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The great mumps epidemic of 1962

The Legal Genealogist is of That Age.

You know the age I mean.

The age where we had everything — and I mean everything — as kids.

Ill GirlI had, in no particular order and at a minimum, measles, German measles, chickenpox, scarlet fever and mumps. Some of them, I suspect, more than once.

I wish I remembered better when I had chickenpox. I’d know better who to blame for the current attack of shingles that I’ve been dealing with for the past two weeks. It’s a virus, so there’s no cure whatsoever, but it’d make me feel better if I had someone to blame.

I do remember getting scarlet fever. It was the summer when I was eight years old and I came down with it at my grandparents’ farm in Virginia. Quarantine in a hot upstairs room during a Virginia summer is not my idea of fun.

But the illness I remember best is the mumps.

That’s because I was patient zero: the likely Typhoid Mary for a township-wide outbreak of mumps in the Central New Jersey town where I grew up.

I was in seventh grade in the fall of 1962 — junior high school then — but was quite a bit younger than most of my classmates, having started school when I was four.1 So I often hung out with the younger crowd that was still in elementary school.

And on Friday nights in the fall of 1962, the elementary school was showing movies that any kid from the neighborhood could watch.

And in late September or early October, if memory serves me correctly, the elementary school was showing a Walt Disney movie, The Littlest Outlaw, in two parts. Disney describes the storyline this way:

Determined to save a magnificent but abused stallion from certain destruction, Pablito, a peasant boy, steals the beautiful animal and together they ride off on an adventure-filled odyssey with the Mexican military in hot pursuit. From a harrowing encounter with armed banditos to a tense confrontation in the perilous confines of a bullring, the two runaways find danger at every turn in this captivating family drama filmed amid the rugged beauty of Mexico.2

I had seen part 1 of the film on one Friday night, and woke up the Friday morning of the second part not feeling really well. But I knew one thing for sure: if I stayed home from school because I didn’t feel well, I wasn’t going to get to go to the movies that night.

And I really wanted to see part 2 and find out what happened.

So I went ahead and dragged myself through a day at the junior high.

The overcrowded, already-on-double-sessions junior high.

The junior high that was fed by half of the elementary schools in town, and that in turn fed students on to both high schools.

Meaning, in essence, that anybody I came into contact with all day long who had an older or a younger sibling would be in a position to spread whatever I had into every single school in the entire township.

I lasted all day at school. I lasted through the showing of the second part of the movie. I came home and finally ‘fessed up to not feeling well.

Within hours, I’d been diagnosed with mumps.

Thoroughly, horribly, amazingly contagious mumps.

Which then spread like wildlife throughout every single school in the entire township.

It was the great mumps epidemic of 1962.

And I was patient zero.

But it really was a good movie.

And if you had mumps in Edison Township, New Jersey, in the fall of 1962, you now know who to blame.


  1. It’s not that I was any smarter than anyone else; it’s just that my older sister had gone to kindergarten in the Netherlands when she was four, and — since we were only two years apart in age — my mother didn’t want us more than two years apart in school.
  2. The Littlest Outlaw,DisneyMovies ( : accessed 22 Jan 2016).
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