« Lore

Episode 86: Under Siege


Our bodies are a fortress, and every day, they suffer through attacks from the outside. Over the centuries, we’re become very good at protecting ourselves from illness and disease, but all of those efforts assume everyone around us will be responsible. Illness, though, has often been misused—sometimes maliciously and other times through sheer ignorance—and the results have been horrifying.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
In two thousand fourteen archaeologists working along Hadrian's, while in Northern England, found something amazing there at the bottom of a mud filled. Pit of garbage was a perfectly intact two thousand year old, Twilit seat Historians had already learned a lot about roman toilets over the years. This was the first time an actual seat had been discovered. It was carefully carved from a single piece of wood and had a shape that would be instantly recognisable to any of us today that narrow see shaped curve. It sits between the toilet. Its and the person using it. It's become part of the universal language of sanitation, along pipes and running water, all of which are tools designed to keep us clean.
The rise of major civilizations has always tended to run parallel to their access to fresh water. Romans are a prime example of this. Their massive network of eleven aqueducts, which delivered Roughly three hundred million gallons of water to them each day allow them to grow and flourish as a culture without freshwater we might not have had the Romans at all. History is littered with our mistakes, though poor conditions led to an outbreak of typhoid fever in Athens around four hundred and thirty BCE killing a quarter of the city's population. The plague of Justinian raged across the Byzantine empire for almost two centuries, and by the time it was finished in seven hundred and fifty a d half of Europe with dead six hundred years later, the plague returned to claim millions more over the centuries humans have proven the old ad
that cleanliness is next to godliness at being clean is the best way to stay healthy and fight disease. When we do it right, a society can be transformed, elevating the quality of living to a whole new level. When we fail, though bad things can happen, and sometimes as history has shown us, those bad things have been intentional, I'm Erin Maggie, and this is lore the city of feed. Those here once called come
is an ancient sea port on the eastern side of Crimea, the peninsula, the jets down from the north into the middle of the black sea. It was founded nearly eight hundred years ago by italian merchants from Genoa who were given permission to settle thereby the Mongol Empire, the biggest kingdom. The he had seen up until the moment by the early thirteen hundreds, though relations had soured between them. The Mungo rulers felt that the genoa were a bit deceitful and disloyal, and after years attention they sent forces to reclaim coffee for themselves in thirteen Forty three amongst army laid siege to the port city, but although they. numbered the you knowing the fighting was frustratingly slow and then the plague arrived.
What did you know? It's watched from inside their walls? Their attackers began to die off. It was one of the first waves of the black death that notorious disease. The scientist called Yersinia Pestis, the reach, the edges of the west's most historians think it had followed the Mongols West from Lake Issyk KUL. What are the main? Stopping points on the ancient trade route known as the silk road when it finally caught up with the Mongol forces at CASA in one thousand three hundred and forty six, it decimated them, but in that desperate our they trying something new. They gathered up. Hundreds of bodies of plague victims
them into their catapults and launch them into the city. The best contemporary account is a memoir by the italian Gabrielle Debussy. This is what he wrote in one thousand three hundred and forty eight. What seems like mountains of dead were thrown into the city and the Christians could not hide or flee or escaped from them, although they dumped as many of the bodies as they could in the seat and soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poison the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly
One in several thousand was in a position to flee. Today, historians and microbiologists considered the siege of comfort to be one of the earliest examples of biological warfare. There was a shift in the way people thought about disease, and, while Kafka didn't fall to the Mongols that day, the plague was pushed by humans into one of the busiest port cities in the ancient world. From there it would eventually spread west taking the lives of close to one hundred million people over the next five years. It might have been.
one of the first uses of disease as a weapon, but it's sadly wouldn't be the last a few centuries later in North America it was the Europeans turn to give it a try. In one thousand, seven hundred and fifty eight after four years of conflict, known as the french and indian WAR, the British came to an agreement with the native american tribes, who lived in what would become Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. The british promise to leave the area if the native Americans broke ties with their french allies. After a number of tribes follow
who, with their promise, the British changed their minds, provoking a siege of Fort Pit right there in modern day Pittsburgh as part of their strategy, the british took items that had been exposed to the smallpox virus gave them to the native Americans as Trojan horse gifts. The outbreak that followed is said to have killed at least a hundred native Americans and left their forces to seek to maintain the siege, but it was worse than that because, like the plague and Kafka, the spread of smallpox reached beyond Fort pit events,
the killing native Americans all across the region. In nineteen, forty japanese forces bombed a city in northern China with fleas infected with smallpox, and while their efforts were the most effective historians believe upwards of four hundred thousand people were infected in the resulting outbreak. Two years later, the Japanese tried again far herself, but some of their ceramic smallpox bombs inadvertently fell on their own troops. In fact, in close to ten thousand of them, disease is powerful because its invisible, the people of cover only saw bodies, but the real weapon Lake side them. As we ve learned more about how diseases work, it's opened up new ways to abuse that power, because the human body will always be at risk of a siege from the outside
which is why we ve gotten very good and defending ourselves, but that's not always been enough nets, because our defence hinges on the assumption that the person who is sick knows that they are at their aware and responsible and will do anything to protect others, but what, if they aren't, what? If they were fully aware of the risk they pose to the people around them, but they couldn't care less. The results, as history is about to show us can be devastating. We don't know a lot about her early life, but a few details have stuck around
No. She was born in cooks, town, a poor village in the northern part of Ireland in eighteen, sixty nine, and we know that she boarded a ship at the age of fourteen and came to America, The eighteen, eighty and eighty Ninetys were massive years for immigration. That's when my own, Emily arrived at Ellis Island in New York, and I bet a lot of you- have a similar story. Mary came for a better life and a chance to start fresh and work towards something bigger after arriving, though she vanished from the public record, then ten years later, she resurfaced. She was thirty, one years old by then all grown up and out on her own over the years between writing.
hundred and her youth. In Ireland she had become a good, dependable cook and had begun offering her services to some of the wealthy families of New York. The first job that we know about the one that she took in one thousand nine hundred was for a family in a village just up the coast from Staten Island overlooking Long island sound for a number of decades. It had been the summer destination for families wanting to get out of New York City, but some also move there full time. The Mary
that man's a lot of potential employers. She settled in with that family sometime in early August of one thousand nine hundred and four a while things seem to be going well, then, a couple of weeks later a guest arrived to stay with the family, and shortly after he became sick and not just sick. This guest had typhoid fever, typhoid fever had been around for thousands of years. It's the disease responsible for the plague of Athens, I mentioned earlier, and it's difficult to find a military conflict. Since then that doesn't see a few cases, that's because military camps for a very long while we're unsanitary places and typhoid fever.
is spread through contaminated food and water. The science has a way of conquering things over time and in eighteen eighty, they managed to identify the bacteria that caused the illness in eighteen. Ninety six, just four years before the House guest became sick. The first ever typhoid fever vaccine was introduced, but it was rolled out slowly too slowly. In fact, a nineteen hundred over thirty five thousand Americans died from the disease, which meant that the while people were hopeful. They were also still very nervous. So when this guest became ill Mary packed up and left before she herself could do the same. That's ok, though, because there were lots of other big families around Equally, big houses in many of them would need a cook Mary managed to escape the illness and find a new job. So life went on.
One thousand nine hundred and one while working for another family, one of the housekeepers, became ill again. It was typhoid fever and again fearing for her own safety. Mary left, after that she caught wind of a job in Maine and Travel north in one thousand, nine hundred and two to cook for the Drayton only their two weeks. After her arrival, though one of the children became sick within a month, so and of the nice family members were in bed horribly ill, the culprit, typhoid fever, of course, but Mary was held. full and brave. She stayed on longer than she would have liked, risking her own health to help the family out. The father Mr Drain was so glad for her help that he gave her a large bonus ass. She was leaving After that, it was more and more of the same Mary bounced from house to house cooking.
for a while and then leaving out of fear in nineteen o four, while she was working in the house at sands point four of the servants she worked with on a daily basis became sick. I have to think Mary was beginning to panic. There was an outbreak of typhoid fever happening. The evidence was all around her. It seemed, and I can't blame her, for in a way, is also important to point out. New York City did seem to be experiencing a sharp optic in cases of typhoid fever in eighteen. Ninety nine there had been only two thousand confirmed cases of the disease, but by nineteen o five. That number had doubled to over four thousand
ultimately claiming more than six hundred lives. That year the risk was real and Mary, like a lot of other people in New York, city, felt, threatened and unsafe. So she continued to run everything Mary experienced reinforced. This too, there was an outbreak taking place around her, and I mean that literally everywhere she went, people would get sick. Maybe she noticed and forced herself to ignore it, or perhaps she was honestly clueless and unaware as it matter, though, because others were about to catch on and once they did, it wouldn't allow Mary to run any longer. Repassed, it seems was catching up with her.
In the summer of nineteen o six Mary landed a job at the summer house of a wealthy banker named Charles Henry warring. Like a lot of her previous employers, the warrants had rented a large house overlooking the waters of long island sound it was summer. The ocean was blue in life must have seemed good and full of joy.
For a while, at least in August of that year, six of the people in the house, a mixture of family and staff, all came down with typhoid fever. It happens so quickly and infected. So many people at once, the owner of the house, a business man named George Thompson, panicked. He feared that the health department would condemn his profitable rental property and burned to the ground. So he asked in your my hospital to send someone out to investigate the cause. The trouble was they couldn't, and a source. They were able to map out the spread of the disease through the household, but when they followed it all the way back to the first person to get sick, that was it. They were stuck so Thomson sent a message to the Department of Health asking for some one more qualified in skilled in this sort of situation. What they sent him was a say: Terry Engineer now. Sanitary engineers had already been around for decades. At this point, they were so
engineers tasked with keeping the water supply as clean as possible, but in the late in eighties and MIT Professor named William Sedgwick, took the field to a whole new level setting it honour. Trajectory has led to our modern water filtration plants. Basically, we have Sedgwick to thank for those clear sewage, free glasses of water that we drink every day in eighteen. Ninety, though, the field was just getting started Terry engineers in New York City were pulling double duty, as both scientists in charge of keeping water clean, then also detectives We now into the city to track down the real sources of new epidemics nets, the sort of person George Soper was and why he was sent to the war in household what he discovered. There was frightening each and every one of the people in the house infected with typhoid fever had contracted it from a single source
the food prepared by the cook you see sober, was a well read scientist going so far as to have european medical papers translated, so that he could learn from advancements over these and one of the new ideas he had encountered was this idea of an asymptomatic carrier carrier people who are infected with the disease but show none of the symptoms. The trouble was Mary had already run some other time. Sober figured out who he needed to talk to the cook had vanished into the wind. Now remember this was nineteen o six, so tracking people down was a lot harder than it is today. He couldn't just pick up. The phone We call her, which is why the detective part of his training was necessary. All sober had to go on was her full name, Mary Melon, but there was all
the agency that had placed her in the Warren Household, starting their managed to get a list of all the places she had worked at prior to one thousand nine hundred and six and out of those eight families. Seven of them had experienced a typhoid fever outbreak their head even been fatalities, which was one reason Soper wanted to work so fast, Mary Mallon was a walking incubation chamber for typhoid and she didn't know it. Thankfully, the employment agency was also able to give Soper the address of marries a new job, but by the time he found out about it, one of the children in the house was close to death, so he travelled to the house in hopes of seeing Mary for himself. Obviously, he had a lot to discuss with her. You have to understand just how driven George Soper was he'd managed to track the source of an outbreak to a new type of patient, one that didn't actually look or feel sick, and this was huge for two reasons. First
If it was true, it would open up a whole new way of approaching the work of public health officials potentially bringing an end to the constant outbreaks they fought like fire fighters. Second, though, it meant that if my He wasn't stopped immediately. Things could get very bad very quickly. When he knocked at the door in March of nineteen O, seven and Mary actually answered all of his excitement became uncontainable. Invited him into the kitchen and asked what his business was a rather than explained the situation. Slowly and clearly. He immediately asked for samples of her urine and feces shocked and offended Mary picked up a rolling, pin and chased Soper out the front door George Sober was persist it no after tracking down the man, she was living with at the time in a room above a tavern
he said outside the door one evening waiting for her to return home when she did. You made a better second attempt at his request, but Mary was still put off and she screamed at him until he was forced to leave with no other choice, left sober painted visit to the local Department of Health and told them the situation on March 20th of one thousand nine hundred and seven. They sent an ambulance to Mary's park, avenue, location with a team of police officers, medical interns and a physician named Dr Josephine Baker. They had instructions to bring Mary in whether she wanted to or not. Mary, however, was not about to go quietly,
I dont know if the police had to knock the front door down or if it was already unlocked. What I do know is when they arrived in Doktor Josephine Baker knock on the door. Mary opened it up, took one look at the collection of medical professionals on her doorstep and then slammed shut after that she vanished into the depths of the house. It was a high stakes, game of hide and seek. One were Twill lives were at risk and the pressure was beyond intense. They tore the place apart. Looking for her, but after the better part of three hours a day came up. Empty Mary Mallon had somehow slipped away That's when one of the officers step outside the back door, still yard was tiny in cramped, but he did notice a chair sitting in the grass beside the fence. A kitchen chair,
he alerted, the others, and soon they were all climbing over into a neighbours yard, which is where they found. The Hem of Mary stress, sticking out of the door of a small shed. Doktor Baker would later described the capture of Mary to George Soper. She fought and struggled and cursed. She told him. I told the police to pick her up and put her in the ambulance. This we did in the right down to the hospital was wild one, and she should no doctor. Baker apparently had to sit on Mary, the entire way in an effort to keep her from thrashing about. She later told reporters that it was like being in cage with an angry lion, but they'd captured their suspect. That was all that mattered. Mary was tested for typhoid fever. Mould
but times through urine and stool samples in almost all of those tests, came back positive. She was exactly what George Soper had thought. She was an asymptomatic carrier of a deadly disease to keep the general public safe. She was transported to Riverside Hospital on North brother. I. And in the middle of the EAST River, that was nineteen o seven. Nearly three years later in nineteen ten, she was still there still captive still in isolation, they had explained her how she carried the disease without knowing it and how, because of that, she had infected nearly a dozen families. People had died, they told her, but he also thought they knew how to help her all they had to do was removed. gallbladder and she would be a safe and normal member of society. Once again,. Mary, however, refused she refused to believe she was sick. She refused to allow them to operate.
he refused to admit that she might be responsible for an outbreak of a deadly disease, and so for three years she lay in a hospital bed just waiting. I imagine that her release from captivity was a complete shock to her in February of nineteen and the new commissioner of the Health Department decided that enough is enough if Mary would swear to never work as a cook. Ever again, he would agree to let her go free Mary pledged to follow his instructions left the hospital, vanished, she tried her hand at running a boarding house, but it turns out she wasn't very good at that. She missed the good pay that came with being a cop. but Mary now and wasn't allowed to do that anymore. So she did the only thing she could think of. She changed her name and got a new job as a cook, and she did this for five more years.
In nineteen fifteen. Our old friend George Soper received a message from Sloan Maternity Hospital in New York City. They had twenty five patients who come down with typhoid fever, and they believe that they'd identified the suspect, a woman who could for them a woman. Named Mary, when the authorities arrived to take her into custody this time, Mary didn't fight back all told Mary Melon spent about twenty six years in captivity because of her illness It was one of those real life examples of that old, STAR Trek notion of the needs of the many outweighed. The needs of the few, however cruel it might have been Mary was a Trojan horse of disease, and during her few years as a cook in the city, she had infected dozens and killed at least three as barbaric as it sounds to us today. The department of Health at the time felt that if she couldn't be cured
She had to be kept, but it wasn't all darkness and isolation for Mary during her can stay on North Brother Island, the hospital staff there actually gave her a job in the onsite lab it paid well to the gave her. while cottage outside the main building and every now, and then she was even allowed to go into the city, the shop and sealed friends. They say she read a lot in her spare time. mary- had a stroke in eighteen, thirty, two, a delivery may found her on the floor of her cottage unable to get up, so she was moved into the hospital and taken care of their. She lived another six years before passing away in November of nineteen thirty eight. She was just sixty nine years old,
The threat of infectious disease will always horrifies. The fear is similar to being in a crowded room and some shouting that there is an invisible killer among the people. Their panic and chaos would take over in a heartbeat and every single person would become. George could shoving their way to the door without a second thought for the others around them. Like that ancient fortress of for our bodies are under siege every day by invisible forces, and if we ever need proof of that, we need it further than marry Malin, Doktor Josephine, bakers, boss, a man Walter Benzel referred to me. we as a living fever factory, she just didn't know it You dig around the internet enough you're, probably going to read that the staff of the hospital performed an autopsy unmarried body after she died. Those stories
that the medical examiner removed her gallbladder and found it to be teeming with the bacteria that causes typhoid fever. But, according to George Sober himself, though, stories are lies In an article written a year after her death for the bullets of the New York Academy of Medicine, Soper explicitly wrote, there was no autopsy, there is barely even a funeral Super records that only nine people attended her services at Saint Luke's, and none of them were staff from hospital. After a tragic low life. Mary Mallon received an equally tragic and lonely, send off. He doesn't come out and say it, but there is a sadness in between Sobers words to him. She was remarkable For decades after Mary was used as the literal poster child for infectious disease, they called her typhoid, Mary Ann cartoons would usually show her cooking a meal
In one of the better known examples, Mary is sprinkling little skulls into a frying pan, thanks to her the world hey more aware of how careful we need to be about the food we put in our bodies and who prepares it. Her story isn't without flaws, though there are deep ethical questions about the way the higher situation was handled somehow in nineteen o seven, the forest captivity isolation of a human being was presented to the public as a good idea. Mary, though, had a different opinion. She claimed it was discrimination, was only treated this way because she was irish and lower class before her death in nineteen thirty eight another four hundred asymptomatic patients were discovered in New York City, but none of them were forcibly confined like Mary. Judith walls or love it, professor of medical history at the University of Wisconsin, presents the best balance. I've read on this topic. Wherever we position ourselves.
She writes as individuals and ass a society. We must come to terms with the fundamental issue that, whether we think of them as guilty or innocent people who seem healthy, can indeed Harry Disease and, under some conditions, may menace the health of those around them optimally. We search for responses that our humane to the sufferers and, at the same time protect those who are still healthy. I'm not saying it's an easy topic to nail down on one hand: if a contagious plague broke out in our community,
None of us would fight for our families ability to stay away from those who were infected. On the other hand, though, all of those patients deserve to be treated humanely. At the end of the day. It's all hypothetical. For most of us. We don't have to make those choices right now, but Mary lived them each and every day she fought for her freedom and lost sure. Some people think the authorities did the right thing, but others disagree. What they can all agree on, I suppose, is that people were afraid and we still are nearly a century later, with bacteria adapting to resist modern, Anti
I in and each season of the flu. Seemingly worse than the last, it's difficult not to ask the same hypothetical questions. George Sober and Mary Malin were forced to face. What would you deserve if you were sick? What would you deserve if you weren't and wanted to keep it that way? The answers to those two questions stand on opposite sides of the debate and both of them have valid points. It might be overly optimistic of me, but let's hope we never have to pick sides
Mary now, instead most of her twenty six years of captivity living on North Brother Island in the middle of the EAST River, it's easy to think of that place as a disposable prop in a larger story. But what most people don't know is just how tragic of a past that island actually has if you'll join me want to give you a bit tour of that dark place. That was so much more than just a prison for Typhoid Mary, stick around after the break to learn more. Europeans have been visiting New York City for almost five hundred years. Of course, in fifteen twenty four, there was no city. And the places we know today. A Staten Island, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn were all
habited by the native american tribe, known as the Algonquin, but not North Brother Island effect. Even though the Dutch laid claim to the small twenty acre island way back in sixteen slash, fourteen, no one actually inhabited the place until one thousand eight hundred and eighty five that's when Riverside Hospital, Mary Mallon, unwanted home was built as a way of isolate. And treating people suffering from smallpox. Then, in June of nineteen o four tragedy struck. Over thirteen hundred members of a local church climbed on board the General slogan aside, wheels. seemed that had been operating in the EAST River for a little over a decade, they boarded the ship on June, fifteenth the plans to travel to a picnic site known as locust growth, but they never made it.
A fire broke out in the lamp room and quickly spread throughout the ship. The captain called his crew to action, but there was nothing they can do all of the fire hoses in life. Preservers had been left unchecked in the sun for years and just fell apart in their hands. They were trapped on a burning ship in the middle of a river. The ship finally came to a stop just off the coast of North Brother Island, but it was too late. Over one thousand, passengers were dead, the biggest loss of human lives in the history of New York City.
Judy that would stay on the records until September. Eleventh two thousand one hundreds of bodies washed up on the shore of the island and while they were eventually collected and given a proper burial, some people think they left bit of themselves behind a darkness that has haunted the island ever since and they point to the decades the followed as Proof Riverside Hospital continued to play host to the sick. Although over the years that sickness of the moment always seem to change, smallpox gave way to typhoid fever and then tuberculosis may even built a brand new wing for those TB patients, but an antibiotic was discovered almost immediately after the hospital closed. The building was briefly used as college housing for war to veterans taking classes at local schools, but by the early nineteenth fifties, every one was gone:
There was an attempt to use the island as rehab centre for troubled youth in the early sixties, but even that seems to have failed to day. The island is home to wildlife, empty buildings and, according to some, ghosts of the past visitors to the island have reported unusual experiences that left them feeling unsettled and afraid some have heard, voices or felt invisible hands touch them ass. They walked the halls of the old buildings, others have seen shadows the move or clouds of unnatural missed its enough to keep most people away, Mary now it seems, was a woman of the islands Green
you of Ireland and the bustle of New York City contrast starkly with her final years on that much darker patch of land. I can't help but assume she was haunted by all sorts of demons, most I'm sure or personal. Her anger and frustration. Her loneliness and fear, but perhaps a few of them were already there before she arrived, and if the stories are true, it never left. This episode of war was written and produced by me, Erin Monkey, with music by job losses, and research help from our set Crockett and Karl Nellis. If
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Transcript generated on 2022-03-12.