Saturday, January 2, 2021

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A true Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

As I write I am at my parents dining room table with the window open behind me.  It is a balmy 68 degrees.  This Evenfall Tis Snowing, is playing. Aside from the obvious that it is not snowing here, the sound of acapella harmony goes perfectly with the calm here.

I wrote this post while staying with my parents in Florida.  It's so nice to watch the sunset over the water every evening.

Here's my dad at White Point, a beach on the other side of Choctaw Bay from Destin.  Not bad looking for an 84 year old, eh?

"Typhoid Mary" was the nomenclature yellow journalism, compliments of William Randolph Hearst and other contemporary newspapers, gave Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant.

She worked as a cook in several well to do families, earning a very good living. Then one summer the family she was currently working for had an outbreak of typhoid. This was in 1907.

The family and servants who came down with typhoid survived then enjoyed a natural immunity and that might have been the end of it, except the couple that leased the house to them wanted an investigation. Houses known to carry typhoid were often razed to the ground, and since no other renters had suffered before or after this particular family, it seemed more likely that an individual was responsible for the outbreak.

Thus arrives George Soper a health investigator. By this time, it was known that typhoid was caused by Salmonella Tyhpi (not to be confused with Salmonella: food poisoning caused by eating raw chicken or handling turtles). Salmonelle Typhi is a microorganism that is carried by individuals, often people who show no symptoms themselves. These people are called "healthy carriers".

After eliminating all other possibilities and following the trail of typhoid victims from one house to another he arrived at the common denominator: the cook. Who was the cook? Mary Mallon.

Mary Mallon was a healthy carrier and, being a volatile, belligerent person to boot, she was not persuaded nor cooperative with Soper when he arrived at the kitchen of her current employment. How could she be responsible for making people ill, when she wasn't ill herself?

All Soper asked for was a stool and urine sample, but she refused. And then she chased him down the street with a carving fork.

Eventually Mary was arrested and forced to give samples and then was quarantined on North Brother's Island between Queens and the Bronx, which was then used as a hospital.

The author then ponders the question: where does a private individual's rights end and where does the public welfare begin? A rather pertinent question today as well in view of all that's come down the pike in our present situation.

Are draconian measures sometimes warranted? It's rather hard to prove one way or the other and I'm not sure exactly where I stand. Here in Texas we have more freedom than other places. I wear a mask, going inside stores and work, but otherwise my life is unchanged. However the quarantine seems to have increased the number of bankruptcy and mental health issues with the suicide rate increasing. Where is the balance? I'm not sure.

It's easy to feel sorry for Mary Mallon because of the rather draconian way she was handled. It is also interesting to note that other typhoid carriers who were also responsible for deaths were not arrested, but allowed to be free as long as they promised not to work in the food business in any way. (Some kept their promise, some did not).

On the other hand, no one wanted to arrest her or force her to give samples. Her belligerent and combative nature probably encouraged officials to be less than easy on her. The newspapers did not help in that they made every effort to sensationalize her story, even exaggerating how many people were struck with typhoid at her hands.

Still, even though she was stuck on an island, she had her own house, food was provided, they even gave her a little dog. She also became close friends with many of the nursing staff.

After five years she was released on probation and a promise that she would not cook nor serve food professionally.

Being a single, middle aged woman, her only employment was as a cleaning lady, which earned only a fraction of what she earned as a cook.

Then Mary Mallon disappeared.

In 1915, an outbreak of typhoid struck a children's hospital. Soper and the New York City healthy officials investigated and discovered that a "Mary Brown" was working there as cook. It did not take long to uncover Mary Brown as Mary Mallon. Mary was taken to trial and sent back to North Brother's Island. After a total of twenty-six years in quarantine, she eventually died alone, but found consolation in her Catholic faith.

I thought the author, Susan Campbell Bartoletti covered her topic well and was fairly objective, other than blaming Mary's attitude on a lack of faith in science. "If she only believed in science..." was a mantra repeated often.

At one point Bartoletti exclaims, "the THEORY of transmitting typhoid through healthy carriers PROVED..."

I capitalized the subject and verb of the above sentence for emphasis.

Excuse me, but a theory does not prove anything. It proposes something. If something is proven, it is no longer a theory, it becomes a fact or a law of nature.

It seems to me that Bartoletti's own understanding of science is not as grounded as it should be. Maybe she should be more scientific in looking critically at theories until they do become facts.

Not to start anything, but that is why it is still the Theory of Evolution, not the Law of Evolution.

Things don't become facts just because we want them to.

That quibble aside, I'm glad to finally know the story about a woman who has gone down in history, perhaps justifiably so, indeed tragically so, as infamous.

White Point, Florida on New Year's Eve.  There are worse ways to spend the last day of 2020.

Prayers for you all that 2021 end this pandemic and that you all enjoy good health and love with your families.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Act One by Moss Hart, an autobiography


 Still celebrating Christmas with Carols.
I hope you all had a merry little Christmas.  My sister and her family came over from Dallas and spent the day with us.  More specifically, Shawna, my nephew Andreas and I spent the day trying to coax Hercule out of a tree.  My back door was propped open, which I didn't realize, and he flew out.
I'm sure passers by thought we were nutty tree worshippers with our arms raised up to trees as we begged Hercule to come down.
He didn't and I sadly went to bed figuring that was the last of him.  He'd never survive the cold night or owls.
The next morning I got up early and took Shawna's lab, Bella, out to walk.  Our condo is surrounded by field and forest, but Bella thoughtfully pooped in our neighbors driveway.  While I was trying to clean that up, I heard a "Squawk!"
Could it be?
I called "Hercule!" 
I ran to the tree where he was the night before.  He was on the very edge of a branch fluttering his wings.  After much coaxing, he finally flapped down into a bush, where I grabbed him and hugged him close to my heart.
Talk about a wonderful Christmas present!!
Here's that rotten little bird.  Does he look sorry?  Nope.


This is one of the best autobiographies I have read that I can remember.

Hart is not only a brilliant playwright, he's an entertaining and highly engaging writer.

We vicariously live his journey from belonging to a dirt poor Jewish immigrant family living in a boarding house in the Bronx, and the various jobs he took as a teenager to contribute to the family funds (he took a job stacking animal skins, guaranteeing him plenty of space on the subway).

We are the invisible audience as we watch the risks he took (quitting said job without another prospect lined up), and bluffing his way into a Broadway theater house and getting hired as an office boy. We also watch and sympathize as he gets conned into taking crummy summer camp jobs as a social director. The worst in every way was the one where he had to sleep in a tool shed, with deplorable food and no budget by which to produce the social activities, only to discover at the end, he wasn't getting paid a dime because the owner of the camp absconded with all the money.

He worked those camps for six years, finally getting better and better camps and also better jobs during the year as director of small theater plays with volunteer actors. He spent his day time hours writing plays on the Beach at Coney Island (his family had moved to Brooklyn by then).

After the six years, he submitted a play, first to Theater Director Jed Harris who gave him the runaround, and finally to George S. Kaufman who ran with it.

As interesting as those harsh year, the best part was reading about the process of writing a play as Kaufman and Hart spent hours and hours of each day writing, shredding, writing again.

I assume that Hart must have learned how to write through Kaufman, and also from just doing it. And maybe watching all the countless plays on Broadway his aunt took him to. I say that because he dropped out of school at a young age. So this magnificent writer figured it out without a college or even a high school degree.

Certainly he was a genius, but let's not forget those six years of writing for hours each day on the beach. Also, I think Kaufman must have provided invaluable tutoring.

Also fascinating was the process and transformation a play must go through in order to succeed. Act One provides a rare insight into the nail biting hazards of making a play fly with the audiences. His first play, the one with Kaufman, titled Once in a Lifetime, almost bit the dust before it even launched. The efforts to change and revise and finally succeed should be required reading for any aspiring writer, playwright or not.

Really, the whole book should be required reading for anyone who loves to write for any reason. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Travel and Trade in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman


 I hope you will enjoy these Christmas Carols sung by a German Boys Choir.



This is an excellent record of how people traded and traveled in side their countries and to other countries. I think that this book concisely and yet thoroughly covers every topic.

Newman starts off with the various sorts of people who traveled, from royalty to peasant to the rising merchant class and their reasons for traveling and their various modes of transportation. In the process we get a good history of the different classes, cultures and religious beliefs of Medieval Europe.

He records the development of charity houses, hospices, hospitals by nuns and monks and the later rise of secular inns. We learn that staying in an inn was far different than now. Privacy wasn't available, at least for anyone not rich.

Newman also records the dangers from bandits to wild animals and also disease.

We learn the different modes of transportation from horses, every kind of horse, as well as other animals and man made constructs. Newman describes the different ways roads were constructed. He often hearkens back to Roman times and how Roman roads affected the medieval form of travel.

The last part of this section deals with the problem of language barriers and how this barrier was overcome. Even then they had phrase books of essential forms of communication. It is interesting to note that the clergy and educated spoke and read Latin and were the two groups of people who could communicate with similarly educated people across Europe and often served as translators for others.

What interests me is that I know the translating of the Bible in English and in German standardized those languages for the British Isles and the German Kingdoms, enabling greater communication and consequently travel for the average person. Ironically, Latin was originally that universal language starting in Roman times and devolved into an "elite" or even "secret, mystical" language for the educated few. I guess illiterate, isolated people were easier to keep under a leader's thumb.

The second section is about traveling by sea from the different sort of ships and boats available to land marks, such as lighthouses, to the use of both astronomy and astrology.

I found this book to be highly engaging and informative. Even though I checked it out of the library, I may buy my own copy to keep as a reference source. 
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Countertenor Wore Garlic: A Litergical Mystery by Mark Schweizer

 Here is Classical Piano Music.  I find it helps to listen to a nice collection like this, because it gives a nice sampling of so many composers and it makes a nice background while I write.

Toot and Puddle take over my water bottle.  In the background, Percy, my cockatiel, is making laser gun sounds.  All to the accompaniment of soothing classical music.






 The Countertenor Wore Garlic (The Liturgical Mystery #9)

What a happy surprise to find this book on the library shelves. I was looking for mysteries to read and happened upon this. I didn't know the author from Adam, but found the cover appealing.

There is a murder that happens in the small town of St. Germaine up in the hills of North Carolina. But it seems almost peripheral to the overall arc of the story.

 Some stories are plot driven, some character driven, this story was definitely character driven. What made this book a delight to read was the funny dialogue and the relationships between the main characters.

St. Germaine is a small town. So small that the sheriff Hayden Konig is also the local Episcopal church's Organist and Choir director. The Deputy Sheriff and Mayor also seem to have side jobs. 

Schweizer intertwines life at church with life at the local cafe with Halloween, Zombie flash dances, Vampires lining up to get their book signed at the local book store and, what was the other thing?....oh yeah...someone gets murdered that night as well. At first it seems like a scarecrow in the corn maze, but nope; it's a body.

Whose body? And who murdered them? And why? All of this Sheriff Konig (who narrates) must find out and in the meantime, suffer through an interim priest who preaches only fire and brimstone, getting the choir ready for All Saints (which is the day after Halloween) and, last but not least, write his own hard boiled mystery a la Raymond Chandler, whose typewriter he procured. 

In addition to the humor and lively characters, as a classical musician, I really enjoyed all the music references. So rare and yet so much fun for someone like me.

I am happy to see that there are many more mysteries in the series and found a set of five on eBay which I have snapped up.




Sunday, November 29, 2020

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

 Listening to Cesaria Evora Live d'Amour.

 Painting this year's Christmas cards:

Pachinko is the story of a family of Koreans during the Japanese occupation of their country, how they struggled to survive and eventually got through to the other side of the war (although not everyone did).  It is a profound and powerful record of history from a little regarded perspective, the Korean.

While Westerners may lump Asians together, they have distinctive cultures, languages and their own opinions about each other.  

It is a popular opinion to vilify Americans for their role in WWII by devastating Japanese cities with the H Bomb.  It is not so popular to consider that the Chinese and Koreans do not view the Japanese as innocent victims and were actually grateful to Americans for ending a war that killed far more people in their countries than were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki together.

 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – PBS Books




This book started out strong. As a Christian, I wondered if this book was written by a Christian because she was unusually respectful to the Christian characters in her book.

But the got worse halfway through the book. According to the author, the Koreans and Japanese went from morally conservative people in the 1940s to foul mouthed participants of casual sex by 1960.

The first generation of characters were admirable in their courage and grit, getting through grinding poverty and oppression during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 40s. I felt their suffering, rooted for their success and was profoundly relieved when their lot against all odds improved. The author colorfully describes the plight of the Koreans under Japanese rule, something that seems to be overshadowed in the U.S. by the plethora of documentaries about Japanese internment camps. People seem to forget who started that war.

When we get to the third generation, we see how both Korea and Japan have recovered from war torn countries to robust business people. They did this by their own effort and ingenuity. These people, who were truly victims, did not try to self-identify as victims or expect a free ride. People who are part of the victim identity politics of today might learn something by generations past.


by the time the children have grown up and started college or work, the moral standards have sunk into decrepitude. This generation, according to the author, cannot express themselves without using the "F" word and sex with your girlfriend was a matter of course.

I wonder at this because even in the west using the F word wasn't common until the eighties when it was in all the movies and as a consequence became a part of the population's vocabulary.

When the moral standard sunk, so did my interest in the book. It deteriorated into a kind of soap opera with characters I could not care less about.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

How I came Into My Inheritance by Dorothy Gallgher

 Here are Albinoni's Oboe Concertos.




 This highly engaging read is the story of the author's family and their history. She starts with her parents at the end of their lives. They are old and irascible. Living in New York City, Dorothy Gallagher finds herself driving back and forth from her home to upstate New York to care for her parents. They live in filthy conditions and refuse to take care of themselves. She can't get them to move nearer to her or even in with her. Social Services inform her that they can do nothing against their will.

They eventually die and that is the first chapter. The rest of the book is going back in time to when her parents immigrated from the Ukraine to America before WWI, worked hard and succeeded and stayed devout Communists. Even when news of Stalin's atrocities were undeniable, they waved it away. OK, people starved to death by the millions. You have to break a few eggs to make omelets.

Ms. Gallagher is not impressed and she deftly exposes the irrationality of clinging to an ideal when the consequences are fleshed out into reality and come crashing down around it.

The author was raised on the edge of Harlem and saw it change from predominantly Irish, Scottish, and Italian families to mostly black (she says negro, but that seems a bit dated). Being the only Jewish girl at school, in addition to being the only white student, she got beat up regularly but was told by her parents that the bullies were the victims because of their color, not her.

She rode that precarious edge where anything you said or did was considered racist or oppressive. Not by black people, mind you, but by her parents and their fellow Jewish communists. It's hard to believe this was back in the forties. It sounds like today.

Ms. Gallagher does not sugarcoat her parents or their family members. They are presented in all the lively, colorful glory from their lives back in the Ukraine to the rest of the lives in New York and eventually Florida and California.

Her writing is reminiscent of Isaac Bashivis Singer with wry humor and charismatic characters, except she is writing a biography of her family, not fiction.

The last couple of vignettes are of her attempts and finally success at becoming a professional writer.

I read this book in two sittings on the same day, that's how readable it is.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Secrets and Stained Glass by S.E. Drake

 I'm listening to Schumann's piano works.

I had the great honor to edit this book for a cousin of Josh.  Shiloh Drake is 16 years old and wrote a really good mystery.  Shiloh is homeschooled and did some missionary work in Haiti.  While there she met another girl who told her life story to her.  This book is inspired from this girl's story.

It has a blatant Christian worldview so I understand it's not what everyone would be interested in, but I do hope the home school community with teenage children will give the book a try.  I'll leave a link at the end of the review.

Sorry about the inconsistent formatting.  I don't know what I did to make the paragraphs like that.

A young girl, Stacie Alwin has lived a life without love or affection. Her mother abandoned her at a young age. Her stepmother wants her out and her father is too passive or indifferent to take any action on Stacie's behalf.

Upon graduation from high school, Stacie decides to begin a new life away from her home town where she grew up and away from her stepmother and father.

Her stepmom and father muster up as much concern about her leaving as they are capable, which isn't much, and soon wave her car goodbye as it leaves the driveway.

On to the southern part of Illinois Stacie drives and arrives at a small town called Fauna, where everyone knows everyone and she soon finds herself a part of a huge church family filled with people who welcome her into their lives.

Her job is to be church secretary, which she finds satisfaction in and also enjoys a friendship with Rose, the choir director, with whom she shares the parsonage.

But soon, things go awry. Stacie hears and sees things in the rooms and hallways of the church that shouldn't be there. Are there such things as ghosts? If so, why are they here? If not, who is trying to scare her?

Thus begins a personal investigation into a church that has an odd past and perhaps a terrifying present.

This book is written for Junior High and High School level readers, although I think adults can enjoy this book as well. I certainly did. I thought the mystery was intriguing and the storyline well-developed. The characters were interesting and believable. I am glad to know that this is the first of a series S.E. Drake plans on publishing, because I already want to get to know Stacie, Rose and the townspeople of Fauna better.

Link on Amazon: