Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The continuing tragedy of the Binghamton Salt Babies - more Forgotten History

There is an older black [this information is relevant] woman who has been seen for years in downtown Binghamton. She appears (to the casual observer) to be mentally ill.  She screams at the noontime lunch crowd. 

I was told recently that this woman was the nurse accused of the accidental salt poisonings of newborns in the Binghamton Salt Baby tragedy of 1962.  She had gone insane from the truth of what she had done, or so the story went.

I remember this news-I was young and the "salt babies" stuck in my mind.  I remember reading it in either Life or Look magazine for some reason-I wonder how reliable that memory is.  It was several years after I moved up here before I found out the incident had happened here in Binghamton.

In brief, a number of newborn babies at Binghamton General Hospital were fed hospital-mixed formula where salt was accidentally used instead of sugar.  The salt and sugar canisters were on the same shelf.   7 babies died from salt poisoning, several others were saved using dialysis.

So is this unfortunate older woman (who could possibly be in her 70's) the nurse mentioned in the Time article?  (Time had said she was a "Negro"-and, a pregnant mother of 3)  Was she ever charged with a crime?  Why were sugar and salt canisters stored so closely together?  What was the rest of her life like?  I could certainly see a mother of 3 not being able to live with this knowledge, if indeed she was the guilty party. (or, even more horribly-was she a scapegoat?  That was, after all, 1962.)

And, more of interest, what of the families who lost children? 

There doesn't seem to be very much online for this happening of 47 years ago....another instance of Forgotten History (except to the families involved), lost in the mists of time.


  1. it is a really interesting (if horrifying story) -- i stumbled across it while reading baby brain dev. book that mentioned salt receptors don't show up until after birth,so babes will drink salt till they're poisoned. ugh shouldn't read stuff like this now that i have a kid. but yeah i read the time thing and was struck by how their use of 'Negro', as if it mattered. i can't imagine being responsible for making this mistake, even though it sounds like it wasn't really her fault.

    1. Things (I am 61) were way different back then. And no, her race should not have mattered, but it would have back then and perhaps even nowadays, when we think we are more "enlightened".

  2. I was born there on the 15th right after the discovery.

    My parents were convinced that there could not be a safer hospital to have a child born in after the discovery since EVERYTHING was being double and triple checked.

    Supposedly WSKG is/was making a documentary on the unfortunate incident. Not sure where that stands.

    1. I am not sure the documentary, if it was completed, was ever aired. I would love to see it.

  3. I was there the day this happened. I was a student nurse in my junior year. The LPN, was "black." and an excellent nurse and good mother and human being. I know her name, but will not reveal it since I am not sure about the facts in this article. I have found one fact not true. They were not canisters on a shelf, but barrels on the floor. The labels were partially torn. The nurse was kind enough to take the place of the regular formula nurse who would have know about the barrels. Myself & my classmate tasted the formula & realized it did not taste right. We reported it to the Head Nurse. I sure hope & pray the woman described here is not the nurse I knew who was held responsible. I cried for months over this tragedy and am crying now, but as a result of this, came the research and treatment of dialysis.

    1. I have thought a lot about that nurse a lot over the years, and I am so happy you took the time to comment. Time Magazine did reveal her name, and mentioned that she was pregnant with her fourth child. They stated the accused nurse "had filled the formula room's canister on Tuesday. She did this from one of two identical 20-gal. galvanized cans standing side by side in the kitchen, their lids marked with stick-on labels that said "sugar" and "salt'' (the salt label was torn)." So indeed, the salt originated from a barrel on the floor as you describe. This comes from "Medicine: Death in the Formula - TIME,9171,829117,00.html#ixzz2qKdtGx00" (Time Magazine, March 23, 1962). As far as the woman who was seen a lot in downtown Binghamton, I haven't seen her for over a year, perhaps longer. A couple of years ago I found out a former co-worker used to work at Binghamton General years ago (after the time in question, and not as a nurse). He doubted very much the woman downtown I described was the nurse accused of putting salt in the formula-I hope he was right. I can only pray she was able to recover from the events of that tragic day. She sounded like a woman devoted to her family and to her nursing career. I was only 9 when this happened, incidentally.

  4. My grandmother was at the Binghamton General hospital when this tragedy was playing out .She herself found several wholes in the hospitals official story .
    First the nurse who became the hero in the story said she herself had mistaken the salt jar for the sugar jar , that is how come she put salt in her coffee and was able to figure out what had happened .
    If the jars were labbled this would not have happened .
    Second if it was only one nurse or nurses aid the babies would have died on differant shifts .
    Dan Rather in his autobiography said that the real story had been white washed by hospital officials .


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