicians, but there was no testing or anything. It was, you know, we were, all we could do was give our dimes and hope that we didn't get it because nobody knew and we didn't know how it got transmitted. We know now that it's transmitted through fecal matter of people that have the virus and that then gets transmitted to the water system, the polio virus.You might put your hand on a water fountain and turn it on that somebody had been there before that had had the virus or had traces of it on their hands and that's how it spread and I guess I'm not an expert, but I guess that's why you found the clusters in towns and that kind of thing.

Rut: Did it have any more or less effect on people of certain age? Like you know, people are saying with the Coronavirus, people that are 60 plus have a higher risk and then people that are 80 plus have a much higher risk and kids that are, you know, three to 20 years old really hardly even show any symptoms. Was there anything like that with polio?

Pat: Uh, I don't think so. Not as much as here, although that was what they emphasized in the March of dimes, advertisings and movies and that kind of thing with the children that got it. Cause there were a lot of children that got it. When I was researching it, I remember talking to a fella in Montgomery who said he had gotten it as a child and he had remembered feeling bad for a day or two and then he was riding home on his bicycle one day and he just, his legs gave out and he fell.

Rut: So you had no idea that you had it until you had just full blown symptoms?

Pat: Yeah. Well you felt bad. You felt like like they do now. Like you were coming down with something and a cold or whatever and you might've been, but then you might not have been and so no, there was not the degree of sophistication of research and that kind of thing going on back then. Like these now, which is really good for us.

Midpoint: You're listening to The Working Man Interview, a podcast about building purpose with conversations on issues facing men in the middle class, hosted by Rutland Walker, founder of union Up. Union Up helps skilled trade unions grow in order to provide a place for men to learn high demand skills, build a productive career and belong to something greater than themselves. For more information, visit

Rut: So one of the things I was thinking about was the family dynamic. It's different in the 50s than it is now. You know, for the most part, most families I would say, and this is in research, but it's just anecdotal, our two parent working families, which means if the, if the, in the 50s, if they shut the school down, there was usually one parent at home and the other parent would go to work. And in 2020 if the schools shut down, then that means one parent at least has to come home and be with the kid. Or if they're a single parent, they can't go to work or they've got to find childcare or whatever. What was the family dynamic, do you think that had something to do with the fact that the economy didn't really shut down and people kept working and they went about their way?

Pat: Yes. And you're right, they're usually in a two family household. And most of our households with two parents, if somebody, if something really got bad, then the mother would stay home and always actually stayed home. That was our main job. That was before washing machines and microwave ovens and that kind of thing. So the mother back then had a real labor intensive job that she doesn't have now and doesn't have to worry about. So yeah. Back then there was the mother who was always there working.

Rut: Yeah. Do you see that is distinctly different now? I guess because it was...

Pat: Absolutely. Yeah.

Rut: Because if there's nothing really you can do, somebody's got to...

Pat: somebody has got to stop and take care of the kids.

Rut: I think about the police officers and the nurses and people that are in dire need of doing their job at a time like this. And then if the schools close, which they're closing, you know, what kind of effect that has, you know?

Pat: Yeah. Upends everybody's schedule and everybody's lifestyle. Yeah.

Rut: Yeah. So I think the thing that has freaked everybody out is what happened in Italy. We didn't get a lot of information out of China. And then when it came to Italy and it overwhelmed their medical system, their hospital system that got everybody's attention. Do you remember it, I guess it was such a localized world in the 50s you didn't really pay attention to what was going on overseas or did you, did, were there other countries that were afflicted with polio or how did it look from a global perspective? Or is it just not even the same comparison?

Pat: You know, I really didn't research it that much. I knew that the idea or the thought was that soldiers in World War II had, that had been in the African campaign around there, that they had brought back the virus. Now that was one of the...

Rut: That was the rumor?

Pat: That was the rumor that that's how it came about. It came from the soldiers back into the United States and of course bubbled up for two or three years and then really became important. And of course, Roosevelt was a big purveyor of that. People knew, everybody knows well had polio and he was the one that really pushed March of Dimes and organizing that and that kind of thing.

Rut: How do you think that affected his ability to deal with it as a leader?

Pat: Deal with polio?

Rut: Calming people down.

Pat: It was, yes, it was calming people down, people could see that he was or, knew that he was inhibited, but you know, he never wanted to be seen like he was handicapped. So he was, you'd see him either riding in a car or you'd see him already standing up. But the press back then was very cognizant of not filming him in awkward positions and they didn't. Now of course, that's completely by the board the press is looking for awkward positions of anybody, but in his time, no. But people knew he was. And so I think that was very comforting to know that somebody of his stature had it and yet they'd gone on with their lives and become a really great president.

Rut: Do you remember people being unified behind him? I mean, we're so divided now. It's, it's, it's sickening. You know, it affects your ability to get the news to get some kind of cogent word on what's actually going on, were people more unified back then? And even if you were the opposing political party, how did that manifest in the press and in society?

Pat: Yeah. I don't think back then it was, you wouldn't dare have taken a jab at Roosevelt's handicap. You just would not have done it. And I said the press was asked not to take pictures of him when he was moving with his braces and getting up to the microphone and that kind of thing. And very few people did. You just didn't see that. You knew he had them, but there was no showing of it or talking about it all the time. It was there, but that was just considered beyond the pale to get really egregious about it.

Rut: Do you remember, you might be too young to remember, but do you remember any real, or did you research any real effect on the stock market? Was that a big thing back then at all or...

Pat: I don't remember any of that. No, no.

Rut: You don't remember any real effects on the economy as a child?

Pat: No, and I think probably back then a very smaller percent invested in the stock market that do now. I mean, as I said, my father was a farmer and he wouldn't have thought about that. He had too many other things going on that he would invest in cattle and dairy farms and that kind of thing.

Rut: It was more direct investments into things that affected you personally as opposed to hiring a stockbroker and whatever. So this book is set in the early fifties which is essentially when you came about.

Pat: It was and as I said I had to do a lot of research, because as a child, you're not scared. You're scared relative to how your parents feel and how your parents react.

Rut: That's good to remember as a parent.

Pat: I can imagine it would have been terrible. That's why as I said at first, I wanted to set the book from the voice of the child so that you got an idea about the time, but it was not too sad to deal with.

Rut: Well, so that would have been the Eisenhower administration, would have been the early fifties. Yes. Was the TVA, which was a huge undertaking from the federal government. Right. I mean, that put a lot of people back to work in that particular area was that in full bloom? Was that still going strong? Was that a big deal or had it been years since that had been employed after the depression?

Pat: Yeah. That was full blown. And it was a working entity, the TVA, because I remember it shows you my age. I remember the very first memory I have is of the, and we're getting way off the subject here, but of the of the siren on the courthouse going off because there was an air raid coming, we thought, and the reason they stopped an air raid was coming was because they thought that the Germans might come and bomb the nitrite pliant that was over across the river that had been put up as a result of the TVA power that has been generated over there. And that of course it's ludicrous to look back and think of that now a German aircraft carriers coming into North Alabama. But back then, you know, that's what you thought. And our parents had told us as soon as you hear that siren going off, get in the house. And I guess it's a memory that I have because I remember being scared witless when I'd hear that siren startup in the courthouse dome because it would start very slowly and be very eerie and then get louder and louder and louder and we'd like, I'll be playing out, and we'd all run to our houses.

Rut: Yeah. That alarm now is a tweet or something, you know?

Pat: Yeah, yeah. Back then that was it. And then the air raid warden would come around and make sure all my lights were off and that kind of thing.

Rut: Did they have any... I was talking to my mother and she was saying, and maybe I got this wrong, but she said that there was some sort of, they'd be, they'd ring alarms and stuff when people get to the school basements and something like that as it relates to polio too. Was that, is that...

Pat: I don't remember it being related to polio. I remember that being part of the after the war, the atomic energy, the atomic bomb scare and they had drills, they would put us through, you know, put your head down on the desk and or get under the desk or whatever. And I remember even at the time, my mother making fun of me because I'd come home and say, this is what they said to do, put your head down. And she would just laugh and said, okay, if we get hit by an atomic bomb, I don't think that's going to help that much.

Rut: To put your head under the desk. Yes. Yeah, probably not. Was there anything public warnings wise, polio that you remember that, you know the government would show up in the newspaper or whatever news radio I guess that had a sweeping effect on everybody or was it just case by case by case?

Pat: I think the sweeping effect was what I had mentioned before was the newspapers would have on the front page hints to help you stay safe and one was get plenty of sleep. They would just general hint, you know, hand washing, get lots of sleep. Yes. And things like that. And that was on the front page paper. And of course, remember back then that was the main way to communicate was a newspaper and we had the daily Florence Times. It would come out every day and that's what everybody looked at. So that was a big communicator and people would pay attention to it. This is what you're supposed to do.

Rut: Same sounds a lot like COVID-19, get a lot of sleep, wash your hands. Yeah. Uh, stay away from people three to five feet or something. Avoid large crowds, etc.

Pat: Yes. I need to go look that up again because I did research it one time and they were about six or seven basic things they would say.

Rut: It'd be interesting to see those things now juxtaposed with what people are saying about COVID-19. I bet there's a lot of similarities. Yeah. Almost the same size. It's kind of common sense.

Pat: Yeah. And yet they didn't know what to say. Like they don't know any specifics yet. It was this situation and so back then it was, get lots of sleep and eat well and that kind of thing.

Rut: So I'm looking at some of these headlines you gave me...

Pat: from my research. Yes. Appeared on the front page of the paper periodically in the summertime.

Rut: And so this is things that people would publish to avoid a...

Pat: Yes. This would be on the front page of the paper. "Polio Hints"

Rut: Yeah. This one says last polio hint, avoid sudden chilling, sudden chilling, such as plunging into a cold pool on a very hot day should be avoided as the sixth and final health precaution that should be observed in the polio season. Why would they avoid chilling in a cold water?

Pat: I have no idea but that was, you know, they were trying to think of things that would change your temperature real quickly, I guess, and make you susceptible to catching it.

Rut: Yeah. So here's one. It says over fatigue invites polio in the summer months. Strenuous exercise and games causing extreme fatigue should be avoided during the hot summer months or another precaution as another precaution against polio, the national foundation of infantile paralysis. Interesting. So these were just almost nonsensical.

Pat: Well, but...

Rut: You didn't know.

Pat: You didn't know and they were trying to give people a sense of security and a way to do something. Well, there's one up there that says washing your hands, right?

Rut: Yes. Parents should see that all children wash their hands thoroughly before eating as one for cautionary measure. Here's another one.

Pat: Well, that was a great one because of course that's how it was being transmitted and they really needed to do that. It sounds very familiar. Yes.

Rut: So here's one. It says keep foods well covered, cover food to keep flies away, especially during the polio danger months in summer. So it really was a seasonal thing. Didn't happen in the fall, didn't happened in the spring, not in the winter, but summertime. When did the first cases start to get noticed?

Pat: As the weather got warmer and they would announce in the paper on the front page how many people would come down with it and that kind of thing.

Rut: Georgia has 100 cases of polio and one death, Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Bowden, epidemiologists... polio ward appeal gains, quick results, five polio cases. So these are just like, this was in the papers all the time.

Pat: All the time. In the summer. Yes.

Rut: Would it die out in the collective consciousness of people after the summer and people didn't think about it or was there prep work during the year to prepare for it or there was nothing you could do or what?

Pat: There was not that much you could do. I don't think except that hope that all of our Marches of Dimes would result in research that would give us a vaccine, which it did in 1955. Salk came up with a vaccine. And I remember when I happened to be riding with my mother in the car when she heard that and she got teary because that was such a big break through.

Rut: So did it come over as a breaking news story on the radio or something?

Pat: Yes, on the radio saying that he had discovered, saying he was a national hero, and I remember her pulling over the side. Cause you know, you can do all the precautions you want and you can be, as concerned about it as you as anything. But when somebody that you knew, got it. When you pick up the paper and it would say thus and so two cases have been reported they're in the polio wing of the hospital, that really brought it home.

Rut: Were more people worried about dying? Was that the thing or was it being paralyzed or was it all of the above? Cause I think now people are thinking, okay, you know, 80% of the of the cases are so I'm reading are mild symptomatically and some people are really worried about, wow, you know, if I'm 65 or 70 or 75 years old and I get it, you know, I'm going to die. Was it, was it similar? Was death the thing or was it, was it paralysis or what?

Pat: I think the children getting it was the thing that just tore up people's heart strings. And when you would see the advertisers March of Dimes, when they would come on the movie news strips after the main feature that was the thing, it would just break your heart, little kids and braces and iron lungs and that kind of thing. And of course in the background was that we had known about Roosevelt. He died by then, but Roosevelt was the main one who started the research, was responsible for the money to start the research, The March of Dimes.

Rut: Threats over US precautions urged. This is wild, man. This is very similar to what's going on now. Every day in my New York Times feed my Wall Street Journal feed, I mean the whole thing, I get a, I get a 10 point email from the Wall Street Journal every morning that tells about the markets and what's going on in the economy and such. It's almost all about coronavirus right now. That's crazy.

Pat: And the television everything. Is that, yeah.

Rut: Was it that enrapturing?

Pat: I don't think, no, because of the the media was not that omnipresent like it is now. And people would listen to the news on the radio once a day or whatever, or twice a day, but it was not, it was not just ever-present like it is now.

Rut: So this book, My Last Days as Roy Rogers was curriculum in the Alabama schools?

Pat: Well, when my publisher Warner Books put it out, they put it out as an adult novel. And I'm sure that what they were thinking about at the time, because this is 2015, 20 years old when it first came out. And I think they were thinking at the time about people that were older and adults, women's book clubs and that kind of thing, that it would remember this and would like it. But what happened was that some schools in Georgia and Alabama began to pick it up and use it as their curriculum. And it's great because what it did back then was say to children, look, this happens. And the AIDS virus was going on at the time. And that was scaring people, but to look at something that had been cured and, but that happened was it was easier to look at and look at things that were going on now. And so as a result of that I got together with a group of teachers from Georgia and Alabama and we made a curriculum guide to go along with the book. And so that's how that got started. And it was very interesting. Since I'm an old history teacher myself, I enjoyed it.

Rut: So the books for those interested are, the first one is My Last Days as Roy Rogers. The second one is Out of the Night that Covers Me. And the third...

Pat: one is called The Summer We Got Saved because by that time we're morphing into the civil rights era. This is a book about how one of the characters who got polio and survived in the first book and goes on to start a voting rights school and that kind of thing. So that ended the trilogy. So it was the beginning of, it was from the polio era then all the way into the beginning of the civil rights era.

Rut: Very cool. I'll put the links to the books in the bio.

Rut and Pat: Well, thank you. You're so well. Thank you for the time. I enjoyed it. Thanks.

Closing: You've been listening to The Working Man Interview, a podcast about building a purpose brought to you by Union Up for more episodes and more information. Visit

Links to read about and purchase Pat Cunningham Devoto's Book Trilogy:

My Last Days as Roy Rogers

Out of the Night that Covers Me

The Summer We Got Saved


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