The year was 1952 and the United States was still three years away from Jonas Salk becoming a household name. At the time, polio was the scariest public health issue in the United States. So when five UNC students, all athletes, were stricken with polio from mid-September to early October, it was no surprise that university officials took the necessary steps to prevent the disease from spreading further, cancelling the two home football games against North Carolina State and Georgia, and requesting that students remain on campus.
Although the editor of the Daily Tar Heel said there was “no cause for alarm”, students were understandably concerned as were their parents. Parking lots were nearly empty and the highways out of town were “dotted with hitchhikers” as students ignored the requests to stay on campus and went home. Long distance telephone calls to and from Chapel Hill doubled as students and parents kept in touch with each other.
In the end, the worry was all for naught as the five students, football player Harold “Bull” Davidson; cross country teammates John Robert Barden, Jr. and Richard Lee Bostain, swimmer Robert Nash “Pete” Higgins, and freshmen football player, Samuel S. Sanders, all recovered quickly and none suffered any paralysis.