It’s 1927, and you need to get the word out about vaccination for diphtheria. There’s no social media to speak of, so you have limited options. Newspapers, of course. Direct mail, though mass mailings are expensive and computerized mailing lists don’t exist. Radio, but although radio has exploded in just a few years, it’s still not a sure thing that you’ll be reaching everyone.
Hey, how about we drop pamphlets from the sky?
That’s what they did in Albany that year, on what seems like the unlikely date of December 3 (when the number of people wandering outside would not have been at its maximum – but as a communicable disease, diphtheria prevailed from October-March). “A shower of blue pamphlets, urging toxin-anti-toxin treatment against diphtheria, descended upon Albany today from an army observation plane as a part of the campaign by the municipal health bureau to check the epidemic in Albany. The plane, piloted by Lieutenant Harry P. Bissell, was flown to Albany from Mitchel field, Garden City, L.I., through an arrangement made by Dr. James W. Wiltse, city health officer, and Dr. Matthias Nicoll, Jr., state health commissioner, with Lieutenant Colonel B.D. Foulois, in command at Michel field. The circulars were distributed by Sergeant Walter Starling, flying with Lieutenant Bissell.”
The pamphlets were prepared by Dr. Wiltse and Dr. Clinton P. McCord, medical director for schools, and advised parents to have children inoculated and gave the locations and hours for inoculations.
Since Nov. 1, there had been 49 cases of diphtheria, with four deaths of young children, in Albany. The campaign was focused on Arbor Hill, where the majority of the cases had been reported. Clinics were conducted in School 22, School 6, School 16 and School 4. There were also clinics at the West End Health Center, the South End Dispensary, St. Mary’s School and St. Joseph’s School. “At least one of the Albany deaths which occurred, it was declared, came after a parent refused to allow a child to be immunized against the disease. ‘I would just as soon deprive my children of food as to deprive them of toxin anti-toxin,’ Dr. Nicoll said.”
By Christmas, there would be 75 cases and seven deaths, and a scarlet fever outbreak had sickened 100 and killed one. In the 1920s, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 cases of diphtheria occurred per year in the United States, causing 13,000 to 15,000 deaths per year, according to the Public Health Foundation’s. The development of a vaccine led to a rapid decline in deaths starting in 1924.
(Diphtheria is currently considered fatal in 5-10% of cases, and as high as 20% in the young and the old. Along with fever, sore throat, and coughing, it can cause extreme difficult swallowing and breathing, as it destroys health tissue in the respiratory system, creating a build-up called a pseudomembrane that covers the tissue.)
From Carl Johnson’s blog, Hoxsie
Giuseppi Nigro -age 24 – and wife immigrated to America in 1904. They hit the ground running. In 1905, the Nigro family opened a little grocery store at 114 Green Street. Six years later, it moved “uptown,” to a space on the city’s outskirts, at 652 Central Avenue. J. Nigro & Son watched their quiet neighborhood grow into a busy hive of commerce, and grew with it.
In 1929, Nigro’s became Albany’s first WGY Food Market, also incidentally purchasing the first cash register from Henry Kass.
In 1933, Nigro bought the next door property (formerly home to a diner) and incorporated as the Albany Public Market (650-652 Central Avenue). (That building still stands, now Aaron’s Rentals.)
Nigro had grander visions for his successful little supermarket, and in 1947 he broke ground for an ambitious new Albany Public Market at 711 Central Avenue.
The gigantic new airplane-hangar-sized store opened (October 26, 1948) with a barrage of local excitement. The superlatives weren’t mere hyperbole – it really was the “largest food department store in the world.” Boasting an unheard-of 22,000 square feet of floor space, a warehouse that could hold 70 freight carloads of food, its own bakery, and a three-acre parking lot capable of holding 1,000 cars, the complex was an immediate sensation. (Then-VP Frank Nigro expanded on the hangar idea, claiming the building – twice the size of Albany Airport’s largest hangar – would house two B-29 bombers with jet fighter escort.)
A decade later, Albany Public Market would become the cornerstone business at the new (Nigro-owned) Westgate Shopping Center, with a store twice the size of the previous location.
Nigro coined the word “Westgate,”after reading a newspaper article about how Central Avenue (the Albany Schenectady Turnpike) was gateway to the West. Westgate Plaza was on the leading edge of mall shopping; despite it being entirely within city limits, it was, as a 1957 article said, “on the outer fringes of Albany.” Once again, it properly claimed the title of largest food store in the United States. The 711 Central Avenue hangar became King’s Department Store (and later on, OTB Teletheater/Nick’s Sneaky Pete’s, before it was razed to make way for Shop Rite).
Albany Public Market expanded over the next two decades, becoming the first largesupermarket chain in all of upstate New York. Constant advertising, smart publicity and clever promotions kept both Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza highly visible to the shopping public. Every Albanian of a certain age remembers one stunt or another, be it Santa landing in a helicopter or a DJ broadcasting from atop the Westgate sign.
Albany Public Market was purchased by Weis Markets of Sunbury, PA in 1967, retaining the Nigros as directors and managers.
Eventually, the Nigros began concentrating their energies into lucrative real estate and banking operations. Best I can tell, Albany Public Markets ceased to be sometime around 1984-5.
From Al. Quaglieri’s Albany blog, Doc Circe Died for OUr Sins
If you want to see more pics, take a deep dive in our Flickr site: AlbanyGroup Archive