Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia
July 27, 1976: Outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in Philadelphia. “On July 21, 1976, the American Legion opened its annual three-day convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 Legionnaires, mostly men, attended the convention. The date and city were chosen to coincide with America’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia in 1776.
On July 27, three days after the convention ended, Legionnaire Ray Brennan, a 61-year-old retired Air Force captain and an American Legion bookkeeper, died at his home of an apparent heart attack. Brennan had returned home from the convention on the evening of July 24 complaining of feeling tired. On July 30, another Legionnaire, Frank Aventi, aged 60, also died of an apparent heart attack, as did three other Legionnaires. All of them had been convention attendees. Twenty-four hours later, on August 1, six more Legionnaires died. They ranged in age from 39 to 82, and, like Ray Brennan, Frank Aventi, and the three other Legionnaires, all had complained of tiredness, chest pains, lung congestion, and fever.
Three of the Legionnaires had been patients of Dr. Ernest Campbell, a physician in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who noticed that all three men had been at the Legionnaires convention in Philadelphia. He contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Officials at the American Legion also began getting notices of the sudden deaths of several members, all at the same time. Within a week, more than 130 people, mostly men, had been hospitalized, and 25 had died.”
Commentary: I was in Florence, Italy writing my PhD dissertation when this happened. The only way I could communicate with my advisor, Mel Suffet, at that time was by telegram [no internet, no email, no phone, mail took a month]. Sometime in August I got a strangely worded telegram from Mel that he and some graduate students had gone into the Bellevue Stratford Hotel and sampled drinking water and had taken the activated carbon filters out of the drinking fountains to look for toxic chemicals. The disease was a big mystery at the time. However, the telegram was so weirdly constructed that I initially thought that Mel had contracted the mystery fever. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case. There is a terrific podcast from 99% Invisible that describes the outbreak and discovery of the causative organism.
Owens Lake before becoming a dust hazard
July 27, 1905: Los Angeles Board of Engineers meet to consider Owens Valley supply. “The Board of Engineers who were to make that recommendation met on July 27, 1905. From an engineering standpoint, the project was viable. One of the commissioners had previously met with [Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register for the Owens Valley] and made sure discussions about the project gave serious consideration to his protest. However, the economic feasibility of the project was in question. The Board saw Los Angeles’ ownership of the Long Valley Reservoir site and 50 miles along the river as a great impediment to proceeding with a Reclamation Service project.
The Secretary of the Interior, the cabinet member responsible for the Reclamation Service, made no decision until much later.
[William] Mulholland returned from a car trip to the Owens Valley not two days after the Board of Engineers had met. His statement, “The last spike is driven…the options are secure,” was the City’s verdict on the project.
It seemed irrelevant that the Reclamation Service had made no decision when on July 29, 1905 the Los Angeles Times headlines bannered ‘Titanic Project to Give City a River.’”