Monadnock Moment No. 192
Era 6: Development of the Industrial United States -
1870 to 1900
Arsenic and Old Flannel
In March of 1889, a local newspaper reported on an unusual case of arsenic poisoning. Miss Bessie Blake, daughter of Keene farmer Milton Blake, had been very ill for two weeks. Dr. Twitchell of Keene felt that the seventeen year old Bessie had unmistakable symptoms of arsenic poisoning. No one could determine the origin of the illness, however.
At first, Dr. Twitchell suspected the wall paper in Bessie's room. Keene High School principal Charles Douglas inspected a piece of the paper, yet found no trace of arsenic. Finally, Bessie's grandmother suggested that a new dress which Bessie had recently made and worn might be the cause of the trouble. The dress was made of green flannel. School principal Douglas was called in once again to do a test. Upon examination, he found that the flannel contained arsenic.
There was no explanation in the newspaper report as to how the arsenic got into the flannel. Apparently the government was not monitoring the use of chemicals as closely in 1889 if a flannel dress could contain enough arsenic to make the person wearing it seriously ill. In any case, the dress was discarded and young Bessie Blake recovered from her illness.
Article from the New Hampshire Sentinel on Wednesday, March 13, 1989.
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