Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010

Memphis Yellow Fever

In 1878, thousands of refugees fled Cuba during the tail end of the Ten Years' War for independence from Spain — and with them they carried yellow fever. Despite government efforts, including the Quarantine Act, which gave the Marine Hospital Service authority to quarantine infected ships, New Orleans quickly fell victim to a yellow-fever epidemic. Several hundred miles north along the Mississippi River, Memphis braced for the disease. City officials blocked all cargo from New Orleans, but the business community pressured them into relenting. Not a good decision: by the end of the year, 5,000 people had died in Memphis alone. In total, the Mississippi Valley counted 20,000 deaths.