Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Cholera Cemetery, 1849

From the Corona Files

During these days of lockdown my mind wanders to sunnier times—walking around without a mask, to bicycling along back roads.

I remember a ride with two friends where we passed through nameless small villages. Try as I might, I cannot recall the name of the town. There were a lot of Little Norways and names dedicated to the old country, a country and time so far back in generations that the geography lent no DNA.

Anyway, I passed a primitive, enclosed graveyard on a bluff, the stone wall eroding in sandy debris down the hillside.  A marker indicated the cemetery was dedicated to the victims of a cholera outbreak.

Loose research on the Internet turns up reoccurring epidemics mostly during the hot prairie summers. Folks didn’t know what it was or how to stop it; they only knew it killed quickly, dehydrating victims who usually died of diarrhea until bodily systems shut down. “Some were feeling healthy and fine in the morning, but dead by the afternoon, cholera killed quickly. Vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, fever, and dehydration marked the symptoms. Then the circulatory system collapsed and shock set in.”

Sometimes whole families died, it decimated small towns. Immigrants were suspected of bringing the disease. Without real knowledge, fear took over. Survivors were afraid to touch the bodies piling up. They were relegated to the Cholera Cemetery.

“Before the real cause of cholera, the blame for many 1849 deaths in little Norway came from immigrants from the mother country. It was thought the disease spread by night time air. In some locales, fires were burned in roads to purify the air.”

Years later these once thriving communities are just ghost towns.

I thought about that lonely graveyard the other day when I was cycling—escaped from lockdown to venture out on my bike. Will a hundred years from now, people read about this epidemic and wonder: What must it have been like—all that not knowing, fear, and death?

Cemetery Sign Stock Photos & Cemetery Sign Stock Images - Alamy

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