The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History - Molly Caldwell Crosby (2006)

Part II. Memphis, 1878

Chapter 5. The Destroying Angel

Dr. William Armstrong steered his carriage toward Poplar to St. Mary’s Cathedral—he heard the echo of hooves on stamped earth, the rattle of chains and buckles, the horse’s bit the accompanying percussion.

Armstrong had been appointed by Dr. Mitchell to oversee the cathedral district near his office on Alabama Street. Though he was used to seeing patients in his office with its cloth-covered rocker and red fainting chair, he had spent very little time there in the past weeks. Healthy physicians were few and far between. Paid ten dollars a day, local doctors and those who came from elsewhere could not make it from one home to the next without being stopped by crowds in the street begging for help. The City Hospital had long since filled its 125 beds, and the doctors now reverted to the days of house calls and saddlebags. Few people would have chosen the hospital over their homes anyway. In the 1870s, hospitalswere notorious for spreading disease more often than curing it. People even opted to have surgery performed at home, rather than risk infection in an operating room. Hospitals were essentially for the indigent who could not afford private physicians.

Armstrong continued to live in his own home, but many physicians of the Howard Association stayed at the Peabody Hotel, the only hotel to keep its doors open during the epidemic. After breakfast at the hotel, usually nothing more than bacon, milk and coffee, a doctor was assigned to his particular district, where as many as twenty calls would be waiting as soon as he arrived. The physicians, wearing Howard Association armbands, loaded mule carts full of provisions. The doctors carried small leather cases that held knives, scalpels, a spring-loaded bleeding lancet and a pocket watch to take the patient’s pulse. With no drugstores open, they carried leaden glass bottles of quinine and arsenic tonic for the fever, as well as vials of ethanol, morphine, caffeine and iodine. They also carried extra handkerchiefs. To identify black vomit, doctors would hold a soiled linen cloth up to the sun and watch the red edge of blood seep from the center like a crimson-colored eclipse.

Physicians reported seeing as many as 100 to 150 patients daily. Their treatments ranged from the practical to the truly bizarre, though all were remarkably similar in their ineffective-ness. Castor oil was given to force the kidneys and intestines to function once again. Sponges soaked in iced whiskey and champagne were used to bring down fevers. Laudanum was prescribed for pain. Citizens also self-medicated—gin sales were higher than ever when a rumor circulated that gin could ward off yellow fever. A doctor was quoted in the Family Physician for his treatment of the fever: The patient should sit naked, covered in blankets, on a split-cane, open-bottomed chair above a saucer of burning rum until the vapors caused the patient to faint and fall off the seat.

Dr. Robert Mitchell, however, gave his Howard doctors a specific protocol for treatment. Calomel, an irritant drug, was given to empty the bowels, followed by a mustard footbath and perspiration for twelve to sixteen hours. A sponge bath of whiskey and water followed until the temperature dropped below 102 degrees. Two ten-grain doses of quinine were given, and the patient was to be kept completely quiet—no visitors. Once the fever subsided, a bland diet of milk, limewater or chicken broth followed. No solids for ten days, nor could the patient sit up. Bedpans would be used in the meantime. Hopefully, a healthy family member or nurse could be found to empty them.

As is often the case in heroic medicine, the treatment for yellow fever could be as bad as the symptoms themselves. Calomel is mercury based and could cause mercury poisoning if given in the wrong doses or not followed with a saline enema to flush the remaining mercury from the body. And quinine, a derivative of the South American cinchona tree, the fever tree, had long been used as a treatment. Unknown to the doctors at that time, quinine is toxic to many bacteria and plasmodium, like in the case of malaria, but has no effect on a virus like yellow fever. Instead, given in high doses, quinine could produce many of the same symptoms as yellow fever: delirium, photosensitivity and nausea.

Though Mitchell desperately needed doctors, he was finally forced to send someone to the train station to turn away volunteers from the North. They did not survive in Memphis but for a few days before becoming patients themselves. The burden was too much.

At night, the physicians gathered to compare notes from the day and perform autopsies in search of clues to the epidemic. The liver, it was recorded, might be the color of boxwood, while the spleen was enlarged and kidneys completely congested. One doctor described the bodies of the freshly dead, which might run temperatures as high as 110 degrees, as having blood that steamed and organs that felt as though dipped in boiling water.

Yellow fever, unlike any other disease, carried a mysterious horror to it. Its attack was acute and quick, its duration painful. In addition to its gruesome symptoms, the fever could cause lacerations and bruises on the skin to openly bleed. Pregnant women spontaneously miscarried. In a testament to the ignorance toward both the fever and women’s health, one man wrote that the fever caused women well past their childbearing years to suddenly begin menstruating again. In reality, the hemorrhagic fever led to uterine bleeding just as it did all other types of internal and external hemorrhaging. For the doctors and nurses, the fever’s most disturbing symptom must have been the mental decline. In mild cases, it surfaced as irritability and inability to stay still. In severe cases, it bordered on maniacal. Patients ran yellow eyed and delirious into the streets, screamed, thrashed and had to be physically restrained.

William James Armstrong, a thirty-nine-year-old physician, had moved his practice from the country to Memphis in 1873, only a few months before that yellow fever epidemic. New to Memphis, he sent his family away and chose to stay behind in the city during the 1873 epidemic hoping to earn the respect of friends and colleagues. After all, he had a wife and children who depended on his fledgling practice. As a profession in the mid-nineteenth century, medicine was not a lucrative one, nor a highly respected one. In fact, for an educated man with connections, choosing medicine was often seen as throwing away his future. No standard schooling or licensing was required. Most American doctors relied not on science, but on the ability to please patients. In order to build a practice, they established personal, long-standing relationships with families, offering personal advice and treating husbands, wives, children and babies. He might be called in during a complicated childbirth, but even that was handled primarily by midwives and women family members. Physicians in the 1870s had to find a way to remain relevant or necessary to everyday life. When yellow fever struck in 1878, Armstrong again decided to stay in Memphis, sending his wife, Lula, and their eight children to Columbia, Tennessee.

Will Armstrong had a heavy, dark beard and a tender nature. He had married his bride on her sixteenth birthday in the midst of the Civil War, he played the violin and he called his youngest daughter, only a few weeks old, his “dear little pig.” As a physician, Armstrong must have seemed gentle, even a little timid.

Though Armstrong had served in earlier epidemics, this one far exceeded the previous ones. He had already lost many friends and acquaintances and feared sending boxes of food, clothes or money from the poisoned city to his family. He wrote to his wife that “the fever is assuming a most fearful form and no signs of abatement. It is not yellow fever such as I treated in 1873. Surely the United States never witnessed such a thing before.”

Many doctors like Armstrong had served as physicians or surgeons during the Civil War, but despite the horror of that war, the yellow fever epidemic seemed much worse. The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, in 1878, reported about yellow fever: “It required a much higher order of courage than to risk life on the battlefield, where patriotism, the excitement of conflict and the contagious enthusiasm of masses are a stimulus to noble deeds: these are wanting to the physician who treads wearily along the path marked out by disease and suffering . . . the moanings that ring in his ears are never drowned out by shouts of victory and triumph, and he battles with a foe insidious and unseen till the blow is struck that lays low the victim.”

As a Howard doctor, Armstrong spent all of his time on house calls. It was lonely and frightful work, for doctors never knew what they might find when they returned to a house—walls stained with black vomit, delirium, corpses, or worse, patients barely alive, alone and completely lucid. In letters to his wife, Armstrong described the despair settling on him: “I feel sometimes as if my hands were crossed and tied and that I am good for nothing, death coming in upon the sick in spite of all that I can do.

“I never was in all my life,” wrote Armstrong, “so full of sympathy and sorrow for suffering humanity . . . God grant that I may be able to administer to the sick throughout.”

In September, Armstrong went to visit a friend known as Old Sol (Dr. Soloman P. Green), who lived across the street from St. Mary’s. Green had awakened during the night feverish, alone and terrified, and no one heard his cries for help. If taken ill in the night, the doctors knew all too well that no one would find them in their homes. They knew to expect the aches of an approaching fever, the ravaging thirst, the mental decline. And the physicians knew how their bodies, like the dozens they saw each day, would be found as though poached from the inside out. The thought, alone in one’s bedroom long after midnight, would certainly terrify the most stoic doctor. As Old Sol told the story to Armstrong the next morning, he wept like a child. “I could do nothing but sympathize,” wrote Armstrong.

The sisters at St. Mary’s had already promised to find Dr. Armstrong and care for him should he fall feverish alone in the night.

As days followed nights, there was no measure of time passing, only a blurred sense of sickness and death, of too many cries for help and too few doctors and nurses. Only one change was noticeable among the doctors: the decrease in their numbers.

The cacophony of moans and cries from the ill continued in the halls of St. Mary’s. There were not enough sisters to attend, and certainly too few doctors, so only half of the cries went answered. Exhausted, the sisters promised to return to dying patients. More than once, they returned too late or the nuns themselves were found collapsed and feverish in the rooms of patients.

On the last day of August, Will Armstrong was called to St. Mary’s on an urgent request. Their dean, George Harris, was down with the fever. He had been without a physician for ten hours, so Constance called for Reverend Charles Parsons to help attend to the dean. When possible, the rules of propriety remained: Male nurses were found for male patients and females for females. Constance told Parsons what to do, how to nurse the feverish patient and together, they waited for Dr. Armstrong. Parsons would also need to take over Harris’s duties, for now the nuns would be without their priest.

It was six months since Charles Parsons had stood in full uniform on the eve of Mardi Gras and preached to his Chickasaw Guards; never could he have known he would so soon be in that valley of death he had described, and never could he have foreseen what a hellish place it would be. Parsons had spent every day, sunup to sundown, and well into the night, ministering to the fever victims. Some were parishioners, many were strangers. The service he provided most often was the reading of the last rites, wearing his deep purple stole stitched with a white lily and green leaves, a cross ascending from the center.

Dr. Armstrong fastened his carriage to the post outside St. Mary’s and hurried inside where Constance waited for him. He felt George Harris’s feverish skin and studied the languid, depressed countenance of the dean. Armstrong gave the grave news to them that Harris had the fever. He reminded them that it could be a light case, but in a letter he later wrote, “Do not expect to see Dean Harris alive. I worked with him hard last night.” Harris would, in fact, recover after a long battle with the fever.

Armstrong quickly packed up his medical case and said good-bye to Constance and Parsons, promising that he would return later. For a moment the three of them stood there together—one who nursed, one who doctored and one who delivered the souls from this purgatorial place.

Charles Parsons found a quiet room and sat down to write a letter to his bishop and friend, Charles Quintard. Sunlight washed the floors of the convent. It was the first day of September, the choking heat showed no signs of relenting, and the death toll rose higher each day. “People constantly send to us, saying, ‘Telegraph the situation.’ It is impossible. Go and turn the Destroying Angel loose upon a defenseless city; let him smite whom he will, young and old, rich and poor, the feeble and the strong, and as he will, silent, unseen, and unfelt, until his deadly blow is struck; give him for his dreadful harvest all the days and nights from the burning midsummer sun until the last heavy frosts, and then you can form some idea of what Memphis and all this Valley is . . .”

Parsons signed and ended the letter: “I am well, and strong, and hopeful, and I devoutly thank God that I can say that in every letter.”

A few years after moving to Memphis, Charles Parsons had remarried; his wife was the niece of Dean George Harris, and during the epidemic she lived with Mrs. Harris on the Annandale Plantationin Madison, Mississippi. In letters to his wife Margaret, Parsons likens the epidemic to the frontline of a battle, in which the firing never ceases. “I never thought I could be happy if you were absent from me but am thankful you are not with me now.”

Parsons wrote to Maggie every night of the epidemic, though few letters still exist. One such letter would be found over a century later, part of a package of waterlogged paperwork that survived a fire. It was the last letter he ever wrote: “One of your thoughts, my devoted wife, I know will be that I will have the Fever next . . . I am robust and regular in appetite and sleep, and all that good God Who, in His Infinite Mercy, gave us such a Blessing as you. Kiss my little ones for me. Speak courageous and cheering . . . And God will not forget your labour of love.”

The next morning, Charles Parsons awoke feverish. In a warm room, he received a visiting nun from St. Mary’s. He was smiling and in good spirits. The nun offered to fan him or hang mosquito netting, anything to make him more comfortable.

“No, no, I beg you will not; indeed, I could not let you so fatigue yourself.” The nun looked to the attending nurse who simply shrugged. “Let him have it his way; I never saw anyone so unselfish as he is.”

Charles Parsons never descended into the delirium that so often accompanied the disease, and in many cases, was a relief as a patient slipped away unaware of his own suffering or of the family he would leave behind. Parsons continued to talk of his wife Maggie and his “little ones.” He remained coherent until the end. In his final hour, he talked of having done his duty, then said he wanted to be taken away from this place. “Where do you wish to go?” he was asked. He signed himself with the cross and mumbled: “We receive this child into the Congregation of Christ’s flock and do sign him with the sign of the cross.”

On September 6, Reverend Charles Parsons died, and the sisterssaid, even to the end, he refused to allow any nurses or sisters to waste their time tending to him. He was buried the day following his death at Elmwood Cemetery, and as no clergy were present, Mr. John G. Lonsdale Jr., owner of the private cemetery lot, read the burial service.

The Appeal’s editor wrote about his death: “He prepared for it as for battle, and as on a battlefield . . . he fell at his post during duty.”

That same day, the Appeal, which now only had one editor and one printer left on staff, published another story: “A man on Poplar Street yesterday cowardly deserted his wife and little daughter, both of whom were ill with the fever; if he isn’t dead, somebody ought to kill him.”

When news of Charles Parsons’s death made national news, some thirty priests volunteered to come to Memphis. One was a twenty-six-year-old, idealistic reverend who had just finished services in Hoboken, New Jersey, when he heard of Parsons’s illness. A fragile man who had recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, Louis Schuyler was discouraged from going on what would certainly be a death mission, but he was adamant, even stubborn in his intentions: “God calls me. I am safe in His hands—He will do what is best for me.”

On the train to Memphis, Schuyler received word that Parsons had died. He arrived in Memphis on Sunday, September 8, one day after Charles Parsons was buried, and went directly to St. Mary’s to find Sister Constance and Sister Thecla; the nuns had been without a priest or services for a full week. He was struck with the news that both were down with the fever.

A sister at St. Mary’s found Constance resting on the sofa several days before; she was dictating letters and insisted that she was healthy. She had felt the chill come on that morning, but worked for another five hours settling matters, knowing that when she fell many more would follow in her footsteps from neglect and starvation. Constance kept all correspondence, distributed the money, managed what little provisions they had and gave orders to the nuns and nurses.

“It is only a slight headache,” Constance persisted when Dr. Armstrong arrived. “I have not the fever, it is only a bad headache; it will go off at sunset.” He pulled out his pocket watch to measure her sluggish pulse and stroked his hand against her burning face, then insisted that the nuns give her a cool bath and put her to bed. The sisters made up their finest mattress with fresh linens, but Constance asked for another bed. “It is the only one you have in the house, and if I have the fever, you will have to burn it.”

Within the hour, Sister Thecla returned from the deathbed of a patient. Pale and perspiring, she began to shake. “I am sorry, Sister,” she said calmly, “but I have the fever. Give me a cup of tea, and then I shall go to bed.”

Neither Constance nor Thecla knew of the other’s illness, though they lay in rooms next door to one another. Finally, when they kept asking to see the other, the nurses had to tell them the truth: The fever had struck them both and on the same day.

Sister Constance soon slipped into unconsciousness and remained so for most of her illness, waking at one point only to say, “I shall never get up from my bed.” By then, 200 new cases of the fever appeared each day in Memphis, and the sister attending Constance wrote, “All the world seemed passing away; the earth sinking from under our feet.”

As Dr. Armstrong left St. Mary’s late that evening, one of the sisters ran after him and handed him a note. He thanked her and walked out into the night. The carbolic acid dumped into the Gayoso Bayou had killed the fish, and their odor cloaked the neighborhood, burning his eyes. With the sun deep beneath the horizon, the air felt suffocating and the neighborhood deserted. In the distance, two blocks away, the towers and rooflines of the Victorian mansions of Adams Street could be seen like barbed etchings against the indigo sky. When Armstrong returned to his silent house, he lit the lamp and pulled the envelope from his pocket to find a note wrapped around two fifty-dollar bills: “An expression of the affection and gratitude of the sisters.” Armstrong sat down at his desk to write his wife, promising that should he survive the epidemic he would repay the sisters. “Sister Constance is dying tonight,” he wrote, “and I now think Sister Thecla will get well.”

All night the attending sister could hear the moans and delirium from Constance’s room. She heard her shout out “Hosanna,” and repeat it faintly through the night. At 7:00 the next morning, the toll of the church bell marked the hour. “At that clear sound, which she had always loved, whose call she had never refused to answer,” wrote the sister, “the moaning ceased; and at 10 o’clock a.m. her soul entered the Paradise.” The chapel was candlelit, the windows streaked with rain. Constance was robed in her habit with roses laid across her breast, a shock of beauty against the gloom. Reverend Louis Schuyler had arrived in Memphis just in time to read the services. Afterward, Constance was taken to Elmwood, where her body had to be held in a borrowed vault, as there were too many dead and not enough gravediggers.

Sister Thecla did recover, becoming a convalescent. Unlike any other disease, yellow fever’s hallmark is its cruel tendency to return after a period of brief recovery. When it did, as one doctor warned, it was time to order the coffin. Convalescents were under strict orders to remain in bed and quiet, but nurses and physicians usually hurried back to their duties. The vengeful fever would returnwith the most severe symptoms. Sister Thecla died one week later, after several days of pain and lucidity. An obituary for the two nuns read, “Of them may it be said that they were lovely in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”

Louis Schuyler returned to St. Mary’s after Constance’s funeral. He had come to Memphis to fill the vacancy left by dead priests, to offer his services to a congregation of dying nuns and fever patients. Schuyler delivered the news to Dean Harris, who was still recovering, that both Parsons and Constance were gone. “My work here is done,” he said, “the whole of Memphis was not worth those two lives.” Schuyler left him sobbing.

Schuyler kept no diary or letters, nor would he have had time to write. Or perhaps the terror was too much for the sensitive twenty-six-year-old to record on paper. Even when encouraged to begin slowly, Schuyler had insisted working directly in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the epidemic. He refused a room at the Peabody Hotel for a cot in the parlor of Dean Harris’s fever-ridden home. Schuyler was in Memphis only four days before the fever struck him. The beds at St. Mary’s were full, and Schuyler was taken to the Court Street Infirmary, which had been recently opened for the feverish nurses and physicians. He was visited by another reverend from St. Mary’s, but Schuyler was already wildly delirious. It may have been due to his delirious shouts and screams that Louis Schuyler was moved from his hospital room into the death alley still alive. Piles of corpses and raw pine coffins lay all around him waiting for the wagons, which could take days to arrive. A nurse followed Schuyler’s litter into the alley and knelt beside him, promising not to leave his side. They sat beneath the buttressed stone and brick of the alley, cold shadows arching across the skyline creating a mosaic of gray light, sun and blue sky. “Please tell me,” asked Schuyler, “whether I am in Memphis or whether I am in my little church in Hoboken?”

On September 11, a cool front brought hope to the city. Rain had fallen the day before, chilling the air and sweeping the bayou clean. Will Armstrong sat at his desk that night at 9:00 writing to his wife, “My heart bounds with joy at the mere hope that this cool night will possibly end our labors . . . No one knows but the weary doctor what a delight that would be. Kiss all the children for me.” He ended his letter: “I alone am standing.”

A few days later, Lula Armstrong received a telegram from Dr. Mitchell informing her that “Dr. Armstrong is very sick but doing well today. Says you must not come here under any circumstances.”

On September 16, Lula received a penny postcard from her husband: “My dear wife: I have passed through the fever stages and have only to get the stomach right. Hope I can do this and see you soon.” But by September 20, she was notified by the nuns at St. Mary’s that her husband had died of yellow fever. His attending nurse said that even when delirious he tried to rise from his bed to see patients. In Elmwood’s leather burial record, the Graveyard Girl recorded his name: Dr. Wm. J. Armstrong, wrote ditto marks for yellow fever and the location of his plot in the Fowler Section, Lot #265. His body would be moved years later to another plot where his wife would be buried by his side. Lula Armstrong would also die on September 20—forty-six years later.

The next day three more sisters at St. Mary’s died. The sister who attended Constance at her deathbed soon followed, as did the nurse who attended Charles Parsons. John Lonsdale, who spoke at Parsons’s burial, fell feverish and died. John Walsh, the country undertaker, died along with most of his family; at the time of his death, Walsh had buried over 2,000 of the city’s yellow fever victims.

Dr. John Erskine, the doctor who opposed quarantine of the city, died on September 17 under the care of his brother, Dr. Alexander Erskine. His death crippled the Memphis Board of Health. It would not begin functioning again until mid-October.

Dr. R. H. Tate, the first black physician to practice in Memphis, was assigned to “Hell’s Half Acre” along Lauderdale and Union. He died only three weeks after his arrival.

Three thousand Howard Association nurses, the large majority of them black, served during the epidemic; one-third of those nurses died. Among the 111 Howard doctors, 54 contracted the fever and 33 died.

Charles G. Fisher, head of the Citizen’s Relief Committee, died; of the twenty members of his committee, only three were left at the end of the epidemic.

Dr. W. A. White, rector at Calvary Episcopal Church, recovered from the fever just in time to bury his son. A local legend by the name of Annie Cook turned her house of prostitution, the “Mansion House” on Gayoso Street, into a hospital and nursed the sick until she herself perished of the fever. The sheriff died. Even Jefferson Davis Jr., the only son of the Confederate president, was lost to this plague in Memphis. His was the largest funeral seen during the epidemic: Fifteen people attended.

Churches throughout the city sacrificed ministers, priests and nuns. Hundreds more came from cities in the North. Those at St. Mary’s have become known as the Martyrs of Memphis.

At long last, on October 28, a killing frost fell, silvering the tree limbs and blades of grass, cooling the festering quagmire of Happy Hollow. Red leaves littered the ground and gold ones bronzed the treetops. A message was sent to Memphians scattered all over the country to come home. That same week, the Appeal published a number of advertisements as businesses downtown reopened. Cotton dominated the ads, but a few others touted “New goods at bottom prices,” “New mattresses” and “Mourning Goods” like black-trimmed stationery and calling cards, dark cloth and black crepe.

Though yellow fever cases would continue to appear in the pages of Elmwood Cemetery’s burial record as late as February 29, the epidemic itself seemed quieted. On November 27, a general citizen’s meeting was called at the Greenlaw Opera House. It would be held on Thanksgiving Day, following the holiday church services, to offer the city’s thanks to those who had stayed behind to serve and die.

Life was returning to Memphis. Cotton bales began collecting in the streets and along sidewalks. The collective din of steam compressors, train whistles and streetcars could be heard once again. Oyster season had opened, and restaurants and hotels posted signs for “fresh oysters,” while Seesel and Son’s grocery on the corner of Jefferson and Second received a large shipment of fish. Apples and potatoes filled crates, and mincemeat was prepared. Geese moved south, their wings white with moonlight during the evening hours. Soft rain had fallen early in the week, and men wore their pants tucked up while ladies dragged their hems through the mud downtown. There was even a fresh dusting of snow the day before Thanksgiving, offering a feeling of renewal for some, and for others, just a reminder of the lime that had spent so many weeks on the ground.

Intending to make the Thanksgiving citizen’s meeting a tastefulevent, florists worked for days creating elegant arrangements of azaleas, ferns, begonias, palms and other exotics. The platform of the Greenlaw was grandly outfitted. Colton Greene, the leader of Memphis Carnival who had such hope for the city, was asked to organize the stage decorations. He used that year’s Mardi Gras props from the Mystic Memphi.

As the meeting opened at noon, a commemorative statement was made: “To the martyred dead, we feel but cannot express our gratitude; yet, in all days to come shall their memories be kept green, and their names go down in the annals of our city honored, revered and blessed.”

Mayor John Flippin, now fully recovered from the fever, had less humble things to say. First he made a statement meant to quiet any gossip and make the record clear for history: At the beginning of the scourge, the press, the city officials and the Board of Health had been true to their promise to proclaim at once the appearance of the fever. He followed it with a reprimand for the many who had refused to leave Memphis either from poverty or belief they were immune. “The worthy,” he proclaimed, “often perished for the unworthy.”

Most important of all, the meeting announced that Memphis, its citizens, representatives in Congress and the Senate would earnestly do all they could to secure passage of a law mandating early quarantine.

In spite of the citizen’s meeting and the celebration of Thanksgiving, there remained lasting signs of the plague that November. Schools stayed closed until well into December, and St. Mary’s would not open its doors until January. The Greenlaw Opera House, which had once held such promises of sophistication and elegance for Memphis, would be sold as a storehouse by the following spring. Hotels, filled to capacity, promised returning Memphians that their rooms had been thoroughly fumigated and properly ventilated. And Elmwood Cemetery made an announcement that it would allow disinterment and relocation of bodies for the next two months only. The Memphis Avalanche reported, “Like the Memphis on the Nile, the town was fated to become a ghost city.”

December arrived in Memphis, and the worst yellow fever epidemic in United States history ended. That same month, Emily B. Souder, the ship held responsible for bringing yellow fever to North America in the spring of 1878, the one that denied fever and instead landed it on the banks of New Orleans, set sail once again for the Caribbean. Somewhere off the coast of New York, on December 10, she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, ending her fourteen-year service. The captain and all on board were killed except two castaways.