The Plague Comes to San Francisco
"It appears to me that commercial interests of San Francisco are more dear to the inhabitants than the preservation of human life. No sentiment has been expressed against a possible danger arising to the people, to their wives and children. These people seem perfectly indifferent whether or not bubonic plague exists in San Francisco, so long as they can sell their products and make large percentages on their investments.” - Joseph Kinyoun
Reporting live from COVID-19 Hell, Here Lies a Story wants you to know that this isn’t the first time we’ve blamed a whole ass Asian country and anyone who looks vaguely Chinese for a pandemic! Wayyyyy back in the early days of San Francisco, this town was hit by an epidemic of BUBONIC PLAGUE. For real! That disease didn’t just wreak havoc in medieval times. It showed up here, on our shores, in 1900. Plague traveled here from Asia along shipping lines (sound familiar?). The government tried to deny it was a problem (sound familiar?) and the press tried to cover it up (sound familiar?) which allowed it to spread out of control (sound familiar?). When it became impossible to ignore, they blamed Chinese immigrants! SOUND FAMILIAR?!
None of this COVID fuckery is new. We have better science, but then and now, uncertainty means people will deny, scapegoat, and fall for quack remedies. Fear of losing business and revenue stalls efforts to address the outbreak. When plague hit the city in 1900, it took us a long time to get our act together and fight it head on. It took eight years to eradicate the plague, through a program of cleaning up the rats, treating the patients, and surveilling the population for disease.
Join us on a journey through the plague outbreak of 1900-1908. The map above shows the important sites from the plague outbreak and reveals the stories of the people affected - the heroes who helped, the scoundrels who made it worse. Along the way, you’ll learn some history and some science, hear political screeds BUT ALSO jokes, and enjoy a guided tour of this incredible city from the comfort of your own quarantine.
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Want to learn more? Check out the sources!