Search billions of records on

Flying the Quarantine flag

Deaths in Quarantine, 1909-1911

Barriers Against Invisible Foes

by Frank Linstow White

Page 2 of 4

Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Vol. XXXIII, January to June 1892; Pages 662 - 672.


The Forgotten of Ellis Island Database

Search the Database

My Search for Apollonia Spiegel

Quarantine Station for Ellis Island and the Port of New York Photographs and Pictures

Sign the Guestbook!

Some Resources to Use in Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestors

A Short Bibliography for Quarantine and Ellis Island

Repositories or Archives

Links to More Sites related to Quarantine and Immigration

Previous pagePrevious Page Next Page

We first take a run over to a couple of freight steamers from Havana. We are informed on the way that during June to September all ships from that port (which has the name of the most infectious one in the West Indies), or any other "yellow-fever port" from which the trip is made in less than five days, are detained until they have been away from it for that time, which is considered the maximum incubative (sic) period of yellow fever.

Various other precautionary measures further insure safety against infection. The United States consuls in the West Indies, east coast of South American, west coast of Africa, the Spanish Main, Bahama (sic) and Bermuda, are expected to report immediately if infectious diseases become rampant at those places, or if the number of deaths from infectious diseases common at any of such places rises above the usual figure. (Thus, forty-five deaths a week from yellow fever is considered the maximum at Havana.) In such cases, incoming ships from those parts are stopped at the Lower Quarantine, which is situated six miles below the upper station. Here a ship is always moored, from which such vessels are boarded. If there are cases on board, they are removed to Swinburne Island; the ship, after proper fumigation, being allowed to go on its way.

Formerly all vessels liable to quarantine were compelled to discharge "in quarantine," and were detained for periods of from ten to thirty days, the law providing for warehouses, docks and wharves for such vessels. Nowadays, exemption from long delays and heavy expense at Quarantine is the inducement offered to masters or owners of vessels to adopt vigorous protective measures against infection at the beginning of a trip. Vessels from ports subject to yellow fever, for instance, were formerly detained for forty-eight hours at the Lower Quarantine for fumigation, and then permitted to proceed to the upper bay, between Robbin's Reef Lighthouse and Bedloe's Island, where their cargoes were discharged into lighters, and the vessel cleansed and allowed to proceed to the wharf. Under Dr. William M. Smith's régime much of this cumbersome and unnecessary mode of procedure has been done away with. If there is good evidence that the incoming vessel is not infected, it is allowed to proceed with as little delay as possible, the detention lasting only ten or twelve hours. Masters and owners of such vessels, therefore, naturally strive to have a clean record, and do their best to preserve their people from contagion. As we have seen before, an exception to this rule is made in the case of vessels arriving from yellow-fever ports with passengers or a crew that have been on shore within five days previous to their arrival, which vessels are detained until the five-day period is over. This plan has been attended by most satisfactory results, and the arrival of a vessel infected with yellow fever is an event of extremely rare occurrence. In a word, ships are now restored to commerce with as much expedition as is consistent with the protective purposes of Quarantine.

Meanwhile, we have already reached the ships which are staying out the required five-day term, and after a double fumigation by oil of vitriol in a number of buckets placed in the hold, will be allowed to pass up.

Hoffman Island

This done, we turn around and steam down toward Hoffman Island. On our way we learn the object of our visit there. A steamer of the Belgian line came in, a few days before, with a smallpox patient on board. The sick man has been take to the Reception Hospital in Sixteenth Street, New York city, and thence transferred to North Brother Island, in Long Island Sound. Those of the steerage passengers who had been successfully vaccinated before the breaking out of the disease were allowed to land, and the steamer passed on after proper fumigation. The other emigrants (sic) were at once vaccinated by the Quarantine people, and were then transferred, at the steamship company's expense, to Hoffman Island. Here they are visited daily, after the second day of their sojourn by the Health Officer Those on whom, upon examination, the vaccination is proven to have been successful, are soon taken away; the others must remain two weeks, within which period the disease will reveal itself, if present. As they stay here at the expense of the steamship company, the latter has good reason for seeing that its passengers are effectually vaccinated at the beginning of the trip.

Vaccinating immigrants

The importance of doing this has frequently been urged upon them by Dr. Smith, and his efforts have been successful to a considerable degree. Dr. Smith also repeatedly pointed out the inefficiency of the medical service, especially on merchantmen, and suggested that better salaries be paid, so as to insure the procuring of competent medial officers on ships. Even the financial interests of the steamship companies would seem to demand this, for the incompetency or carelessness of the ship's surgeon often brings about detentions at Quarantine which are expensive to the owners of the vessel, and might have been avoided. In 1890 alone, 1,538 immigrants were removed from eight different steamers and kept at the Quarantine of Observation for periods varying from four to fourteen days.

While we are getting these facts we have already passed by Fort Richmond, and the mass of grass-covered earthworks beyond and above known as Fort Wadsworth, running along pretty near to shore in following the channel. It is getting cooler, and a stiff little breeze blows into our faces and drives the spray of the waves on to the deck of the tug.

A water boat lies at the dock of the island, vigorously pumping up Ridgewood (L.I.) water from its hold. The big yard beyond is swarming with immigrants for some 500 have been relegated to this place for a two weeks' exile. The mass of humanity is inclosed (sic) by a high fence on both sides, and the Quarantine people at once take up their position at a table by a gate, through which each person passes after being examined. It is now lunchtime, and we have a good opportunity of assuring ourselves that the immigrants kept here are well fed and cared for.

We clamber up on shore, and enter the New Administration Building, on our right. The examinations are almost completed, but the large dining room is still empty. We pass thought the spacious kitchen, where large, fine chunks of meat are being cut up by the steamship's stewards, who are kept here with their steerage passengers, while the cook is perspiring and poling round about some huge kettles, in which potatoes and other eatables are steaming and simmering. In all these rooms the ceilings are of galvanized corrugated iron, and the walls, up to a height of about five feet from the bottom, are made of imported white enameled bricks, the smooth glaze on which insures cleanness, dryness and an absence of lodging place for disease germs, as does also the asphalt under your feet in the dormitories, which are located in two separate buildings. The beds in these — bands of canvas stretched on frames of iron tubing — are folded upward and back against the wall and fastened to hooks when not in use. Mattresses were found to be of no especial (sic) use here except to breed vermin.

We then pass through the laundry, where the clothes, after being washed, are hung over horizontal poles fitted in upright boards at each end. These sliding frames are run together into a sold row, and steam does the drying, just as it does the cooking.

From here we go up to what is perhaps the most interesting place in the building — the disinfecting chamber. This is occupied by a series of sliding frames, ranged along narrow passageways. In each of these frames three wire baskets are hung, one above the other. Each of these baskets is intended to hold the clothing of one person or family, when disinfection is going on. A tag is affixed to each basket, for the purpose of identification, and the frames, which run on overhead tracks, are pushed back, their ends forming a solid wall along the passageway. Everything in the chamber is of iron, and the place is as air tight as it can possibly be made. Nine thousand feet of coiled piping pass through the room.

Fumigating Room at Quarantine

The process of disinfection is to exhaust the air in the chamber, the stanchions in the room serving to support the enormous pressure from above. "The doors and room," we are told, "are calculated to withstand the pressure of 7½ pounds per square inch," and gauges are so placed as to indicate the pressure. Superheated steam is let in under high pressure, rising to about 250º, more or less, as desired. There is a thermometer in each of the three sections of the disinfecting room, and the degree of heat as shown by these is indicated to the engineer below by means of bells over the door of the engine room, worked by electric connections. Thus the amount of heat desired can be regulated at will. After disinfection the effects are taken, if necessary, to the drying room, where they are dried by steam.

Formerly, much of the work was done in the Old Administration Building, which contains Superintendent Bernard A. Owen's dwelling, as also accommodations for cabin passengers. But considerable and important improvements have been undertaken at Hoffman Island within the last three years, the necessity for them becoming manifest when the grim visage of cholera loomed up before the port in 1887 like a threatening thundercloud. The importance of being ready for such dread visitors, who threaten destruction to health and business alike, was hardly recognized until so forcibly presented, but over $200,000 were then appropriated for the improvement of the Quarantine of Observation. To mention but a part of the work that has been accomplished: The masses of sand around the buildings have disappeared under a layer of broken stones, and the whole place is paved with asphalt, the same material covering also the floors or the dormitories, and rendering them impervious to disease germs. Sixty-eight metallic bath tubs have been put up in place of the half-barrels formerly used. The closets discharge into porcelain-lined troughs, where the dejecta can be disinfected, if necessary, a valve closing the opening into the sewer until the object has been effected. They are placed in annex buildings erected beside the two dormitories, each building being divided into four sections, which communicate respectively with four corresponding divisions in the dormitory, divided off by galvanized iron partitions.

Superintendent's Office, Hoffman Ilsand
Previous pagePrevious Page Next Page

Return to the top of this page.

Copyright © 2001-2012, Cathy Horn, All Rights Reserved.

More Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island