The Black Death

5/23/16
The Black Death

The Black Death was long regarded as an old world disease, stalking its way through the likes of Europe but never venturing across the vast oceans. That would change with the constant back and forth voyages enabling rats and their partners in crime, the fleas to hitch rides to the new world. The Bubonic Plague would come to America in the late 1800’s. It would eventually come to the port city of New Orleans. In June of 1914, a 49 year old sailor presented with troubling symptoms, symptoms characteristic of the plague. He was immediately isolated at Charity Hospital, where he eventually died alone. In July the city launched an aggressive preemptive rat­-trapping campaign and within days, they caught an infected rat. Dread fell over New Orleans as more cases followed. Diagnosis of the plague came at a pace of one per every three days for the rest of the summer. It peaked in August of that year. The city stepped up its control efforts in an attempt to prevent the full fury of the disease from coming down on the city in the way it had decimated parts of Europe in the past. Victims were placed in isolation under armed guard and treated with powerful anti­-plague serum that helped save lives. Trapping continued as did the hunt for nests and breeding grounds. Fumigation and poison were employed. Detailed records were kept on sick rats and the area in which they were found was subjected to fumigation, burning, and in some cases a complete leveling. In 1915 the city ordered all garbage cans closed and prevented the raising of farm animals within city limits. The rat population dropped. By the late 1920’s New Orleans was declared free of the plague. The city had been so effective in its campaign that it became a model for other cities to follow. The plague had come but disaster was thwarted and the city saved from decimation.

-Sandy
Crescent City Historic Tours