Monday, April 6, 2020

Splendid Isolation - the Social Distancing of the 1800s

Long before the Corona Virus pandemic, people practiced social distancing.

We live on an island off the coast of Georgia that in the late 1800s was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club. It was a club for a very wealthy people who would take their private rail cars down from New York City to escape the cold winters. Back then they called it Splendid Isolation - a chance to get away from the hoi polloi, the press, and the cares of their daily existence in the big city.

Jekyll Island, of course was not unique in this way. Back then, the very wealthy, or even the middle class, had places to go to escape the summer heat or the winter cold.  And back then, living in major cities was a rather nasty prospect. Before automobiles, horse-drawn vehicles populated the streets, leaving horse manure everywhere as well as the occasional dead horse rotting in the sun. Not only that, but people sometimes threw sewage and other debris out into the streets. The smell was God-awful, particularly in August.

The town I grew up in was one such resort location for the very wealthy.  People would take the Lehigh Valley Railroad up to Central New York and spend the summer in their cottages on Cazenovia Lake.  Several very elaborate mansions were built along one side of the lake, and the servants of those very wealthy people ended up settling in the town.

The Adirondacks was another location where people would travel to escape the heat of the city, along with the Thousand Islands. Elaborate mansions in Newport or the Hamptons were also popular getaways, along with estates along the Hudson.  Part of the reason people escaped to these enclaves was to escape the threat of disease, which oftenltimes would erupt into epidemics and even pandemics in the crowded cities.

Even the middle class, or even lower-middle-class had such retreats, at least back in the day.  Again, in the town I grew up in, on the less desirable side of the lake, were a string of "railroad camps" that were built along the railroad right-of-way. Similar camps were also located on many of the Finger Lakes, including Cayuga Lake.

People of fairly modest means could take the train from the city and have it drop them off at their camp.  They could then spend the weekend with their families down by the lake and on Monday morning, flag the train down for a trip back into the city for the week.   The vacation camp was not just a province of the very rich.

Of course, today, that is all changed. With the price of real estate being what it is, and the increased population of the country, most of these railroad camps have been rebuilt as expensive vacation homes, mostly out of the reach of the average person.  However, they can be rented for a few weeks for a fairly nominal sum.  And many, in fact, are rented seasonally this way.

Today, we see a similar thing happening as in the past. Many people own or rent vacation homes along the coast of Georgia, and the are using these vacation dachas to flee the large cities such as Atlanta and wait out the epidemic. Some local politicians are up in arms about this, wanting to discourage people from coming to the shore.  But by and large, that's why people had these vacation getaways to begin with Dash to get away from the squalid conditions of our cities in the past.

Provided people practice proper isolation techniques here on the coast, there's no harm in people coming from other areas. Unfortunately some officials including the governor of Florida are taking things a bit too far. They're trying to prevent people from New York or New Orleans from traveling into Florida.

They decided to set up a roadblock on I-95 and then question people and test them with thermometers to see if they had the virus.  However, I-95 is the main artery of the east coast, and the traffic flow is terrific. For some reason they didn't understand why the traffic would back up for 15 miles when they set up the roadblock. No doubt there were a series of chain-reaction accidents as a result.  Hopefully nobody was killed.   I am sure there was more than one wreck as a result, though.

Is a prime example of arbitrary and capricious actions by the government.  And shamefully for the GOP, it was a Republican governor who did this.   He let fear and paranoia take the place of common sense.

Hopefully the governor has learned his lesson. You can't roadblock an interstate highway. You can't prevent people from moving to from one place to another, nor does that really stop the spread of the virus.  Proper social distancing and self-isolation are far better alternatives.

Or as we call it here on Jekyll, Splendid Isolation.