San Francisco's 1904 Black Plague Scare (And How It Was Covered Up)

South tower of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. (Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons)

The bubonic plague is one of the most catastrophic diseases to ever befall mankind, claiming hundreds of millions of lives throughout the centuries. During the mid-1300s, the bacterium known formally as yersinia pestis was responsible for wiping out over half of Europe's population, an episode commonly referred to as the Black Death. It's an ugly and painful way to go. Soon after infection comes wild fevers, nausea, and "buboes," or massively swollen and extremely tender lymph nodes that reside in the armpits, neck, and groin. After that, the body begins to rapidly rot, and the skin and nails turn black, all while the person is still alive, though not for long. The mortality rate of the bubonic plague during the Black Death ranged anywhere from 60–100%, depending on where the infection took hold.