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Feb. 14, 1902: A festive night in the smallpox ward

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: September 24, 2013 - 11:17 PM
 
A University of Minnesota history student uncovered this curious item while researching commercialized sex and reform in Minneapolis, 1870-1920. From the Minneapolis Tribune:
 

CAKE WALK IN
THE PEST HOUSE

 
Merry Social Function Given by Pitted Smallpox Patients.
 
Gus R. Scott and Lady Win the Prize After a Most Diverting Contest.
 
Those who have passed through the terrors of an old-fashioned smallpox epidemic and remember the terror that accompanied the very name of the pest house, will wonder aghast at a social function that was held Wednesday night at the pest house at St. Louis Park in one of the vacant ward rooms.
 
According to the report, life is a continuous round of pleasure at the public institution referred to. There are afternoon card parties, evening whist tournaments, debating tilts, spelling bees, and not a day passes that there is not some jovial amusement that drives away dull care, and many a friendship is made at the pest house that in future may be more productive of happiness than those at the seashore hotels.
 
But the function that capped the climax occurred Wednesday night, when there was an elaborate cake walk. A collection was taken up among the patients and a $10 cake was ordered down town, and was sent out to the house. In the evening the people gathered in a vacant ward room and there selected five judges, with John A. Burton as chairman.
 
There were 20 couples paired off to walk in the cake walk, the music being furnished by Charles Cabona's Pest House orchestra.
 
It was a glorious occasion, and a great success. The match was close, but the judges finally awarded the cake to Gus. R. Scott and "lady," who had carried off the honors.
 
Then the cake was cut and eaten to the fumes of the wassail bowl, and the music of merry quip and jest.
 
Think of that in connection with the pest house of ancient days.
 
The Dale Street Infirmary in Roseville, shown here in about 1908, housed St. Paul's smallpox patients. Image courtesy of mnhs.org

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