OPELOUSAS, LOUISIANA-- Yellow fever epidemics plagued New Orleans' past. For our find of the week, we see how news spread to the neighboring parishes. Opelousas was terrified that yellow fever could become a problem in their city and decided that a quarantine was needed so that New Orleans would not infect Opelousas, Louisiana.
In the early 1800's, mass hysteria spread easily about the danger of an uncontrollable epidemic of yellow fever. Nobody knew what caused yellow fever but they were ready to take action anyway.
Amanda McFillen, the Associate Director of Museum Programs shows us a piece of history: "This is a quarantine notice from the town of Opelousas. It was issued in 1897, regulating that any people or goods that came from New Orleans would be quarantined unless they had a clean bill of health."
Coffee was largely transported out of New Orleans to sipped from the cups of neighboring towns. However, during this time, people in Opelousas would have to go without their caffeine, because goods coming into the Opelousas were often seized.
"Any mail and any packages in the city, they are going to punch holes in the mail and fumigate it," says McFillen.
Goods weren't the only thing addressed in the quarantine. People were monitored as well. Anyone without a clean bill of health from New Orleans that was trying to enter Opelousas, would have been quarantined for five days. Additionally, the city council raises eyebrows with a terrifying creation... a vigilance committee.
Amanda McFillen says the vigilance committee part of the quarantine is what scared her the most about the text in the historical document. McFillen reads from the document that "If the physicians were out in the town of Opelousas treating patients and they suspected that someone had yellow fever, they could report them to the town constable and that person's house could be quarantined."
Any person caught housing, hiding or transporting individuals with yellow fever would be fined 100 dollars per person. It goes without saying that 100 dollars was quite a bit of money in those days.
The Quarantine also made sure that those in newly eternal rest were affected as well. If anyone from Opelousas dies of yellow fever outside of the city, they can't be buried in Opelousas city limits.
Colorfully, McFillen says, "If anyone in Opelousas contracted yellow fever and died of it, they would be wrapped in a sheet soaked in a mercuric solution and buried and then their house would be fumigated and any type of linens or clothing would have been burned."
Yellow fever epidemics were widespread throughout the country at this time and Opelousas had good reason to panic.
In 1853, yellow fever reached St. Landry parish in Louisiana and Opelousas' neighboring town of Washington was decimated, while 20 people died in Opelousas.