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A place for Quattrones, Betteridges, and Praticos to share our family stories, history, and heritage.

A New Take on May 21, 1901

Each yeacropped-img_2140.jpgr, Fred and Mary Quattrone send out an email inviting family to join their family in a toast of the arrival of our patriarch, Ferdinando Quattrone.

We know that Ferdinando arrived at Ellis Island on May 21, 1901 via the steamship Bolivia from the Port of Naples.

After nosing around online, I uncovered that Ferdinando’s travel was shrouded with quite a bit of risk. The Port of Naples, during the spring and summer of 1901 was host to yellow fever, smallpox, and the bubonic plague. As I read the reports, I discovered that it was common practice for the steamship companies to attempt to handle it on their own by disinfecting the passengers and their luggage with hot steam. The Surgeon General, U.S. Marine-Hospitals, notes, “Permission to go aboard was, of course, refused. A careful lookout is being kept for such cases.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.37.11 PMIt is interesting to note that the Bolivia set sail from Naples on May 4, 1901, (Ferdinando’s departure date) but not every piece of luggage was disinfected by steam.

Reading further in Public Health Reports (1896-1970), published by the Association of Schools of Public Health, it seems that conditions only grew worse in Naples and all throughout Italy. The Surgeon General writes, “The number of cases of smallpox reported in Naples for the week ended May 5, 1901, was 95 with 24 deaths, a decrease of 44 cases and 6 deaths from the previous week.”

By October, the bubonic plague was rampant in the port of Naples.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.38.41 PM

The little I know about yellow fever and the plague is that each is spread by insects. Yellow Fever is spread by mosquitos and the Black Plague by fleas. I imagine the steam and disinfectant worked in the short term, but that it was only a temporary patch for the problems. I’m not so sure the steam treatment had much effect at all on smallpox.

Imagine stepping foot on a steamship bound for America while these three deadly, insidious diseases were very real, and very present.

Imagine the men and women processing the masses at Ellis Island and the responsibility they felt to not let any disease slip through into the country.

I stumbled on this information by simply searching the date of Ferdinando’s travel and supplementing it with words like history, weather, steamship, port, etc. I’d love to know what helped Ferdinando avoid those diseases.Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.06.40 PM

Was it luck? Was it something he did or did not do? How did he keep himself clean and free from the mosquitos and fleas that must have been all over that port and within the steamship? Was it windy travel? Did weather play into it?

Has anyone in our family ever heard of this detail of Ferdinando’s story?

About Brian Kelley

Middle school teacher, co-chair of our ELA department, and co-director with PAWLP. Follow me on Twitter @_briank_.

6 comments on “A New Take on May 21, 1901

  1. joanl777
    January 28, 2015

    Also bubonic plague was spread by rats. It’s amazing anyone survived.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. goodman52015
    January 28, 2015

    That’s amazing. Wow

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember Uncle Carmen telling me when he reached NY they would not let him come on land, he was suffering from something. It was said that he had to go back, but after reading these articles, I can’t believe they sent him back on one of those ships. He would never survive. There is no on around to tell us. We will find out one day.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. mbqhclover
    January 29, 2015

    This is fascinating. Whoever in our family has a writer’s way with words….I’d love to see an historical fictional novel based on facts from this. Wow…..

    Liked by 1 person

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