Friday Flashback #186

This week — much to some Westporters’ dismay — the New York Times shined a spotlight on our town’s role in, and reaction to, the coronavirus crisis.

On September 8, 1832, the Springfield Journal took note of a cholera epidemic here.

Of course, there was no “Westport” yet — it would be 3 years before we broke away from Fairfield, Norwalk and Wilton.

I have no idea why a newspaper in Illinois would take note of what was happening here. But here’s how they reported it.

Worth noting, nearly 190 years later:

  • Then, as now, people who were able to left New York for the suburbs
  • Quarantines worked
  • Newspaper writing was a lot different then, but …
  • Just like today, mistakes crept in. “Newark” in the last sentence should be “Norwalk.” The river referred to is the Saugatuck.

I have no idea how very alert “06880” reader Mary Gai found this. But it’s important proof that we are not the first generation to face a crisis like this.

In 1832, New York’s population was 250,000. The cholera epidemic killed 3,515. In today’s city of 8 million, the equivalent death toll would pass 100,000. For more on that long-forgotten epidemic, click here.

PS: The Norwalk Gazette is long gone. But the Springfield Journal  — now the State Journal-Register — is still around. It calls itself “the oldest newspaper in Illinois.”

PPS: Did Abraham Lincoln read this story? Probably not. He moved to Springfield in 1837.

13 responses to “Friday Flashback #186

  1. J.E.Büttner

    Just to clear things, Westport didn’t break away from Fairfield, Norwalk and Wilton! That’s historically wrong.

    The Town of Westport was officially incorporated on May 28, 1835, with lands from Fairfield, Weston and Norwalk. Daniel Nash led 130 people of Westport in the petitioning of the Town of Fairfield for Westport’s incorporation. The driving force behind the petition was to assist their seaport’s economic viability that was being undermined by neighboring towns’ seaports.

    Just saying!

  2. Susan Iseman

    Nice find, Mary! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Seth Goltzer

    Cholera is caused by poor sanitation . It’s making a comeback in the large homeless populations that are now tolerated in some cities. Once again, cleanliness is number one.

  4. In that era newspapers filled their pages with reprinted news fro other papers. There were no wire services. There was a lot of chain migration from Connecticut through Ohio to Indiana, Illinois, and beyond after the Revolution and well into the 1840’s, so an Illinois newspaper would have reason to expect that some of its readers had Connecticut connections.

    • Wendy Cusick

      That’s why there’s a Norwalk, Ohio. Many from Norwalk, Connecticut incorporated that town.

      • And why Wooster Ohio and its eponymous college are named for the hero of the Battle of Ridgefield.

        • Who knew? (Obviously, you both did!)

        • Seth Goltzer

          The area of Norwalk , Ohio is known as the Firelands. They were the Western end of Ct , and was established as restitution for local Citizens that lost their homes when the British burned them during the Revolution. They were established in 1792.

  5. Christian Hunter

    While passing the time, don’t forget to checkout my new, serialized story entitled Social Distancing, by Christian Hunter (Author of The Regular). It’s about the search for love on an age of a pandemic. Part One, Ventilators and Hookups, is available all weekend FREE on Amazon, and I will add a few pages each week or so.

  6. I’ve been studying local history since forever. It really does help me in my thirst for knowledge about antique houses. Taking a medical diagnosis of cholera that is almost 200 years old is folly. It a could have been anything. What I find interesting is that these cases were on the banks of the Saugatuck River at the bottom of a huge hill. Those Germs have weight. Can you picture them bouncing down the hill going faster and faster past hosts until they reached the level land of the water? The Saugatuck bridge was washed away Wednesday night March 11 after a heavy rain. Perhaps they used the ferry full time for awhile. The news was picked up about these two events all over the country. My website has all sorts of historic stuff. Distract and enjoy

    • Seth Goltzer

      Makes sense that the only reported cases were by the River. Back then, raw sewage was common n rivers. Even in modern times we here of sewage leaks. The danger is the associated Bacteria that cause Cholera and Typhus. Back in the 1830s there was a large Pond in lower Manhattan andCholera outbreaks were very common, especially in warm weather, as in September. Great find and a little peak into our history.

  7. March 11 1822 is when the bridge washed away. Thanks for the clarification on Cholera and Typhus. I love the little peaks into our history!!

  8. Luisa Francoeur

    To understand how Cholera was transmitted, read The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. It is not only timely but fascinating on its own merits and reads, at times, like a suspenseful mystery. It is also a window into epidemiology.