• Ann D. Watson

Diphtheria

August 1895. The hottest days of the year. In Keyport, New Jersey, children frolicked in the cool water and their parents enjoyed the breeze on the beach. But even though the Bauer family lived virtually on the water, they weren’t going to the beach. At first Annie might have hoped three-year-old Herman’s fever and hoarse voice were just a cold when he fell ill on August 4th. A few days later, the thick, gray coating that appeared at the back of his throat and his rapid breathing would have told her

that this was more serious. Dr. E. Williams, the family doctor, arrived and made the diagnosis: the dreaded “angel of strangulation,” diphtheria, the most frightening childhood disease of all, had focused its wrath on Broad Street. Diphtheria is a ruthless disease that, helped by the “pseudomembrane” that covers the breathing passages and the toxins it exudes that wreak havoc on the organs, causes its victims to die a horrific death by suffocation.

Edwin Klebs, a Swiss-German pathologist, identified the Corynebacterium diphtheriae in 1883. Of all childhood diseases, diphtheria inspired the most fear and dread, due to both its high fatality rate and its cruel killing method.

A photogmicrograph of Corynebacterium diphtheriae

As of 1894, European scientists had developed an antitoxin that was helping people. Early in 1895 the New



York City Health Department started producing it; Mulford Co. of Philadelphia did the same. [1] The Red Bank Register reported in February that “Physicians at Keyport are successfully using anti-toxine in diphtheria cases.” [2] By summer, various Monmouth County physicians had tried the treatment, with good results. [3] The anti-toxin offered hope for vanquishing the disease.

Nevertheless, the antitoxin was still brand new, relatively untried, and not consistently available. Most of it had to be shipped from Germany. The “strangler” spread its way through Hoboken the same month that the Bauer boys sickened; “and in the midst of the alarming spread of the disease, the new remedy Antitoxine, gave out and no more could be procured this side of the ocean.” [4] Plenty of people were still dying of the disease, [5] 273 in Newark alone that year. [6] From 1889–1893, forty thousand people died of diphtheria in ten U.S. cities. [7] In fact, the disease continued to spread and peaked in 1921, when 206,000 U.S. cases were recorded.

Five days after Herman got sick, diphtheria attacked twelve-year-old Willie, Herman and Annie’s eldest child, likely assaulting him with a sore throat, fever, and swollen glands. Dr. Williams arrived, but didn’t treat Willie with antitoxin, [8] despite the fact that Edgar Roberts, another Keyport doctor, administered it to two children the same week Willie fell ill. [9] Whether it was because Dr. Williams couldn’t get it, didn’t trust the treatment, or another reason, is unknown. Williams was about fifty-five years old and may have been less open to new methods than Dr. Roberts, who was only thirty-three. [10] Willie was left untreated. [11]



As the adults hovered and Annie maintained a round-the-clock vigil by her children’s bedsides, we can speculate that the

other four children — Emily, Elsa, Anna, and Minnie — were kept from the sick room. No one from the Bauer family would be going to the baseball game in Keyport on August 10th , or the performance of Handel’s Messiah in Ocean Grove or the bicycle races at Asbury Park later in the month. Watching Willie having more and more trouble swallowing, then struggling to even speak, was undoubtedly agonizing. Ultimately, he likely suffocated to death while still conscious, a horror for a parent to witness. Willie died just four days after falling ill, on August 13. [12]


Meanwhile, little Herman might have had only a mild case, or have seemed to recover. His father and Annie might well have breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he was better. After the sadness of Willie’s burial on August 14, [13] perhaps they hoped Herman’s crisis was past. Diphtheria doesn’t give up that easily, however. The toxin that it produces can travel throughout the body, damaging the heart and nerves and paralyzing breathing muscles. Herman died on August 26, thirteen days after his older brother, of “paralysis and congestion of lungs after diphtheria.” [14] The agony of virtually choking to death would have been brutal for the three-year-old; and Annie and Herman must have been absolutely shattered by what they had to witness. The anguish of watching the two boys die, combined with the grief induced by their loss, are unimaginable. Herman and Willie were laid to rest next to their baby brother Charley, who had died nine years earlier at the age of eight months.










Herman (L) and Willie (R) Bauer, c. 1895; privately held by Ann D. Watson, [address for private use,] New Haven, Vermont, 2020. Likely a composite made after their deaths. The hair on Herman is obviously false –too much hair for a three year old.


Notes


1. "History of Diphtheria," The History of Vaccines (https://www.historyofvaccines.org : accessed 2 March 2020).


2. “In and Out of Town,” Red Bank Register, 6 February 1895, p. 8, col. 1; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020).


3. “Anti-Toxine,” The Daily Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York), 2 March 1895, p. 1, col. 5; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Only One Case Fatal,” The New York Times, 2 December 1894, p. 16, col. 1; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Anti-Toxine,” The Daily Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York), 2 March 1895, p. 1, col. 5; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). “Dreaded Diphtheria,” The Brooklyn Citizen, 14 April 1895, p. 12, col. 4; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Saved by Anti-Toxine,” Keyport Weekly, 26 January 1895, p. 4, col. 3; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “In and Out of Town,” Red Bank Register, 6 February 1895, p. 8, col. 1; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “In and Out of Town,” Red Bank Register, 27 March1895, p. 8, col. 1; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Anti-Toxine at Belmar,” Red Bank Register, 13 February 1895, p. 8, col. 2; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Anti-Toxine at Red Bank,” Red Bank Register, 13 February 1895, p. 1, col. 4; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28

February 2020).


4. “Diphtheria Epidemic and no Antitoxine on Hand,” Monmouth Democrat (Freehold, New Jersey), 15 August 1895, p. 2, col. 5; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020).


5. See “Two Deaths From Diphtheria,” Red Bank Register, 14 August 1895, p. 4, col.1; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Englishtown and Vicinity,” Freehold Transcript, 13 September 1895, p. 5, col. 2; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Death of Two Children,” The Daily (Asbury Park) Press, 9 February 1895, p. 1, col. 4; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020). Also, “Home and Vicinity News,” Keyport Weekly, 5 January 1895, p. 3, col. 1; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020).


6. Frederick S. Crum, Ph.D., “A Statistical Study of Diphtheria,” American Journal of Public Health, VII:5 (May 1917), p. 451; viewed at American Journal of Public Health (https:// https://ajph.aphapublications.org : accessed 5 March 2020), path articles > past issues > 1911–1919 > 1917 > Volume 7 Issue 5 (May 1917, pp. 445–526).


7. Crum, “A Statistical Study of Diphtheria,” p. 446.


8. New Jersey, death certificate (1895), William Bauer; State Archives, Trenton.


9. “Home and Vicinity News,” Keyport Weekly, 17 August 1895, p. 3, col. 1; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020).


10. For Roberts, see 1900 U. S. census, Monmouth County, New Jersey, population schedule, Raritan township, town of Keyport, enumeration district (ED) 122, p. 16 (stamped), p. sheet 3-A, dwelling 59, family 65, Edgar D. Roberts; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 March 2020); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll [no roll number given]. Also, 1870 U.S. census, Ocean County, New Jersey, population schedule, Dover, p. 4 (penned), p. 38 (stamped), dwelling 28, family 28, Daniel Roberts; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 March 2020); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 883.

For Dr. Williams see 1900 U.S. census, Monmouth County, New Jersey, population schedule, Raritan township, town of Keyport, enumeration district (ED) 123, p. 48 (stamped), sheet 18-A, dwelling 407, family 444, William E. Johnson; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 March 2020); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll [no roll number given].


11. New Jersey, death certificate (1895), William Bauer.


12. Ibid.


13. “Willie Bauer,” Keyport Weekly, 17 August 1895, p. 3, col. 4; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020).


14. New Jersey, death certificate (1895), Herman Bauer; State Archives, Trenton.

Picture Credits


Diphtheria painting: Richard Tennant Cooper (1885–1957), watercolor, gouache and pencil, abt. 1912.

Source: Wellcome Collection (https://wellcomecollection.org : accessed 3 March 2020). License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC By 4.0)/


Photomicrograph: CDC Public Health Image Library

(http://www.publicdomainfiles.com/show_file.php?id=13519921225477 : accessed 5 March 2020.)


Willie Bauer obituary: “Willie Bauer,” Keyport Weekly, 17 August 1895, p. 3, col. 4; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 February 2020).


Herman Bauer obituary: “Herman O. Bauer, Jr.,” Keyport (New Jersey) Weekly, 31 August 1895, p. 3, col. 4; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 3 March 2020).


Grave markers: Green Grove Cemetery (Keyport, Monmouth County, New Jersey), Herman, Willie, and Charley Bauer; markers personally photographed and read by Ann D. Watson, 2018.

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