Dr. Sawyer was in Georgia and Alabama inspecting malaria and hookworm control programs from late August to early October 1924,
while his family finished a vacation in northern Michigan and prepared to move back to New York City. In this letter he described
an outing to do mosquito and larva counts in a local swamp, and his disappointment in the local accommodations.
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1924-09-03 (September 3, 1924)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
From Hookworm to Yellow Fever: Rockefeller Foundation, 1919-1927
I arrived in Leesburg on time on Labor Day evening. I thought I was an hour late, being innocent of the fact that I had slipped
back into Central Time. We had also slipped into vast forest and swamps. "Swamps" are just plain wet jungle full of
Spanish moss and snakes.
Dr. Barnes met me at the station. I had seen him last in Bangkok and Chiengmai in 1921.
Yesterday morning I was thoroughly initiated. I was advised to put on old clothes that I could wade in, and accordingly bought
a new pair of high leather water-tight boots and a straw hat to go with my beautiful khaki shirt and pants which Aunt Anna
thought so becoming. The straw hat was a farmers haying hat and cost 30 cents. The costume, when worn without a tie, was consistent,
uniform in color, and looked quite professional after I had dipped the boots in swamp mud. Swamp mud is black and has no bottom.
For some reason you usually stop sinking just before the water reaches the tops of your knee boots. You are always surprised
that you stop at all.
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We spent the whole day yesterday at a negro lumber camp called "Swampville." I think the malaria staff named the place
to suit themselves. Barnes began talking snakes (and the awfulness of not warning the men to look out for them) almost before
I reached the hotel. It reminded me of Dr. Docherty's great respect for creeping things.
But speaking of creeping things, let me return to the hotel, where I saw none, but owing to no fault of the management. I
have never seen so dirty and neglected a place in any part of the world. It has beautiful pillars and verandah in front. All
the old bottles and cigarettes and face powder and dirt, and tins of previous generations, or degenerations, are still in
the room. The blue ceiling and walls are the adornment of my sleeping quarters, with nail-holes for stars, knot-holes for
planets, and a water-washed place on the blue plaster wall for the milky way. My new good straw hat will do for the rising
Anyway, the people are resourceful. When it threatened to rain a colored man appeared. I shall get up courage to ask him sometime
if it is not almost time for the annual sweep and removal
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of refuse. But he spoke first this time, and brought a message from the landlady that if it rained I should "cloe"
the outside shutters because the glass was broken out of one of the windows. As it was evidently going to rain I "cloed"
the shutters but one of them was quite thoroughly wrecked. I did not care as the room could not be seriously damaged by water,
unless it could reach the dust in the corners.
We went to swampville [sic], Barnes, a Dr. Balfour, and I. We caught mosquitos in negroes houses, while the inhabitants told
of "miseries" and fished for free medical advice. We crawled under the houses and lay on our backs catching mosquitos.
The negroes did not follow us there,--too uncomfortable. Later we went to a big swamp with fine trees and all sorts of creeping,
flying, and hopping things. The snakes don't seem to be afraid of anyone. Buzzards and cranes flop about, and huge frogs
give a chirp like a bird and make a flop like an aligator [sic]. You wade and dip for larvae and put the catch in a bottle
with the help of a spoon. You also look in hollow trees and catch the mosquitoes there.
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All around are beautiful trees, many of them strange and some very large. The Spanish moss (not the small California kind,
but very different) hangs down ten or twelve feet, and the water adds to the scene by throwing beautiful reflections.
One time Dr. Balfour and I went wading in a grass and water-lily marsh. Dr. Balfour almost stepped on a moccasin snake but
was not much worried about it. When we returned, we found Dr. Barnes on the edge of the marsh with a huge club, which he had
carried all day, poised in the air and his eyes glued on the grass before him. He looked like a heroic statue tense with action.
Finally he struck and broke the back of a moccasin measuring four feet one inch long and about 3 inches thick. The inconsiderate
beast had lain in wait for Dr. Barnes and when he was just about to step on him, he saw the snake waiting to devour him and
making no effort to move aside. Dr. Barnes is going to discard his worn-out leggings and buy high boots to-day. He is getting
too many thrills.
But I must stop, for breakfast will soon be ready. Fried eggs and black coffee.