Mary Mallon was born in Ireland on September 23, 1869 and emigrated to America around the age of fifteen. It was usual for female Irish immigrants to enter domestic service, but Mary’s ability in the kitchen not only enabled her to work as a cook, but also earned her higher wages than the majority of domestic servants.
Between 1900 and 1906, Mary was employed in around seven different establishments, but wherever she worked, occupants started to fall ill….
All those who treated were found to be suffering from typhoid fever; an illness caused by a strain of salmonella (salmonella typhi) found in human waste, which could be transmitted through ingesting infected food or water. The symptoms include fever, and various unpleasant toilet-related problems, and the disease was more than capable of being fatal.
After members of one family and their staff fell ill after staying at a rented home where Mallon was working, the house owner employed the services of Dr. George Soper, an expert in this particular disease, and he soon began to unravel the unpleasant pattern of events. His suspicion was aroused because typhoid normally only occurred in areas where poverty and unsanitary conditions prevailed; but Soper soon found example after example of people either in or working for more well-to-do families being affected.
Soper’s investigation uncovered one common denominator: Mary Mallon.
She wasn’t an easy person to find... she never left a forwarding address when she changed jobs. But Soper tracked her down and went to interview the clearly unimpressed Irishwoman, who replied to his suggestion with a torrent of abuse and greeted his request for a stool sample with a carving fork!
Unsurprisingly Soper beat a fairly hasty retreat.
Notwithstanding the fact that being asked for a stool sample by a stranger is hardly an everyday occurrence (it’s never happened to me before), Mary Mallon was (outwardly at least) fit and well, and certainly didn’t display any symptoms of typhoid. A second attempt to persuade Mary to part with a sample failed miserably, and Soper therefore asked the New York City Health Department to intervene.
In scenes that would not look out of place in a Mack Sennett two-reeler, Mallon was again armed with her trusty fork when the authorities arrived. Mallon somehow managed to evade five police officers and flee her home, before being tracked down (some five hours later) to a closet in a neighbouring property.
This is the account of what happened next: “She came out fighting and swearing, both of which she could do with appalling efficiency and vigour. I made another effort to talk to her sensibly and asked her again to let me have the specimens, but it was of no use. By that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her, when she had done nothing wrong. She knew she had never had typhoid fever; she was maniacal in her integrity. There was nothing I could do but take her with us. The policemen lifted her into the ambulance and I literally sat on her all the way to the hospital; it was like being in a cage with an angry lion.”
The required samples were apparently taken by force (not a pleasant image…), and the results revealed typhoid bacteria in her stools. The State offered to pay for the surgical removal of the gallbladder (Mallon refused), and on the basis that she showed no inclination to stop working as a cook, “public health enemy no.1” was placed under house arrest – effectively imprisoned without trial.
“I never had typhoid in my life, and have always been healthy. Why should I be banished like a leper and compelled to live in solitary confinement with only a dog for a companion?” Mallon was reported as saying.
After being held for two years (during which time she had worked as a hospital laundress), Mary Mallon sued the health department. She had been getting stool samples routinely (and privately) tested, and as the results kept coming back negative, she clearly felt it was time for positive action: “This contention that I am a perpetual menace in the spread of typhoid germs is not true. My own doctors say I have no typhoid germs. I am an innocent human being. I have committed no crime and I am treated like an outcast -- a criminal. It is unjust, outrageous, uncivilized. It seems incredible that in a Christian community a defenceless woman can be treated in this manner.”
To be a “healthy carrier” was highly uncommon. The chances are that Mary Mallon had suffered a fairly minor bout of typhoid fever, something akin to flu, and she genuinely did not realise (and hence refused to believe) she could be a carrier, and have been responsible for the illness – and at least one death – that she had undoubtedly caused.
Her appeal was unsuccessful, but the following year, she was offered the chance of freedom, in return for signing an affidavit stating she would never again work as a cook, and would do all she hygienically could to protect others from infection.
Whilst she did try other jobs, Mallon returned to cooking, which understandably led some to think she deliberately intended to pass on the disease. In early 1915, twenty-five people fell ill at Sloane Maternity Hospital (two of which subsequently died); and it didn’t take long for the recently hired cook Mrs Brown to be revealed as Mary Mallon… the pseudonym simply adding to the appearance of guilt.
On this day, one hundred years ago, Mary Mallon was dispatched back to the same isolated cottage, where she would spend the rest of her life. Seemingly she was able to work within the adjoining hospital, but in 1932 she suffered a stroke that left her paralysed. Her final six years were spent in the hospital’s children’s ward, where she died in November 1938.
Mary Mallon is now far better known as “Typhoid Mary”. Was she persecuted? Was there prejudice against her because of her nationality? Her sex? Her attitude? Did she knowingly infect others with typhoid? Or perhaps she was genuinely unaware... but wanted to gain some sort of perverse revenge on the authorities who had taken away her liberty?
I certainly wouldn’t profess to know. Popular opinion is that “Typhoid Mary” was a malicious woman; but whatever the truth, it is a remarkable story where there were a significant number of very definite victims... and perhaps one slightly less obvious?
Recently, a lot of my spare time has been taken up with the research, preparation and compilation of a couple of books that I intend to self-publish, try and sell, and donate any profits to charity. Self-publishing is a great way to create something tangible from your ideas and work, but as far as generating sales is concerned, it’s far from ideal because on-line ordering comes with an additional postage cost that can make potential buyers/readers have second thoughts.
I’ve lost count of the numbers of books I’ve produced in this way; and I’ve also lost count of how much my hobby has cost me over the years, but for me writing is about much more than making money (which is perhaps just as well). I get a lot of enjoyment from gathering together all the relevant facts and seeing how words develop into pages, chapters and ultimately a book that someone somewhere might want to read.
But I get the most pleasure from people taking the time not only to read my work, but also letting me know what they thought – anything from a passing comment to a full review. I’ve always struggled with the concept of people spending their money to buy something I had written; and to receive positive feedback is genuinely humbling.
Quite a few readers have commented on my writing “style”. It’s not something I’ve consciously tried to create… I find writing in a relaxed, almost chatty way comes naturally, as do the occasional asides. In many ways, I find it easier to put my thoughts and ideas down on paper than speaking them out loud; and I certainly think I’m funnier on paper than in real life (as those who saw my stand-up debut will testify…). Not necessarily “funny”… just “funnier” – always happy to hide behind a comparative!
Anyway, the two books I’m working on are a look back at Doctor Who during the mid- to late-70s, to review some of the stories, to look back at the social change of the time (albeit not ridiculously deeply), and to at least ask the question why, apart from the companions, were there so very few female characters in the series…?
The second book concerns my top ten favourite moments in sport… at least it was supposed to be ten. It’s now twelve!
Each chapter will tell the story of the moment in question, including some background and some quotes from the time and in retrospect. Five of my selections tell of individual brilliance, but the other seven relate to team performances; and in these cases, I have built the chapter around someone who was in some way instrumental in success being achieved.
Here is the list (in date order):
1908 - Ray Ewry (Athletics)
1964 - Cassius Clay (Boxing)
1964 - Ann Packer (Athletics)
1968 - Bob Beamon (Athletics)
1971 - David Hughes (Cricket)
1976 - Nadia Comaneci (Gymnastics)
1980 - Mike Eruzione (Ice Hockey)
1981 - Ian Botham (Cricket)
1984 - John Byrne (Football)
1988 - Imran Sherwani (Hockey)
1999 - Danny Lee (Rugby League)
2012 - Kate Richardson-Walsh (Hockey)
I’m sure you’ll instantly recognise some of the names, but you may not be familiar with one or two. Hopefully you soon will be!
I have to say I’m really excited about this book. Not just because I think there are some great stories surrounding these memorable moments, but that two of those involved have agreed to contribute (viz. Ann Packer and Imran Sherwani). Ann (now Ann Brightwell) won the 800m gold at Tokyo in 1964. If you’ve never seen the race before, you should… it’s incredible. I don’t really have “heroes”, but Ann is very close to the top of the list as regards people I admire. I’m so excited at the prospect of speaking to her….
Imran scored two goals in the final of the 1988 Olympic Hockey tournament in Seoul. A truly amazing day that I can’t wait to relive with someone who was actually there…
So I’ve still got a bit of work to do before the book is finished and available to buy. I would certainly appreciate any ideas as regards a possible sport-related charity for this book. I’m conscious that I’m always telling the same people about my books, to the extent that many have probably “unfollowed” me by now. But if you have any ideas that might give me the opportunity to promote to a wider audience, and make just a small difference, please drop me a line.
After spending a year trying to work my way through a series of challenges for charity, I am now preparing myself for another new experience: a quiz show audition.
Straight after work tomorrow, I will be taking my “face for radio” up the A19 for a 5:30pm appointment with representatives of BBC’s Mastermind for what has been described as “an informal chat and a general knowledge test”.
If I’m being completely honest, the experience won’t be entirely “new” because, rather embarrassingly, I did audition for Bullseye back in… actually I can’t remember the exact year, but it would have been around 1985. I think the lad I was partnering was called Tony (this level of recall doesn’t bode well for tomorrow!); he was the dart player and I was therefore supposed to be the brains of the outfit.
We travelled to Darlington to some hotel (whose name perhaps unsurprisingly escapes me!), for a few questions and a couple of throws as a free standing dartboard that had been set up in front of a wall covered in what looked very expensive wallpaper. What could possibly go wrong?!
Well it was all a bit of a farce really. Tony threw well; I got almost all my questions correct, and we were then summarily discarded in favour of a couple who between them gave a string of wrong answers, and absolutely peppered the red flock wallpaper….
Foolishly I thought the idea was to be reasonably proficient at one or maybe even both of the show’s disciplines—let’s check that with Bully… d-i-s-c-i-p-l-i-n-e-s… “Mooooooo”. That’s correct; you’ve won £30—how wrong was I?!
There was no bitterness involved, but I couldn’t watch the show in which Charlie Cairoli and his faithful dart-throwing assistant actually appeared; I just hope that Tony Green was told to take a couple of paces back when a certain old lady with a purple rise approached the oche: “Nice and steady now. In your own time… Jesus! What the f*** was that?!!”
That, my friend, was what happens when your producers want to hang on to the speedboat….
All of which brings us back to tomorrow. I must admit I’m not particularly nervous (well not yet). I applied with no expectation of even receiving a call, let alone getting past the first audition. And let’s face it, I could be asked twenty questions and know some, all, or absolutely none; but if I can remember the ones I do happen to know, and make reasonable guesses at the ones I don’t, then I’ll be happy, whatever the outcome.
For the record, I’ve decided my “specialist subject” would be the astronaut Virgil Grissom, so if I do get dumped tomorrow, please feel free to Google him and send through a couple of questions, so I can try and imagine just what it might have been like to face ritual public humiliation.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
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