Archive for the ‘allegany county’ Category




A young boy has his first experience using ration cards. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

During 1942, the people of Cumberland were worried about things. The Nazis were on the move and their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers were being drafted. However, as summer turned to fall, a new worry entered their daily conversations.


Coffee was going to be rationed.

“Judging from the talk we have heard for several weeks past, there are those in this community – and the same is likely true elsewhere – who consider coffee, rather than bread, the real staff of life and have been in mortal terror lest this so-called necessity would be completely taken from them,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Coffee wasn’t the only thing or even the first thing to be rationed in order to make sure American servicemen didn’t have to go without, but it seemed to be the one raising the most concern.

Rationing began with tires in January 1942 because the Japanese had interrupted the supply of rubber used in making them. Gasoline soon followed. By the summer, plans were in the works to ration food items. By the following year, coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, butter, lard, margarine, canned foods, dried fruits, jam, gasoline, bicycles, fuel oil, clothing, silk or nylon stockings and shoes had also been added to the list of rationed items.

Early in November 1942, the Cumberland War Price and Rationing Board, a volunteer three-person board, announced that coffee would begin being rationed on November 26. To prepare for it, not coffee would be sold during the week prior to the rationing.

This quickly led to hoarding, particularly when it was announced that the allotment would be one pound of coffee every five weeks for everyone over 15 year old. The board stressed that overall this should only represent a small reduction in a coffee drinker’s usual intake.

“In virtually every large family there is somebody who does not drink coffee at all or who drinks it sparingly. These persons, provided they are more than 15 years old, will, of course, be entitled to a ration book and there is no reason why their share of the coffee shall not go to other members of the family,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

It was estimated that a pound of coffee could be used to make 50 cups. Some estimates were even higher, but the more coffee each pound made, the weaker the coffee. For a stronger cup of coffee, newspaper articles recommended coffee essence, which had no coffee in it. When mixed into a cup of coffee, it made it stronger.

The Rationing Board also tried to discourage hoarding by writing that a count of coffee on hand would need to be taken before anyone was issued a war ration coupon book and for each pound over the first pound, a coffee ration coupon would be removed from the book.

Each person in the country was issued a war ration coupon book with a set of coupon stamps in them. The OPA then set what each coupon could be used to purchase, how much of the product could be purchased with it, and when the coupon was valid.



A WWII  ration book.

Cumberlanders adjusted to drinking little or no coffee. It was the least they could do for the war effort.


Then at the end of July 1943, the Cumberland Evening Times announced that due to ships being built with more cargo space and the success of Allied forces against German U-boats, coffee rationing would be lifted. When President Franklin Roosevelt made the announcement, he also hinted that the war ration of sugar would soon be increased. That was certainly good news to people who liked their coffee sweet.

Almost as soon as people started celebrating that their coffee was back, rumors started around town that coffee would soon be rationed once again. Some people started hoarding their roasted coffee.

The Cumberland Evening Times ran a story saying, “While it is true that the forthcoming Ration Book No. 4 contains coffee stamps, these will be removed before the book is issued, or else made applicable to some other commodity.”

The lifting of coffee rationing could be considered an early victory in WWII. It showed progress was being made in the war and it lifted people’s spirits. All rationing was finally ended in 1946.

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CanawlersCurious how to pronounce the title of my historical novel Canawlers?

It’s CAN-all-ers. It’s what boatmen on the C&O Canal sounded like when they used to say “canaller”.

They also had a challenging and dangerous job during the Civil War. Canawlers brought coal and other goods 185 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown. All the while, they traveled along the Potomac River within site of the Virginia shore and the Confederate States of America. The C&O Canal ran along the border of two warring nations, the canawlers were caught in the crossfire.

Hugh Fitzgerald is a proud canawler. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Download your Kindle copy for FREE until Jan. 20.

From the reviewers:

  • “A powerful, thoughtful and fascinating historical novel, Canawlers documents author James Rada, Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.” – Midwest Book Review
  • “James Rada, of Cumberland, has written a historical novel for high-schoolers and adults, which relates the adventures, hardships and ultimate tragedy of a family of boaters on the C&O Canal. … The tale moves quickly and should hold the attention of readers looking for an imaginative adventure set on the canal at a critical time in history.” – Along the Towpath
  • “Mr. Rada presents an interesting slice of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal boatman’s life set against the backdrop of the turbulence and uncertainty of the American Civil War. The use of the canal as a route on the Underground Railroad is also woven into the plot which reveals how hard work, a strong family and difficult times could come together along the canal.” – Rita L. Knox, Park Ranger, C&O Canal NHP

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clarysvilleWhen the Indiana Zouaves arrived in Cumberland in June 1861, they attracted a lot of attention from the residents and understandably so. Hundreds of the soldiers arrived at one time wearing brightly colored uniforms.

Another group of soldiers began arriving around the same time. These men didn’t march down Baltimore Street in groups to display themselves. They arrived by train and wagon, even canal boat, at all hours of the day and were carried into hotels and warehouse out of public view.

The pageantry of the Civil War had quickly given way to the reality of soldiers who needed treatment. Because of Cumberland’s location at the nexus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and National Road, it became an ideal location to concentrate medical services. The wounded could be taken from the battlefronts by wagon and driven to Cumberland or loaded onto rail car that would speed them on their way there.

Once in Cumberland, military doctors, local physicians, Catholic sisters and volunteers took care of their needs.

With soldiers facing a much longer recovery time than they do nowadays, the beds in the dozens of temporary hospitals throughout Cumberland filled quickly. More wounded were coming into the city than were being released from the hospitals or buried in the graveyards. Supplies to treat all of them began dwindling.

In March 1862, the Wheeling Daily Press published a letter from a Cumberland surgeon thanking the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Wheeling for the supplies that had been sent to Cumberland. The surgeon wrote, in part, “We need them badly and they are doing our soldiers much good. We have about 1200 sick. In consequence of our increasing numbers we have not yet a sufficient supply of bed ticks, comfortable pillows, pillow cases, etc.”

Besides needing supplies, Surgeon-in-Charge George Suckley wanted to get the wounded out of the drafty warehouses, engine houses and other buildings that were not intended to house people. He began searching for a location where the wounded could be brought that wasn’t strung out among two dozen locations throughout Cumberland.

The answer came from an unlikely source.

Mary Townsend came from Frostburg one day to visit her husband who was a local doctor helping care for the wounded soldiers. She sat in Dr. Suckley’s office listening to the doctor and her husband discuss the condition of the soldiers as she recounted decades later.

“Can’t you think of some place near here where these convalescent men, who are not improving in this dreadful heat, could be transferred?” Dr. Suckley asked Dr. Townsend.

Mrs. Townsend didn’t even wait for husband to reply. She said that she knew of a place that was 8.5 miles from Cumberland in a “delightful valley I came through this afternoon with the finest spring water, a large tavern, several houses and three large barns not used for years.”

Her description appealed to Dr. Suckley who drove out to Clarysville to see it for himself. “The next day the barns were cleaned and fresh hay put on the floor, then the men were taken up with their blankets and laid on the flood. Many said they had never slept so well, it proved an ideal spot and hundreds of men were saved by the easy transfer,” Mrs. Townsend wrote.

Records show that Dr. Suckley, Dr. Townsend and the assistant quartermaster visited Clarysville on March 4, 1862. They liked what they saw and agreed with Mrs. Townsend that the site would make a fine hospital.

Brigade Surgeon John Carpenter wrote later that hospital buildings were “admirably located at a point sufficiently near for comfortable transportation, and sufficiently distant to enjoy all the advantages of a pure atmosphere. The seclusion of the position is such as to allow the convalescent abundant liberty for suitable exercise in the open air, and its purity produces the most admirable tonic effect upon the enfeebled sick. The supply of water is abundant and its quality excellent.”

Suckley made arrangements with Rebecca Clary, who owned the property, and Mrs. George Clise, who was renting the property, for the U.S. Government to use it. On March 6, 1862, 100 soldiers helped Mrs. Clise move into a nearby vacant house and the transformation of the inn into a hospital began.

The Clarysville Inn had been built in 1805 and became a popular stop along the National Road. However, it was obvious from the start that the two-story brick inn would not offer sufficient space to bring all of the wounded from Cumberland to Clarysville.

Construction soon began on additional facilities. Within a short time, six wards (150 feet long), three wards (130 feet long), a 100-foot-long ward, a 90-foot-long dining room, a70-foot-long kitchen, a 38-foot-long storehouse, a 50-foot-long guard quarters, a 44-foot-long bake house and eight waters closets (10 feet long) were built, according to a report written by Capt. George Harrison, assistant quartermaster in 1865.

“These buildings, though well adapted for use in warm weather, do not afford sufficient protection from the cold of winter for sick and wounded men. the declivity of the ground causes them to stand high, the sides are of rough upright boards with crevices not battened to their full height, and the ridge ventilators having no sash to close, the cold wind and snow penetrate to an extant unbearable by the patients,” Dr. George Oliver, the surgeon in charge following Dr. Suckley, wrote.

Each ward had two rows of iron cots with an aisle down the center, according to Robert Bruce in The National Road.

The influx of wounded continued, though, and even overflowed the capacity of the Clarysville Hospital and filled 15 temporary hospitals in Cumberland and one site in Mount Savage.

The hospital continued serving soldiers until August 1865 when its designation was changed from a General Hospital to Post Hospital. The structure and contents were sold and the government returned the inn to the owners.

The Clarysville Inn remained an operating inn until it burned down on March 10, 1999.

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The Arion Band performing in 1908 in Frostburg. Courtesy of the Albert and Angela Feldstein Collection.

For longer than anyone has been alive today, Frostburg, Md., has always had the Arion Band. Before Alexander Graham Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here I need you,” Watson could listened to the band playing a march or other popular piece of music.

Through the Great Depression and victory at war, the Arion Band brought joy to Western Marylanders and celebrated with them whether it was a holiday or victory at war. Even as music styles changed, the Arion Band kept up with them and adapted.

“The Arion Band is believed to be the oldest, continually operating band in the country,” says Blair Knouse, president of the band. You might find bands that have been around longer, they have gaps in their history where most likely they weren’t performing for a time.

While the Arion Band’s membership fluctuates from season to season, it maintains about 30 active members who love making music, much like the founders of the band. Knouse has played flute with the band for five years.

Back in 1875, German coal miners in the Frostburg area formed a chorus that performed locally. The following year, the chorus purchased instruments so that the singers would have some accompaniment. Local furniture maker Conrad F. Nichol organized the musicians into the German Arion Band and became its first director.

“By 1877, they were saying, ‘This is fun. Let’s forget about singing,’” says band director Ron Horner, who has been in that position since 1995 and is only the seventh director that the band has had.

The band started practicing at the Gross and Nichol Furniture Store on February 5, 1879. This was where they continued to practice until the store burned down in 1888.

“The blaze claimed instruments, uniforms, music, and even the director as Mr. Nichol set about rebuilding his business,” Jay Stevens wrote in his history of the band, which was included in the program for the 125th anniversary performance.

Band members and residents of communities in the area bought new instruments for the band and rehearsals continued in the Odd Fellows Hall in Frostburg.

In 1889, while under the direction of the second band director, John Miller, the band was sworn in at the 4th Battalion Band, a component of the Maryland State Militia. The band nearly went to war during the Spanish-American War.

“The entire band was drafted en masse as an army band, but then the war ended so they wound up not going into the war,” Knouse says.

As anti-German sentiment rose during World War I, the band, under the direction of its third director, George Vogtman, decided to drop “German” from its name.

During the Great Depression and much of World War II, R. Hilary Lancaster led the band. He was followed by Darrell Zeller, who led the band from 1943 until 1989. George McDowell led the band from 1989 until 1995.

Now in its 138th year, the Arion Band continues playing each summer season from mid-May through mid-September. During the season, they will play around 10 performances. They stay local playing at festivals, nursing home, and sporting events. Practices are held in the Arion Band Hall on Uhl Street, which was built in 1900.

“The furthest we’ve ever traveled since I’ve been a member is Altoona to play for at an Altoona Curves baseball game,” Knouse says.

However, the band did travel by train to Luray, Va., where it performed in the caverns, according to Stevens’ history.

The band gets its name from the ancient Corinthian, Arion He was a poet who was known for his musical invents, including the dithyramb. He is also remembered for the Greek myth of being kidnapped by pirates and thrown overboard, only to be rescued by dolphins.

All of the members are volunteers, who participate because they love playing music. They range from middle-school students to retired musicians.

“We have a lot of nice history and multiple generations playing,” Knouse says. This includes a father and daughter who play trumpets, in-laws, aunts, and cousins from local families.

There was time in its early years when musicians had to try out for the band. Once in the band, there was competition to play in the first seat for a particular instrument. This meant that musicians were serious about their practicing.

“If you were talking, they could hold your instrument for a week so that you couldn’t practice,” says Vice President Jeanette Tucker.

In modern times, the band has been open to anyone who has a desire to play music.

“We will work with whoever comes to play,” Tucker says. “The ones who don’t fit in kind of weed themselves out.”

She joined the band 19 years ago after she heard them performing at the Frostburg Soapbox Derby Day.

“I heard them play and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to be a part of,’” Tucker says.

Any money the band gets from its performances are used to pay the band’s expenses, such as travel and hall upkeep.

“We keep going because we have a sense of responsibility to keep the tradition alive and keep it going,” Horner says.

One way the band keeps that tradition alive is through their music choices. Horner’s job as director is to find the music that will appeal to the audiences that they play for. This has led to an evolving repertoire that remains top quality.

The musicians themselves are another reason for the longevity of the band. Once members join, they tend to remain with the band because it is fun and they form close relationships with the other members.

“We create something together that no one can do individually,” Horner says.

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LBToday is the last day to get the Amazon.com bestselling book Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland as a FREE Kindle e-book.

The book is filled with true stories about Western Maryland that will keep you reading whether you’re a native of Western Maryland or just someone who has heard about it.

  • Did you know that a Russian prince once worked as a priest in Cumberland?
  • Have you heard the story about the German POW camp near Flintstone during WWII?
  • Do you know about the mining wars that were fought to try and unionize the coal mines in the Georges Creek region?
  • Do you know the story behind Cumberland’s only lynching? Have you heard the story about the baseball game played between the Cumberland Colts and the New York Yankees?

These are the stories of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland found in old newspapers, history books and other places. It’s the stories of people who tamed the mountains, established cities, raised families and lived their lives.

 Journey back in time and look beyond the photos that so well document the region’s history. This collection of 40 stories spans 220 years of life in Western Maryland.

Looking Back hit no. 1 in Amazon’s Mid-Atlantic E-book category yesterday (I took a screenshot to mark the occasion) and has since climbed into the top 500 of non-fiction e-books. 071216-First No 1

Grab your free copy today and let me know what you think by leaving a review. That will help my future marketing efforts for the book.

Here are some of the types of stories that you’ll find in Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland:

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Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

The Cumberland Municipal Airport has never been busier than when sports cars raced around its runways.


Yes, sports cars. Not airplanes.

Each May from 1953 to 1971 racers from across the country would travel to Cumberland to test their sports cars against other top cars to see whose was the fastest.  Roger Penske, Shelby Briggs and Carroll Shelby all raced at the Cumberland Airport. The races featured some of the greatest racing cars of the time: Birdcage Maserati, Ferrari Testa Rossa, D Type Jaguar, Porsche 356 Speedster, Cobra, Mustang, Camaro, Sunbeam Alpine, Austin Healy 100, and the Howmet Turbine Car.

“It was a great time,” said Dave Williams. “A who’s who of American sports car racing came through Cumberland.” Williams watched many of those old races as a young man and he remains a racing enthusiast and promoter of sports car racing today.

The Cumberland Municipal Airport offered a 1.6-mile-long course for the racers. In the days before permanent automobile racetracks became common, airport runways offered a satisfactory alternative.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

Cumberland Lions Club staged the annual races and their proceeds helped provide free eye exams and glasses for needy children in the county, helped build Lions Manor Nursing Home, contributed to the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins and provided funding to the local Salvation Army, Boy Scouts of America, and YMCA.

May 1953 saw the first races at the airport. It was a result of months of planning between officials from the airport, Cumberland Lions, and Pittsburgh Steel Cities Region – Sports Car Club of America.

“The initial 1953 event started as Steel Cities/Pittsburgh Regional Races with 80 entries and a rather sparse group of spectators,” Bob Poling and Bill Armstrong wrote in Wings over Cumberland: An Aviation History.

Word spread locally and through the racing community that the airport in Cumberland was a great track on which to race.

The following year 122 racers and their cars showed up to compete before a crowd of around 12,000 people. This led to Cumberland’s regional event becoming a national one.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

“Being a national event meant that it was the most-important event in your region in a year,” said Williams.

It also meant that only racers with a national competition license could compete at Cumberland. There were only 1,100 nationally licensed drivers in the country at that time and 284 of them showed up in Cumberland to race in 1955. They came from 40 of the 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada. The racers competed in 11 races from 8:30 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. giving racing fans a full days of thrills.

As a national event, Cumberland began getting featured in media across the country. Sports Illustrated listed the Cumberland Airport Races among the big coming events in the world of sports.

“It represented the largest car race conducted in the US and included many prominent racing figures such as the Briggs Cunningham team of Maseratti race cars. Also, the American manufactured Corvette was making its presence known,” wrote Poling and Armstrong.

The Cumberland Sports Car races continued to grow in popularity with fans. Some of the highlights over the years include:

  • 1956 – Band leaders Paul Whiteman and Skitch Henderson along with actor Steve Allen race in Cumberland.
  • 1957 – Famed racer Carroll Shelby wins the main event at Cumberland.
  • 1958 – Roger Penske taking his SCCA driver’s test in Cumberland in a 283 Corvette. Penske got his license at the cost of his car. He blew the engine and then it fell off the trailer as he took it home.
  • 1965 – The new GT Mustang driven by Bob Johnson wins the Production Car race.
  • 1966 – The Walt Hansgen Memorial Trophy is awarded in memory of a five-time winner at Cumberland. Hansgen was killed in a crash at LeMans earlier in the year.
  • 1967 – What would become a classic—the Z28 Camaro—won its first race.
  • 1968 – Ray Heppenstal drove the turbine-powered Howmet TX Turbo car. Billed as the “car of the future”, it lost its race to Bob Nagel’s McKee Ford 427.

The peak year for the races, as far as attendance goes was 45,000 people in 1958. This was also the year a racer went over the embankment at the airport. Louis Jeffries was driving a Siata Special when the brakes failed coming off a long straightaway. The car went over the embankment, rolling several times until it reached the bottom. Jeffries was injured but not seriously. It was the only time that this type of accident happened during the races.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

“By the early 1960’s, though, airport courses were being replaced by permanent sports tracks and attendance at airport races declined,” said Williams.

Though the community supported the races, some people were starting to complain about the ground at the airport being torn up and that the cars racing at Cumberland were starting to show their age.

Then the Cumberland Mayor and City Council voted to ban car races at the airport after June of 1971. This allowed the 1971 race to go on. Only 200 cars entered the races and competed against each other before 12,000 fans. Almost as if to mark the sadness of the last airport races in Cumberland, it rained through much of the day.

The Federal Aviation Administration agreed with the actions of the city government. In a letter to the city, an FAA official wrote that “it is evident that increased use of the airport requires that all facilities be available for aviation purposes.”

Amateur racing had been struggling in recent years not only because access to airports was being denied organizers, but insurance costs for such events were rising dramatically. Also, many of the big-name draws for these events had turned professional, taking much of the fan base with them.

Allegany County continues to have autocrosses but nothing like the head-to-head competition that once thrilled residents.

For more information:

Here’s are some links to more information about Cumberland auto racing.


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Dr. Alfred Blalock performs one of his early heart operations at Johns Hopkins University. Courtesy of Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, Johns Hopkins University.

James “Jim Boy” McKenzie of Lonaconing had lived nearly four years with only three-quarters of his heart, but time was running out for the young boy.

When Jim Boy was born in 1946, it was without the right ventricle of his heart. The right ventricle is one of the four chambers of the heart. It pumps deoxygenated blood from the heart through the lungs and back to the left atrium in the heart.

Without the ventricle, Jim Boy was able to live but he suffered from a unique version of the Blue Baby Syndrome. Blue babies have poorly oxygenated blood that is blue in color rather than red and this blue blood causes their bodies to look blue. In Jim Boy’s case, it was only his hands, feet and lips that apparently turned blue.

His parents had taken Jim Boy to Johns Hopkins Hospital four times over his short life and “specialists informed them they could do nothing for Jim Boy at the time, but possibly could aid him if he lived a little longer,” the Sunday Cumberland Times reported in December 1949.

So Jim Boy returned home with no relief in sight and his condition grew worse. He suffered an attack in August 1949 and was admitted to Allegany Hospital. For six weeks, Dr. Thomas Robinson watched over Jim Boy trying to find an effective treatment. Nothing worked.

Jim Boy was admitted to Johns Hopkins on Oct. 27 for the fifth, and what many people expected to be the last, time.

Doctors told the McKenzie family that things didn’t look good for the youngster. He had two blood clots in the main artery leading to his heart and two more were forming in the main artery to Jim Boy’s brain.

Doctors Alfred Blalock and Helen Taussig took on the case and recommended surgery for Jim Boy, but they only placed his chances of survival at 60 percent. According to the Sunday Cumberland Times, “later the specialists gave him even lesser odds as he never ate much, weighed only 24 pounds, could hardly walk two feet without falling and his breath was very short.”

Blalock was the surgeon-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor and director of the department of surgery of the medical school. He had become well known when he showed that shock generally came from the loss of blood. He recommended using plasma or whole-blood transfusions as treatment for shock, treatment that is credited with saving the lives of many casualties during World War II. He had also developed the use of shunts to bypass obstructions in the aorta.

Taussig’s interest in cardiology and congenital heart disease led her to discover that the major problem with Blue Baby Syndrome was the lack of blood reaching the lungs to be oxygenated.

In 1943, she overheard a conversation Blalock was having with another doctor about his shunt technique when she began thinking it might have an application in treating Blue Baby Syndrome. She interrupted the conversation and began brainstorming ideas with Blalock.

From this conversation, Blalock and Taussig developed a successful way to treat Blue Baby Syndrome. The first operation using shunts to treat Blue Baby Syndrome took place in November 1944 and was successful. The following year, the pair published a joint paper on the first three operations in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

By the time Jim Boy came to them, Blalock and Taussig were famous for successfully treating Blue Baby Syndrome. If anyone could help Jim Boy, they could.

The surgery lasted four hours, during which they transferred the main artery of Jim Boy’s right arm to his heart and a near-normal function returned to the boy’s circulatory system, according to the Sunday Cumberland Times.

A half an hour after the operation, Jim Boy was conscious enough to recognize his mother and his lips were already turning pink.

By post-operative day two, he was more talkative and on day three the nurses were calling him “Chatterbox.” He was released from the recovery room to a regular room on day four.

In the following month, Jim Boy gained two pounds, his chest expanded and he grew 1.25 inches.

His parents said, “The two doctors who have restored the warmth to our son’s hands and feet certainly have put a warm spot for them in our hearts.”

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