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Norfolk's Historic Triangle: Yellow Fever, 1855 Multi-cache

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Hidden : 08/06/2014
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Geocache Description:

This multi-cache will take you on a tour of Norfolk’s Historic Cemetery Triangle while introducing you to the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1855.  At each stage, you will part of the final coordinates.  Please note:  YOU WILL NOT GET THEM IN A B C ORDER. 

Posted coordinates are for parking near the office in Elmwood.  There is now a newly installed monument to the Yellow Fever victims next to the tree you can see to your left as you park. Be sure to check it out before beginning your journey. There are limited roads in the cemetery that allow cars, after all it was designed in the 1800s.  You may bike or walk.  Walking it should take about an hour.  Please note:  it is unlawful to be in the cemetery from 7 pm to 6 am or when it is dark. The final container is a camouflaged lock-n-lock.


At the beginning of 1855, Norfolk had about 16,000 people up from 10,000 just five years before.  The city was growing and on the verge of greatness.  But in June of 1855 a ship en route from the West Indies detoured to Norfolk for repairs.  It carried an unwanted passenger on board:  yellow fever.  Within a few weeks, Norfolk and its sister city, Portsmouth, would see a great change of fortune.  

In July, there were several deaths in Portsmouth.  By the beginning of August, cases were showing up in Norfolk as well.  Barry’s Row, at the end of Church Street on the banks of the Elizabeth River, was home to poor Irish workmen—and also to the first Norfolk yellow fever victims that summer.  In the tenements, there were often 16 people per room.  Perfect conditions for disease to spread. 


Proceed to:  N 36 51.652 W 076 17.020

Dr. George Upshur found the first cases in Barry’s row.  The outbreak was first called Upshur’s fever as the doctor did not believe that the disease was caused by contact with an infected person, but by some other means.  No one believed him.  Within a couple of weeks, Barry’s Row was burned to the ground.   Dr. Upshur would spend the rest of his life nursing the sick and trying to improve conditions.  He would only have a couple of months to work. 

Dr. Upshur’s grave has two sets of dates: AD (Anno Domini) and AL (Anno Lucis).  What is the last digit in the date of his death AL?  That number will be H.


Proceed to:  N 36 51.752 W 076 17.006

               By the middle of Aug., about a third to half of Norfolk’s population had fled the city as the fever spread.  Tens, then hundreds of people were dying each day.  A Howard Association, named for philanthropist John Howard, was set up to help fever victims and their families.  They provided medical care, food, and even graves when a family could not afford one.  Sometimes they even had to bury one of their own.  In this case, it was out of town doctors.

There are two people mentioned on the marker for the Howard Association.  What is the number of the month in which the first died?  This will be C.


Proceed to:  N 36 51.803 W 076 16.920

               The end of August saw another blow to the city.  As the death toll continued to rise, Norfolk’s shining star also fell.  Hunter Woodis was the young, energetic mayor of the city.  He had done much to improve the city’s visibility, and had done much to contribute to its growth in the 1850s.  When the outbreak started, he even visited many of the infected areas…until he too became ill.  He was dead within a week.  You are now at a memorial for him.  He is buried at St. Mary’s but had a marker here also.  You might have trouble finding it.  The large cross had fallen on the ground and is covered with PI and Virginia Creeper.

Woodis wanted to see the city grow.  Behind the cemetery is a prime example of growth today that would have made him proud.  What is the large number on the HRT building just over the wall?  That will G in the final. 


Proceed to N 36 51.607 W 076 17.055

You are now at the entrance to West Point Cemetery.  John Jones was a slave.  One of his main duties was digging graves for the families who had plots in the city owned cemeteries.  During the height of the epidemic, he dug from sunrise to sunset.  Impressed by his work ethic, the whites of the city offered to buy his freedom—if he lived.  He did, but refused to be freed as Virginia law would have demanded he leave the Commonwealth and never return.  He is buried here in an unmarked grave.  The exact location is unknown as the cemetery office burned. 

Jones and the other grave diggers did all they could to keep up, but sometimes fell behind.  The first mass grave was ordered here in the potter’s field.  It was for the indigent before being designated for the city’s first cemetery for African-Americans.  According to a local minister at the time, some of the holes were filled with forty different coffins.  The city would have to order other mass graves as well.  There would be one across the street at Cedar Grove, as well as, one at the other end of Princess Anne Rd at the intersection of modern Hampton Blvd. 

According to the sign, the nearby statue in the cemetery was modeled on a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Take the two digits of his regiment and add them together to get D.


Now proceed to:  N 36 51.533 W 076 17.046

You are now in Cedar Grove, the oldest of Norfolk’s municipal cemeteries.  William Ferguson was the head of Norfolk’s Howard Association. Within a week of the Association’s foundation two members fled, and two died.  Ferguson alone was running it. One of his jobs was to bring in doctors as many local medical professionals either left or became ill.  Doctors came from all over the East Coast under his direction.  Ferguson, too, would soon fall to the fever.  He is not far from Cedar Grove’s mass grave.  By the time that he died, about 10,000 had fled Norfolk.  Many of those remaining were battling for their lives. 

Ferguson is buried in a fenced in lot in middle of the back row on which the engraving is very difficult to read.  Some of the stones in the row in the lot are crosses.  Some are basic rectangles with curved tops.  How many rectangle stones are there in this row?  This is A.


Now proceed to:  N 36 51.704 W 076 17.034

When the fever started there were fourteen churches in Norfolk.  Seven ministers fled or were out of town already at the outbreak.  Seven remained with their congregations.   Rev. William Jackson was the rector at St. Paul’s downtown. (Yes, that St. Paul’s with the cannonball.)  By the fall, he had buried over 50 in his congregation alone.  He, at one point, planned to leave, but realized he was more needed here.  By the end of the year, four of the ministers who remained had died. 

Rev. Jackson’s congregation erected an obelisk as his memorial.  There is writing on the base.  How many sides of the base of the obelisk have writing on them?  Add 2 to that to get the number for B.   


Now proceed to:  N 36 51.712 W 076 16.980

Newspapers, usually the main source of information, were shut down too.  Most of the publishers fled.  By fall, the Southern Argus, Norfolk’s sole surviving paper shut down when the last on its staff passed.  Much of what historians know about the day to day happenings during this time come from the letters and writings of Rev. George Armstrong the minister of First Presbyterian across the street from St. Paul’s.  At the prompting of the Virginia Historical Society, he even published a book, The Summer of the Pestilence.  Armstrong lost his nephew early in the summer.  Next his daughter was infected. She recovered and left town to visit family.  Before she could return, she relapsed and passed.  The news of her death reached her family as her two other sisters, aunt and both parents suffered from the fever.  Her father and sisters recovered; her mother and aunt were buried here the next week.  One sister never fully regained her strength and passed early the next year. 

Armstrong died near the end of the 19th century.  What number is in the ones spot on the year of his death?  That is F.


Now proceed to:  N 36 51.751 W 076 16.829

The Selden family had several doctors in the Norfolk area in 1855.  Some like Henry Selden, along with several of his children, perished in the epidemic.  Dr. William Selden was spared.  He later became known for writing a history of the Yellow Fever epidemic in Norfolk.  He was a tireless researcher on the disease and was appointed to a Congressional Committee to discover the cause.  He was unable to fill his post due to failing health.  It wasn’t until the 1880s that is was suspected that the disease was mosquito borne.  By the 1890’s the mosquito hypothesis was proven by a group of doctors lead by Walter Reed. 

One side of the lot (the side that has the most Grandy graves) is flanked by large upright crosses.  Add 1 to the number of crosses to get E.

It is estimated that some 3,000 of Norfolk’s residents died during the summer and fall of 1855.  Exact numbers are difficult to determine due to non-mandatory reporting of deaths, illegal burials, indeterminate numbers in mass graves, and people who passed away out of town.  The blow was devastating to the city.  Before Norfolk would have a chance to recover another catastrophe would hit the city—the Civil War. 

Now proceed to the final N 36 5A.BCD  W 076 1E.FGH

If you would like to learn more about Norfolk during this time, you may also visit Yellow Fever Park:  GC4W6HV.  You can also learn more on the City of Portsmouth’s website:


FTF honors go to Team AP30 (kbear757 and monkiespeaches)!!  


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