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Texas Tales

published: February 23rd 2018
by: Mike Cox

Cedar Fever's Nothing 

to Sneeze At
As sure as the coming of a new year, every Decem-ber one biological process begets another when pol-len produced by the male juniper (incorrectly but far more commonly known as mountain cedar) starts making a lot of Texans sick with allergies.
Cedar pollen is only one of many varieties of spoor that bring misery to many, a bodily reaction technically known as allergic rhinitis first medically described in the 10th century. Another half a millennium passed before Charles Blackley, an English physician, in 1859 correctly pegged pollen as the culprit. Initially, people thought the smell of fresh hay caused their problems and the malady came to be generally known as hay fever.
But on the Edwards Pla-teau of Texas, where an estimated 10 million acres are covered in evergreen cedar, cedar fever supplanted hay fever as the most common allergy-related condition. Rag-weed would be the second-worst offender.
In the 19th century, it didn't take long for the more entrepreneurial types to deduce that from the suffering of others they themselves could gain relief--financial relief. Before Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, the field was wide open for medical quacks to offer "cures" for allergy sufferers. As early as the 1870s, Texas newspapers were publishing ads touting allergy relief drugs.
"Hay Fever...Have You Got It?" began one pitch for Zola's Hay Fever Cure. "It is a positive and guaranteed Remedy that will relieve in 24 hours," an ad in the Sept. 25, 1896 edition of the Houston Post assured. Druggist George W. Heyer, located at Main and Capitol streets, was the Texas agent for the product.
A few years earlier, the Evening Marshal Messen-ger noted that members of the clergy were invited to call at E.J. Fry's drug store "and we will give them (free of charge), one $2.00 box of 'Cacterine,' or Ex-tract of Mexican Cactus..." According to the ad, and who could question the veracity of something published in an 1890s newspaper, Cacterine cured pretty much anything connected with the throat and nasal passages, including hay fever.
In Waco, a traveling "Specialist," one Dr. Willis, placed an ad in the Waco Morning News that "owing to increased business," he would stay in Waco until summer. Tellingly, the ad ran in the Jan. 6 issue, the height of cedar fever season. The good "doctor" offered a hot medicated steam inhalation regimen that the ad averred promptly relieved hay fever. His ad said that in addition to hay fever, his steam treatment was generally a "positive cure" for female disorders, rheumatism, liver and kidney diseases and neuralgia.
Allergies such as cedar fever indirectly contribu-ted to Fort Worth's economy with the opening of a new business, the Aztec Medicine Co. The company produced a "safe, simple and economical" steam generator that cured allergy problems as well as consumption (aka tuberculosis.)
The Wise County Mes-senger ran an ad early in the cedar fever season of 1885 speculating that a century might be spent in search for any better cure for allergies than Ely's Cream Balm. "Being pleasant and safe, it supersedes the use of all liquids and snuffs." Not only that, "Its effect is magical. It relieves at once and cures many cases which baffle physicians." Relief cost only 50 cents at the drug store, 60 cents by mail from the Ely Brothers plant at Owego, NY.
Those unwilling to try for a medical cure could seek geographical relief.
In 1887, the Fort Worth Gazette suggested another benefit of the newly arrived Fort Worth and Denver Railroad: "Fort Worthites who may be suffering from hay fever next spring can jump on Fort Worth and Denver trains and in 36 hours be in the regions of eternal snow and finding relief quickly, return inside of a week to their bright southern home."
The newspaper did not mention that while a dose of cold mountain air would sooth allergies for the price of a train ticket, when the recently afflicted returned to Texas so would their immune system's physiological reaction to pollen.
Well into the 20th century, removing oneself from cedar country was still seen as a quite viable alternative to suffering. In October 1935, at the depth of the Great Depression, the management of Galves-ton's Buccaneer Hotel bought newspaper space all over the state to tout its method of relieving the symptoms of cedar fever and other allergies: "Plan now to spend your Hay Fever season where thousands have found freedom from this and other annoying pollen ailments." In other words, Galveston.
Indeed, the ad continued, freedom from itchy eyes, runny nose and other symptoms could be at-tained by spending time in a room at the Buccaneer. "Your physician will tell you that ocean-filtered air is pollen free." (Your physician, back then likely to have studied medicine at Galveston's University of Texas medical school, might also tell you not to miss the island city's entertainment spots, its civically sanctioned houses of ill repute along Post Office Street and its virtually wide-open gambling venues.)
The most news cedar fever made in the state's dailies came in 1947 when UT regents generated big headlines by refusing to allow faculty member and nationally known writer-storyteller J. Frank Dobie any more leaves of absence so he could escape Austin's cedar fever season in the fall and winter.
These days, while over-the-counter and prescription medicines actually do lessen or eliminate cedar fever woes for some, the suffering continues.
Remembering When it Really Got Cold
So far as is known, Hell has not frozen over, but Galveston Bay has. Several times, in fact.
First a little science. As we learned in eighth grade science or earlier, water freezes at 32 degrees. But that's the temperature at which fresh water starts turning to ice. Salt water, because of its salt content, does not start to freeze until the temperature drops to 28.4 degrees. In other words, for Galveston Bay to freeze, it has to be extremely cold over a sustained period of time.
The first known Gal-veston Bay freeze came during the winter of 1821, when Jane Long, the wife of then-absent filibusterer Dr. James Long, was alone on Bolivar Peninsula with her five-year-old daughter and a slave girl. Oh, and Mrs. Long was just about to have her second baby.
When a particularly cold norther blew in, it snowed. As the temperature continued to plummet, the snow froze and so did all but the deeper water of Galveston Bay. Not only was this a sight to behold, it was actually good news for the three female residents of the peninsula.
The icy water stunned the marine life in the bay, particularly the tasty red drum, speckled trout and flounder. Mrs. Long and her slave harvested several barrels of fish, enough to feed them for a good while.
So solidly frozen was the bay that at one point, Mrs. Long saw a large bear amble over to the island from the mainland. Likely, as was Mrs. Long, the bear was out "fishing" when she spotted him. Whether the animal made it back to the mainland before the bay thawed is not known.
Not many people lived in Texas in 1821, and no official weather records were kept. But by the 1870s, the U.S. Army Sig-nal Corps had begun collecting weather data in Texas and relaying weather conditions by telegraph. Twenty years later, weather observations in Texas were state of the art for the times.
That means that what happened during the second and third weeks of February 1899 is well documented. On February 11, a huge mass of Arctic air blustered into Texas. The temperature hit 23 degrees below zero in Tulia, which meant it was probably even a few degrees colder than that in Dalhart.
Like a runaway locomotive pulling only refrigerator cars, the cold air swept over the entire state. Mov-ing from northwest to south, on Feb. 12-14 (the dates varying with the progression of the cold front) Abilene dropped to -23; Denison reached -16; Fort Worth-Dallas saw -10 degrees, Waco -5, Austin -1 and San Antonio -4. (Chil-dren enjoyed skating on the frozen San Antonio River.) On the border at Laredo the mercury re-mained above zero, but only by 5 degrees. Corpus Christi dropped to 11 degrees, Brownsville experienced a 12 degree low and Galveston chilled to 8 degrees.
Much of Galveston Bay froze, (as did part of Corpus Christi Bay to the south).
Four years before the record-breaking Arctic front, a heavy snowfall hit Galveston on Valentine’s Day. Though no one’s alive to swear to it any more, we have only the musty record books to attest to the fact that on Feb. 14, 1895 it snowed 15.2 inches in the coastal city where even a temperature in the 40s is unusual.
The people in the island city, then one of the two biggest in Texas, must have thought another ice age had begun. Then again, only nine years before (1884), it also had snowed. That time Galveston Bay also froze over.
During the snowfall of 1895, Galveston was inaccessible by train for several days as the temperature hovered around 24 de-grees. Many ships were fro-zen in their docks and bales of cotton awaiting loading were covered in snow.
Hack drivers got $20 a ride to take sightseers around town. To make transportation easier, some enterprising locals mounted their buggies and wagons on runners. Needless to say, sightseeing was about the only form of commerce going on with the city in the deep freeze. Most businesses shut down, and all the schools.
To assess how incredible this snowfall was for Galveston, it was nearly another century before it happened again. When snow was officially recorded at the island’s weather bureau in 1989 and again in 1990, however, each ins-tance was only a dusting. The next significant snow came on Christmas Eve, 2004.
But the 1895 snowfall was Galveston’s heaviest. The weather system that turned Galveston white was so powerful it even covered Brownsville with six inches of snow.
The 1899 cold wave that gave Galveston its record low still stands as the nation's most severe Arctic blast since the federal government began keeping records. All-time low temperature records were set all over the U.S. Even the Mississippi River froze, later sending ice flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
One thing for sure, back then no one was talking about global warming.

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