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The Most Horrible Seaside Vacation

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Mary Mallon in hospital bed Mary Mallon in hospital bed (Wikipedia Commons)

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.

Read more:

Judith Walzer Leavitt, Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health

Producer Sean Cole in the hospital where Mary Mallon was quarantined.
Lynn Levy
Producer Sean Cole in the hospital where Mary Mallon was quarantined.
The view from North Brother Island, where Mary Mallon was quarantined.
Lynn Levy
The view from North Brother Island, where Mary Mallon was quarantined.


Judith Walzer Leavitt and David Rosner


Sean Cole and Lynn Levy

Comments [16]

Sean Oliver

Ms. Mallon caused the deaths of at least three people. They were infected with typhoid fever after she agreed not to cook again, and she knew perfectly well she could kill, especially infants. During this period she worked at a maternity home for impoverished single mothers and other facilities. She doesn't deserve the slightest bit of sympathy. Her victims however do.

Dec. 24 2017 04:28 PM
Phillip Purcell from New Jersey

I heard again the story with Mary Mallon, the "Typhoid Mary", on 12.23.2017.
When the male narrator mentioned that the investigator reached the house where Mary Mallon was servant, someone in assisting PBS staff, with an ugly old voice, added with derision, insisting slowly on every syllable: "... And she was blonde, blue eyed and Irish".
People from PBS, if you search on Google Images, you will discover that Mary Mallon was not blonde. And seeing how dark her hair was, chances are that her eyes were not blue.
But the color of her eyes and hair are definitely not the point.
The point is that anti-White haters use any occasion to inoculate some poison against their target. The climax of their hate is against natural blonde, blue eyed people.
The mass media employees accused of "racism" or "racist remarks" have to apologize in maximum 24 hours, and even that may not guarantee the continuation of their job in the "land of the free". Meanwhile the anti-White haters have a guaranteed free ride, with no fear of repercussions for their anti-White jokes or insinuations.

Dec. 23 2017 01:25 PM
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Jan. 16 2017 09:18 AM
Sutton++ from USA

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.

Jul. 24 2016 06:08 PM
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May. 30 2015 10:10 PM
see me rolen from Arkansas

love this podcast.

Nov. 11 2014 11:22 AM
Gohar Zaman from Islamabad, Pakistan

Typhoid Mary was not an evil person. Her only crime was that she had a passion for cooking. She could not stop herself from indulging in cooking, even after she was advised/ordered to do so.
On the other hand, she greatly contributed to the science of disease detection/epidemiology. Because of her, many understood the concept of "ASYMPTOMATIC CARRIER"

Oct. 09 2014 04:33 AM
Joan Meijer from Lancaster, California

I have just released the paperback "Relentless: The Search For Typhoid Mary" which gives Mary a voice she never had in life because she never controlled her own narrative. She was greatly persecuted by the New York Department of Health. She was convicted of breaking laws that hadn't even been written yet. She was a much more responsible woman than most histories give her credit for... she had herself tested for Typhoid by one of the most reputable chemists of her time and all the tests proved negative. And she's a fascinating woman who made the most of every circumstance in her life. Hers is a tale that resonates today, a story of patient rights, immigration and bias against women - Typhoid Mary is certainly worth looking into and not everything that is said about her is true.

Mar. 08 2014 09:10 PM

A. Torp - they used that specific dish because that was her "famous" (or infamous in this case) dish where she was able to spread the disease.

Mar. 03 2014 09:06 PM

Is there any way to view a transcript of the Typhoid Mary story? I'm writing an essay and would like to use this as a source. Thanks!

Nov. 21 2012 12:35 AM
Suzan J from Sunshine

Scribner is putting out a new book in April 2013 called FEVER, by Mary Beth Keane. I've read it and it's great. I must point out that never is poor grammar used in the book. The book is far superior to this podcast in other ways, too.

Fresh foods that weren't cooked carried the disease, A. Torp. That's why it was mentioned. That's how asymptomatic Mary Mallon spread the disease through the food she prepared. Cooking was her life.

Sep. 15 2012 12:42 PM
Whiny Grandma

Argh!! I love your show, but why must you perpetuate the new, bad grammar? You cannot say "her and her sister" went somewhere, or "her and I" did something. Please stop. It hurts my ears, and I know you know better.

May. 28 2012 02:16 PM

Never tire of Radiolab rebroadcasts, especially when mulling over "patient #1" and like conundrums of origins. Rebroadcasts are especially welcome to this grammarian who becomes so distracted with "...could have went" and "Her and her companion..." that I missed the point the first two times I heard "The Most Horrid Seaside Vacation." Wish I could just "get over it" like the rest of the world.

May. 27 2012 01:18 PM
Patrick Johnson from Somerville, MA

Great segment. Amazing show! I'm using this as the centerpiece example for a class session focused on audio-based storytelling as part of the Digital Storytelling class at Tufts University.

Feb. 10 2012 10:28 AM
Mr Epidemiology from Canada

Thanks for a phenomenal podcast guys. I've blogged about it here and linked back to this post ( Thanks for the inspiration, and hope you like the post!

Jan. 09 2012 10:33 PM
A. Torp

Amazing episode! But why would you need a specific dish made with fresh peaches to explain why raw ingredients were used in cooking? I mean, I'm making a salad right now...

Nov. 18 2011 02:07 AM

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