Trash Talk Fridays: Fire at Crew
On Saturday, Chicago Fire travels east to the little town that shouldn’t have. OTF’s Ricardo Ortiz revisits some of Columbus’s early history provides insight into it’s origins…
From it’s humble beginning as a remote cholera quarantine zone, to its modern incarnation as the Mobile of the Midwest, this is the story of a town that grew to become the armpit of the world. Over the years, Columbus, Ohio has captured our imagination and kept us close to its pink udder, gently drowning us in a sea of milky cow discharge.
This is part 1 of the story of Cowtown.
On February 4th, 1812, Lucas Sullivant, a young surveyor from Virginia, arrived at the fork of two great rivers and gazed upon a vast expanse of forested land laid out before him. For a white man, this was virgin territory, a result of strange topographical and biological effects that joined to effectively create a natural waste repository for most of the native species in the area.
Sullivant wrote in his journal:
“It is a most fortuitous discovery that after gallivanting around this forsaken wilderness for over three weeks, I have finally chanced upon a suitable place to establish the homestead I have always dreamt of. I must no longer bear the torment and ridicule of those horrid boys from the boarding school back east, insufferable young men who called me craven and dipped my head in the outhouse latrine, day in and day out. Here, at the intersection of these two mighty rivers, I shall form a greater society, one that will carry my providence and legacy onward.”
It was not to be.
Aside from the fact that Sullivant was completely incompetent as a settler, farmer, and knew no trade that may have enabled him to thrive in the wilderness, his grave error occurred the moment he chose a completely unsuitable spot to establish a settlement. In retrospect, Sullivant’s mistake could have been avoided had he been anything other than a cowardly, whiney spoiled brat from out east.
Local Native American tribes confirm these facts. Several collected oral histories from the time period talk of a pudgy settler who settled “downstream.” Unbeknownst to Sullivant, he settled just down the river from the spot the local inhabitants used as the community toilet. This, as well as his complete lack of physical fortuity, made Sullivant the butt of many jokes.
In the months that followed, several people from out east chanced upon Sullivant’s settlement and decided to put down roots near his small homestead. Among the pioneers were disowned trust fundees, disgraced con-men, and cheating members of Congress.
In time, a once lonely cabin nestled at the bottom of the local toilet became a flourishing hamlet. By the Fall of 1814, the Village of Sullivantson was established. Early conditions were absolutely abysmal, with frequent bouts of fever and a devastating outbreak of cholera that completely decimated the village and eventually took the life of its young visionary, Lucas Sullivant.
His final journal entry:
“I hate this confounded place! Why did I ever decide to come here? We’re all starving to death! I know Tuttley has been stealing from the pantry, and those horrid savages laughed at me when I ate some poison berries last week. Everyone is sick, and the water tastes like pee. This has been an absolute failure. The character of the men in this town, which is only made up of men, is of such disrepute that a Fire would surely make this area a better place. I have been feverish for days now, and can only hope these leaves I received from those snickering natives will help me feel better.”
On November 3rd, 1814, Lucas Sullivant passed away from dehydration caused by extreme explosive diarrhea after he ingested a poisonous plant. It was a final joke, cruelly played on him by the people of his world.
By the Spring of 1815, the village had become so infested with disease and cadavers that the Governor of the State of Ohio declared a military cordon be placed around it, and began using the area as a dumping ground for military ammunition and waste. Moreover, thanks to racketeering laws passed in New York and Pennsylvania at the time, what is now known as Columbus was also used as an open-air prison and work camp. Unfortunately, this only exacerbated outbreaks of cholera. In the fall of that year, Governor Rufus T. Belltower declared the area a medical disaster zone and signed a decree creating the United States’s first quarantine area.
In part two of OTF’s three-part series on the history of Columbus (coming this September), we will examine the role of the nation’s gallbladder during the Civil War, as well as revisit its fortuitous role as the STD capital of the world during the late 19th century.
Until then Fire fans, be sure to pack your noseplugs and surgical masks before you make the journey east this weekend.
God speed my brothers and sisters. May the Fire burn deep inside your hearts.
Ricardo Ortiz is OTF’s resident historian. He enjoys xenophobia, jingoism, and white-washing history. You can find him at the Rand Institute or at @RickHardTimes