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RIP little cousin

He was just a little boy, just two days past his sixth birthday.

And he died a horrible death.

What today would be a preventable death.

Ralph Livingston of Hollister, Oklahoma, was The Legal Genealogist‘s first cousin twice removed: his father Arthur Carlton Livingston was the brother of my great grandmother Eula (Baird) Livingston Robertson.

I had photographed his grave at the Frederick, Oklahoma, City Cemetery years ago, and knew from family that this little boy — Arthur’s first-born child — had died of blood poisoning on 17 March 1927.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. That I found yesterday in the stunning collection of newspapers held by the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, the fabulous research library and museum of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The Society was founded in 1893 by members of the Oklahoma Territory Press Association, in large part to collect and preserve the papers they had published.1 Its Oklahoma History Center, which houses that newspaper collection (and so much more), opened in 2005.2

And it is there that the rest of the story was told, in the pages of the Frederick (Oklahoma) Press issue of 22 March 1927:

RalphFuneral services were held at the First Baptist Church in Frederick Friday afternoon for Ralph Livingston, 6, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Livingston of Hollister, who died at the Tillman County hospital Thursday night, after an illness of several weeks. Rev. T. P. Haskins, pastor of the Frederick Baptist church, and Rev. J. F. Curtis, pastor of Hollister Baptist church, were in charge of the funeral.

“A large number of friends of the deceased gathered at the church to pay their respects to the boy, and a beautiful floral offering was made.

“Ralph died as the result of blood poisoning and erysipelas and other complications, which began with a diseased leg and followed his body to his face.

“Burial was made in the City cemetery.3

Oh ouch.

It turns out that erysipelas is a streptocaccal bacteria infection that often starts with some sort of cut in the skin. It occurs on the legs most of the time.4 The disease has been “traced back to the Middle Ages, where it was referred to as St. Anthony’s fire, named after the Christian saint to whom those afflicted would appeal for healing.”5

In untreated or severe cases, “(t)he bacteria may travel to the blood … This results in a condition called bacteremia. The infection may spread to the heart valves, joints, and bones.”6

When erysipelas does spread that way, it causes pain. A lot of pain.

When treated with modern antibiotics, the disease can be cured. A solid round of penicillin could knock out most erysipelas. But penicillin wasn’t available for widespread use until the 1940s — years after Ralph’s illness.7

And in those days before penicillin and other drugs became readily available, erysipelas killed.

Those believed to have died from erysipelas include Norborne Berkeley, a royal governor of Virginia; John Stuart Mill; and Pope Gregory XVI.8

And one little six-year-old cousin.

For the want of something we take so very much for granted today… a simple antibiotic…


SOURCES

  1. History of OHS,” About : History, Oklahoma Historical Society (http://www.okhistory.org/ : accessed 27 Mar 2015).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Frederick (Oklahoma) Press, 22 March 1927, p.1, col. 7; digital images, Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City.
  4. Erysipelas,” MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ : accessed 27 Mar 2015).
  5. Loretta Davis MD, et al., “Erysipelas,” Medscape (http://emedicine.medscape.com/ : accessed 27 Mar 2015).
  6. Erysipelas,” MedlinePlus.
  7. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Penicillin,” rev. 24 Mar 2015.
  8. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “erysipelas,” rev. 17 Mar 2015.
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