The year horses caught the epi­zooty

The Review - - OPINION - Jim Smart Of All Things Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­phia.com.

Re­cent re­ports say hun­dreds of deer are dy­ing be­cause of an epi­zootic (pro­nounced epi-zootic), the an­i­mal equiv­a­lent of an epi­demic. It’s now also in­fluenza time for hu­mans.

It made me re­mem­ber when I was a lit­tle boy and if some­one be­gan sneez­ing and cough­ing, my grand­fa­ther would laugh and say, “You’ve got the epi­zooty.”

He was re­call­ing when he was 10 years old, in 1872, and a de­bil­i­tat­ing epi­zootic, equine in­fluenza, struck 80 per­cent of the horses in the United States.

Horses’ nos­trils be­gan dis­charg­ing ugly green mu­cus. They had trou­ble breath­ing and couldn’t stand up. Most re­cov­ered in a week or so, but of the es­ti­mated 50,000 horses in Philadel­phia, 2,250 died.

The ef­fect was dis­as­trous in big cities. Horses pulled car­riages, street­cars, fire en­gines, am­bu­lances, coal wag­ons to keep fac­to­ries work­ing, ve­hi­cles for trash col­lec­tion, milk de­liv­ery and fu­ner­als.

Out West, it was said, some Cavalry and In­dian fight­ing had to be done on foot.

The first cases hit Canada in early Septem­ber but soon spread from coast to coast and down to Texas and Flor­ida.

In Oc­to­ber, word came that oxen were pulling street­cars on Broad­way in New York and work­men were push­ing streetscars in Bos­ton.

Philadel­phi­ans first be­came aware of the plague on Oct. 27, when the West Philadel­phia Pas­sen­ger Rail­way, one of the 10 city street­car lines, re­ported that 49 of its 500 horses were stricken.

Weak, runny-nosed horses were seen on the streets over the next few days. A large sta­ble at Fourth and Cherry streets re­ported all horses in­ca­pac­i­tated on Oct. 31.

The first fa­tal­ity came on Sun­day, Nov. 3 — a horse be­long­ing to Mau­rice Hayes, an un­der­taker at 17th and Gi­rard.

By Nov. 4, the city was par­a­lyzed. News­pa­per head­lines stated grimly “The City Well Nigh Horse­less” and “Fear­ful Spread of the Pesti­lence” and “But Few Horses Left.”

Street­car lines were run­ning far fewer cars than nor­mal, and ser­vice was er­ratic. Men were re­plac­ing horses. Ho­tel em­ploy­ees hauled car­riages to rail­road sta­tions to pick up guests. Fire­men dragged their en­gines to fires. Men did horses’ work on the water­front, where goods were pil­ing up.

Mill hands pulled barges on the Manayunk canal, where Dav­en­port & O’Don­nell’s livery sta­ble was hard hit.

Mules and oxen were brought from out­ly­ing farms for freight work; black­smiths were busy adapt­ing horse shoes to ox feet.

Peo­ple ar­rested on mi­nor charges were mostly be­ing set free be­cause no horses were avail­able to trans­port them to Moy­a­mensing Prison at 10th Street and Passyunk Av­enue.

The two city com­pa­nies that re­moved dead horses were over­whelmed. They usu­ally charged two dol­lars but were charg­ing an out­ra­geous five.

Nov. 5 was Elec­tion Day. Ulysses S. Grant was re-elected pres­i­dent, with a large ma­jor­ity in Philadel­phia.

On Nov. 6, a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle with the head­line “Dullest of Dull Elec­tions” re­ported “the ut­ter ab­sence of ex­cite­ment and the lack of in­ter­est dis­played.”

One ob­server wrote that nine-10ths of the horses on the streets looked as though they should be in their sta­bles.

Street­car lines were get­ting back in ser­vice, though sev­eral were us­ing four weak horses on cars nor­mally pulled by two.

Ob­servers said that the Lom­bard & South Co. and the Eleventh & Twelfth Street Line had fewer horses off duty dur­ing the emer­gency. They had sep­a­rated sick horses from the well, pre­vent­ing spread of what Grand­pop called the epi­zooty.

Horses’ nos­trils be­gan dis­charg­ing ugly green mu­cus. They had trou­ble breath­ing and couldn’t stand up. Most re­cov­ered in a week or so, but of the es­ti­mated 50,000 horses in Philadel­phia, 2,250 died.

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