Yes, Syphilis Sailed the Ocean Blue

In 1495 a horrific new disease appeared in Europe. Acquired by sexual contact and initially spread through Europe by mercenary soldiers from the army of King Charles VIII of France returning from a successful invasion of Italy, this new disease was extraordinarily unpleasant. Commentators at the time described dark green “boils that stood out like acorns,” accompanied by a stench so vile that if you smelt it you would imagine yourself infected, and by pains so severe that it was “as if the sick had laid upon a fire”.

This new disease went by a variety of names, including The Great Pox, but most people preferred to blame it on the neighbours: the British called it the “French disease,” the French called it the “Italian" or “Neapolitan disease” and the Italians called it the “Spanish disease”. Today it is more widely known now as syphilis, an infection caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria. Read more.

Real Facts From Episode 203

While The Knick is a work of fiction, it is based on exhaustive historical research. Below, the show’s writers share some of the true facts of the era that are depicted in this episode.

Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Harriman all put money toward eugenics research. At the turn of the Century, Eugenics was viewed as an “emerging science,” an offshoot of Darwin’s theories on evolution, and a new way to understand human beings. (Image courtesy of the Burns Archive.)

Syphilis spirochete is called Treponema Pallidum. It is fairly unmistakable in appearance (it looks a lot like a ramen noodle). Thackery’s understanding of a fever’s impact on syphilis is mostly due to the work of Austrian psychiatrist, Julius Wagner Jauregg (1857-1940).

Jauregg saw a woman with severe psychosis recover after a bout of Erysipelas, a bacterial skin disease that causes high fevers. He began experimenting with tuberculin-induced fevers. After several patients died under such treatment, he stopped his experiment, only to start up again after 1900. Then in the post-WWI era, Jaurgegg switched to using Malaria to try and cure patients with Neurosyphilis. He went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1927 for his work. (Image courtesy of the Burns Archive.)

In 1900 Mount Sinai Hospital purchased an X-Ray Machine and set it up in their synagogue. )

Huber’s Palace was an establishment that housed stages for performances, exotic animals, and “freak acts” like “The Dog-Faced Boy.” Huber’s motto was “A dollar show for ten cents.”


“Mother, I come to see you as I heard. Is that true you are terribly ill? Claude asking on her mother well being after she saw a vision of Francis’ death.
#catherinedemedici #claudevalois #francisvalois #marystuart #Reign #tobyregbo #adelaidekane #meganfollows
I love Catherine’s character here, serious but full of humour. Well, medically there’s a syphilitic madness or Neurosyphilis refers to an infection of Treponema pallidum (a sexual transmitted infection) involving the central nervous system in tertiary phase. But not in this case 😬🤓

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