When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Kill All The Cats

1916: New York City struggled to control an epidemic of poliomyelitis. Nine thousand cases of the infectious disease, also called infantile paralysis, were reported; 2,343 people died. Most of the victims were children.

The disease was known to be caused by the poliovirus, but the way the virus spread from victim to victim was not yet understood. Scapegoats were found. Newly arrived Italian immigrants in the Pigtown district were suspected of bringing the disease into the country. Cats were blamed, and tens of thousands were slaughtered by the authorities, assisted by eager young boys who wrongly believed there was a bounty on the animals. On 26 July, The New York Times carried the headline:
72,000 CATS KILLED
IN PARALYSIS FEAR

Other culprits suggested by the general public included ice cream, summer fruits, “moisty air”, tarantulas (which injected the virus into bananas), feather pillows, the tickling of children, and sharks (which breathed in poison gas and germs from dead bodies on the battlefields of Europe and carried the gas and germs across the Atlantic).

Source: Tony Gould, A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors (1995), chap. 1

Share this:

Leave a comment