Who was Typhoid Mary? Was she a villain or victim? Were her assessors after fame or just doing their job? Or was Mary just the scapegoat for officials who waited too long to clean up their cities?
Typhoid fever at first caused headaches and fatigue, then by a high fever, stomach pain, chills, and a red rash. One out of three people who contracted typhoid died. And as the deadly disease broke out in New York cities, thousands died.
George Soper’s job as a sanitation engineer made him an expert on germs that caused disease. Now it was his job to stop this contagious disease from spreading. He found the filthy living conditions in cities, with their open sewers, contaminated water, dead animals in the streets and horse manure were spreading disease and death. Soper came to show the city officials how to clean up their streets but he found more.
He found a cook named Mary Mallon. She was a young teen when she crossed the ocean to America from Ireland. She learned her trade as a cook the hard way, working as scullery maid, until she mastered the knowledge to become a cook to the very rich. She also was believed to be a carrier of millions of typhoid germs.
Hell Gate was an island in New York’s East River originally set up to quarantine smallpox victims. By the turn of the century, a hospital there held anyone who needed to be isolated and forgotten. Mary was imprisoned on Hell Gate, released, and later returned to quarantine when found to have return to her original occupation.
Mary died in captivity at the age of 69. She never offered her side of the story. All that is known of Mary’s beliefs were that she never saw herself to be sick or to be the source of the various outbreaks of typhoid left in her wake.
Hell Gate Hospital today.
A tale straight out of the history books – laced with original photos, documents, illustrations and cartoons from newspapers and magazines – yet it reads like a murder mystery. This is a good read but would equally make a good source for a school report.
Note: The illustrated cartoon demonstrating how flies spread the disease was drawn by illustrator Vernon Grant who would later draw Kellogg’s Snap, Crackle and Pop.
Format Available: Book
Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch