Exhibit walks you through 1844 epidemic at Fort Wilkins - WNEM TV 5

Exhibit walks you through 1844 epidemic at Fort Wilkins

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A new exhibit at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor takes visitors into the actual hospital ward where sick soldiers were cared for during a mysterious epidemic there more than 150 years ago (Source: DNR) A new exhibit at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor takes visitors into the actual hospital ward where sick soldiers were cared for during a mysterious epidemic there more than 150 years ago (Source: DNR)
COPPER HARBOR, MI (WNEM) -

A new exhibit takes you inside the mystery of an 1844 epidemic at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor.

Over the winter of 1844-45, an unknown disease with flu-like symptoms hit the garrison at Fort Wilkins. According to a fort doctor, at least 13 cases were reported, with one soldier eventually dying from the disease.

Now you can go into the actual hospital ward where sick soldiers were cared for more than 150 years ago.

The “Ward Room” exhibit recently opened in the park’s former U.S. Army Post.

Visitors will find beds, tables, and medical instruments, and meet Charles Isaacs, the fort doctor who worked with infected patients.

“Dr. Isaacs ordered blood-letting and cupping, and prescribed doses of mercury and opium for the sick soldiers,” said Fort Wilkins site historian Barry James. "It may seem shocking from today’s perspective, but all of these were common treatments of the period.

“Dr. Isaacs recorded everything. He eventually published his findings in the New York Journal of Medicine. We've used a portion of his original research in the new exhibit’s storyline," James said.   

Fort Wilkins was built in 1844 during the Keweenaw Copper Rush.

In the 1840s soldiers served to keep law and order in the recently opened copper district.

Federal troops occupied the fort from 1844 to 1846, and again after the Civil War, from 1867 to 1870.

Fort Wilkins is located one mile east of Copper Harbor on U.S. 41 in Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. The fort is open daily from May 15 through Oct. 16, 8:30 a.m. to dusk.

It’s free admission to the site and exhibition. A Recreation Passport is required for park entry.

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