In May 1849 New York City finally established a hospital for cholera victims. Before the epidemic ended, more than 5,000 died. The rapidly growing city was ripe for an epidemic; poor sanitary conditions, eve poor hygiene, in addition to immigrants poorly quarantined all contributed to the outbreak.
On December 1, 1848, the New York arrived in New York from France. Seven passengers had died from cholera on the voyage, and the surviving passengers were quarantined at a Staten Island customs warehouse to contain the outbreak. Within a month, 60 experienced cholera symptoms and 30 died.
The healthy ones, afraid of catching the disease and dying, made a break for it and escaped quarantine. Soon enough isolated outbreaks occurred around New York, often in the city’s dirtiest and poorest areas. Pigs and dogs roamed the streets eating garbage, which also contributed to unsanitary conditions and the spreading of the disease.
Many city residents didn’t want a cholera hospital built near them for fear of catching the disease themselves. Finally, on May 16, the city’s Board of Health started a hospital on the second floor of a building on Orange Street above a tavern. However, the death toll rose and public schools were drafted into use as hospitals.
The disposal of bodies was a serious problem; a mass grave was established on Randall’s Island, in the East River east of Manhattan. Anyone with a horse was expected to assist with the removal of dead bodies.
Because of this epidemic, New York City’s first street-cleaning plan was implemented. An estimated 40 percent of the epidemic’s victims were Irish immigrants. Precise totals are impossible because the wealthy were often able to alter death certificates to avoid the stigma of their loved ones having died of cholera.