LOUDONVILLE -- In early January, 1949, the majority of residents in Loudonville fell violently ill. Over 225 students alone were absent from schools with an unknown sickness, but the illness affected nearly all ages in the community.
Soon, reports of the rumored cause spread across the county and state: Loudonville was on the brink of being declared a typhoid epidemic.
Typhoid is an often fatal disease caused by contaminated food or water, and while vaccines did exist at the time they were not widespread ... instead, the main defense was public sanitation including modern hygiene protocols and chlorinating water to kill the bacteria.
The sudden onset of the Loudonville illness corresponded with the breakdown of the hyperchlorinator in the village's water works facility, with symptoms across town appearing within 24 to 36 hours after the breakdown.
Loudonville schools superintendent R.F. McMullen was among the first to realize the widespread illness across town, and quickly called on Dr. C.B. Meuser, county health commissioner, to take samples of the water.
Meuser did so, running over a dozen tests, and finally declared that typhoid was not the cause -- but also that there was no known bacteria present in the unchlorinated water that would cause the illness. Meuser declared the epidemic to merely be intestinal flu, which amazingly had besieged the entire population at the same time.
Dr. D.P. Griffin, the district sanitary engineer for the state Department of Health, also took samples and sent them to state inspector of health Dr. John Porterfield, in Columbus, for independent testing. Journalists following the story reported that Porterfield's office, however, had found the colon bacteria associated with typhoid in the samples.
At the same time that the Loudonville Times was running stories saying it wasn't typhoid, the rest of the state -- including the Ashland Times-Gazette -- was reporting the opposite. The TG also reported that Dr. Meuser had found contaminants, and was planning a mass vaccination of the county.
Meuser denied these reports to the Loudonville Times, claiming he was misquoted.
The public didn't know who to trust, and typhoid hysteria swept Ashland County. A week after the outbreak, the Perrysville Admirals traveled to Loudonville High School for a basketball game. All of the Perrysville players and fans brought along their own water supply -- prompting LHS principal H.H. Wiggins to stop the game and attempt to convince the crowd that the Loudonville's water was safe to drink.
Five days after the hyperchlorinator broke down it was repaired. Dr. Meuser had not found contaminants in the water, but within 24 to 36 hours of the repair the village recovered from the strange illness.
Shortly after the village recovered and the panic died down, the village water works was inspected and declared unsafe and inadequate. Within months a new water works was planned, with Burgess & Niple of Columbus being awarded the job. The new water plant was built on the same site of the old one, which had originally been constructed in 1902.
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