Sunday, June 12, 2005


Misery In the Air

I have a history column in this week's New Scientist about Morrill Wyman, the physician who first linked hay fever to ragweed pollen. His entire family suffered from the allergy. Wyman haunted vacant lots in Boston and stuffed ragweed into a bag; then, once his family was vacationing in the mountains, and had been free of the condition for weeks, he produced the bag and had them huff from it... and, well, their reactions were exactly what you'd expect.

A pretty cruel experiment, but effective.

One odd thing I discovered is that Wyman's 1872 book Autumnal Cattarh (Hay Fever) identified a select few mountains in New York, New Hampshire, and Michigan miraculously out of reach of ragweed pollen. Well-heeled sufferers started leaving NY and Boston for these mountains every August, just in time to avoid pollination. Wyman inadvertantly created a roaring tourist economy, and the continuing tradition of leaving the city for a cabin in the mountains in the late summer is the living relic of this fashionable Victorian cure.

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