The summer of 2019 will be one to remember.
We’ll remember it because 2019 is the 50th anniversary of “one small step for a man” on the moon as well as several other notable events in 1969.
But mostly, we’ll remember this summer as being very wet and very hot.
By the end of the summer, it’s possible Columbus could see a record for total annual rainfall.
This much rain – and there has been a lot of it – always has been something of a mixed blessing.
Ohio and most of its Midwestern neighbors are fortunate in having some of the richest topsoil on the planet. That topsoil provided an agriculture that has been able to feed not only the United States but much of a world in need. That topsoil formed the basis for farm marketing that was able to bring enormous amounts of food quickly to the ever-increasing population of America’s cities. Those cities were the home of immense industries that devoured men, money and material and returned the products desired by that same population.
What then was the secret that permitted the Ohio River valley to have this rich farmland? The secret was water – and a lot of it. The combination of healthy rainfall with a temperate climate led to the production of a rich soil.
The benign avoidance of most of this land helped, as well.
In the colonial period, Native Americans found a home in the Ohio Country. The total Shawnee population of Ohio was clustered in the lower Scioto River valley. These people, numbering around 10,000, constituted half of the Native American population of Ohio.
Water is not always a blessing, however, and too much of it can be a problem. Because of the near-constant rainfall earlier this year, many corn farmers were unable to plant their fields on time. Driving through rural Ohio in the early summer provided an eerie vision of empty fields giving forth nothing but a harvest of weeds. As the summer progressed, some of the drier fields began to show signs of life, with a smaller supply of corn responding to the demand for it in world markets.
Then there is the heat.
Ohio recently experienced a modest summer heat wave. It was modest because it lasted only a few days, but it was not modest in its intensity, as heat indexes reached more than 100 degrees.
Again, this is nothing new, as Ohio had had many hot summers before. In enduring heat and water, the early settlers learned how to live in the new land.
An early account remembered the difficulties:
“Ensuing from a prolonged rainfall in the spring of 1823, a great June freshet ‘overflowed and saturated the country when in the full flush of a most luxuriant vegetation, and the hot sun of July and the decaying matters ushered in a season of unparalleled sickness and deadly fevers.’
“The fever of this season was of a remittent type, and more or less affected nineteen-twentieths of the population.”
Another historian noted that the afflictions were “bilious and intermittent fevers of all types, from the common fever and ague to the most malignant.”
Sometimes the cause of the disease could be determined and removed. In other cases, people learned how to treat the disease and survive.
An older resident later remembered that, “at first, the physicians treated the bilious fevers with bleeding and physic, but not very successfully. Dr. Turney, a Chillicothe physician, departed from the common practice, allowed his patients to eat all they wanted, gave them as much brandy as they could drink, and generally cleared his cases. Within a day or two after a rain, a green scum gathered on all of the ponds about the village.” There was no further explanation of the significance of the “green scum.”
Residents untrusting of traditional doctors might look to other alternatives to treat their problems. Beginning in 1833, Columbus and central Ohio was afflicted with periodic epidemics of Asiatic cholera for more than 20 years. The city eventually solved the problems of mess and miasma with a series of sewers. In the interim, other methods were tried:
“One of the curious accompaniments of the epidemic was the appearance of no end of quacks professing the power of cure and prevention. One of these who visited Columbus ... peddled about the streets what were called ‘highly aromatic amulets’ made of a berry that grows on a tree on Mount Lebanon.” The amulets were sold from $1 to $4 each and were “sure preventatives of cholera, scarlet fever and other contagious diseases.”
Apparently, the amulets did not sell so well, as they and their manufacturer soon were gone from the city.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.