The Truth About Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon was a great cook — so great that she made a comfortable life for herself in the kitchens of the rich after arriving in New York City as a penniless teenager from Ireland. She was especially known for her peach ice cream, which she often served at a rented summer home in Oyster Bay. Most of what the renter’s staff prepared that summer was safe to eat because most of it was cooked at high temperatures, but not Mary’s peach ice cream. Although Mary harbored the bacteria that cause typhoid fever, she never demonstrated any of its symptoms, which include fever, headaches and diarrhea. Immune to the disease herself, she was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen. Unfortunately, Mary had been spreading the disease at every location where she had been employed as a cook. When she was confronted by the authorities and ordered to give up cooking as a profession, she refused. She was taken into custody and taken to an isolation bungalow on North Brother Island, where she remained for the rest of her life. She died in 1938 at 69. A postmortem found evidence of live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder, which prompted authorities to have her body cremated.