Guess Who Performed in Evansville: Part 3

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

Welcome back to another exciting addition of Guess Who Performed in Evansville. Today, we explore the life and career of another famous country singer. She came to Evansville in 1977 and performed a concert at Roberts Stadium. Let’s get started and see if you can guess who she is with three clues:

  1. She known as the “Queen of Country”.
  2. Her best-known song was also made into an autobiography and popular film in 1980.
  3. She isn’t the only singer in the family: she is half-sisters with Crystal Gayle.

Can you guess who the musician is?

The musician is Loretta Lynn.

Loretta Lynn was born Loretta Webb on April 14, 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky in a one-room log cabin. She was the second of eight children and grew up extremely poor. By 1948, she married her husband, Oliver “Mooney” Lynn and had six children together. Lynn was musically inclined, and her husband saw her an opportunity. He bought her a guitar to play and eventually led to a future career in singing. Lynn’s musical career started in 1960, upon the release of her first hit song, “Honky Tonk Girl”. Within a few years, Lynn was a country music superstar, performing at the Grand Ole Opry and releasing her best-known song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, in 1970.

Loretta Lynn performing at Roberts Stadium on March 1977. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-1496).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-1489), USI.

By 1971, she was an established solo artist, having won the Country Music Association’s (CMA) female vocalist of the year on three occasions. Lynn formed a successful duet duo with fellow country music singer, Conway Twitty, becoming popular overnight! Twitty and Lynn won numerous Grammys and Country Music Association’s (CMA) awards for best vocal duos. Lynn would become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1962, becoming the 119th individual to receive that honor. Learn more about their partnership in Guess Who Performed in Evansville: Part 1. Adding to her legacy, Lynn won the CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1972, becoming the first woman to do so.

Loretta Lynn performing at Roberts Stadium on March 1977. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-1499).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-1499), USI.

Outside of the music world, Lynn decided to write an autobiography on her life. Her book, Coal Miner’s Daughter, was published in 1976. By 1980, it was produced into a movie, starring Sissy Spacek, who portrayed Lynn, and Tommy Lee Jones. (If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a must see!) Lynn’s music career continued to remain solid until the death of her husband in 1996, she went on hiatus. Lynn returned to the music scene in 2004; however, she wasn’t going in alone. Alongside fellow singer, Jack White, of the band, White Stripes, produced the album, Van Lear Rose, winning a Grammy and Americana Awards for the album. In the last couple of years, Lynn has suffered numerous health issues, including a stroke; however, it didn’t stop her from producing another album in 2018.

Loretta Lynn performing at Roberts Stadium in 1979. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-2619).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-2619), USI.

From photographs taken by Greg Smith, Lynn came to Evansville to perform twice: in March 1977 and 1979. She came as a guest performer alongside her duet partner, Conway Twitty (“Singing up country”, 1977). According to the Evansville Courier and Evansville Press newspapers in 1979, there was no available information about her concert. Regardless, it is an honor knowing Lynn came to Evansville to perform twice in her career.

For more information, the Greg Smith collection at the University Archives and Special Collections at the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana has over 1,500 photographs of Evansville history available online. Take a moment to explore his photographs of athletic events, local businesses, and many more. Stay tuned for our next entry on Guess Who Performed in Evansville.

References

Singing up country. (1977, March 26). The Evansville Press. https://bit.ly/2xVir3I

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2020, March 19). Loretta Lynn. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Loretta-Lynn

Zwisohn, L. (n.d.). Loretta Lynn. https://countrymusichalloffame.org/artist/loretta-lynn/

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Guess Who Performed in Evansville, Local history, music | Leave a comment

Guess Who Performed in Evansville: Part 2

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

In today’s edition of Guess Who Performed in Evansville, we are leaving the country music scene and moving into the 1970’s and 1980’s pop scene. We have three clues for you: can you guess who he is?

  1. Throughout his career, he has had 33 Top 40 hits.
  2. He was married to supermodel, Christine Brinkley.
  3. His nickname is “Piano Man”.

Can you guess who the musician is?

The musician is Billy Joel.

Joel was born on May 9, 1949, in Bronx, New York. His musical career began when he was four years old: he started taking piano lessons, primarily focusing in classical music. When he was a teenager, the Beatles had invaded the United States and he began to play for rock bands. By 1971, he finally released his first album, “Cold Spring Harbor”. It wasn’t until 1973 when he released his best-known song, Piano Man, later becoming his nickname. Through the 1970’s, Joel released four albums and won two Grammy Awards in 1979 for “Just the Way You Are” for Album of the Year and Record and the Year. As the 1980’s approached, his career would continue to go strong!

Billy Joel performing at Roberts Stadium on April 24, 1979. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-2996).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-2996), USI.

In 1980, Joel won two more Grammy’s for “52nd Street” for Album of the Year and Male Pop Vocal Performance. That wasn’t all Joel was going to do: he won one more Grammy in 1981. He made history in 1987 when he became the first American music entertainer to perform a rock concert in the Soviet Union (he would perform five concerts in the USSR). By the 1990’s, Joel’s career was slowing down, but produced one more album in 1993 and performing concerts all over the world. Joel would be awarded numerous lifetime achievement awards, inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999), and Kennedy Center Performing Arts Award (2013), and won the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (2013).

Billy Joel performing at Roberts Stadium on April 24, 1979. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-2986).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-2986), USI.

Billy Joel performed at Roberts Stadium in Evansville early on in his career. His concert was on April 24, 1979. He performed for two hours in front of a packed crowd, singing Piano Man, Stiletto, Just the Way You Are, Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die, just to name a few. When Joel sang Let and Let Die. He had fun with the audience when he performed Live and Let Die by saying to the audience, “This isn’t my song, is it?” The audience replied, “No!” with Joel then saying, “I don’t care!” (Graham, 1979). The concert was successful and “Joel proved himself to be an exciting performer and a true talent” (Hibbs, 1979).

Billy Joel performing at Roberts Stadium on April 24, 1979. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-3001).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-3001), USI.

For more information, the Greg Smith collection at the University Archives and Special Collections at the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana has over 1,500 photographs of Evansville history available online. Take a moment to explore his photographs of athletic events, local businesses, and many more. Stay tuned for our next addition of Guess Who Performed in Evansville.

References Consulted

Billy Joel biography. (n.d.). Billy Joel biography. Retrieved April 8, 2020, from https://www.billyjoel.com/biography/

CNN. (2019, May 2). Billy Joel fast facts. Retrieved on April 8, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2015/09/28/us/billy-joel-fast-facts/index.html

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2019, May 5). Billy Joel. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Billy-Joel

Graham, R. (1979, April 25). Billy Joel: Tough and tender. The Evansville Press. https://bit.ly/34mGqVw

Hibbs, M. P. (1979, April 25). Tireless Billy Joel makes it seem easy. The Evansville Courier. https://bit.ly/39MOcsU

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Guess Who Performed in Evansville, Local history, music | Leave a comment

Guess Who Performed in Evansville: Part 1

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

In our new blog series, Guess Who Performed in Evansville, the focus is on renowned musicians and bands who performed concerts in our great city! Our first musician is best known for his country music and produced forty number one hits. Need more clues? UASC has you covered with three clues:

  1. His best-known song is “Hello Darlin’”, released in 1970.
  2. He performed alongside Loretta Lynn and won 5 music awards from their duet career.
  3. The FOX animated series, Family Guy, played cutaway clips of this artist in some of their episodes.

Can you guess who the musician is?

The musician is Conway Twitty.

Conway Twitty was born Harold Jenkins in Friars Points, Mississippi on September 1, 1933. As a child, he learned how to play the guitar by his grandfather and from there, his music career would begin. Along with his musical abilities, he was known for his baseball skills, even scouted to play baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies; however, he was drafted to serve in the Korean War. During his time in Korea, he continued to listen to music and wanted to pursue a music career. After the war, he signed with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, change his name to Conway Twitty and the rest would be history.

Conway Twitty performing at Roberts Stadium on March 25, 1977. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-1489).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-1489), USI.

His song, “It’s Only Make Believe”, was released in 1958. It was a hit on the charts and was incredibly popular. In the early 1960’s, his career began to wane down. He realized he needed to change his act from pop music to country ballads and country love songs. That move proved to be successful and his career skyrocketed. By the 1970’s, he and fellow county music superstar, Loretta Lynn, formed a duet, and was a successful collaboration. Twitty and Lynn won numerous Grammys and Country Music Association’s (CMA) awards for best vocal duos. He was inducted into numerous halls of fames; however, he was never inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry is in Nashville, Tennessee and is best known for promoting country music. The Opry air their programs on the radio and television: their radio program is the longest-running radio program in US history. Twitty continued producing multiple #1 hits in his solo career and continued to perform until his death in 1993, at the age of 59, after having a stomach aneurysm.

Conway Twitty performing at Roberts Stadium on March 25, 1977. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-1490).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-1490), USI.

Conway Twitter made a concert stop to Evansville back on March 25, 1977, at the height of his career. He performed at Roberts Stadium. According the Evansville Press newspaper (“Entertainment”, 1977), Twitty did not perform only that night. His duet partner, Loretta Lynn, was at the concert as well and performed alongside Twitty in front of 6,100 fans. Twitty even did an Elvis impression (Uh-huh-huh!) much to the crowd’s enjoyment.

Conway Twitty performing at Roberts Stadium on March 25, 1977. Source: Greg Smith Collection at University of Southern Indiana (MSS 034-1493).

Source: Greg Smith Collection (MSS 034-1493), USI.

For more information, the Greg Smith collection at the University Archives and Special Collections at the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana has over 1,500 photographs of Evansville history available online. Take a moment to explore his photographs of athletic events, local businesses, and many more. Stay tuned for our next addition of Guess Who Performed in Evansville.

References Consulted

Betts, S. L. (2020, March 23). Why Conway Twitter is the butt of ‘Family Guy’ jokes. Rolling Stones. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-country/conway-twitty-hello-darlin-song-971680/

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2019, August 28). Conway Twitty. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Conway-Twitty

Entertainment. (1977, March 26). The Evansville Press. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2UTtWle

Oermann, R. K. (n.d.). Conway Twitty. https://countrymusichalloffame.org/artist/conway-twitty/

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Guess Who Performed in Evansville, Local history, music | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Dr. Darrel E. Bigham

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Dr. Darrel Bigham, 1997. Source: UASC at USI (UP 05625).

Dr. Darrel Bigham, 1997. Source: University Archives & Special Collections, USI (UP 05625).

Rice Library and its University Archives and Special Collections honor the contributions of Dr. Darrel Bigham (1942-2020), Professor Emeritus of History. Dr. Bigham was instrumental in the creation of University Archives Special Collections.  He and the then University Archivist, Josephine Elliot, applied for a grant from the Lily Endowment, Inc. of Indianapolis in the summer of 1972. The successful application meant that Indiana State University Evansville received a three-year grant to establish an archival project for the acquisition, preservation and processing of regional material. At the end of the third year the University was to assume responsibility for continuing the growth of the Special Collections. When Elliot and Bigham established the Special Collections/University Archives department, they started with just a few regional history books on Indiana from the general collection of the library. Today, the University Archives and Special Collection has over 850 unique collections, 800 oral history interviews, 6,500 rare and unique books, and 30,000 digital resources.

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He also revived the Vanderburgh County Historical Association, which led to the acquisition of several of our UASC collections. A number of the collections that document the history of Evansville were donated specifically because of Dr. Bigham’s efforts. These include the four collections that comprise the African-American Community Gallery, the Meyer-Schlamp collection, and the Evansville Government collection. The African-American Gallery contains photographs from Charlotte Moody, Alfred Porter, Solomon Stevenson, Charles Rochelle collections. One of these photographs is this one, circa 1918-1928, of the Frederick Douglass High School band from MSS 284.

He also revived the Vanderburgh County Historical Association, which led to the acquisition of several of our UASC collections. A number of the collections that document the history of Evansville were donated specifically because of Dr. Bigham’s efforts. These include the four collections that comprise the African-American Community Gallery, the Meyer-Schlamp collection, and the Evansville Government collection. The African-American Gallery contains photographs from Charlotte Moody, Alfred Porter, Solomon Stevenson, Charles Rochelle collections. One of these photographs is this one, circa 1918-1928, of the Frederick Douglass High School band, MSS 284-008.

Frederick Douglass High School band, c. 1918-1928. Source: Evansville African-American Community, MSS 284-008.

The Schlamp-Meyer Family collection consists of correspondence, legal documents, advertising material, and other items on a wide range of topics in Evansville, Indiana, the Tri-State region, and the United States. This collection, which includes over 2800 photographs, covers the years 1786 to 2015. It includes this image of the Evansville High School football team in 1896, MSS 157-0063.

Evansville High School football team, 1896, Source: UASC, Schlamp-Meyer Family, MSS 157-0063.

Evansville High School football team, 1896, Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family, MSS 157-0063.

The Evansville Government collection is a huge one (20 boxes, 353 folders, 26 map case folders—the listing of materials encompasses 19 pages) covering 1880 to 2011. It includes correspondence, contracts, reports from city departments, ordinances, appointments, treasurer’s reports, minutes, arrest reports, and a host of other materials that document the history of governing the city of Evansville. Obtaining this collection was what might be seen as a last minute, hail Mary pass—Dr. Bigham and colleagues Dr. Donald Pitzer and Dr. Daniel Scavone were given permission by the mayor of Evansville, Russell G. Lloyd, Sr., to rescue city records from the old courthouse annex (housed in the 1867 (former) German Methodist Episcopal Church building) just before it was razed in 1973. These materials were almost literally snatched from the jaws of destruction.

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The old courthouse annex before being demolished, 1973.

Below is a January 7, 1918 document appointing Ernest Tidrington a detective for the city of Evansville, MSS 233-04-05-01a. Ernest Tidrington (1883-1930) was an influential member of the African-American community and Evansville’s first black detective.

Document appointing Ernest Tidrington has detective, c. 1910's. Source: UASC collection, MSS 233.

Appointment of Ernest Tidrington to detective, c. 1910’s. Source: UASC collection, MSS 233.

Dr. Bigham was not an Evansville native, but he spent the last 50 years of his life here and was passionate about his adopted hometown. In addition to his work with establishing our archives, he documented Evansville history through a series of books, including We Ask Only A Fair Trial: A History of the Black Community of Evansville, Indiana (1987), On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley (2005). He also published numerous books and articles on Evansville, including An Evansville Album (1988) and two books in the Arcadia Publishing series, Images of America, on Evansville and another on southern Indiana.

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Rice Library is all the richer in its resources for the work and efforts of Dr. Darrel Bigham. We extend our sincerest sympathies to his family.

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Posted in Local history, USI, USI History Department | 3 Comments

What Goes Around…

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

… comes around. As we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be instructive to look to the past to see how others dealt with such disasters. One such example was the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Page forward, the library’s newsletter, had an article on this in the Fall 2018 issue. In the mid to late 1800s there were cholera outbreaks worldwide, including here in Indiana.

The bacterium that causes cholera, n.d. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html

The bacterium that causes cholera, n.d. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html

Just what is cholera? According to the CDC, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the toxigenic bacterium Vibrio cholerae serogroup O1 or O139. An estimated 2.9 million cases and 95,000 deaths occur each year around the world. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe. Approximately one in 10 (10%) infected persons will have severe disease characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. In these people, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.” Here’s an image of the beast itself, the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

Cholera transmission is the result of poor sanitation and hygiene, particularly inadequate water treatment. ”A person can get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium. In an epidemic, the source of the contamination is usually the feces of an infected person that contaminates water and/or food. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water. The disease is not likely to spread directly from one person to another; therefore, casual contact with an infected person is not a risk for becoming ill.” Cholera is very rare in the United States, but there is a vaccine for travelers who travel to parts of the globe where it is still rampant, parts of Africa, parts of southeast Asia, and Haiti. Treatment largely consists of rehydration to combat the effects of diarrhea and vomiting. Antibiotics can diminish the severity of symptoms, but replacement of fluid loss is the key. According to the CDC, “With prompt appropriate rehydration, fewer than 1% of cholera patients die.

Cholera has probably been around since ancient times, but the first major pandemic began in India in 1817 and spread via trade routes by 1821 it had reached parts of southeastern Europe. A second pandemic began in 1829 and by 1832 it appeared in the United States. The biggest enemy was not the cholera, but complete ignorance. In Great Britain, “the public became gripped with widespread fear of the disease and distrust of authority figures, most of all doctors. Unbalanced press reporting led people to think that more victims died in the hospital than their homes, and the public began to believe that victims taken to hospitals were killed by doctors for anatomical dissection, an outcome they referred to as “Burking.” This fear resulted in several “cholera riots” in Liverpool.

Erroneous information about cholera, 1832-1833. Source: https://bit.ly/37mzOYV

Erroneous information about cholera, 1832-1833. Source: https://bit.ly/37mzOYV

The most common, widespread belief of how cholera spread was the miasma theory. In June 1837, a doctor by the name of David King, Jr. won the Fiske Fund Prize from the Rhode Island Medical Society for his dissertation entitled Cholera Infantum: Causes and Treatment. In it, he proclaimed, “In the first place, this disease has a specific miasmatic cause. Most endemic maladies, probably, arise from some emanation from the soil, owing to the dissolution of animal and vegetable matter. We know not the nature of these miasms, because they are beyond the reach of our senses and the analyzing processes of art.” Furthermore, ”The impure air of cities, independent of the spe­cific miasm, predisposes the system to the disease. It acts through the medium of respiration, contaminating the blood, and lowering the general tone of the system. In the narrow lanes and alleys, and in the filthy and crowded habitations, of our large cities, the morbid agency of impure air is seen in the great prevalence of this disease.” Dr. King goes on to recommend that children should spend  their summers in the country where the air is better, or at least sleep at night in the country during the summer because the threat of infection was greater at night due to the inactivity of sleep. If this was not possible, then the child should sleep in the upper stories of a house, because it was believed that the miasma would not rise that high, or at least its virulence would be lessened as it rose. In other words, it’s in the air. It’s no wonder that the cholera outbreaks of the 19th century caused hysteria and mass evacuation. In New York City, “Out of a population of about 250,000 people, it is believed that at least 100,000 left the city during the summer of 1832. The steamboat line owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt made handsome profits carrying New Yorkers up the Hudson River, where they rented any available rooms in local villages.

There were at least 4 pandemics–1832, 1849, 1866, and then 1873, with outbreaks in between. Although big cities were devastated by cholera, “Small towns got hit even worse. These small towns are built off of farming and when cholera came in and started raising death tolls, the economy struggled because a decrease in population means a decrease in labor to work on the farms.” Cholera in small, rural settings certainly raises doubt about Dr. King’s theories about the impure air of cities. The deadly foe arrived in Indianapolis on July 24, 1873 and spread around the city. “One of the most important small towns it hit next, due to its position on the railroad line, is the city of Cumberland, Indiana. The first case in Cumberland occurred on August 8th, 1873 and was unfortunately fatal. It took the life of a German mother of four who had only contracted the disease 12 hours prior to her death. Only five days after the first case, 15 more cases were found and eight of them had quickly passed away. In only five weeks there were 80 cases of Cholera in Cumberland alone and 32 were fatal.  Because Cumberland and Indianapolis were key railroad cities, the economy had been severely affected. No one wanted to take a train through these cities in fear of contracting the disease and even if they did, the population of people who could actually work the railroads were decreasing either by sickness or by people fleeing the city to find somewhere Cholera had not reached yet.

In St. Charles, Missouri, the German Protestant Orphans Home was founded on January 20, 1858 by Reverend Louis Nollau, as an orphanage for children whose immigrant parents had died from cholera outbreaks, 1870. Source: Robert Schlundt collection, USI.

In St. Charles, Missouri, the German Protestant Orphans Home was founded on January 20, 1858 by Reverend Louis Nollau, as an orphanage for children whose immigrant parents had died from cholera outbreaks, 1870. Source: Robert Schlundt collection, USI.

Aurora, Indiana is a small town on the Ohio River, some 25 miles from Cincinnati. In an 1832 cholera outbreak, it lost some 30 people out of a population of only a few hundred. By the time the 1849 pandemic came, its population had risen to 2,000. “On June 14, there were 14 deaths despite great efforts to purify the air by fires burning at street crossings and a canon fired every 25 minutes for 4–5 hours. Fifty-one more died over the next three weeks. Sixteen hundred of the 2,000 residents fled the town. … One hundred twenty-two died in the town; there were 13 deaths among the 1,600 who fled. Four county physicians died during that epidemic.

In his history of Indiana University (at the time of the events described below, it was Indiana College), David Banta notes that after the 1832 outbreak ceased, some breathed a sigh of relief, only to gasp in horror again as it arrived again in the Hoosier state mid-1833.

Two centers of attack were made, one in the eastern part of the state and the other in the southern. At Greensburg, a small village of a few hundred inhabitants, 30 deaths occurred in a few hours. Out of a population of 150 in New Castle, 16 fell victims. The mortality was less at Richmond. In the south, the severest sufferer was Salem. Here the mortality was appalling.  In the town 65 died and 48 in the country round about, II3 in all. From Salem it marched to Paoli; it is next heard of at Bedford, and thence it passed on to Bloomington.  On Saturday morning, August 10, as certain ten-o’clock church-goers passed the residence of Mr. George Johnson, on the southwest corner of the square, on the lot now occupied by the First National Bank, Anneka, the colored family servant, was seen gathering fuel to start the dinner fire. At two o’clock, the same churchgoers, and other persons, were giving her a hasty burial. Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. she had been stricken and had died of cholera, and her very hurried funeral testifies to the extreme alarm that had possession of the town. The same afternoon a student by the name of Huntington, from Indianapolis, was attacked and died during the night. He was buried early the next morning, the faculty and most of the students attending the funeral. Mr. William McCollough, a prominent citizen, died about the same time, and others followed in quick succession. All was now alarm and confusion. A few families fled the town, one in particular seeking safety at Ellett’s tavern on the road to Gosport. When the students reached the place, the landlord and his wife were both found in the agonies of death from the dread disease. All College work now ceased, and the great majority of the students left at once for their homes. Says the venerable Judge Roache, who was here as a student at the time, “Those who were able to secure conveyances or horses went in that way, but my recollection is that the great majority could not secure any sort of conveyance, and in their wild hurry to escape from the pestilence left town on foot.”

In July 1849, cholera came to Hanover, Indiana, where at least 14 deaths occurred. The president of Hanover College, Sylvester Scovel, and 3 students died, with the college closing for several weeks.

On July 14, 1849, the New Albany Democrat reported 50 deaths in Washington, Indiana (pop. 1000). On July 17, the paper said that only five families were left in Washington. The rest were dead or fled. On July 19, the Evansville Weekly Journal reported “that Washington had had 12 deaths between 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. People were fleeing.”

Closer to home, “The second visitation of cholera in Gibson County occurred in the summer of 1873. … A small epidemic had occurred in the Eastern states in 1865, but in 1873 cholera again got a firm foothold in the South and traveled up the Mississippi valley. It became epidemic in Evansville and Mt. Vernon. Indiana. Cairo and Carmi, Illinois. Paducah. Kentucky, and many deaths occurred, and it is from one of these infected places that it is believed to have spread Princeton. … The known total of deaths in Gibson county during the cholera epidemic of 1873 is twenty, but it is very probable that there were a few more. It was by far the worst epidemic of any disease which ever visited the county. … In 1873 Gibson county was not the only locality to suffer greatly from the disease. At Mt. Vernon and throughout Posey county the epidemic was prevalent. Hundreds fled to higher points away from the river. Albion, Illinois, was a refuge for a great number and they remained until the scourge had spent its fury. Other cities along the Ohio river also suffered greatly, including Cairo, Illinois, Paducah and Henderson. Kentucky, and Evansville. At the latter place, however, the death ratio was not large.

In much the same way as the coronavirus has caused economic hardships, the same was true in the 19th century cholera outbreaks. “Through these cholera waves, the Indiana economy was badly affected. Business was not active in towns where people were afraid of dying. Certainly, the economic effects of flight must have been large. Hog prices were depressed in Madison and Cincinnati. On July 16, 1849, Calvin Fletchter of Indianapolis wrote in his diary, “I will not keep as many cattle to fatten; I will sell them; I fear the future. The cholera must depress prices. Cities will be closed until it is understood that the disease has left the county.” In 1850, the railroad between Madison and Indianapolis stopped running because of cholera. This was the only railroad in Indiana.

One difference between the cholera outbreaks and today’s coronavirus pandemic is the amount of information available to the public. “In 1849, cholera was in Vincennes, Indiana, again. It was an important commercial site on the Wabash River, part of the canal system between Lake Erie and the Ohio River. Cholera was there again in 1849 and, again, businessmen attempted to suppress its recognition. The doctor who diagnosed cholera in 1849 was forced to leave the town. By August 1, 1850, the Vincennes Gazette admitted there had been seven deaths in Vincennes. The Gazette stated that numbers had been exaggerated and one should not believe rumors. On August 8, 1850, the Gazette reported that the disease was subsiding. It noted with considerable pride that deaths in Vincennes had averaged 1 1/2 per day. This, it said, was “the best in the United States where cholera had existed.”” In Lafayette, newspapers reported the first few cases of cholera in June 1849, but “as the disease spread through the town, the newspapers and the board fell silent, not wanting to broadcast the town’s plight.” And the plight was real—somewhere between 300-800 died in Lafayette that summer.

Filippo Pacini's slide of the cholera bacillus, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2A5A4zj

Filippo Pacini’s slide of the cholera bacillus, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2A5A4zj

Finally, back to the cause of cholera and the dangers of ignorance. Filippo Pacini (1812-1883) was an Italian whose parents had destined him for the priesthood. At the age of 28, he turned his back on that career and attended medical school, becoming particularly adept at dissection and the use of the microscope. He accepted a position at the University of Florence, where he spent the rest of his life.  Cholera arrived in Florence in 1854. “Pacini became very interested in the disease. Immediately following the death of cholera patients, he performed an autopsy and with his microscope, conducted histological examinations of the intestinal mucosa. During such studies, Pacini first discovered a comma-shaped bacillus which he described as a Vibrio. He published a paper in 1854 entitled, “Microscopical observations and pathological deductions on cholera” in which he described the organism and its relation to the disease. His microscopic slides of the organism were clearly labeled, identifying the date and nature of his investigations.” Pacini’s work, unfortunately, was completely ignored by the scientific community. A German physician by the name of Robert Koch (1843-1910) was better known. In 1882 he identified the tuberculosis bacillus and in 1884 the cholera bacillus. This was 30 years after Pacini, so this was a re-discovery. To be fair, Koch was unaware of Pacini’s work when he was credited with this discovery. It took 82 years for Pacini to finally receive his due, when, in 1965, the international committee on nomenclature finally adopted Vibrio cholerae Pacini 1854 as the official name of the cholera bacillus.

Also, in 1854, a London physician, John Snow, conducted what today would be called a crime scene investigation, enabling him to pinpoint to source of transmission of the deadly disease. He believed that contaminated water was the key. No one had running water or indoor plumbing in those days. Water came from communal wells or pumps, and sewage was often dumped directly into the Thames. Water companies then turned around and bottled the water from the Thames and sold it. The following quote is rather long, but it tells a fascinating story.

In August of 1854 Soho, a suburb of London, was hit hard by a terrible outbreak of cholera. Dr. Snow himself lived near Soho, and immediately went to work to prove his theory that contaminated water was the cause of the outbreak. “Within 250 yards of the spot where Cambridge Street joins Broad Street there were upwards of 500 fatal attacks of cholera in 10 days,” Dr. Snow wrote  “As soon as I became acquainted with the situation and extent of this irruption (sic) of cholera, I suspected some contamination of the water of the much-frequented street-pump in Broad Street.” Dr. Snow worked around the clock to track down information from hospital and public records on when the outbreak began and whether the victims drank water from the Broad Street pump. Snow suspected that those who lived or worked near the pump were the most likely to use the pump and thus, contract cholera. His pioneering medical research paid off. By using a geographical grid to chart deaths from the outbreak and investigating each case to determine access to the pump water, Snow developed what he considered positive proof the pump was the source of the epidemic. Besides those who lived near the pump, Snow tracked hundreds of cases of cholera to nearby schools, restaurants, businesses and pubs. According to Snow’s records, the keeper of one coffee shop in the neighborhood who served glasses of water from the Broad Street pump along with meals said she knew of nine of her customers who had contracted cholera. … Snow also investigated groups of people who did not get cholera and tracked down whether they drank pump water. That information was important because it helped Snow rule out other possible sources of the epidemic besides pump water. He found several important examples. A workhouse, or prison, near Soho had 535 inmates but almost no cases of cholera. Snow discovered the workhouse had its own well and bought water from the Grand Junction Water Works. The men who worked in a brewery on Broad Street which made malt liquor also escaped getting cholera. The proprietor of the brewery, Mr. Huggins, told Snow that the men drank the liquor they made or water from the brewery’s own well and not water from the Broad Street pump. None of the men contracted cholera. A factory near the pump, at 37 Broad Street, wasn’t so lucky. The factory kept two tubs of water from the pump on hand for employees to drink and 16 of the workers died from cholera. The cases of two women, a niece and her aunt, who died of cholera puzzled Snow. The aunt lived some distance from Soho, as did her niece, and Snow could make no connection to the pump. The mystery was cleared up when he talked to the woman’s son. He told Snow that his mother had lived in the Broad Street area at one time and liked the taste of the water from the pump so much that she had bottles of it brought to her regularly. Water drawn from the pump on 31 August, the day of the outbreak, was delivered to her. As was her custom, she and her visiting niece took a glass of the pump water for refreshment, and according to Snow’s records, both died of cholera the following day. Snow was able to prove that the cholera was not a problem in Soho except among people who were in the habit of drinking water from the Broad Street pump. He also studied samples of water from the pump and found white flecks floating in it, which he believed were the source of contamination. On 7 September 1854, Snow took his research to the town officials and convinced them to take the handle off the pump, making it impossible to draw water. The officials were reluctant to believe him, but took the handle off as a trial only to find the outbreak of cholera almost immediately trickled to a stop.

4. Cartoon on Cholera

1866 cartoon by George Pinwell commenting on impure pump water as the source of cholera, 1866. Source: https://bit.ly/2Ah8AXc

As it turned out, the source of this contagion proved to be a woman who washed diapers and dumped the water in a cesspool very near the Broad Street pump, leading to 616 deaths. To read the full story of Snow’s work, check out The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—then How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson. It is available in the Rice Library, General Collection RC133.G6 J64 2006.

Granted, there are a lot of differences between cholera and COVID-19. Cholera is spread by waterborne bacteria, COVID-19 by a respiratory virus. Cholera is not contagious, COVID-19 is. The role of sanitation and hygiene in maintaining good health is far better understood today. Scientists and doctors are still learning about COVID-19, but with resources and knowledge far superior to that of the 19th century. Still, both diseases are worldwide. Both diseases caused/are causing an economic impact, cholera due to panicked mass evacuations and large numbers of deaths within a small area, COVID-19 due to the need for social distancing and self-isolation. As of June 4, 2020, the CDC reported 1,842,101 total cases in the U. S. and 107,029 total deaths. (For more information, look at the CDC to find the up to date figures for today.) It’s difficult to compare that with cholera—it would be an apples to oranges comparison given that COVID-19 is contagious, travel is far simpler today, and the population higher. But we, like our 19th century compatriots, face a lot of unknowns and disruptions to our way of life. Maybe we should heed the advice of mothers everywhere: Cover your mouth!  Wash your hands!

Resources Consulted

Banta, David Demaree, “History of Indiana University: From College to University (1833- 1838)” (1893). David Banta (1889-1896)

Cholera. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.) 

Daly W. J. (2008). The black cholera comes to the central valley of America in the 19th century – 1832, 1849, and later. Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, 119, 143–153.

History.com editors. “Cholera.” March 24, 2020.

“Indiana Cholera, 1873.” Indiana Disasters: Natural and Manmade Disasters in Indiana, 1865 to 1945 blog

Indiana Magazine of History staff. “Suddenly, Last Summer (In Lafayette).” Moments of Indiana History, July 15, 2013.

King, Jr., David. Cholera Infantum: Causes and Treatment. Dissertation written for the Rhode Island Medical Society, June 1837.

King, Roy P. “Cholera Epidemics in Gibson County.” Genealogy Trails.

McNamara, Robert. “The Cholera Epidemic of 1832: As Immigrants Were Blamed, Half of New York City Fled in Panic.” ThoughtCo. website, February 29, 2020.

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