Shortly after president-elect James Buchanan arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1857, a mysterious illness afflicted him and other guests at the National Hotel. Some feared an assassination attempt until physicians discovered a faulty plumbing connection that released foul odors into the hotel’s air. In this period before germ theory, Americans believed that miasmas or bad airs affected health. Join Dr. Melanie Kiechle and hear how 19th century Americans’ concerns about fresh air and foul odors shaped urban development, indoors and out, as city residents sought to protect the air they breathed.
Dr. Melanie Kiechle is an associate professor of history at Virginia Tech. She is interested in the intersection of culture, environment, cities, health and smells. Check out Dr. Kiechle’s book, Smell Detectives, from the University of Washington Press.
Members: Free | Non-members: Free
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