How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis

From The New York Times:

Cholera_190_2 On a Sunday in July 1832, a fearful and somber crowd of New Yorkers gathered in City Hall Park for more bad news. The epidemic of cholera, cause unknown and prognosis dire, had reached its peak. People of means were escaping to the country. The New York Evening Post reported, “The roads, in all directions, were lined with well-filled stagecoaches, livery coaches, private vehicles and equestrians, all panic-struck, fleeing the city, as we may suppose the inhabitants of Pompeii fled when the red lava showered down upon their houses.”

An assistant to the painter Asher B. Durand described the scene near the center of the outbreak. “There is no business doing here if I except that done by Cholera, Doctors, Undertakers, Coffinmakers, &c,” he wrote. “Our bustling city now wears a most gloomy & desolate aspect — one may take a walk up & down Broadway & scarce meet a soul.” The epidemic left 3,515 dead out of a population of 250,000. (The equivalent death toll in today’s city of eight million would exceed 100,000.) The dreadful time is recalled in art, maps, death tallies and other artifacts in an exhibition, “ Plague in Gotham! Cholera in Nineteenth-Century New York,” at the New York Historical Society. The show will run through June 28.

More here.

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