Horrors And Heroics

As yellow fever gripped the city, devastating its population (an estimated 25,000 fled, thousands more died), The Appeal steadfastly published a heart-wrenching diary. Even as it did, its staff withered to a single editor working 16 hours a day who was aided by volunteers.

August 15, 1878

Developed yesterday to the extent of twenty-two new cases, but only two deaths were reported. The news found early and ready dissemination, and a panic was the result. The trains on the Charleston and Louisville railroads, as a result, went out crowded, and we understand every seat and berth has been taken on the trains on both roads for the next two days. Business is in great part suspended, and everyone that can has left or will leave before the week has ended. The board of health has isolated the infected district, and literally saturated the buildings, streets and alleys with disinfectants. Though the type of disease is virulent, and does not readily yield to treatment, the sanitary officials are not without hope of mitigating its severity, if they do not overcome it.

September 3, 1878

There is now no part of the corporate limits of the city not thoroughly infected with the fever poison. All Sunday and yesterday, hearses followed each other at a trot to the cemetery, unattended by any but the hearse drivers. Even this was not fast enough and corpses accumulated in various parts of the city until the fearful stench became alarmingly offensive.

September 20, 1878

The following is a copy of a telegram sent to New York to be read at Booth’s Theater on the 21st: “Deaths to date, 2250; number of sick now, about 3000; average deaths, 60 percent of the sick. We are feeding 10,000 persons sick and destitute, in camps in the city. Fifteen volunteer physicians have died, 20 others are ill. A great many nurses have died. We are praying for frost; it is our only hope. A thousand thanks to the good people of New York for their kind aid.”

October 29, 1878

To the citizens of Memphis,

The epidemic is over. The Board of Health officially declares it so, and invites absentees to return. Business doubtless will be fully resumed by the end of the week and by November we will, we have reason to hope, be on the full tide to prosperity again. … The claims of life are so many and so pressing that little time can be spared for the luxury of indulging in woe. The living claim the need of our instant attention. Happy for us that it is so. Were it otherwise, grief would be a calamity only surpassed by the plague in which it had its origins.

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