February 13th, 2006

5th street los angeles 1905


A solitary deer visited the street last night. The moon was already west of meridian, but there was still a bit of shade in which I could hide on the porch. The deer spotted me nevertheless, and stood still in the street for a minute or two, watching me. I considered its caution wise. For all that deer knew, I could have been Dick Cheney, and there were no humans in sight for me to shoot.

Perusing the image collection of the California State Library web site, I found an interesting collection of photos bearing the title "Photographic Documentation of Pneumonic Plague Outbreak Sites and Rats in Los Angeles, 1924". There were a number of cases of bubonic plague at that time as well. Most of the areas infested by plague-carrying rats were in the, well, rattier sections of town.

The best thing about this collection is that it has many pictures of buildings which otherwise would probably never have been photographed, and many of the pictures are of back yards and alleys and area-ways and such places that were also rarely subjects for the camera. It's also interesting to know that there was an outbreak of plague in Los Angeles so recently as 1924.

One particular picture caught my eye. It shows one of the many men hired as rat trappers during the eradication program. He looks like a typical 1920's worker carrying the tools of his trade, but in this case the tools are spring traps and a large object that looks like a big milk can (or a small Stanley Cup) which was intended to carry the trapped rats. On the can is painted a most eye-catching symbol. As the trapped rats were in many cases carrying plague, the symbol was obviously meant to warn people away. Yet this was only 1924. Was someone in the rat eradication project uncommonly prescient?

Rat Trapper
Rat Trapper

In 1924, infestations of infected rats led to an outbreak of pneumonic and bubonic plague in the city of Los Angeles. This fellow was one of many hired to trap the rats as part of the testing and eradication program. Note the interesting (and perhaps prescient) symbol on his rat container.

I will go to sleep now and probably dream of rats and of Vice Presidents with guns.

Edit to add this bit of Cheney-related amusement. As a rule, I don't like illustrated T-shirts, but this one I do.
caillebotte_the orangerie

Too Nice

Thrushes now sing through balmy afternoons and bees feed from fresh blossoms. The entire landscape luxuriates. At nightfall, the perfect moon rises and the cricket sings, accompanied by the chorus of frogs. None of this should be happening now. We should be damp and chilled under gray skies. It's February! I keep thinking of Pompeii. I'm sure we are about to be blindsided by some terrible disaster. This is a trick, a ruse to throw us off guard! By Friday we'll surely be buried under mounds of snow, the frogs frozen in their icy ponds, the bees huddling in their hives, the flowers dead, the ground littered with the corpses of silenced birds. This cannot last.