The Curious Case of Typhoid Mary

PODCAST An account of a mysterious typhoid fever outbreak and the woman — Mary Mallon, the so-called Typhoid Mary — at the center of the strange epidemic

The tale of Typhoid Mary is a harrowing detective story and a chilling tale of disease and death. Why are whole healthy families suddenly getting sick with typhoid fever — from the languid mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the gracious homes of Park Avenue? Can an intrepid researcher and investigator named George Soper locate a mysterious woman who may be unwittingly spreading this dire illness?

Mary Mallon — is she a victim or an enemy? One of the weirdest and divisive tales of the early 1900s. What side are you on?

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The infamous newspaper article from the New York American (June 30, 1907) which depicts Mary literally seasoning her meals with death.


Another newspaper headline from the Evening World, April 1, 1097


Mary Mallon in a hospital bed at North Brother Island


Dr. Emma Sherman standing next to Mary Mallon in the early 1930s. Mary has already spent over 15 years on North Brother Island by this time.


The sanitation engineer (and detective of our story) George Soper who relentlessly tracked down Mary.  (From the New York Times, April 4, 1915)


Sara Josephine Baker, the pioneering doctor who was brought in by Soper to (futilely) talk some sense into Mary.


Willard Parker Hospital, formerly at East 16th Street along the East River in the old gashouse district.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

The smallpox hospital on North Brother Island.

Photo by Jacob Riis, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Photo by Jacob Riis, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Mary Mallon’s cottage on North Brother Island where she spent the remainder of her life.


A poster hung in eating establishments following the whole Typhoid Mary fracas.

Otis Historical Archives Nat'l Museum of Health & Medicine
Otis Historical Archives Nat’l Museum of Health & Medicine