Monday, November 25, 2013

Typhoid and Toilet Slops

Typhoid could hit you when you least expected it.  Sources came from places like the Baer Silk Mill shown here.  This  1916-era postcard was included in the Kuder report.  The roadway overlooks the south end of Lehighton.  Just to the right of the Baer Silk Mill,  the large brick building with the brick smokestack, you can see the Penn Lace Mill as well.  To the extreme left of this picture one would find the dairy run at by Reuben Small and Reuben Koch, the only dairy in Carbon County that pasteurized its milk at that time.

This is a never before published picture of Lehighton taken by Joseph Kuder from the Mahoning Mountain in the summer of 1916.  It is roughly looking off of property owned today by the Nis Hollow Hunting Club.  A closer examination of this picture shows the broad hill of Third Street and the large former high school building on the corner
of Mahoning Street.  Steam from the Packerton Yard can be seen off in the distance from the notch of Packerton.   One also notices that beyond Seventh Street, Lehighton still had a substantial amount of farmland.

This is an actual Pennsylvanaia Department of Health quarantine placard from 1916.
Ervin Faust's body was shipped back to his hometown of Lehighton in a metallic, sealed casket.  He was only twenty-six when he died in El Paso, Texas.  The special casket was necessary due to the infectious nature of his death: typhoid fever.

One hundred years ago, drinking untreated water or eating food contaminated with the bacteria that causes typhoid could send you to your doom.  Modern sanitation of sewage and purification of water has virtually eliminated this all too common threat.  Additionally, in the rare instance where it does appear today, modern antibiotics and hydration replacement treatments have diminished its fatal impact.

This is a companion post to Dr. Joseph Kuder's Sanitary View of Lehighton in 1916.  This is the first of multiple posts that will focus on various aspects surrounding the hygiene and communicable diseases discussed in Dr. Kuder's report.  For the full story on how this report came to be written, please click the link above.

As written in the first post on Kuder's report, Kuder believed the Lehighton water supply, though untreated, was considered safe.  True indeed, for Lehighton never experienced a town-wide epidemic as other larger communities had.  (Easton for example had an epidemic of fifteen individuals sickened in August of 1898 from a contaminated spring.  Only one of those died.  Allentown as well had occurrences of sporadic epidemics.)

Though Lehighton's incidence was slightly below the state average, it does not say the town was without potential pathways to infection.

My great uncle Garrett "Edgar" Rabenold died of the disease in October of 1906.  He was only fourteen.  Most victims died about three to four weeks after the initial onset.  Edgar was my grandfather Zach Rabenold's youngest brother.  They lived as tenants on the Sebring farm, on a lot which is today the site of Lehighton's Shull-David Elementary school.

There is nothing in the family lore that tells how Edgar became ill.  With 17% of the area typhoid deaths occurring in twelve to nineteen-year-olds, it is easy to make some predictions.  With their new found independence combined with the recklessness of youth, it is easy to see these young adults drinking questionable water, swimming in polluted waters, put that atop of careless hand washing, and one realizes why their numbers were so high.  (Compare that to children below the age of twelve accounted for only 3% of the local area deaths from 1894 through 1910.)

What is known is that the Baer Silk Mill and the Penn Lace Mill made a steady discharge of raw sewage into the neighboring stream from their hundreds of employees working there daily.  The "toilet slops" from these two prominent factories went directly into the small stream that ran between these two buildings, which flowed to the Mahoning Creek and of course then into the Lehigh River.

Just before this pollution reached the river, the Lehigh Valley Railroad placed a dam for the purpose of harvesting winter ice for their refrigerated cars.  And though the ice was not sold for public use, it is easy to see how this enterprise in polluted waters had the chance to spread the bacteria far and wide.

In the summer, this dam also purposed as a fine swimming hole for the town's young.  (As well as it did up to and including the days of my own youth.)  Known as "Harleman's Dam, it still existed until about eight years ago.  It was located just behind the Boulevard Drive-in on Route 443.  Kuder noted its popularity but said it was "a menace to the health of those who swim in the polluted waters."
"The Foreign Element" - "Slavs" according to Kuder were a public nuisance to the town of Lehighton.  This picture
is roughly across the tracks just north of  the LVRR passenger station, which was behind today's Hi-Rise on the Lehighton By-Pass.
More of the six double houses along Railroad Street - These homes were occupied by Slavic
rail workers and were located just north of the now former Lehigh Valley Railroad Passenger Station that was
directly behind today's Hi-Rise.  These houses would have been just north of North Main Lane.  Some
houses of similar construction still exist today across the By-Pass on North Main Lane.

Another area of concern for Kuder in 1916 was the housing along Railroad Street (today's By-Pass in Lehighton) of the "foreign element...the Slavics."  He goes on to say these tenement houses (six double house all told) "lived up to the worst Slavic conditions of filth."  Rats, toilet slops and unclean habits were not only an eyesore, but was a potential epidemic waiting to happen.

"There were no screenings in the windows...tin cans and refuse were dumped all over the yard, the front porch overlooked a puddle of toilet slops and kitchen waste...the place swarmed with flies and children...the beds were not made, but then the bed clothes were so dirty that there was no longer any point in trying to conceal their filth..."
A picture by Dr. Kuder directly in front of  the houses in
question, the sewage and other contaminants a breeding ground for
disease.  Drainage from the Obert Slaughter and Packing house needed to
seep and wade through this debris on its way to the river.  

One must consider that at this time, every household had a refuse pile in their yard as there was no central garbage collection.  Additionally, most homes did not have flush toilets inside but rather had "privies" or outhouses.  It is easy to wonder, as in the picture here to the right, with all the refuse and sewage among the handfuls of playing children, how more people didn't become seriously ill.
Two examples of outhouses from other areas of town.

Note the ashes dumped on the bank.  As noted in other areas of town, and since there
was no regular garbage collection, people dumped ashes and refuse in any area
where land was low and needed leveling or raising up.  (NOTE: This location was identified
by Kuder as the bottom of the alley between Fourth and Fifth Streets near Mahoning Street.
However, upon inspection one will be hard pressed to find any land in that vicinity with
a similar grade as above.  My best guess places this at the "T" of Coal and
First Streets down the bank with the former "Hammel's Store"
(Current "China Ming") roof line in the back. 

As seen in the rest of these photos, many of privies throughout town were known to overflow during the heavy rain seasons.  In fact, one photo taken by Kuder shown below shows a privy with its contents running over the Lehigh Valley Railroad tracks in the vicinity of the rear of today's Carbon Podiatry practice at South Main Lane and First Streets.

A 1915 Lehighton ordinance ordered all newly constructed privies to have a vault of cement to encase the excreta with the intention of preserving the integrity of well water in the vicinity.

Kuder's description of the houses above continued: "The cellar reeked with putrefying vegetable matter mixed with water from defective plumbing, a cellar toilet used in common with three families with about ten roomers, bordered closely upon the room where vegetable food supplies were kept, and the chickens had free access to these subterranean grottoes."

"The floor of one of the rooms in the attic was so covered with worn out and discarded shoes that the boards of the floor were hardly visible, and the other room was full of other manner of discarded clothing, bedding, books, etc."

"In a few cases, cats and dogs are kept in houses and have ground filled boxes in the kitchen.  The filthiness of such conditions needs no amplification, and the remedy is equally obvious.  Fortunately such cases are extremely rare...There is only one remedy for a place such as this, and that is either to tear it down, or clean it up and keep it clean…"
You can see the overflowing contents of the above
privy and the LVRR tracks at the bottom of the picture.
This scene is located roughly behind
Carbon Podiatry today.

The following is a table presented from Kuder's report for typhoid deaths in Lehighton:

One of those two deaths in 1906 resulted from the passing of my Great Uncle Edgar Rabenold at the age of fourteen.

The record in the press substantiates the above information.  However, one section of Kuder's report states, "The typhoid morbidity rate for Lehighton cannot be accepted as entirely accurate as one of the physicians in the town is notorious for diagnosing any case in the slightest detail resembling typhoid fever as such.  The town rate for true typhoid fever therefore is probably no higher than the state rate."

Still and all, these conditions were not only unsightly, but contributed somewhat to shortened life spans of town and certainly to a diminished quality of life here.

When Velma Keubler of Palmerton died in late August of 1906, the paper reported she died of "the dreaded typhoid fever, which has been the means of depopulating this community for several months."  She was twenty.

A few of these deaths were expatriates of the area and were now living in cities which at times had suspect water supplies due to their reliance on river water.  Frank Raudenbush and his mother Sophia lived in Lehighton but died of typhoid in Allentown.  They each died within the exact same hour, separated by exactly one week in April of 1902.  They moved to there after Sophia remarried a Mr. Neff after her first husband Alfred was killed on the railroad in October 1896.

Another resident of Allentown originally from Carbon was Harvey Edelman a twenty-two year old principal at the Franklin School.  He died of typhoid in August of 1901.  Mabel Murphy was a twenty-three year old teacher in Greenwich New York when she died of typhoid in April of 1907.  She was originally from Lehighton.  Abraham Prutzman, twenty-four and originally from the Lehigh Gap died in Philadelphia while a student of medicine in February of 1899.

Additionally, a few deaths occurred while friends and relatives visited here.  

The Reverend Alfred Horn, fifty-four, came down with typhoid upon visiting the home of his brother, the Dr. C. T. Horn of Lehighton for the funeral of his uncle Samuel Getz (who died of heart disease) earlier that summer.  Though he made a valiant recovery attempt, the Rev. Horn succumbed August 7, 1906.

There was a popular traveling salesman for the Black Crow Motor Car and Springfield Gasoline Engine Company, originally from Palmerton but living in Lebanon, who died after drinking water along the way to Kresgeville.  He was thirty and died July 13, 1910.

The Kistler family from Sitlers was visiting Emma Kistler's parents, the Mr. and Mrs. James Williamson on Mahoning Street in November of 1903 when they were stricken.  Amandus Kistler, thirty-three and a veterinarian, died of typhoid on November 11th, 1903.  One week later, their seven year old daughter Lois also died while wife Emma recovered.  His brother, a medical doctor from Wilkes-Barre, and a sister Stella, a nurse from Philadelphia all attended to the the family at the Mahoning Street home for several weeks of November into December.  Later in January, Amandus's mother Lydia dies of typhoid at the age of sixty-eight.  (Emma survives and marries Lewis Hofford, they had a son Paul.  They are buried in I-57 section of the Lehighton Cemetery.)

Many others were just starting out in life.  One victim of the "Allentown epidemic" in the winter of 1906 and 1907 was Robert Dreher, originally of Weissport, interred at Lehighton.  He died on the third of January after marrying a woman from Kutztown on New Year's Day.

Mrs. Howard (nee Brighton) Wolfe of Weissport was married but six weeks when she died in December 1895 at the age of twenty-two.  She was sick for more than three of those six weeks of marriage.

Similarly, a spry youth of nineteen, Harry Rex, of Lehighton, a fireman on the railroad, died in November of 1901 only being married one week.  He was married to the former Gertrude "Gussie" Hartley.  He was among five typhoid victims buried by Dr. Kuder's father, the Reverend John Kuder of Trinity Lutheran Church.

From 1894 through 1910, there were eighty-nine typhoid deaths reported in the "Lehighton Press:" 3 deaths in ages 8 and younger, 15 deaths from ages 12 to 19, 32 deaths of those in their 20s, 16 deaths in their 30s, 6 deaths in their 40s, 7 deaths in their 50s, and only 4 deaths of those over the age of 60.  There were an additional six adults who died but no age was listed.  Twenty-year olds were the largest segment of the population who succumbed to this disease at 36% of the total, following by teenagers with 17%.

Since many cases resulted from either drinking infested water or bathing or swimming in it, one could expect a high incidence in the summertime when people are more active and traveling a good deal.  However typhoid was also transmitted onto food by handling with unwashed hands.  The record shows typhoid deaths remain fairly consistent throughout the year with a slight up-tick of cases just after the "dog-days" of summer and into fall.  As a result, some 40% of typhoid deaths occurred in the Fall, with 24% in the Summer, followed surprisingly by 20% in the winter, and only 16% in the Spring.

The two months that showed the lowest incidence were March and June with only one in each month.  February, May, and July each had five, six and seven deaths respectively.  January, April and November all had eight cases while December had nine.  The peak occurred from August through October with twelve deaths in each of those months.

Though it is sometimes a modern joke of one's naivete to catch certain diseases from a toilet seat, it does actually occur from time to time today.  When you consider how far we've come in the area of toilet-area hygiene, it is little wonder how our grandparents and on back survived those relatively crude times.

Consider the hygiene of the school children of 1916.  We had two elementary schools in town: First Ward at the bottom of Fourth St and Third Ward at the top.  Both had been built in the previous ten years while a brand new Junior/Senior High was being built on Third Street.  So for a town of Lehighton in 1916, it had three as up to date schools as one could hope for.  But as revealed in Kuder's report, the sanitation conditions for those students went beyond mere hand washing problems of students today.
The Third Ward building looks nearly the same over one hundred years later.  However the first toilets were a
far cry from what one expects of public buildings today.

The school day was broken down into two parts due to student dismissal from 11:45 until 1:15 for them to walk home for lunch.  (Their day started at 9:00 AM and ended at 4:00 PM with a fifteen minute recess in the morning and afternoon.)

My own father in the 1930s lived at Ninth and Iron Streets.  Since there was no school for the "West Enders" at that time, kids from the rural end of town had to walk to the Ward buildings.  So for First and Second grade, Dad walked the eight blocks to Third Ward and as the rotation schedule worked, he attended Third and Fourth grades at First Ward, a distance of six blocks.  For Fifth and Sixth grades he switched back to Third Ward.  Today students would be bused for that distance.  Back then students WALKED, unassisted by their parents, not just once back and forth per day, but twice.  (Uphill in snow both ways?)

These "modern" schools did not have flush toilets.  The basements were divided into separate boys' and girls' sides.  Each had six toilets setting atop a wooden platform with badly cracked wooden seats.  Inside the toilets were perforated cast iron plates that caught the excreta and allowed the liquid portion to pass through into a cesspool.

Supposedly, the solid portion "dried quickly" atop the metal plate.  (I would like to hear the distinction of its relative dryness and how quick this occurred.)  And as the report stated, these plates were cleared off once every THREE MONTHS (Whether they needed it or not?).  After the dried portion was cleared out, the remains were incinerated in the school furnaces!

Among his recommendations, Kuder specified that they should be cleaned more often than that and in-between cleanings, some lime should be poured down.  There was no washroom for the students either.  Students were all expected to carry a handkerchief to take care of their hands after using the toilet.

However this wasn't the most repugnant part for Kuder.  He took the most umbrage to the fact that the unpainted, deeply cracked seats were in a continuous loop which besides being a breeding ground for all manner of germs, also had the potential for the transmission among other things "gonorrhea," especially for the girls!

Could you imagine the public's reaction to such conditions today in the 21st Century?  Which group of modern Americans would cry foul the loudest and longest?

Anyone still clamoring for the good old days?


Ervin Faust had an identical twin brother named Marvin who also died at a young age.  Both young men were outlived by their parents, Adam and Sallie Faust.  Both men worked for the railroad and both had relocated to El Paso Texas, working on the rails there too.
Ervin Faust died of typhoid fever in El Paso Texas.  His remains were shipped back to town sealed in a metallic casket.

Ervin's twin brother Marvin also died an early death.

My great uncle "Edgar" as he was known, another
victim of typhoid.
The Eugene Baer Silk Mill as it looks today as the Body and Soul Complex.
The mountain in the rear is the hill the first postcard picture was taken.
The first photo of the southern exposure of Lehighton would have
been taken from the hill seen at the left side of this picture.


  1. Interesting story, great pics! Thanks Ron!

  2. Interesting how things come around to be repeated . You might care to look up UNITED SLUDGE FREE ALLIANCE to see Darree Sicher's effort in dealing with much the same issues