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Manteno Madness

On a flat plain 48 miles south of Chicago lie 60 squat red-brick buildings. They house the 5,500 insane patients and 760 employes of Manteno State Hospital. Finished in 1937, this dreary-neat plant boasts many a modern improvement, including special wells, tapping a limestone water-table 17 feet underground, which supply the hospital with water. Life at Manteno rolled along with the quiet, machinelike monotony common to State institutions until one day last August, when a half-dozen patients complained of diarrhea.

Hospital doctors examined them, reported them to the Board of Health as dysentery cases. Next day the number had tripled, and State Welfare Director Archibald Leonard Bowen, knowing that many modern doctors do not recognize a case of typhoid when they see one, at once chlorinated the hospital's water supply, sent a truckload of typhoid vaccine to the hospital. But it was too late.

The disease spread to a dozen, a score, a hundred. Patients lay moaning in bed. Others, whipped by mad fear, beat against the screened windows, grappled with attendants. Some of the attendants fell ill. All were panicky. Every night kitchen boys and orderlies disappeared. Over 45 ran away in all.

Last week Manteno's Director Ralph Thompson Hinton announced that the epidemic was finally cleaned up and that peace had returned to Manteno. The toll: 384 stricken, 47 dead. Engineers, examining the miles of Manteno sewers, suspected a small leak in the tiles, believed that contaminated water had seeped into the wells. Prospect was that Manteno would either build a filtration plant on the grounds or start piping water from Kankakee's safe water supply ten miles away.
Time Magazine Monday, Oct. 23, 1939 - Submitted by K. Torp

In 1939 the Manteno State Hospital befell a tragic epidemic of typhoid fever, involving 453 cases and resulting in 60 deaths. The sanitary conditions that led to this unfortunate event were deplorable. Due to a rapid increase in the hospital's population the original water and sewage provisions quickly became overburdened and inadequate. The main kitchen had not been sanitarily managed. It was noted that brooms used for scrubbing floors were later used for cleaning the cooking utensils and the meat block where meat was carved. The presence of rodents and insects was rampant, it was noted that the entire dump was literally alive with maggots.
Source: A Report on a Typhoid Fever Epidemic at Manteno State Hospital in 1939, printed in 1945 and reprinted in the National Register of Historic Buildings

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