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 Posted: Sat Oct 5th, 2013 11:24 pm
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Hellcat
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This next story comes from Nancy Roberts' Ghosts of the Carolinas. In some ways it reminds me a little of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death.

In late August 1862 the steamer Kate left Nassau for Wilmington, North Carolina. This is likely the same Kate that was reported lost near Fort Caswell November 18, 1862 in an article from the North Carolina Whig dated November 25, 1862. It may also be the side wheel steamer Wikipedia calls the CSS Kate (the date and location suggest their one in the same). The people of Wilmington may not have welcomed the Kate had they known what was to follow. It is through the experiences of a local doctor that Roberts tells us the story of what happened to make Wilmington, as she titled the story, a City of Death that September.

For a week days Dr. James H. Dickson had been treating a sick child against a disease supposedly new to Wilmington in September 1862. This disease so terrified the country people that the were no longer willing to risk their own lives to bring supplies into the city. Dr. Dickson had just lost his young patient after a week of futilely trying to save the child's life. And they weren't the first he'd lost, he'd been powerless to save close friends from this horror. It had no care for station in life. Wealthy business men or dirt poor paupers, it struck all down just the same. And worse was the rumors of a faceless horror roaming the streets of Wilmington, a grim reaper cutting down all in the city. Burning barrels of tar were being used to try and purify the air and supposedly on the morning of the child's death Dr. Dickson thought this the perfect setting for such a rumored evil spirit.

At the moment he was leaving the scene of the child's death a gust of wind blew past and he felt what seemed a soft cloak brush against his face. Yet when he tried to defend himself against it he found nothing there. It was as if the rumors were true and he had come into contact with this faceless horror.

Recovering from his own terror he continued on his way to his home. But his terror once more began to return when, nearing his home, he saw movement in the shadows. Surely this was the same thing that had brushed his face outside the child's home come for him. As there is no escaping the reaper when your time has come the doctor found the courage to approach and discovered he need not have feared. It was only an old man, a Mr. Fairly, who had come seeking his services. The man's only daughter, recently made a widow just a week before thanks to the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) was in need of medical attention. Despite his exhaustion he allowed himself to be led to the Fairly house, but it was already too late to do more than comfort the dying young woman. The Fairly's only daughter was already hemorrhaging badly when Dr. Dickson arrived. All he could was prescribe fruit juices to comfort the dying woman in her final days, tortured in the knowledge that the Fairly's probably wouldn't be able to get them thanks to the Federal blockade.

The next morning he continued his rounds of trying to help the inflicted of Wilmington somehow survive this dreadful illness. At every house he stopped someone always asked him if the rumors were true. At the home of the Lassiters James Lassiter asked if it true that the nameless horror, which he called "The Thing" had killed Ben Trumble the night before. Dr. Dickson could only shake his head, too tired to respond.

At home he would write exhaustedly in his journal even as his body was becoming racked with aches and pains. And by that Friday he could no longer make house calls, being a victim of the nameless horror. By Saturday night he lay dying from the touch of The Thing. And he realized at last what was happening.

Oh but the horror named by James Lassiter as The Thing had a name. The Wilmington Journal in it's September 29, 1862 edition reported the death of Dr. James H Dickson on September 28th. The cause, a hemorrhagic disease. Perhaps Poe would today write of what struck Wilmington that year in a story called The Mask of the Yellow Death for it was that yellow fever inflicted nearly a thousand of the citizens of the city, killing more than three hundred of them. Including Dr. Dickson.

Last edited on Mon Oct 28th, 2013 04:53 pm by Hellcat

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