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St. Louis’ connection to 1924's deadly plague outbreak in Los Angeles

Author Jeff Copeland details the 1924 Los Angeles deadly plague outbreak and its St. Louis connections.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Author Jeff Copeland details the 1924 Los Angeles deadly plague outbreak and its St. Louis connections.

In September 1924, a shipment from Shanghai unloaded on the docks of Los Angeles brought some unwanted visitors to “the healthy city” – as it was dubbed – namely: rats carrying fleas that had yersinia pestis, a bacteria that causes the plague.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with St. Louis native and author Jeff Copeland about his new book "Plague in Paradise: The Black Death in Los Angeles, 1924."

Copeland detailed how difficult it was to get information of the plague due to how much it was censored at the time, but he sifted through archives, record centers and private libraries to learn about what happened.

“Every major event in this book is true. All I did was flush it out in the literary non-fiction form so it appears in the voices of the characters, I felt, to give it a more personal side to it,” Copeland said.

He wrote about the deadly outbreak and its local ties, such as how one of the main doctors in the story trained in St. Louis and that St. Louis newspapers kept reporting the information about the plague outbreak in Los Angeles while the events were taking place.

“I always look for a St. Louis connection in all of my books because I’m a St. Louis kid,” Copeland added.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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