Madera, 100 years ago

February 10, 2018

Madera County Historical Society
Jay Chapel had just purchased this hearse when it was used to transport the victims of the food poisoning tragedy to the cemetery 100 years ago.

One hundred years ago, Madera suffered one of the most heart-wrenching ordeals ever to hit a single city. Two families, including children, were decimated from food poisoning. What follows is the account of that century-old tragedy taken from the pages of the Madera Mercury.

February 1918

FAMILIES POISONED BY APRICOTS — ONE DEATH AND SEVERAL MORE SERIOUSLY ILL — MACKEY AND MITCHELL FAMILIES AFFECTED — Every physician in the city was called upon this morning to attend to the illness of two local families who had been poisoned by eating canned apricots last Sunday. The families affected were those of A.E. Mackey, who resides on Madera Avenue and Grover Mitchell, who resides on North Lake Street. Up to this writing, only one death has occurred, the little three-year-old Mitchell baby. Mrs. Mitchell is slightly ill as is her other baby boy, one-year-old. In the Mackey family, Mrs. Mackey, her 18-year-old son Elson, and a daughter, five years of age, are quite seriously ill, while Mr. Mackey is slightly ill. It is not believed that any other deaths will occur. The disease is said to be one form of ptomaine poisoning, although the symptoms of some of the victims are those of botulism, a disease of which there is little known and which rarely occurs. It affects the eyesight and the ears, and one of the victims complained of seeing double and of being blinded at times. Last Sunday evening, the Mitchell family had dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mackey, Mrs. Mitchell being a daughter. They all ate some canned apricots. No ill effects were noticed until this morning when practically every member of the two families were taken ill, some of them more seriously than others. Dr. Hely was called to the Mackey home where he suspected ptomaine, but the symptoms were not exactly like poisoning of this character. About that time a call came from the Mitchell household and Drs. Ransom, Rinker, and Dearborn hurried to that home. The little three-year-old boy could not be saved, but it is believed the other members of the family will pull through.

TWO MORE DIE FROM POISONING — TWO MACKEY CHILDREN VICTIMS OF PTOMAINE — Last night, Nina Mackey, aged 5 years, died at 11:30, and within an hour’s time her brother, Elsworth Mackey, age 14, had also succumbed to the terrible affliction. At this writing, Mrs. Mitchell and her baby, one year old, are apparently out of danger. Mr. Mackey is getting along all right and it is believed that if the heart action of Mrs. Mackey and her son, Clarence, who is 23 years of age, can be kept up until the effects of the poison are gotten out of the system, they will also recover. The funeral of little Orville Andrew Mitchell will be held from the First Christian Church at 2:00 Friday afternoon. A double funeral will be held for the Mackey children at 10:00 o’clock Saturday morning.

MORE VICTIMS ADDED TO THE DEATH LIST — Baffling all the efforts of medical science to halt its terrible advance, the ptomaine poisoning that has attacked the Mackey and the Mitchell families has now taken six lives with a strong probability of two more succumbing to the dread disease. Last night Mrs. Mackey and Mrs. Mitchell passed away, and this morning the year-old Mitchell baby died after taking nourishment at its mother’s breast. The only member of the Mitchell family left alive today is the father Grover Mitchell. His wife and two children, one three years old and one a year old, have passed away. Mr. Mitchell did not eat any of the suspected apricots and is the only member of this family who was not made sick. Of the Mackey family, Mr. Mackey and his son, Clarence Mackey, were still very ill this afternoon.

FIVE LAID TO REST TODAY; FUNERAL OF BROTHER AND SISTER HELD THIS MORNING AND MOTHER AND TWO LITTLE BOYS BURIED THIS AFTERNOON — Two of the saddest funerals that have ever taken place in this city occurred today when five people were laid to rest beneath the moaning evergreens in the Arbor Vitae Cemetery. All were victims of the fatal poison from which two local families were almost wiped out during the past three days. At 9 o’clock this morning, two hearses backed up in front of the Jay undertaking parlors. Two sets of children pallbearers were lined up in front and carried out two caskets covered with flowers. They contained the last earthly remains of little 5-year-old Nina Mackey and her brother Ellsworth, 14, both of whom entered the Kingdom of Heaven within an hour’s time Wednesday night. At 2 o’clock this afternoon, a similar funeral occurred, although in this case there were two caskets containing all that was dear to Grover Mitchell. In the larger casket were the remains of his wife, and on her arm nestled close to her breast was the lifeless form of her little baby boy. In the other casket was Orville, her other child, a sweet little lad of three years. There is nothing left of the Mitchell family but the father and husband to whom every heart went out today in sympathy, a sympathy that is unspeakable.

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