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In the quasi-military argot of the corps, Wertenbaker held the rank of “passed assistant surgeon,” meaning he was a midlevel officer who had passed the service’s famously rigorous examination for promotion. He told the mayor of Charlotte that all four patients had smallpox. The quarantined inmates would almost certainly develop the disease, too. ” But in an old man smallpox was especially cruel. Perkins died in the pesthouse ten days later. 8 The citizens of Charlotte had dodged a bullet, Wertenbaker announced in a bulletin issued by the state board of health to drum up support for vaccination.

The tenement dwellers of All Nations Block did not choose their neighbors. ”1 The men of the West Sixty-eighth Street police station knew the block and its ways well. The policemen came when the neighbors brawled, when jewelry went missing in an apartment by the park, or when the Irish boys of the All Nations Gang got too rough with the Chinese laundryman on West End Avenue. The police came once again on the night of November 28. ”), had hurled himself through a fourth-floor window and fell, in a cascade of glass, to, or rather through, the ground below.

A common, cautionary theme pervades this accumulating archive of smallpox narratives: “The pestilence that walketh in darkness” travels unseen in the bodies of the strangers and outliers who move among us. 17 At the end of the nineteenth century, smallpox still reigned as the most infamous and loathsome of infectious diseases. Since the 1870s, serious epidemics of smallpox had grown relatively uncommon in the United States, but that did not lessen the fears attached to the disease. Nor did the fact that Americans of the period were far more likely to fall ill or die from diphtheria, influenza, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, or consumption.

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