Santa Cruz County History - Disasters & Calamities

Voices of the Heart: Preface
by Phil Reader

Perhaps the most ignored aspect of local history has been the health history of our community. It is an important field of study in that it provides a unique glimpse into the daily mechanisms of our predecessors. On a much larger level, medical researchers have probed national and international trends in vitality and well-being from a historical point of view in order to better understand the methodology behind the spread of a contagion. Genealogists, because they research people -not events, have long appreciated this prospective and have been able to draw correlations which extend from generation to generation. Certain gene pools are more susceptible to a given disease strain than are others. It "runs in the family", so to speak. Being aware of this family susceptibility, of course, makes it easier to take the necessary steps leading to prevention and cure.

This rule also pertains to society in general and various racial and social groupings in particular, the classic examples being the prevalence of Sickle Cell Anemia among those of Negro origins and the advent of the AIDS virus among those practicing certain lifestyles. A detailed examination into the past of a community can reveal events precipitating a health disaster. What were the sanitation conditions of the time? Or what were the personal hygiene habits of the citizenry?

We are all aware of the role plagues and epidemics have played in world history. The much storied "Black Death" or Bubonic Plague of medieval days has profoundly affected all of the historical epochs which have followed in its wake. This reoccurring scourge in both the oriental and occidental worlds literally changed the course of human history by "thinning out" the population and, in the long run, probably saved more lives than it took by easing the burden upon the world's future food supply. Deprivation, malnutrition, and starvation are widespread enough in our contemporary world with its staggering population levels but the statistics on hunger related deaths would be absolutely appalling had this natural "thinning" not occurred so long ago.

However, on a personal level, the sorrow resulting from these "plague deaths" was devastating. But, at the very least, it can be said they were a shared sorrow. It was an experience held common in many households, therefore the mourning was communal and, to some small degree, the grief was diminished. But people tend to deal with the anguish of human mortality in a variety of ways. Some will meet it head on by quickly burying their dead, putting the dirges behind them, and getting back to the business of living. While others submerge themselves in religious ritual, taking comfort in the thought of an afterlife in a Heaven, Nirvana, or Valhalla.

Still another method is to verbalize the grief by putting pen to paper and expressing the emotions that are felt. These mourners have produced countless reams of poetry memorializing their loved ones and thereby relieving their own sadness. It is this last group of "mourners" that are the subject of this study - The poets and poetesses of death.

>>Continue with: Voices of the Heart: Introduction

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Published by Cliffside Publishing, 1993. Copyright 1993 Phil Reader. Text and photographs reproduced with the permission of Phil Reader.

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