- Jul 23, 2017
- Southwest Missouri
A miasmist is one who believes in the theory that some diseases were caused by ‘bad air’. And while this theory has been debunked, there was a time when many felt it explained diseases such as cholera, yellow fever and malaria. One of its most well known believers was a young man names George E Waring Jr. Born in Pound Ridge, NY, to a successful stove manufacturer, George was trained in agricultural chemistry and went to work on Horace Greeley’s farm at Chappaqua, NY. In 1856, he was hired as part of a team to turn a smelly swamp into what is today the famous Central Park. George and an assistant were responsible for the channeling and drainage of the water in the park, work that began in 1858.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, if we are to believe what he says in his book ‘Whip and Spur’, thanks in part to his beloved horse Vixen, he was appointed major in the 39th New York Infantry. This commission did not last long, as General Fremont was given command of Union forces in Missouri, and before leaving New York, “his chief of staff was looking for cavalry officers. He had long known Vixen, and was kind enough to tell me that he wanted her for the new organization, and (as I was her necessary appendage), he procured my transfer, and we set out for the West.” He would be put in command of a unit of German American cavalry, thereafter known as 4th Missouri Cavalry.
For the most part, his four years in the Western Theatre went fairly uneventful. In his book, he writes the cavalry charge made against Nathan Bedford Forrest’s forces at Okolona, MS on Feb 22, 1864, was the only ‘legitimate cavalry charge’ made by the 4th during the war. The charge accomplished little more than convincing Forrest he did not have the ammunition to continue pursuing General Sooy Smith’s retreating forces to Memphis. The 4th Missouri would be involved in other engagements, but took no further part in any major campaigns or battles. (source) (His book, Whip and Spur, would be a book I would recommend to horse lovers, as Colonel Waring spends an unusual amount of the book describing and speaking fondly of his horses, and those of other soldiers in his unit, but spends far less time describing those other soldiers, or the conflicts he took part in.)
After the war, he would be hired to mange the Ogden Farm in Newport, Rhode Island, which was in its infancy of becoming a place for the rich and famous to build mansions and estates. At the Ogden farm, George installed clay piping for drainage, that still exists today, and is reported to have introduced the Jersey dairy cow to America.
In 1878-79, Memphis was hit with its third devastating yellow fever outbreak in the past eleven years, which killed 5000 souls, and caused a mass evacuation from the city. Things were so bad in Memphis and the Mississippi River valley, that a National Board of Health was created. They dispatched civilian Colonel Waring, as he preferred to be addressed, to the city. He designed a sewer system that kept storm water runoff and normal waste separated, which saved on the overall cost by making smaller pipes more practical. Memphis spent the money necessary to install the recommended system and the yellow fever and cholera outbreaks in that city ended.
In 1895, newly elected Mayor William Lafayette Strong asked a young Theodore Roosevelt to take the job as commissioner of street cleaning. Roosevelt refused, instead taking the police commissioner job, and Mayor Strong offered the position to George E Waring Jr. To get an idea of how bad things were in New York City at the time, sailors could typically smell the city miles out to sea. Wikipedia sourced reports state “Horses were leaving an estimated 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine on the streets every day.” and “Horse carcasses rotted in the streets. Garbage piles reached a foot or two deep”. According to another source “animals were regularly butchered on the street, with the carcass left to rot.” Colonel Waring took the job, hired 2,000 sanitation workers he dressed in white, who soon earned the nickname of White Wings, and tackled the job. One of his first actions was to ban ‘parking horses’ overnight on the streets. Waring was so successful in getting the streets cleaned, that the very next year, the city held a parade for its Sanitation Department.
In 1898, President McKinley appointed Colonel Waring to make a study of sanitation needs in Cuba. In October of that year, in what the New York Times called an ‘irony of fate”, he contracted yellow fever and died in NYC on October 29, 1898. His body was quickly cremated to prevent any spread of the disease.
A small article found in the Turner County Herald in Hurley South Dakota on Mach 19, 1911 reveals what happened to the ashes of the deceased Waring. “Testifying under oath that he threw the ashes of Colonel George E Waring Jr, who was street cleaning commissioner, out of the window and used the urn to make a gin rickey, Arthur R Denyse, formerly an attache of the quarantine station at Rosebank, Staten Island, was the chief witness at the state quarantine investigation of New York City.”
Someone has placed a memorial stone in Woodland Cemetery in Stamford, CT, with other Waring family members, but there isn’t anything to offer the visitor any idea of the contributions this man has made to our country.
A Few side notes - the Waring and Samuel Clements family were close friends. See here for an April Fool’s Joke Colonel Waring’s daughter played on ‘Mark Twain’. (Source)
B. In 1895, Colonel Waring referred to some local Grand Army of the Republic members as “pension bummers”, and while demanding he be fired as Commissioner of Street Cleaning, the GAR called him an imbecile, aristocratic coxcomb, renegade colonel, and no colonel at all. Colonel Waring kept his job.
C. There are media reports that Virginia Waring received a substantial donation in her husband’s memory and also threatened to sue the state of New York City for the use of a cart she had invented for the NYC Sanitation Department while her husband was alive. I did not investigate if the suit ever happened.
D. While Waring believed the 'smell' coming from foul water was the cause of disease, it was in fact the germs and the mosquito that was breeding in the water, that was spreading many of these diseases, including the one that killed him.
E. A tragic tale of a true hero - IMHO