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For Polio Victim’s Brother, St. Charles Was Like Second Home in 1950s

Robert Mauro wrote about his fondness for nuns who cared for him while staying at St. Charles Hospital.

Frank Mauro was only three-years-old but he still remembers the night the ambulance took his older brother Robert away from his home in Queens after he contracted Polio back in 1951.

Two years later, the Mauro family trekked out to the little Long Island town of Port Jefferson when Robert made the first of his three visits to as he recovered from the devastating disease. During his first stay in St. Charles, Robert made his first communion. He had to return to the hospital twice more, again in 1955 for severe pneumonia and then in 1959 for a spinal fusion.

Recently, Frank came out to Port Jefferson again to honor the memory of his brother who died just before his 64th birthday on August 21, 2010. He went to visit the chapel where his brother made his first communion and spread some of his ashes on the hospital grounds and in Port Jefferson Harbor, where Mauro remembers his father taking them fishing for porgies all those years ago.

“My brother, despite his severe disability caused by the polio, was a remarkable person,” said Mauro in an email.

In an autobiography that his younger brother wrote titled “Sucking Air, Doing Wheelies,” he detailed his stay at St. Charles.

“I remember when my brother was there and the nuns, Daughters of Wisdom, were in charge,” Mauro said. “Sister Aurelie was one of my brothers favorites, he mentions her quite often in his book.”

Mauro says that he spent so much time at St. Charles with his parents in his younger years, that he feels like it’s his second childhood home. 

“The trip on Monday brought back so many memories of my mother, father, and brother. Fishing with my dad at the old bulkhead, and swimming on the beach at the harbor,” he said. “I was amazed to see the old diner still standing, we would stop there first for breakfast and coffee before going to visit my brother, I remember the jukebox at the left side wall (north end) of the diner, I would ask dad and mom for a quarter to place some songs.”

He remembers seeing the movie "By The Light Of The Silvery Moon" with Gordan MacRae and Doris Day at a small theater in the south of town that is possibly now.

“I also remember the old Woolworth's at the shopping center at the south end of town, I believe it had just been built when we started going there in 1959 for Rob's spinal fusion,” he said.

Rob endured many painful treatments over the years that he outlined in his autobiography. He eventually went on to attend college where, according to a 2005 article in the Levittown Tribune, he befriended another disabled student named Ron Kovic whose autobiography "Born on the Fourth of July" was later turned into a major motion picture by Oliver Stone and starred Tom Cruise.

He also mentions his mother's fight to have him attend a school close to home and his own efforts along with many others over the years to get equal access for people with disabilities.

"This long struggle has resulted in the Americans with Disabilities Act," he told the paper during an interview. "The ADA has gone a long way to helping us achieve this goal of independence for all people with disabilities."

Since his brother passed away both of Frank's parents have since died.

“I had them so long, now they are all gone, it is very difficult, but I have a wonderful family, friends, and memories,” he said.

Mauro is also looking for photographs of St. Charles as it was back as he remembered it. The village and the hospital have both changed since he visited as a child.

“My visit yesterday revealed that the main entrance to the hospital, with the statue of St. Charles, has been diminished with the abutment of a new building addition,” he said.

Mauro said he’s looking for photos of the main entrance and front façade of the hospital, along with the rear playground and picnic areas with the old wooden tables and the open wooden deck structure just downhill to the west of the main hospital entrance.

Do you have photos of St. Charles Hospital from the 1950s to share? Upload them here or email lon.cohen@patch.com.

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