The Old Typhoid Bucket That Hung in the Well 1901

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To the Editor of the New York Times:

The usual autumnal recurrence of typhoid fever in New York has led many medical authorities to the belief that the origin of this trouble is not to be looked for so much in the city itself as in the numerous Summer resorts, where little attention is paid to sanitary matters, and where are frequently sown the seeds of disease which may not develop till after the return home. Especially is this the case with the smaller and cheaper resorts; farms that take boarders, hunting and fishing camps, & c., which many people consider healthy simply because they are so far removed from the artificial restraints of civilization. They forget that a situation which is naturally the healthiest in the world may be improper drainage or doubtful water supply, or by mixing both these together, be made most unhealthy.

In this connection you may think it worth while to reprint the following interesting paraphrase on "The Old Oaken Bucket That Hung in the Well," which was read at a meeting of the Academy of Medicine, many years ago. It was written by J.C. Bayles, then president of the Board of health, apropos of a discussion on this very subject:

With what anguish of mind I remember my childhood,
Recalled in the light of a knowledge since gained,
The malarious farm, the wet fungus-grown wild-wood,
The chills then contracted that since have remained;
The scum-covered duck-pond, the pig-sty close by it.
The ditch where the sour-smelling house drainage fell,
The damp, shaded dwelling, the foul barnyard nigh it__
But worse than all else was that terrible well,
And the old oaken bucket, the mold-crusted bucket,
The moss-covered bucket that hung in the well.

Just think of it! Moss on the vessel that lifted
The water I drank in the days called to mind;
Ere I knew what professors and scientists gifted
In the waters of wells by analysis find;
The rotting wood fibre, the oxide of iron,
The algas, the frog of unusual size.
The water, Impure as the verses of Byron.
Are things I remember with tears in my eyes.

And to tell the sad truth__though I shudder to think of it.__
I considered that water uncommonly dear.
And often at noon, when I went there to drink it,
I enjoyed it as much as I now enjoy beer.
How ardent I seized it with hands that were grimy,
And quick to the mud-covered bottom it fell
Then reeking with nitrates and nitrites, and slimy
With matter organic it rose from the well.

Oh, had I but realized in time to avoid them__
The dangers that lurked in that pestilent draught__
I'd have tested for organic germs and destroyed them
With potassic permanganate ere I had quaffed.
Or perchance I'd have boiled it, and afterward strained it
Through filters of charcoal and gravel combined;
Or, after distilling, condensed, and regained it
In potable form, with its filth left behind.

How little I knew of the enteric fever
Which lurked in the water I ventured to drink,
But since I've become a devoted believer
In the teachings of science, I shudder to think,
And now, far removed from the scenes I'm describing,
The story for warning to others I tell,
As memory reverts to my youthful imbibing
And I gag at the thought of that horrible well,
And the old oaken bucket, the fungus-grown bucket__
In fact, the slop bucket__that hung in the well.

A.W.C. Morristown, N.J.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Old Typhoid Bucket That Hung in the Well 1901
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Times 11/06/1901
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