Monday, February 2, 2009

This is Mr. TB Germ

A strange topic, I know, and even more strangely, fascinating. This vintage health pamphlet from the American Lung Association is from the 1940's. I found it with some other boyhood ephemera such as a boyscout manual. Strange that a brochure on tuberculosis merited saving by a young boy. Perhaps it was the artwork, which is heavily embellished, presumably by the same boyscout. (the pages below are non sequential and out of order)

It also seemed rather strange to find such a modern reference to TB, as I always thought of it as more of a Bohemian disease, long gone by the 40's. So I did a wee bit of research and discovered that tuberculosis was indeed almost eradicated in the US by 1950. As evident by the simple wording and illustrations, it was largely a disease of the very poor and uneducated.

If we go waaay back to the 18th century, TB sufferers were often thought to be vampires. Pale and sickly, whole families would often succumb, leading people to believe there was a vampire in their midst.

After the industrial Revolution TB is demystified and eventually romanticized. "Moulin Rouge" does a fairly accurate portrayal of a Bohemian suffering for her art. Some even believed that TB sufferers were endowed with supernatural creativity and talent, with death being the pinnacle.

Shortly after however, reality sets in and most of the world sets about stamping of TB. In the US the reason spittoons were banned was to help prevent spreading the germ.

Now I just wonder about the original owner of the pamphlet. Was he or someone in the family ill? Was it just a hand-out from health class? Why on earth did it get saved? Why do I keep it? Not my usual ephemera category but I felt strangely compelled to share.
For the full text of the pamphlet see here