NEW YORK — There was a two-hour parade through Aberdeen, S.D., on Oct. 14, 1963, one month after Mary Ann Fischer gave birth to four girls and a boy at a local hospital — the first quintuplets to survive in the United States.
Mrs. Fischer and her husband, Andrew, led the parade.
‘‘About 50,000 persons, including Aberdeen’s 24,000 residents, were on hand for the ceremonies,’’ United Press International reported. ‘‘A highlight was the presentation of five medals from Pope Paul VI to the Fischers.’’
Within hours after the quintuplets were born at St. Luke’s Hospital from 1:58 to 3:01 a.m. Sept. 14, 1963, it had become not only local news, but national news as well. The Fischers already had five children, and would later have another.
‘‘Quintuplets Fine as 72-Hour Critical Period Ends,’’ a headline in The New York Times said.
“The chances of a mother giving birth to quintuplets are 42 million to one,’’ Newsweek wrote.
And the coverage continued. Seven months later, The Saturday Evening Post published a 10-page article with 11 large photographs of the babies, by then pleasingly chubby, and a text written by Mrs. Fischer.
‘‘They came into the world as tiny, premature babies, so small that any one of them could be held in a hand,’’ she wrote. ‘‘The odds were very much against their survival, and we know that around the world thousands of good-hearted people prayed for them.’’
Mrs. Fischer died Sunday at St. Luke’s, the hospital where the quintuplets were born, said George Schriver, director of Schriver’s Memorial Mortuary and Crematory in Aberdeen. She had recently been treated for leukemia. She was 79.
The Fischers were surprised during the seventh month when Dr. James Berbos told them X-rays showed quintuplets. ‘‘I thought I was going to die,’’ she told The Aberdeen American-News in 2003. ‘‘I was gaining 4 to 5 pounds a day.’’
A few days later, the quintuplets — Mary Ann, Mary Catherine, Mary Margaret, Mary Magdalene, and James Andrew — were born, four of them breech, and immediately placed in isolettes. (Mary Ann was named for her mother, Mary Catherine and Mary Margaret for aides at the hospital, and Mary Magdalene for her paternal grandmother.) Before the Fischer five, only two sets of quintuplets had been born in the Western Hemisphere and survived infancy: the Dionnes in Canada in 1934 and the Dilgentis in Argentina in 1943.
Support flowed in, especially from neighbors and local merchants: diaper service, baby clothes, baby-sitting, a new washer. The community built a large house for the family.
News coverage continued into the quintuplets’ early childhood. For Mrs. Fischer, being in the limelight proved more difficult than the pregnancy. Especially troubling, she told The American-News, were false reports that they were receiving large amounts of money inpublishing contracts. ‘‘They were so blown out of proportion,’’ she said. ‘‘If lots of money were involved, would I still be working my fool head off at age 70?’’
By then she was working as a cook for a meals program for the elderly.
Mary Ann Darling Brady was born on a farm near Hecla, S.D. Her 1955 marriage to Andrew Fischer ended in divorce.
Mrs. Fischer leaves all 11 of her children. Her four daughters among the quintuplets no longer use Mary as their first name. They are Annie Hoerner, Maggie Torres, Cathy Bales and Margie Walter. She leaves her son Jim, the other quintuplet; another son; five other daughters; a brother, a sister; nine grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.