House call for a cholera victim

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.




To Miss Florence Blackford, Findlay newspaper woman writer of some years ago, Dr. Lorenzo Firmin, pioneer Findlay physician, related some of his early experiences in the practice of medicine in the local community.

Dr. Firmin had come to Findlay in 1841 and had read medicine with Dr. Bass Rawson, the city’s first physician, after which he practiced here until his death in 1901 at the age of 92.

“On one occasion,” writes Miss Blackford, “a man named Baker came to Dr. Firmin, saying his wife was sick and asking the doctor to accompany him to his home. The two set out at night. Mr. Baker being only partially acquainted with the road and trusting his horse’s instinct to guide him. They rode north and after going a few miles they found themselves at an oak tree that they had passed some time before. They realized that they had been going in a circle. They started again, trying to go directly north and soon arrived at the same oak. A third time they tried it with no better result. Dr. Firmin realized that they were lost and taking down his saddle bags, he put them under a tree, and the two men sat there and waited until dawn. At daylight they started through the woods and soon came to Squire Creighton’s house after which they easily found the Baker home.

“In those days, the Blanchard River was often high and the current so swift that a horse in attempting to cross would be carried some distance down the stream. Upon one occasion Dr. Firmin was called on a very dark night to see a patient and came to the river. The horse plunged in and the doctor was compelled to rise in his stirrups because of the depth of the water. In doing so, the pill bags which hung on the sides of the horse floated off and were carried swiftly down the stream. Without the bags, it was useless to see the patient and the doctor immediately turned the horse and made for the bank, almost drowning in the attempt. Arriving on land, he raced his horse along the shore until he was beyond the bags, where he once more entered the river, waited for this property and caught it as it floated past him. Then, at the risk of his life, he crossed the river to the other side and proceeded on his way to see the patient.

“At one time, there was an epidemic of cholera in Madison Township in southern Hancock County and many died. Drs. Firmin and Rawson were called to as house where one person had died of the disease during the night and a boy was sick with it. While the physicians were present a man named Mervin came with a coffin for the body of the cholera victim. The wagon was stopped in the road, which was 100 feet from the house, and Mervin refused to go near the house. Dr. Firmin then appealed to Dr. Rawson to help him with the coffin and the body, but Dr. Rawson, who was 10 years older, said he could not physically attempt it and Dr. Firmin himself was compelled to drag the coffin into the house and place the body in it. Then, with the help of the boy who was already sick with the cholera, it was put on the wagon and Mervin drove off. The house had been completely quarantined by the neighbors who had provided the inmates with food by putting it daily on a tree stump several hundred yards away.”

Dr. Firmin was quoted as saying that bad as were the ailments of pioneer days, such as ague, cholera and malaria, those of later times were equally severe in nature.

At one time Eagle Township, bordering Findlay on the southwest, was the scene of what was then called “milk sickness,” affecting the stomach. It generally made its first appearance in cattle and was communicated through milk to humans. The pains were excruciating and the cause of the malady was a subject of much dispute among doctors. Dr. Firmin held the belief that it come from white snake-root which cattle ate. Then, too, after a hot summer, many ponds were left with a surface of water which was poisonous. The cattle drank the water and their milk became such that humans, drinking it, became sick.

The disease became so prevalent that it was estimated that 25 percent of the residents of Eagle Township died within a few years from it. There is a little cemetery in Eagle Township in which it has always been said were buried a number of individuals who died either of an epidemic of cholera or the milk sickness.


Next Week: More about Dr. Firmin.


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