fognozzle and Erling Wold
Mark Alburger conducting the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra
We, that is, fognozzle and Erling Wold, present for you a tale of fear, horror, xenophobia, political posturing and denial, all contained within a musical program piece of sorts, a savage delight for the senses and an allegory for today, this and that and the other thrown into the pot of narrative and boiled up into the scenario as follows:
The Australia steamed into San Francisco in 1899, carrying corpses and rats infected with the plague. Between 1900 and 1904, one hundred twenty-six people contracted the disease in San Francisco and environs. One hundred twenty-two of them died while the governor denied the very existence of the plague and the press blamed the Chinese for spreading it.
The plague was brought under control in 1904, only to resurface in 1906 as the great earthquake displaced the human and rat population. The response to this second outbreak was dealt with more efficiently as the causes were better understood, but one hundred eighty people died of the plague in San Francisco between 1906 and 1909.
Fortunately, Xenopsylla cheopis (the Oriental rat flea) never secured a foothold in San Francisco, and our dominant flea remained Ceratophyllus fasciatus, which lacked the deep stomach required for effective plague transmission. Many more people would have died if the reverse had been true.
Unfortunately, the rat-eradication efforts during the San Francisco plague outbreaks did not extend to the squirrels of the East Bay. Through them, the bubonic plague established a permanent foothold in the Pacific Northwest, where it lives on today – in the stomachs of fleas.