1860 Rats At Bellevue Hospital


New York Times Rats

The Commissioners of the Department of Public Charities and Correction have promptly investigated the case of the infant of MARY CONNER, which was mutilated by rats at Bellevue Hospital, and the death of which is supposed to have resulted from that cause. Messrs. DEAPER, GRINNELL, BELL and NICHOLSON spent several hours at the Hospital, night before last; examined all who had anything to relate with regard to the occurrence, and had several of the alleged culprits, or members of their numerous family, before them, — for the rats at Bellevue are a bold and reckless race, and do not hesitate to come forth from their hiding-places, and scamper about even in the presence of men in high position. The evidence thus collated was arranged in due form, and presented before the Commissioners at their meeting yesterday afternoon. The details are uninteresting and unfit for publication. The leading points are as follows:

MARY CONNER went to the Hospital last Sunday afternoon, sent thither by the Superintendent of Out-Door Poor, Mr. KELLOCK. She was placed in the “Waiting Room,” where about twenty women slept, and by 9 o’clock all had retired. During the evening she had made no complaints, and gave no intimation of her coming confinement; in her testimony she declares that she did not expect it so soon. At 6 o’clock in the morning Dr. HADDEN, the House Physician, was summoned to attend her, and found the new-born infant lying partly under the body of the mother, dead and cold. “The nose of the child, upper lip and a portion of the cheeks seemed to be eaten off,” says Dr. HADDEN. “The toes of the left foot and a portion of the foot were eaten off, or apparently so. The lacerated portions were covered with sand and dirt.” He states that the abdomen of the child was flattened out by the weight of the mother. He is quite sure that the gnawing was done after the death of the child, and believes that it was done by rats. The mother was feeble and listless — hardly accountable, the doctor thinks, for anything she might say. She declared that it did not make any difference to her whether the child was dead or alive. From her testimony we learn that she is a servant girl, 31 years old, born in Dublin, has lived eight years in this country, and is unmarried. She perceived, on the night in question, that there was a cat or rat on the bed, but could not tell which. She was either asleep or in a fainting condition most of the night.

When these facts had been read, the President, Mr. DRAPER, said he had not received any communication from the Warden of the hospital in relation to the matter. Mr. NICHOLSON asked whether the President had taken any action in the case. The President answered that he had sent a letter to the Warden stating what he had heard, and telling him to see that a sufficient watch was kept in the various wards, to prevent any unfortunate occurrence in future which watchfulness could prevent. The Board confirmed the action of the President.

Mr. GRINNELL said he knew nothing of the occurrence until he read it in the newspapers. He had learned that there had not been any efforts for the extermination of rats made for some years. He had been so informed by Mr. DALY, the Warden. The President then presented propositions from several rat exterminators, offering to relieve Bellevue Hospital from rats. The propositions were referred to the Committee of the Whole, with power. After the passage of a resolution to meet every Thursday at 3 1/2 P.M., the Board adjourned.

Bellevue Hospital is completely overrun with rats. Our reporter, yesterday, made the acquaintance of several of them. They are large wharf-rats, and their presence there in such numbers is attributed to the contiguity of the East River. The Hospital, most of our readers are aware, was erected nearly fifty years ago, on a site which is bounded by First-avenue, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-eighth streets and the water. The main building stands on land of natural conformation, but the “new wing,” in which are the apartments for females, is supported on piles driven into “made land.” From the Hospital through this “made land” — everybody knows how it is “made,” by piling dirt on top of rubbish and loose stones — five sewers carry off all that is waste-worthy and empty it into the river, and by these sewers the vile, gregarious, amphibious and nomad vermin, swimming in crowds from place to place, have been induced to stop, to build their nests in the substratum of loose stones, or to burrow in the grassy banks near the water-side. It must be borne in mind that these creatures are not the common rats that infest private dwellings, but monsters that devour those lesser mischief-makers, inhabit about wharves and in storehouses and granaries, will, on occasions, dive into the water and glide swiftly through it, and of whose exploits we have heard more in “thrilling tales of the nineteenth century” than in sober, matter-of-fact narrative. In the vicinity of hospitals near the water, they are always found. Blackwell’s Island swarms with them, and they have been inmates of Bellevue since a period of which “the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.’ Unsuccessful efforts have, from time to time, been made to drive them out or destroy them. Six years ago, thousands of them were poisoned, and the place got in such bad order in consequence, that at one time it was almost determined to abandon it. The unsavory remains of the dead enemies of the institution were, however, removed; but the building was alive again, in a very brief period, with their successors. Since then, many attempts upon their lives, with arsenic, strychnia, terrier and grimalkin have been made with various success, but the water-rat is exceedingly prolific. A workman employed at the Hospital informed us that a day or two ago he found a nest in which there were two old rats, with a family of eighteen little ones; and at another time a litter of sixteen was turned up with his spade. Where one has fallen a dozen have sprung up in its place. Twelve dozen of traps awhile ago were sprung upon a host of them, but after two or three such experiments the survivors found out the trick of it, and the bait was left untouched. In the interior of the edifice you find rat-holes at every corner. In the female wards the rats in the night-time run about in swarms. There are fewer of them in the male wards, but there they are plentiful, and in the private apartments of the main building those employed in the institution go to bed with a broom-stick at hand, that they may repel them when they grow too familiar. This sounds like fiction, but we are assured that it is true. Myriads swarm at the water side after nightfall, crawl through the sewers and enter the houses. In a bath-tub, last Monday night, forty rats were caught. The vermin have full possession of the building, and if, without reconstructing its interior entirely, they are removed, it will be more than amazing.

 SOURCE: Published: April 27, 1860, The New York Times, Copyright @ The New York Times

1865 New York Times – Commissioners Of Public Charities And Corrections.