I've always been struck by the things that terrify people. There have been a staggering number of movies and books that frightened the hell out of the audience by featuring characters trapped in a remote area (all access and communication cut off) hunted by a madman or monster. Yet the possibility of this actually happening are remote (in the case of a madman) or impossible (in the case of monsters). But what are the chances that sometime during our lives a sick stranger will handle our food before we eat it? That's a guarantee. That's something we should really be afraid of. In the United States that fear has a name: Typhoid Mary.
Typhoid Mary's story is one of poverty, disease, science, modernity, personal misunderstandings and stubbornness. It also makes me nervous about eating in restaurants, or even buying food at the store.
Just the Facts:
Figures of Note:
In his book Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical chef Anthony Bourdain argues, convincingly, that Mallon must have have been a good cook to keep getting work. She must have been reasonably likable, employers kept hiring her and coworkers helped hide her when the authorities came to take her away. Given kitchen conditions at the time it seem likely that she kept her work area clean. But her living conditions were called filthy and her personal hygiene criticized as being very poor (at least during her confinement).
She was also strong and determined. When Soper accused her (publicly in the kitchen where she worked) of making people sick Mallon ran him off by brandishing a carving fork (and very strong language). When she was eventually brought in, it took several New York City Police (and Dr. Sara Josephine Baker) to subdue her. Her pride and stubborness goes too far, though. She was never willing to except that she made other people sick. It's easy to see her as a confused victim during her first confinement, but after she insisted on returning to her career in the kitchen (in a maternity hospital of all places) it's hard to give her much sympathy.
Using Mary in a game:
Even a Historical game doesn't have to utterly imitate the truth. A game may allow you to give Mary a happy ending. She may be given a satisfactory job by one of the characters or perhaps a cure is possible (in a cinematic game).
In a Historical game it will probably be necessary for the GM to change much about the Healthy Carrier so that history buffs don't find her easily.
Pros: Mary is Strong Willed and a Good Cook. Depending on the game, Inconspicuous may also count in her favor.
Dr. George Soper:
Soper first looked at all of the evidence again, assuming that he'd find an error or missed avenue of investigation. Bad water supply? Tainted dairy? Contaminated shellfish? All dead ends. Soper's great move was to approach this like any other crime. He knew the incubation period for the disease and calculated back to when the disease was introduced to the household. Had there been any odd occurrences? Had different grocers been used? Was there a change in staff?... wait, there had been a change, a new cook who had since left the job! There were only two or three agencies that upstanding families used to hire professional help. He knew he could find her. Once he found this cook he even tailed her back to her rooms. Eventually he even convinced Mallon's gentleman friend to help corner Mary. Soper had successfully reinvented himself has a detective.
Soper's great failing was in his belief that approaching Mary at her place of employment and announcing to all and sundry that she was diseased would gain positive results. It seems entirely possible that a different person, with more foresight and caution, my have found a better solution. Soper's short-sightedness creates two villains: the plague bearing Typhoid Mary and the city hall -backed bully of George Soper. Remember that Dr. Soper wasn't just motivated by the public good, he was more than eager to be the first person to identify a healthy carrier in the United States.
Using Dr. Soper in a game:
Pros: Soper is a Skilled Sanitary Engineer. His successes in his field have given him a Good Reputation. He is at least Clever (if not Inventive), he turns himself into a private detective and even makes the crafty offer of giving Mary Mallon all of the revenues from any book he'd write about her.
Dr. Sara Josephine Baker:
Using Dr. Baker in a game:
Pros: Highly Intelligent, Driven, Trained Physician, Famous, Innovative, and Fearless
Themes and Topics:
Disease is the obvious choice to focus a game on. Disease is everywhere now and in the past. But it's one of the unpleasant things that most games choose to gloss over. Not this time; explore it in full. Make the Characters take a good hard look at the world they live in, at the flood of poverty and disease that flood the "great" cities. Never let the players get comfortable, the longer the game goes on the more the Characters should worry about who they will meet and what they may be carrying.
Mary Mallon's story is also one of personal freedom. Mallon is interred for most of her life without be convicted of a crime, basically without a trial. She was quarantined while dozens of other healthy carriers were allowed to walk free. It's true that this was done for the public good, for the health of the populace. But imagine how terrifying it was for Mallon. She didn't feel sick, yet strangers told her she was and these strangers had the government and police behind them. She was not a criminal so she didn't even get the protections given to criminals. She was kept from everything she knew, from common human contact. Mallon becomes the villain and the victim.
This is also a tale of medical innovation. It's not just the concept of a healthy carrier that was revolutionary, the germ theory of disease was still relatively new. The idea that tiny "animals" caused disease was a controversial idea amongst medical professionals and poorly understood (at best) by the common man. The reason that cities were being cleaned up was because the prevailing theory was that "miasmas" were the cause of sickness, that decomposing filth made "bad air" and this lead to disease. Imagine being a poorly educated person first being told that bacteria transmitted from one person to another caused illness. Then imagine trying to believe that a (seemingly) healthy person could also pass on these germs. Then imagine that doctors tell you that you are the person spreading invisible contagion. Would you believe it?
The Historical Investigation.
Not Under My Roof!
Trailing the Dead.
The idea that microscopic organisms cause disease is proven to be in error (or is never put forth at all). What causes disease? Filth. Dirt. Horrible living conditions. You want to make people healthy? Clean the world. No filth means no disease. Think about how disease free our society would be if all the money we poured into health care was put into sanitation and public cleanliness? What would the future look like?
Strikingly like most early science fiction. The future was always clean and the people distinctly disease free. Now we know it was no coincidence, the Miasma Theory may be the first step towards utopia! Time traveling Victorians may be surprised when they arrive in the future of 2010 to find that disease is a distant memory all because of the high quality of sanitation. (It also explains the weird outfits that future mankind always wears, they must be designed to stay clean!.)
But you can always find a down side. Just because the future is bright and shiny doesn't have to mean it's a good place to be. A time-traveler may find themselves arrested and locked away because they're dirty, grotesquely filthy by the standards of the future. If the Miasma Theory is valid then it's an understandable view! It may be an interesting way to turn things around on time-travelers who are convinced they are heroes who can do no wrong. Especially when they leave outbreaks of disease in their wakes...
Dr. Sara Josephine Baker
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