Ear: Quarantine

"Pat Johns, board member of the Knappton Cove Heritage Center, has been doing extensive research about the Columbia River Quarantine Station," Nancy Bell Anderson wrote.

"She is currently delving into microfilm copies of Astoria's Daily Budget in the Around the City sections. It is tedious work, and she's tackling the project in increments.

"Attached are some excerpts from 1899 and 1900 that reflect today's similar concerns about COVID-19. That was the time when plague was prevalent and spread by rats on ships … the saying was 'where ships go, so goes the plague.'"

Here are some excerpts:

• May 9, 1899: It is now definitely settled that Astoria will have a quarantine station under government supervision. Dr. Hill Hastings of the U.S. Marine Hospital Service … will assume charge. He will begin at once the inspection of every vessel that enters the river from foreign ports.

• Aug. 16, 1899: Dr. Hastings will reciprocate some of the social favors that he has received in Astoria by giving a dance in their honor tomorrow evening at the Hotel Flavel. The party will go down on the quarantine steamer Electric. (The Electric is pictured, as is the quarantine dock, courtesy of Nancy Anderson.)

• Oct. 13: The site for the Astoria quarantine station has been formally accepted.

• Jan. 19, 1900: The presence of bubonic plague in numerous ports of the Pacific makes the fumigation of many arriving vessels necessary.

• Jan 20, 1900: The fact that bubonic plague is epidemic at Honolulu and many of the oriental ports, and that several vessels are listed to arrive at Astoria from those infected ports, have caused apprehension and awakened renewed interest in the establishment of a thoroughly equipped quarantine station at the mouth of the Columbia River …

Dr. Hastings says he is prepared to take care of, in a manner that will guarantee the port against danger from the disease, a properly equipped station being absolutely necessary … All of them will be thoroughly fumigated … and special care will be taken to kill all the rats."

"Incidentally, this is the Chinese Year of the Rat," Nancy added. "Seems appropriate."

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.