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York Councilman Died Young of Erysipelas

I am a firm believer in studying the past. We can learn so much from the experiences of those who went before us. But I’m glad I am living now, especially with the strides made in medicine the past century.

An example is a clipping from a York newspaper dated June 27, 1900. It tells the sad story of popular York City councilman Arthur J. McDonald, age 44, who left behind a widow, the former Sophia Kumerant and four children: Lewis, Raymond, Marie and Virginia.

McDonald had attended St. Patrick’s parochial school and had been a machinist at the Northern Central Railroad shops and a cigar maker and packer at the factory of Jacob Mayer & Brothers, North York.

What caught my eye was “The immediate cause of his death was erysipelas coupled with quinsy with which he had been confined for the past nine days.” Maybe you know what erysipelas is, but I didn’t. A Google search brought up answers from the U.S. National Library of Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health).

Erysipelas is a skin infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria. Symptoms include fever and skin blisters and ulcers. Today it is successful treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. Quinsy also sounds very nasty. It is an abscess that is a complication of tonsillitis that is very rare since the advent of antibiotics.

Admittedly there are still dangerous diseases that aren’t easily treated and some bacteria have evolved to become antibiotic-resistant. Still, my mind might be in the past, but I’m glad my body is in the present.