Ellis Island Quarantine, NY: Deaths in Quarantine, 1909-1911

Flying the Quarantine flag

Deaths in Quarantine, 1909-1911


How Plagues Are Watched the World Around

How Plagues Are Watched the World Around

By a Unique System of Espionage Health Officer Alvah H. Doty is Able to
Guard Against the Entrance Into This County of Death-Dealing Diseases
— Remarkable Work Done in Japan and Germany:  
How the Work is Done

The New York Times, October 4, 1908, page SM5.


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In the office of Dr. Alvah H. Doty, Health Officer of the Port of New York, at Quarantine, there is a big globe, such as is used in the public schools, that is covered with little tacks. Everyone of those tacks indicates that at the place where it is sticking there is to-day, or was yesterday, a case of the cholera, the bubonic plague, or the yellow fever, and Dr. Doty, the officials of the United States Marine Hospital service in Washington, and the army doctors know all about every one of those cases, where it came from, how many there are that are afflicted, whether it is a mild case or a bad one, and exactly what the health authorities in those particular sections of the world are doing to combat it.

When the visitor to Dr. Doty's office hears the story those little tacks tell he realizes what a splendid system it is that guards the western world from the Asiatic scourges, and how impossible it almost is for any of those scourges ever to get a foothold in this country. But great and thorough as is the work of American medical authorities, they are ably seconded by the work of the foreign departments, and to-day every citizen of every part of this country owes a debt that can never be paid to the splendid men of Germany and Japan whose work holds in check the spread of the cholera and the plaque — one guarding the western world and the other the eastern frontier against the advance of diseases.

Dr. Doty said the other day that the Japanese health regulations are to-day second to none in the world, and that the Japanese sanitarians have forged to the front as among the very best trained and most efficient the medical world has ever know. And the work that confronts these wonderful little men of the Mikado's empire is the greatest in scope that ever medical men were called upon to perform, for all around them the cholera and the plague is raging, and the least let up on their part would mean that the bubonic plague or the cholera, or both, would probably become epidemic in Japan, and that would mean its possible spread to the uninfected islands of the Pacific, Australia, the Hawaiian Islands, and possibly the American mainland

How the Work Is Done

Dr. Alvah H. Doty

How do Dr. Doty, Surgeon General Wyman of the United States Marine Hospital Service, the Army and Navy doctors, and the quarantine officers of the other great American seaports keep track of the world's health? And they do keep track of it, and it is this vigilance in prying into what's the matter with our foreign neighbors that has made this country the healthiest and the best protected, from a standpoint of sanitation, on the face of this earth. Now take this big globe that is covered with tacks, and look at Port Said at the entrance to the Suez Canal. There is a telltale tack stuck near that place, and that tack means that somebody or some people out there have the bubonic plague, and that every ship that stops at that port and then comes to America will have to stand the closest of inspections to show that nobody on board, or anything in her cargo, conceals the germ that is responsible for the most horrible disease, with the exception of leprosy, the world has ever known.

Health Officers tug approaching arriving vessel that has contagious disease onboard

Dr. Doty has a sentinel on duty at Port Said, and at every big port in the world, and that sentinel's duty is to keep a close watch on the situation there and to watch every single ship that passes on her way to American waters.

The result of this vigilance is that when the ship gets to New York, her skipper learns within five minutes after he drops anchor off Quarantine, that Dr. Doty knows more about the health of his crew and the condition of his cargo than he does himself. He has to tell Dr. Doty everything he knows about the case of sickness, and when he gets through answering questions, Dr. Doty knows exactly where that case of sickness probably originated, and he knows how everybody on board that ship is, even down to colds and pains in the back. As everybody knows, the cholera is prevalent in Russia, and the map reproduced here, which is a reproduction of that telltale globe at Quarantine, shows that it is not only in St. Petersburg and Nijni Novgorod, but at various other places as well.

map of the world, 1908

Now, how did this cholera get into the dominions of the Czar? Dr. Doty knows. He knows that it originated in India, and for more than a year that globe in his office, has told every week the story of its slow but sure advance on the capital of the Russian Empire. The American health officers watched the advance of the disease like hawks. They knew the Russian system of combating it was not the best, and they feared all along that it was going to reach St. Petersburg and maybe Libau, Russia's one great Atlantic port. So far Libau has escaped, but Dr. Doty and his assistants are watching that city, and they know how everybody in that city is getting along, so far as their health is concerned.

Inspecting Russian Immigrants

Health Inspector Leaving Suspected Vessel after Inspection

The other day the Korea, one of the few transatlantic lines that fly the Russian flag, steamed into New York from Libau, with about 400 Russian immigrants on board, and what happened to that ship during the twenty-four hours it took to examine her passengers, crew, and cargo indicates how splendidly thorough is the system that stands guard for the health of the American people, on the Staten Island side of the Narrows. Three different examinations every man and woman and child, had to submit to. The slightest rise in temperature above the normal meant that the unfortunate was due for a medical third degree, that, when over, proved beyond all doubt whether or not he was free from the scourge.

The examination of the Korea showed everybody on board was well, and that the water they had drunk and the food they had eaten was not infected with the cholera germs, for the water and the food and the clothing are inspected just as closely as are the passengers and the crew, for the admission of a single germ might mean the infection of New York. Russian immigrants also come to New York in hordes on board the great German, the Scandinavian, the French, the British, and the other lines whose European terminals are north of the Mediterranean. For every Russian passenger these ships carry they bring a certificate from the health authorities of the home port that shows that each of those passengers has been watched for five days in order to make certain whether it is dangerous for the health of New York and the United States to allow him to sail. If he stands the test they let him go, but if his condition is suspicious he is sent to a hospital, and eventually returned to the land of the Czar.

This is where the Germans get into the game, and, the way they do their work makes them deserving of the gratitude of the entire, civilized world, for as everybody knows, Germany is the great gate through which the famished millions of the Czar escape to other lands where liberty is universal and the secret police are not the most important adjuncts of Governments. That these people from an empire where cholera and the plague are known to exist have never as yet spread the disease in the domain of the Kaiser is due, the American authorities say, to the vigilance, the skill, and the magnificent training of the men who are on duty in that country.

On the other side of the world, the Japanese are bearing the burden that the Germans are shouldering on the other side, and they are making a record every bit as creditable as that of their brethren of another race. India, the home of plague and cholera, is directly in the path of Japanese commerce with Europe, and where the Germans have one ship and one country to watch the Japanese have a dozen ships and as many countries to keep tab on. There was a time when the cholera made headway in Japan, but that was in the days prior to the rejuvenation of the most wonderful people of the modern world

To-day there is cholera and there is also the bubonic plague in Japan, but both are held splendidly under control by the Japanese sanitarians. It is death to the rat and the flea in all Japan to-day, and the fact that the plague is disappearing from that country tells the way the battle is going. In the Far Eastern work the American army doctors must not be forgotten, for at Manila there is another serious situation, but the doctors under Col. Hoff, a New Yorker, who is said to stand an excellent chance of soon being placed at the head of the Medical Corps, are working day and night, and the cable tells us that they are confident, and that the tide of battle has already turned, and within a few weeks the cholera will have passed.

Source of India's Diseases

China and India are, of course, the countries where the modern sanitarians will have to fight the greatest of all battles in behalf of humanity. India has been stricken for centuries and the outlook that she will ever be entirely free of these scourges is at the present time a very dim one. A look at the Quarantine globe shows how plainly the origin of these great contagions can be traced to the Indian Empire. The Indians are Mohammedans, and Dr. Doty and his colleagues in the fight for health and cleanliness say that this religion to a great extent is responsible for the spread of these diseases. The pilgrimages to Mecca, the "exalted" the holy of holies of the Mohammedans are the one great cause, and the statistics prove it. The Mohammedans, as all the world knows, make these pilgrimages to "The Mother of Cities" in great unclean hordes, sleeping on decks of dirty ships, drinking water that has never been pure, and eating food in which the germ of cholera and the plagues are sometimes known to exist. These ships touch at ports, and the pilgrims come in contact with people of other countries. The result is the spread of cholera and the plague, and to-day many sanitarians declare that the presence of the cholera in Russia can be directly traced to these religious hordes who go to Mecca to worship at the shrine of their faith

Help from Other Nations

Let not the Australians, the New Zealanders, and the doctors of Scandinavia, Great Britain, France, and the Mediterranean countries by forgotten. They are all in this fight for humanity, and to their vigilance and skill the German, the Japanese, and the American doctor give the sincerest praise. To revert to the Americans, take the story of the plague fight in San Francisco, where Surgeon Blue of the army has done such great work and the extermination of the plague-carrying rat and flea is being pushed relentlessly, so relentlessly the Gen. Funston when he relinquished command of the Department of California, publicly commended the great work that was being done to make San Francisco healthy as well as beautiful.

All the world is familiar with the yellow fever fight. To-day New Orleans, Mobile, Brunswick, Porto Rico, and the Isthmus are forever rid, and Cuba and Panama soon will be, of the danger of an epidemic of the yellow malady. In this work the medical world will forever remember the names of Gorgas, of Moore, of Woodruff, of Lazar, and a host of other American medical soldiers, every one of whom did his part in the great struggle that has practically eliminated this disease from among the health dangers of the universe. And New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and all the other great Atlantic ports in this land are safe to-day; and, San Francisco, Seattle, and all the great ports on the Pacific soon will be, for Dr. Doty, Surgeon General Wyman, and the army and doctors say so, and when they say so, it is true — the record proves it.

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