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Photographic Documentation of Pneumonic Plague Outbreak Sites and Rats in Los Angeles, 1924
BANC PIC 1988.052--PIC  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content
  • Background

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Photographic Documentation of Pneumonic Plague Outbreak Sites and Rats in Los Angeles
    Date: 1924
    Collection Number: BANC PIC 1988.052--PIC
    Extent: 8 albums in 2 boxes (617 photographic prints) ; 26 x 30 cm. (albums), 9 x 15 cm. (photographs) 377 digital objects
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is available for use.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish photographs must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Pictorial Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
    Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Photographic documentation of pneumonic plague outbreak sites and rats in Los Angeles, 1924, BANC PIC 1988.052--PIC, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Digital Representations Available

    Digital representations of selected original pictorial materials are available in the list of materials below. Digital image files were prepared from selected Library originals by the Library Photographic Service. Library originals were copied onto 35mm color transparency film; the film was scanned and transferred to Kodak Photo CD (by Custom Process); and the Photo CD files were color-corrected and saved in JFIF (JPEG) format for use as viewing files.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The photographs were transferred from the Public Health Library, University of California, Berkeley in 1988.

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains 617 photographs in 8 albums documenting Los Angeles plague outbreaks in 1924-1925. The first album contains an index, which covers all 8 albums. The index headings have been used in the container listing to group the photographs. Some headings have been supplied for the container list. Included in all 8 albums are views of buildings, alleys, restaurants, and city dumps where infected rats were found or where human cases were reported. Some images show preventative measures taken by the State Department of Public Health to stop the spread of disease, including the destruction of buildings. Many of the structures pictured are shacks and other low income residences. Captions identify a "Mexican Village," "Chinatown," and "negro dwellings" in various locations. Some photographs in the first album show trapped rats and squirrels. The photographer or photographers are unknown, but the collection was possibly photographed by the California Department of Public Health. Typewritten captions are found below the photographs, and are reprinted in the container listing.


    On October 19, 1924, Lucena Samarano, a Mexican woman living on Clara Street in Los Angeles, died from what was later determined to be a case of pneumonic plague. Plague was suspected after the woman's husband and nurse died a few days later. Others in the neighborhood began to show signs of infection, and by October 28, eighteen patients (all friends and relatives of Lucena Samarano) were hospitalized with signs of severe pneumonia and all died in an average of four days. The diagnosis of pneumonic plague came on October 31.
    Plague was officially declared on November 1st. The Los Angeles City Health Department immediately quarantined the areas in which the current cases of plague had originated. Borders of the quarantined areas were patrolled and the Health Department provided guards for the homes where known cases of plague had occurred. Food had to be brought in with limited contact with the residents. The Baptist Mission Church in what was called the Macy Street District (the place where the plague originated) became a bacteriological laboratory for the examination of rats. Houses were inspected daily. Any cases of illness were sent to the Los Angeles General Hospital. Measures for the eradication of rodents and fleas began throughout the quarantined districts. Traps were set for rats, and each rodent caught was tagged and dated, and the location of its capture was recorded. Each rat was then taken to the laboratory for examination.
    A plan of operation for dealing with the plague was also put into effect. Its measures included quarantine, prevention of the gathering of large groups of people in quarantined areas, a daily house-to-house inspection within the quarantined area, hospitalization of all cases of illness found within the quarantined area, the examination of all corpses by physicians, the establishment of a laboratory exclusively for the examination of rodents and human plague, widespread trapping and rat-proofing of buildings, tagging of all rodents collected, and proper disposa l of garbage.
    The Macy Street District was an area in which the residences were originally well built, but had become dilapidated, with shacks built in the rear. This area was entirely surrounded by industry, and the inhabitants were composed largely of Mexican families who worked nearby. The route by which the plague reached Los Angeles was not determined. It was definitely established that this epidemic was of rat origin.
    Previous major outbreaks of plague in California include two groups of bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco in 1900-1904 and again in 1905-1909. The first outbreak saw 121 cases and 113 deaths, and the second 160 cases and 78 deaths. By the end of this 1924-1925 plague outbreak in Los Angeles, 32 cases of plague were diagnosed with 30 deaths.
    (Source: California State Board of Health. Final Report of Plague Eradicative Measures, November 1924-June 1925, Los Angeles, Calif. [n.p. 1925?].)