Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Six Degrees of Wikipedia

Everybody is still talking about the Swine Flu. Authorities in Mexico say they have identified a latter-day "Typhoid Mary." Of course, I'm aware of the term "Typhoid Mary" to describe a carrier of a contagious disease, but I wanted to know the full scoop. I wanted to know the real story of Mary. Wikipedia to the rescue:

Typhoid Mary was Mary Mallon. She was the first person in the United States to be identified as a healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever. The concept that a person could spread disease and remain healthy was not well known at the time. She was eventually taken into custody and held in isolation for three years at a hospital located on North Brother Island. Eventually a new health inspector freed Mallon under the condition she agreed to no longer work as a cook. However, she did return to her previous occupation, and in 1915 infected 25 more people. She was quarantined on the island again where she lived out the rest of her life. She died in 1938.

I've never heard of this North Brother Island. I guess I've seen too many horror and sci-fi movies, and the idea of an island hospital to quarantine sick people sounds creepy. I clicked the Wikipedia link and was not disappointed. North Brother Island is in New York City's East River. Years after the hospital closed, the island housed a center to treat adolescent drug users, but widespread staff corruption and patient recidivism forced the facility to close. However, the island is more famous for the wreck of the SS General Slocum which burned on June 15, 1904.

Ah, my itchy clicky finger twitches! The SS General Slocum was a steamship launched in 1891. The passenger ship suffered a series of unfortunate mishaps including the time it was carrying 900 intoxicated Paterson Anarchists who decided to riot! Imagine that? But the final disaster likely started with a discarded cigarette or match. Fire! The passengers' rescue was complicated by the fact that the dryrotted hoses fell apart, the lifeboats were tied up and inaccessible (How could they know? Titanic wouldn't be released for another 93 years!), and the life preservers had iron bars inside them! More than 1,000 people died in the accident.

Who would want this clusterfuck of a ship named after them? And is Slocum really pronounced the way I think it's pronounced? Clicky clicky. Henry Warner Slocum was a Union general during the American Civil War and later served in the United States House of Representatives from New York. He earned the derogatory nickname "Slow Come" because he was indecisive on the battlefield.

And that is a Six Degrees of Wikipedia dead end. Nothing about Henry Warner Slocum inspires me to click ahead. But didn't we learn something today? And more importantly, isn't Swine Flu fun?

No comments: