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.