KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – For centuries, epidemics plagued not only people in the United States, but throughout the world and East Tennessee was not immune.
There is a home in Knoxville where many people in the 19th and 20th centuries were treated – the Blount Mansion, where a Tennessee territory governor was taken by a fever that struck everyone in the house in 1800.
Facts can be more frightening than fiction and so it is with Knoxville’s historic epidemics.
Fever, cholera, and the Spanish Flu were all treated, with many souls lost, over the last two centuries inside the Blount Mansion.
The past comes alive for history lovers and non-historians alike at the Blount Mansion, with the mansion’s visitor center hosting free parking for those brave enough to go and see where the dead once lay.
The historic recreation of these Days of Dread at the mansion are no ghost stories, but they are a chilling experience as we discovered…..
“My friends, I cannot recommend that you come inside this house for there is a deadly pestilence inside and anyone who comes in is at risk of contagion,” according to Dr. John Mason Boyd.
Dr. Boyd was one of the city’s most famous physicians, following the Civil War, who took us back 220 years.
William Blount, Tennessee’s first and only territorial governor sick in bed, swept up by the first known epidemic that plagued Knoxville. His wife’s warning was frightening.
“Oh, no you must not come near the bilious fever. It’s struck everyone in the house,” cries Mary Blount.
In March 1800, William Blount was tending to his sick family when he, too, fell ill on March 11.
The epidemic took the governors’ life and many others, as Dr. Boyd explains.
“At times it seems that younger people are more likely to survive. We found if we can get to these victims early enough we can help older people as well,” Dr. Boyd says.
In 1873, another epidemic would strike leaving hundreds ill in the growing city of Knoxville. Blount Mansion’s dining room was filled with the sick. This time, the home was owned by Dr. Boyd himself.
It was cholera.
Once someone contracted the water-borne disease, cholera, — caused by contaminated water — the symptoms were miserable, even the healers were vulnerable.
The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected hundreds in Knoxville, an estimated 500 million people worldwide.
A hundred years ago, triage was underway at the Craighead Jackson House next to the Blount Mansion.
“We started this Red Cross clinic to provide more beds but we haven’t been able to get any help to take care of the patients,” says a nurse.
“We have only been sleeping in bits and spurts and we have been relying on neighbors to bring us food. But they are too scared to come over,” another nurse explained.
Churches shut their doors — public meetings cancelled, even pool halls closed.
“We sent word to Knoxville hospital. But it seems like they are overwhelmed with the sick and doctors and nurses are succumbing as well,” a nurse says.
Though the epidemics have faded with time, the echoes of suffering whisper within this historic landmark.