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In 1906, a rich family vacationing in Oyster Bay, NY started to get sick. Very sick. It turns out they'd come down with typhoid, a disease forever associated with one woman: Typhoid Mary. You think you know this story, and we thought we knew this story too. But as producer Sean Cole explains, the details reveal a troubling, very human story behind the anecdote. Mary Mallon was the first documented "healthy carrier" (someone who, despite being infected, shows no outward signs of being sick) in North America. It's an idea that seems so familiar, even obvious, to us today, that's it hard to imagine how unreal it must have felt to Mary--who was taken from her home by the police, and quarantined on North Brother Island in a tiny cottage separated from Manhattan by the East River. Sean and producer Lynn Levy pay a visit to the hospital where Mary spent her final days, and historians Judith Walzer Leavitt and David Rosner help us relive her story.
Producer Sean Cole in the hospital where Mary Mallon was quarantined.
The view from North Brother Island, where Mary Mallon was quarantined.
I love this Radiolab episode - as usual, excellent research and great storytelling. Listening to it inspired me to read a fictional retelling of the Typhoid Mary story - with a "contemporary twist." For those who are interested in a well-written, engrossing novel that takes a more empathetic view of Ms. Mallon, try reading "The Prisoner of Hell Gate" by Dana Wolff. Its perspective adds to the Radiolab episode, and is frankly just a great read.
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