The dramatic account of a typhoid epidemic in Ithaca, New York, in 1903, and its dark underside—with lessons for today!
The Epidemic tells the story of how a vain and reckless businessman became responsible for a typhoid epidemic in 1903 that devastated Cornell University and the surrounding town of Ithaca, New York. Eighty-two people died, including twenty-nine Cornell students. Protected by influential friends, William T. Morris faced no retribution for this outrage. His legacy was a corporation—first known as Associated Gas & Electric Co. and later as General Public Utilities Corp.—that bedeviled America for a century. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 was its most notorious historical event, but hardly its only offense against the public interest.
The Ithaca epidemic came at a time when engineers knew how to prevent typhoid outbreaks but physicians could not yet cure the disease. Both professions were helpless when it came to stopping a corporate executive who placed profit over the public health. Government was a concerned but helpless bystander.
In this emotionally gripping book, David DeKok, a former award-winning investigative reporter and the author of widely praised books on the mine fire that devastated Centralia, Pennsylvania, brings this tragedy home by taking us into the lives of many of those most deeply affected.
For modern-day readers acutely aware of the risk of a devastating global pandemic and of the dangers of unrestrained corporate power, The Epidemic provides a riveting look back at a heretofore little-known, frightening episode in America’s past that seems all too familiar. Written in the tradition of The Devil in the White City, it is an utterly compelling, thoroughly researched work of narrative history with an edge.
David DeKok is a former investigative reporter for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he specialized in coverage of the utility industry for the past dozen years. He won first place reporting awards from The National Press Club, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, and Associated Press Managing Editors of Pennsylvania. His first book, Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire, was published by University of Pennsylvania Press in 1986 and was reissued by Globe Pequot Press as Fire Underground. Unseen Danger was reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review of Jan. 4, 1987, and was the subject of a national story by Associated Press.
DeKok appeared on Fresh Air and The Diane Rehm Show to promote his first book. In 2007, he explained the Centralia mine fire in the documentary film, The Town That Was, which screened in competition at the Los Angeles and Philadelphia film festival. In 2009, he appeared at length in Episode 6 of The History Channel's Life After People series discussing Centralia, Pennsylvania.