53. Yellow Fever

Historic Marker 53 is located at 625 White Street between Angela and Southard streets.

The grassy field before you is the location of an Army cemetery for Civil War soldiers and civilians. Most of the people who were buried here died from yellow fever. Yellow fever and dengue, or "break bone fever, " were the scourge of the South and the Caribbean for much of the 1800s.

At the time, the cause and spread of the disease had not yet been linked to mosquitoes, and efforts to stop the disease were numerous. Many people believed that the disease was an airborne inflammation. Talk of "dirty air " from the dead and cemeteries was common. The practice of burning the clothes and possessions of anyone who had succumbed to yellow fever prevailed for decades.

In the 1820s, the military closed the Naval station and the Army barracks because of continuing yellow fever outbreaks. Homes, ships, and cities were commonly put under quarantine to contain the spread of the disease.

A Key West doctor, Joseph Yates Porter (visit historic marker # 4), is credited with this use of quarantines to stop the spread of the fever. His efforts were an important step toward the eventual cure of yellow fever in the early 1900s.

This site hardly seems like a cemetery. The lack of headstones can be attributed to cost savings by the government. Headstones were never used to mark the graves of women and children buried around the edges of the cemetery. Also, in an effort to consolidate cemetery space, the soldiers who were interred there, along with the memorials that marked their graves, were transferred by ship to a Civil War cemetery in Pensacola, Florida. Due to a recording error, many of the soldiers, upon reburial, were never reunited with the correct grave markers.