Was the Kissing Bug Real?

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BarrieHotel-644x491.jpg

The Barrie Hotel was constructed in 1843/44. The Hotel later became The Imperial Hotel on Wilson Street. Miss Fidler’s School was next door.  Photo courtesy the Perth Museum. Photo from —Perth Remembered

 

In 2015 I wrote a story about Daniel E. Sheppard  B.A. that left to practice law at Gananoque  and was bitten by a kissing bug

 

Perth Courier, April 16, 1897 

Among the visitors to Perth at the 12th July demonstration was Mrs. James Warrington, 11th Line Bathurst. When standing in front of Barrie’s Hotel looking at the procession, a bug alighted on her cheek and bit it.  She brushed it off and thought nothing of it at the time, but it was not long before the spot began to itch then to pain and swell.  Doctors were called in but the check swelled all the more with blood poisoning until the whole side of the face and nick was swollen in a terrible manner.  The doctors could not do anything and on Wednesday the unfortunate woman died.  Whether the venomous but was the creature that is called the “kissing bug” is not know but it looks like something is new in the pest line in the county.

During a short period in the summer of 1899 the kissing bug hysteria reigned in the U.S and by revisiting newspaper and magazine accounts of purported kissing bug bites from 1899, the researchers found that the bugs were blamed, often sight unseen, for a wide variety of bites (and symptoms). But while the “epidemic” may have been overblown, there’s something intriguing about this “outbreak.” The scientists say it’s possible that Chagas may be endemic to the U.S. after all—and this insight may help us better understand the current re-emergence of the disease.

Awareness of the mysterious epidemic began with an article in The Washington Post on June 20, 1899 (“Bite of a strange bug”), eventually resulting in more than 60 articles on the kissing bug epidemic across the country. Reports of the bites were concentrated in the Northeast, with a handful of cases in the Midwest and one each in California and Georgia.

The “kissing bug” was the mystery insect sensation of 1899. The epidemic began in June with reports from Washington DC and quickly spread up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States. The odd part was that nobody actually saw the insect, only experienced the painful bites which made the victim’s lips swell. There were many theories: the bug was a common bed bug, it was an assassin bug, it was a kind of super bed-bug, it was a sign of the impending Apocalypse. Amateur disease hunters captured all types of insects that they believed to be the kissing bug.  But by early August, the true origin of the kissing bug was “revealed.”

The original article suggested patients were affected by an “insidious insect that bites without causing pain and escapes unnoticed,” resulting in “the place where it has bitten [swelling] to 10 times its normal size.”

Though most of those bitten recovered without incident, several fatalities were reported, with one noting that the cause of death was the “sting of a kissing bug”—though it should be mentioned the bug was identified by neither the patient nor the coroner. Robert Bartholomew, author of Panic Attacks: The History of Mass Delusion, points out that this was the case for most reports of kissing bug bites and deaths: The bug itself was never seen.

As the epidemic progressed, the reports became more outrageous. One self-reported victim from Brooklyn said the bug had “a head like a rat and two long ‘fangs’”; a man from New Jersey claimed he was bitten by a bug almost 6 inches long—about six times longer than the average kissing bug. Another from Indiana said a kissing bug dove and attacked his big toe “as if he was boring for oil.”

The epidemic of kissing bug attacks may not have been entirely real, Howard wrote, but the epidemic of fear was—and he knew who was to blame: “This happened during one of the temporary periods when newspaper men are most actively engaged in hunting for items. There was a dearth of news. These swollen faces offered an opportunity for a good story, and thus began the ‘kissing-bug’ scare which has grown to such extraordinary proportions.”

 

historicalnotes

The hotels of Perth began just prior to the Boer War, and were five: Barrie’s Hotel, Hicks House, Allen House, Revere House and Queen’s Hotel. They were all located in the business section of down town Perth and catered to a through trade from road, stage and travelling salesmen.

 

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun

Bitten by the Kissing Bug — A Shocking Conclusion to the Life of Carleton Place’s Daniel E. Sheppard

I Can Dream About You —Early Hotels of Perth

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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