Welcome. This is my blog, and you're my most coveted guest. If I seem a bit too intense, it's only because I have so much that I want to share with you, and I can see that you're eager to begin as well. So, please...make yourself at home, sip an East India cocktail (I blended the pomegranate juice myself), and sample some of my domestic and imported Arcana: useless, but fascinating information about Victoriana, Steampunk and other favoured topics; music which evokes that dark, lost Lenore sensibility; and other pleasant or, perhaps, unsettling non sequiters whispered in a darkened room. Linger long or short, leave a comment or refrain, but remember to come back soon to play a (shhhh) parlour game.
Velkommen. Dette er min blog, og du er min mest eftertragtedegæst. Hvis jeg synes en smule for intenst, det er kunfordi jeg har så meget at jeg vil dele med jer, og jeg kanse, at du er ivrig efter at begynde så godt. Så kan du ...føl dig hjemme, sip et East India cocktail (jeg blandetden granatæble juice mig selv), og prøve nogle af mine indenlandske o importerede Arcana: ubrugelig, menfascinerende oplysninger om Victoriana, Steampunkog andre begunstigede emner; musik der fremkalderdenne mørke, mistede Lenore sensibilitet, og andrebehagelige eller måske foruroligende, ikke sequitershviskede i et mørkelagt rum. Linger lang eller kort,efterlade en kommentar eller afstå, men husk at komme tilbage snart til at spille en (Shhhh) selskabsleg.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
Nocturne in G Flat major
Chopin, darkness, light, sand and wind, starlight tread. Beethoven, love, fear, madness, redemption in the night. Liszt, waltzing widows, desperate bargains, pleasure's secret plight. Now, then, before, always, forever. Promises made on lonely beaches, celestial summer's perfect kiss, passions quenched in salty breezes, the lure of distant mist-draped heights. Bitter interlude. Final, private nocturne. Burned down like a candle. Doomed bleeding beauty. Fated sacrificial night.
We love all things dark and mysterious, macabre and obscure, odd and unfathomable. Nothing is too strange or bizarre for our little blog. And although we would never presume to offer definitive answers to the great questions of life, we shall do our best to enlighten, inform and delight our visitors with our whimsical potpurri of facts, anecdotes, trivia and informational outpourings. We strive not to offend, but to edify those who wish to reach beyond their comfort zone and touch the fabric of another time and place, and of distant, but genuine worlds and lives. As Victorian-themed blogs go, ours may not be the most austere, nor the most comprehensive, but we know what we like, and if our readers like it as well, then all is as it should be in this ramshackle corner of our own personal Victorian empire.
A Musical Note
A Musical Note: We feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by one or more of the following musical selections. Then again, we also feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by a glass of absinthe, a bite of lemon cake, and a foot massage (preferably by someone you know). So, to paraphrase the otherwise completely irrelevant-to-our-blog Mr. Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt...but be open to Chopin."
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Thursday, March 29, 2012
THE TRAGIC TALE OF TYPHOID MARY
In the late summer of 1900, Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant from County Tyrone who had lived in the United States since 1884, was working as a cook for a wealthy family in Mamaroneck, New York when several members of the household fell ill with typhoid fever. The following year, Mary began working for another family in Manhattan, who, within weeks of hiring her, also fell ill, developing fevers and diarrhea, their laundress eventually dying from the same symptoms. The next several families who hired Mary fared no better, with either all or most of the family members developing typhoid, some of whom had to be hospitalized. It wasn't until March of 1907 that anyone began to consider the possibility that Mary was the link among the affected households. At that point, the city's sanitation engineer and ad hoc typhoid researcher George Soper visited her at her current place of her employment and requested stool and urine samples. Mary refused to comply, setting the stage for what would be a dramatic confrontation and the beginning of a tragic chapter in the life of the woman who would come to be known as "Typhoid Mary."
Like thousands of other Irish immigrants who came to America in the latter part of the 19th century, Mary Mallon was searching for a better life. She was still in her teens when she arrived in New York, and with no real work experience or business contacts, did what so many other young women in the same situation did in the 1800s. She entered domestic service, working as a maid for a series of wealthy New York families, earning just enough to survive. But Mary was a smart cookie. It didn't take her long to figure out that, when it came to domestic service, cooks made more money than maids. So she set about learning to cook. It was a vocation for which she seemed to have a natural talent and she was soon in demand, able to pick and choose her places of employment, a fact which she no doubt enjoyed after years of enduring a 19th century Irish immigrant's hardscrabble life.
When Soper came to see her, asking for stool and urine samples, Mary was less afraid of the results than she was insulted by the implication that she was somehow unclean. Those who knew Mary during her days as a cook have stated that she was a woman who prided herself on being neat and presentable, in keeping with the upscale surroundings in which she worked. Her response to Soper's request was not just angry, it was livid, and she reiterated it when he returned a week or so later with a doctor in tow. The next time Soper came to see her, at her own flat, he brought along several policemen. This set Mary's Irish blood boiling. She reportedly grabbed a carving fork from the kitchen counter and leveled it at Soper and his uniformed entourage, threatening them with all manner of bodily harm if they didn't leave immediately. As Soper described the scene in his account of the incident, "Mary was on the lookout and peered out, a long kitchen fork in her hand like a rapier. As she lunged at me with the fork, I stepped back, recoiled on the policeman and so confused matters that, by the time we got through the door, Mary had disappeared. 'Disappear' is too matter-of-fact a word; she had completely vanished."
It took Soper and the police five hours to locate the AWOL cook and suspected typhoid carrier. If it hadn't been for the fact that there was still snow on the ground, they might have come away empty-handed altogether. Following what they believed to be her footprints in the snow outside the door of her flat, they traced Mary's flight route to a fence in the backyard, over which she had apparently climbed in her effort to escape. Theorizing that she had most likely taken refuge in a neighbor's house, Soper and the police began searching the houses in the immediate area, with no success, until one of them noticed a scrap of calico cloth sticking out of a closed closet door. On opening the door, they found Mary, no longer wielding a carving fork, but still violently resistant to the idea of accompanying them to the hospital. According to Soper, "She came out fighting and swearing, both of which she could do with appalling efficiency and vigor. I made another effort to talk to her sensibly and asked her again to let me have the specimens, but it was of no use. By that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her, when she had done nothing wrong. She knew she had never had typhoid fever; she was maniacal in her integrity. There was nothing I could do but take her with us. The policemen lifted her into the ambulance and I literally sat on her all the way to the hospital; it was like being in a cage with an angry lion."
Mary was transported to Willard Parker Hospital where the necessary samples were taken. Not surprisingly, doctors found typhoid bacilli in her stool, and handed her over to the health department who transferred her to North Brother Island on the East River where she was confined to a small cottage maintained by Riverside Hospital. Forcibly removed from her home, cut off from her livelihood, and sequestered in a crude cottage on an isolated island on the East River, Mary was understandably angry and upset. For a woman who had never been seriously ill in her life, and who took great pride in being clean and presentable, it was a demeaning set of circumstances and a huge embarrassment. Later, she told reporters that she felt she had been targeted by the city because of her status as an unmarried Irish immigrant and the fact that, until being banished to North Brother Island, she had been free to come and go as she pleased, answering to no one but herself and her chosen employers. Writing to the head of the health department, she complained, "I never had typhoid in my life, and have always been healthy. Why should I be banished like a leper and compelled to live in solitary confinement with only a dog for a companion?" What Mary didn't know...and could not have known...was that she would turn out to be the first identified "healthy carrier" of typhoid.
Despite her entreaties, Mary was forced to remain on North Brother Island for the rest of the year, a judge having ruled against her in a lawsuit she brought against the health department, citing an ordinance which allowed the department to quarantine, by forcible means if necessary, any individual with an illness which they believed constituted a threat to the health of the general public. Mary's main argument, which was that she had never had typhoid and therefore could not possibly be responsible for the typhoid outbreaks that had occurred in the households where she had been employed, was summarily dismissed as well. Like most people at that time, she didn't realize that it was possible for someone to contract an extremely mild case of typhoid without ever knowing that they had done so. But having been infected, however mildly, that person could then pass on the disease to others, while they were now immune. Even after the doctors at Riverside Hospital informed her that she had been identified as a "healthy carrier" of the typhoid bacteria, Mary refused to believe it, and continued to rail against her unfair treatment at the hands of the health department.
Things looked bleak for the Mary until, in 1910, the newly appointed health commissioner decided that she could be given her freedom as long as she promised to never work in her chosen vocation again. Thrilled by the upward turn in what had been a very bad year, Mary agreed to the conditions of her release and signed an affadavit to that effect. Released from her enforced exile on North Brother Island, she vanished back into the city and was not heard from again for the next five years.
By 1915, talk of "Typhoid Mary", as Mary Mallon had been dubbed by the press, had abated and her "crimes" all but forgotten. But, then, a number of patients at Sloane Maternity Hospital in Manhattan fell prey to an outbreak of typhoid. Searching for a possible cause for the outbreak, health department investigators zeroed in on a newly hired cook by the name of Mrs. Brown, who, as it turned out, was actually Mary Mallon, who had resumed her cooking career under a new identity. Once again, she was taken into custody, this time to a chorus of damning invectives from the public, who considered her nothing short of a mass murderer because she knew of her status as a carrier of the disease, and had continued to endanger the public anyway. Mary was transported back to North Brother Island, where she spent the next 23 years, living in the same crude cottage as before, her attitude toward the health department unchanged and her bitterness over her situation unrelenting.
Mary Mallon died on November 11, 1938, having never regained her freedom and her name a euphemism for anyone with an infectious disease or whose presence creates discord or unhappiness. Most tragic of all, Mary died still not understanding why she had been condemned by the public when she had committed no crime. Her frustration is understandable in light of the fact that, despite her status as a healthy carrier of the disease, only three actual deaths could be positively linked to her presence in various infected settings. Another healthy carrier of typhoid, Tony Labella, was deemed responsible for five deaths, yet after being held and quarantined for two weeks, he was released and never sought out again. Other, similar situations bear out Mary's contention that she had been treated unjustly as a result of circumstances beyond her control. But why? Was it, as she believed, an act of prejudice on the part of the health department, simply because she was an unmarried Irish immigrant? Perhaps it was her "bad attitude", but if it was, 23 years of enforced isolation on the East River seems like an extreme punishment. But for the woman whose name has become synonymous with malicious intent, these questions no longer matter. In death, Mary Mallon was finally able to regain her purloined freedom, and to escape the dark legacy that shadowed her life and marked it, indelibly, as one of this country's greatest public tragedies.
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