Category: Archive

Hibernian Chronicle 94 Years Ago: ‘Mary, Mary, what do you carry?’

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Edward T. O’Donnell

Ninety-four years ago, on Aug. 4, 1906, the family of banker Charles Henry Warren thought they had solved a big problem. Searching desperately for a cook at the height of the summer season on Oyster Bay, they found one who seemed perfect for the job. Mary Mallon had ample experience and seemed pleasant enough. And best of all, she could start right away. Unfortunately, it was what they didn’t know about Mallon that mattered most: she was a carrier of typhoid bacilli.

Mary Mallon was born in 1869 in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, and migrated to New York City when she was 14 years old. Like so many Irish immigrant women, she took work as a cook in the homes of wealthy Americans. Somewhere along the line, she became one of those rare people who carried the bacilli that caused typhoid fever but was herself immune to it.

Mallon’s trouble began three weeks after starting work for the Warrens, when 11 people were stricken with typhoid fever. Everyone recovered, but the owner of the house feared he might not be able to rent it again if he didn’t discover the source of the outbreak. So he hired George Soper, a sanitation engineer and natural-born detective to investigate. When Soper found nothing wrong with the water system, he honed in on the new cook hired just weeks before the outbreak. But by then Mary Mallon had disappeared.

For the next six months Soper searched for the elusive cook. Finally, he located her at a posh Park Avenue home where an outbreak of typhoid had just been reported. Soper had her arrested and subsequent tests indicated that she was "a living culture."

Mallon refused to cooperate, citing her good health, and demanded to be released. Instead, they packed her off to the contagious disease hospital located on North Brother Island near the Bronx. By then she was infamous. The press dubbed her "Typhoid Mary" and little children ran about the streets shouting "Mary, Mary, what do you carry." Mary Mallon, an anonymous Irish woman, had suddenly become a vivid symbol of the growing national fear of immigrants as subversive and dangerous.

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After three years, she finally convinced officials to release her on the condition that she never again work as a cook and that she check in regularly with Board of Health officials. Instead, she disappeared to ply the only trade she knew. Five years later she was arrested while working at a maternity hospital where typhoid fever had just broken out. This time public health officials sent her back to the North Brother Island hospital for good. Embittered and lonely, Mary Mallon would spend the next 23 years living as a "special guest" in a small cottage on the island. To the end she refused to believe that she was a carrier or that she had infected anyone.

In all, Mallon infected at least 51 people (three of whom died), and possibly as many as 1,400. She was not the only carrier discovered, nor was she necessarily the worst. But she was without a doubt the most infamous.


Aug. 2, 1943: The Japanese destroyer Amigiri rams and sinks PT 109. Despite a back injury that would plague him for the rest of his life, Lt. John F. Kennedy and 10 crewmen survive the ordeal. Cliff Robertson would later star as JFK in the 1963 film "PT 109."

Aug. 3, 1916: Convicted of treason for his role in plotting the Easter Rising, Roger Casement is hanged.

Aug. 8, 1934: Bing Crosby becomes the first singer to record for the newly created Decca Records. His songs "Just A-Wearyin’ for You" and "I Love You Truly" are instant hits, boosting his career and helping guarantee the famous record label’s success.


Aug. 2, 1924 Emmy Award-winning actor Carroll O’Connor born in New York City.

Aug. 3, 1823: Irish revolutionary, Union Army general, and governor of the Montana Territory, Thomas Francis Meagher born in Waterford.

Aug. 6, 1775: Irish patriot and MP Daniel O’Connell born near Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry.

Aug. 7, 1890: Radical labor leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn born in Concord, N.H.

Aug. 8, 1961: U2 Guitarist, The Edge (David Evans.

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