Walter Bacon Morrison was born on May 6, 1838, in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, the son of Jefferson (1805-1895) and Caroline (Gill, d. 1850).
One of the early settlers of Grand Rapids, Jefferson Morrison left New York in 1834 to engage in the mercantile business in western Michigan. He settled in Grand Rapids in 1835 when it was still largely just an Indian trading post, and by 1850 was one of the leading merchants of the city. In 1848 Caroline died and by 1850, Jefferson had remarried a woman named Wealthy.
Walter grew up in Grand Rapids where he attended the public schools, including high school, and, at the age of 20, in 1858, he began reading medicine with the Grand Rapids surgeon Dr. D. W. Bliss. (Bliss would himself become the first Regimental Surgeon of the Third Michigan.) In 1859-60 Walter was living with his father and stepmother, Wealthy, on the south side of Fulton Street between Sheldon and LaGrave Streets, and by 1860 he had begun medical school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The Civil War cut his studies short, however, and Walter was 23 years old when he enlisted in Company K on May 13, 1861. He soon left the company, however, and by the time the Regiment was mustered into United States service on June 10, 1861, Walter had been detached to serve as hospital steward, a role he would play until he was promoted to Assistant Surgeon in the summer of 1862.
Soon after the Third Michigan left Grand Rapids for Washington, on June 13, 1861, Walter wrote several letters home to his family in Grand Rapids which were subsequently reprinted in one of the local newspapers. On June 18, just five days after the Regiment arrived in Washington Walter described the Regiment’s trip eastward.
We changed cars [Morrison wrote] at Pittsburg, and started for Harrisburg at 10,30 p.m., the Regiment occupying 3 trains of cars. I fell asleep soon after starting, and when I awoke in the morning, we were scooting over the Allegheny mountains at a rate that made each particular hair to stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porcupine. We could at some places look down on the forests below us, while the large trees would like “underbrush”; at other places the rocks would stand nearly perpendicular hundred of feet above us. Such scenes as these are novel to a Wolverine who was born and brought up in Grand Rapids. We rode down the side of a mountain where the grade was so steep that we run four or five miles without steam, at the rate of 30 miles an hour, and with the brakes all down at that. When we got over the mountain we stopped at Altona [sic], Pa., and got our breakfast; from there we had a pretty level road. We reached Harrisburg at about 2 o'clock, p.m., where ammunition was distributed, and the guns all loaded, ready for use. We were not very favorably impressed with the good (?) people of Harrisburg. The soldiers were allowed to stand 7 whole hours in the sun, without even a drink of water; they watched us closely, as though they were suspicious of us, or wanted to steal, I don't know which. The people of the capital of “the Old Key Stone State,” the state liable at any day to be invaded by a rebel force, the state of Iron Mongers and manufacturers, to whom will result the greatest benefit of the hateful Morrill tariff and its kindred laws, did not offer even a drink of water to the soldiers going to defend our country and its laws. This spirit of the people in Pennsylvania, or as Franklin called it, “incredible meanness,” began with their fathers in 1775, and the children have inherited it, ‘verily the sins of the fathers, etc.’ When we were about to start from Harrisburg, we were told that a suspicious Big Nigger was to run the train through to Baltimore. Not feeling very much inclined to be run off burnt bridges, or rather where the bridges were, Benjamin Luce [the Regimental sutler] was detailed by the Colonel to guard “ye almighty nigger.” Ben took his place with revolver in hand, and acted as chief engineer, until we arrived at Baltimore. he remarked, as he took his stand on the engine, that he would make that nigger obey orders, or he would let light into his “darkened soul.”
We arrived safe at Baltimore, and marched through that city unmolested. We were treated very kindly while here, by the people. It was early Sunday morning when we passed through.
Dr. Bliss’ servant, a darky, learned from some of the slaves at Baltimore that the people were expecting us at 2 o'clock Sunday morning, and that they were afraid to have us pass through in the night, for fear that we would be attacked by the “Roughs,” and that we would resent it, and if it came to the worst, burn the city.
Col. McConnell gave orders the night before that if while passing through Baltimore, a stone should be thrown upon the Regiment, to stop and fire upon the crowd, and if a shot was fired from a window, to tear the house down.
The boys all thought that they were better treated at Baltimore than at Harrisburg. In Baltimore coffee and provisions were brought by the citizens for the sick, and water was brought to all. When we started for Washington they gave us some rousing cheers.
We arrived at Washington, and without a rest was marched to where we now are, at “Chain Bridge,” on the Potomac, 6 miles above Washington. We were all pretty well used up when we arrived at our camp grounds I assure you.
Reports say that General Scott is so well pleased with the “Michigan Boys” that he intends to keep them to guard Washington. We are stationed with 3 companies from D.C. to guard the “Chain Bridge,” over the Potomac, one of the most important points about Washington.
This bridge has been arranged for the reception of the enemy. On the opposite side from us guards are placed, and the first length or span of the bridge is so arranged that the plank can be thrown off if a retreat is necessary; at the first pier there is a gate made of 4-inch thicknesses of 2-inch plank, with sheets of iron between, through which there are loop-holes; from this gate there are stairs running to the bottom of the river, by which the guard can retreat under the bridge if they cannot hold the gate. The river at this point is about 150 feet wide. At our end of the bridge are breast works, with cannon so arranged as to sweep the bridge entire. The 2nd Michigan Regiment is camped about half a mile from us toward Washington.
There was an engagement 15 miles up the river from us, on Sunday between 4 companies of our troops and 2 or 3 of the enemy were killed, but none of "our side.” Scouting parties have skirmishes and shots are exchanged by picket guards every day within 2 or 3 miles of our camp.
We saw rockets sent up south of us last night by the enemy as signals.
I have just learned that there is a camp of 500 secessionists 8 miles from us. We are not all scared.
The boys from the city are all well, but occasionally one comes around to the hospital and says he thinks a little of Extract Vin Galici would do him good.
The boys are all aching for a fight, and I think it not right that they are not sent over into Virginia where the enemy is.
Less than two weeks later Morrison wrote from the camp of the Third Michigan near Chain Bridge.
We find it a great deal warmer here than in Michigan. The water that we have to drink is soft, unlike what the most of us, in the 3rd, have been used to drinking, I mean it is unlike the water we have been used to drinking. Limestone is scarce in this part of the country. My health is good, and if I care will preserve it, I shall enjoy the same while here.
It is a fact that the men of Company “A” (Valley City Guards) are more healthy than those of the other companies in our Regiment. They are boys from the city, and they endeavor more than the others, by carefulness in dieting to sustain the equal balance of system which is so necessary to health in a warm climate. Our sick list is very large. We prescribe daily for at least 100. There are about 25 in hospitals. We are not entirely out of measles yet, although the surgeon was fearful when we left home that we should not have “enough to go around.” We have had some 25 cases since our arrival here. All the sick except one are doing well and are likely to recover. Lieut. Charles D. Lyon [company A] has been unwell for a few days but is now convalescent.
In one of the Enquirer’s which I received the other day I was a little surprised at finding some extracts from my first letter to you. Of course if there shall be anything in my letters to you that may interest the readers of the Enquirer, or any information that will interest my friends in Grand Rapids, I shall have no objection to having them published, but my friends must remember that I am not, and never claimed to be anything of a writer.
Our boys took 3 prisoners last week, one of which was secreted in a wagon endeavoring to cross the bridge at the point, he was discovered, and upon the order being given to take him, he jumped out of the wagon and “made tracks” as fast as possible down the canal, the soldiers followed him in “hot haste” for about a mile when they overtook the gentlemen (?) They took him to camp where he was examined; the result of which was the sentence, “to the Guard House in durance and until further orders.” He will probably have to “play checkers with his nose” for some time. He plead hard that he was a “good Union man” but it did not avail him any thing. How strange it is that our soldiers get only good union men when they take prisoners?
The 1st Mass. Regiment is encamped about 1 mile below us on the river.
Great preparations are being made in the city of Washington for the sitting of Congress. I was all through the capitol a few days ago, and when there I climbed to the top of the dome some 250 or 300 feet from the ground. It is not finished yet. From it I could see Alexandria, Georgetown, etc. The country around as far as I could see was spotted with camps of the army. -- The Gov't. has converted the basement of the Capitol into a bakery in which bread is baked for the army. There are 30,000 loaves of bread baked there per day. The pillars in the Capitol, made of “Potomac marble,” are beautiful. It may puzzle you to imagine what this “Potomac marble” is. I will tell you. It is made of small stones, of all varieties, picked up in the Potomac River, cemented together, then wrought smooth and polished. They are said to be the most beautiful of the kind in the world.
After going through the Capitol I went to the Navy Yard. I got there just as the remains of Capt. Ward, of the Freeborn, was being taken from the Pawnee. He was shot at Cumings Point, near Aquia Creek, on Thursday p.m.. The particulars as I learned them were as follows: The Pawnee first shelled the rebel's sand bag batteries, and drove the men back, they then with rifles drove the pickets inward from the shore. The Freeborn then came up. -- Capt. Ward sent to the Pawnee few men to go ashore with some of his men to destroy the battery. In the meantime the rebels returned and secreted themselves in the brush. They kept very quiet until the men from the ships had got into the boats and started for the shore, when they fired upon them. -- Capt. Ward then saw that it would be an impossibility to do anything except from the vessel and signaled them to return. He was intending to cover their retreat with a very large howitzer gun, and he was himself aiming the piece when a rifle ball entered his chest near the breast. He lived about an hour. Four of his men were wounded, one receiving four balls. The boatswain carried the noble old flag of the Union. 10 balls passed through the flag and one through the staff cutting it off he in the meantime received a ball in the thigh. But when the staff was cut off by the ball and the old flag fell into the water, he grabbed it and waved it at the rebels, saying, “She shall never remain down while my arm is left with strength to lift her.” I received the above account from the wounded and the officers. I counted 23 ball holes in the boat in which the men were fired upon.
It was a sad sight to see the old tars following the body of their captain, weeping like children, as they were when it was taken ashore at the Navy Yard.
Please say to the lady who so kindly furnished the hospitals with a library, that the books are very highly prized by the sick, and please give her the thanks of the Regiment.
President Lincoln made us a visit a few days ago, in company with Secretaries Seward and Cameron. He came unannounced and unattended. After an examination of our battery, he expressed himself in these words: “Well, boys, I guess that will do.”
Morrison closed his letter by saying that “the 4th Michigan Regiment of Volunteers has not yet arrived, but we are expecting them every day.” He also added that “Our regiment has received an invitation from Mrs. Bostwick, to camp on her farm near here. Mrs. Bostwick is the widow of C. B. Bostwick, Esq., formerly of your city.”
Sometime around the first of the year Walter along with a friend, visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington.
A short time ago [he wrote home] in company with a friend, I went to Mount Vernon to see what was to be seen, and I think that, perhaps, a narrative of what I saw and heard there and thereabouts, would not be altogether uninteresting to you. My friend and I had long been expecting to take this trip, but upon every day that we would appoint for it something unforeseen would turn up to prevent. Disappointments in camp life, unlike “angels visits, few and far between,” are many and come close upon each other. Finnally [sic], however, the last appointed day came and the “coast was clear.”-- We mounted our horses and were soon out of sight of camp.
When riding along a good road on a pleasant day it is an excellent time to think, and it was with me on that day; thoughts of the old Revolutionary heroes, and their acts and times, came “crowding thickly up” and I almost felt as I was nearing that sacred place, the home of Washington, that I was living in those eventful times, and I could almost see the old heroes shoulder to shoulder, with one mind and one heart battling for freedom and the right.
We had the bad luck to take the wrong road upon riding out of camp, and after having riden 4 or 5 miles out of our way, we met on [an?] “institution” of the genus “contraband,” who informed us of our error and directed us by a cross road over farms etc. to the right road. This we found without difficulty and were soon at the place of our destination.
During our ride we saw very good farms, but as a general thing, they were in a dilapidated condition, having been worked by slaves.-- Many had been deserted since the opening of the war and left to the mercy of the despoiler. Virginia must suffer many years before she can recover from the shock she has received from this rebellion.
Arriving at the Mount Vernon estate, we drove to the house, dismounted and went in. We found the keeper of the place, a very gentlemanly appearing person, of a French cast of countenance who “showed us around.”
The exterior of the house is too familiar to you from engravings you have seen, to need any description by me.
The first thing which attracted our attention, or ratherwise made to, was a contribution box and register. Judging from the keeper’s anxiety that the box should be first seen, a person might think that it was the most important thing in the house. Over this hangs the keys of the Bastille, in Paris, built by Louis XIV. This key was taken and presented to Washington by Lafayette. The workmanship on it is very plain. The handle is meerly [sic] a straight bar. In this hall over the door are several specimens of rock, said to have been placed there by Washington himself. We next visited the parlor. In one corner of the room is the old fire place and above it is a painting of a battle scene in one of the Carthaginian wars, which was very much admired by Washington. The only remaining thing of his, that we saw in this room, is an old robe, which in its day, was an excellent one. It shows age, though its lines are very distinct.
We next passed into the dining hall which is very large, the walls are painted in old fashioned yellow, the ceiling is frescoed and arched, or right the reverse, it is a very nice room. Here are kept the greater part of the relics, though few in numbers, viz: The old piano, or harpsichord. This sits in one corner of the room. It has been badly kept, the cords are broken or loose, and the instrument is “out of tune generally.” its shape is something like that of the modern grand piano; a large dining table, Washington’s surveying instruments; a very large painting executed by a niece; an earthen platter, said to have been used by Washington. It has been broke into four pieces and fastened together with wires and cement; and holsters and knapsacks used by him in the Revolutionary War. About these there is no beauty, noting to admire else than that they were used by and belonged to the Father of our Country. There is a fire board in this room which is a beauty. It is of marble, exquisitely cared and highly polished. it is divided into there scenes.
In walking through the house, a person experiences a feeling of reverential awe, akin to that awakened when walking in old Rome through the aisles and halls that once resounded to the tread of the Caesars, and feels that he is walking on holy ground.
After leaving the house we visited the tomb of Washington, and then the garden, which is enclosed by a brick wall, 5 or 6 feet high. We were admitted by the gardener, who conducted us through the grounds, exhibiting the plants, etc.; with something of an air of a “big showman.”
We saw a Palmetto tree, Washington’s favorite rose, the original root of which was planted by him; a century plant, and “Washington’s Lemon Tree.” The “joke” connected with this, is this, Washington planted the seeds of as he supposed a Lemmon [sic], but when it came up it proved to be an orange. It has since been called the Lemon tree.
We also saw a Sago Palm. The leaves of this Palm are those which were spread before our Savior when riding into Jerusalem, and the last but not least the tree of forbidden fruit, so our conductor called it, I believe there was no fruit on it. If there had been perhaps I should have tempted myself to partake, and what consequences would have resulted from it, I cannot say. There are many other things we saw, but I have made this letter too long, so I will not tire you with futher [sic] descriptions.
Dr. Zenas Bliss, then regimental surgeon, was forced to resign on account of ill health in the summer of 1862 as did the assistant surgeon, Dr. George B. Wilson. (Both men were die from tuberculosis, Wilson in December of 1872 and Bliss a decade later.)
The regiment needed medical care however, and Dr. Bliss lobbied hard to have Walter appointed as a medical officer. By June 10, 1862, Walter was acting Assistant Regimental Surgeon, and on July 18, 1862, Dr. Zenas Bliss wrote to Michigan Adjutant General John Robertson in Detroit, urging that Morrison be commissioned Assistant Surgeon in the Regiment “immediately if he has not already been.” On August 1 he was promoted First Lieutenant and assistant surgeon at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, replacing Dr. George Wilson (who had resigned) at the Regiment’s camp near Falmouth, Virginia. Dr. James Grove of Grand Rapids was appointed Regimental Surgeon.
Walter was detached in March of 1863 to the Division hospital, and by early April he was reported home on furlough. At some point he was assigned to the general hospital in Baltimore, possibly at the request of Dr. Bliss who had joined the regular army as surgeon (his ill health notwithstanding) and was in charge of various hospitals in Baltimore. In any case, Walter was mustered out of the army on June 20, 1864, at Detroit.
He did not return to Michigan, however (the Detroit location was only on paper since the regiment was mustered out of federal service there on that date). Instead he apparently remained in Baltimore at the general hospital -- again probably at the request of Dr. Bliss.
After the war Walter returned to the study of medicine. He attended the Long Island (New York) College Hospital, and was graduated in 1865, following which he returned to western Michigan and settled in Muskegon, Muskegon County in July of 1865 where he lived off and on for the rest of his life.
He married his first wife, Harriet E. Moore of New York in October of 1868; she died in childbirth in 1871 (the child, Hattie E., died 4 months later in a hospital in Chicago).
Walter married his second wife, Mrs. Sara C. Buttrick Barnes on March 4, 1875 of Boston, Massachussets, in Boston, and by March 11 he and his new wife were in Grand Rapids visiting his family. They settled in Muskegon until 1879 when Walter moved his family to Grand Rapids.
By 1880 Walter had an office on Canal Street in Grand Rapids’ Second Ward; next door lived George Schermerhorn and his wife. George, now working as a carpenter, too had served in the Old Third during the war. In 1880 Morrison became City Physician in Grand Rapids. While serving in the capacity of “Health Officer” for the city, Morrison wrote a lengthy article in December 2, 1880 issue of the Democrat discussing diphtheria, then exploding in epidemic proportions across the United States and ravaging western Michigan. In this article Morrison attempted to explain the recent theories on the nature of the disease, how to prevent it and how to combat its deadly effects.
The prevalence and severity [he wrote] of diphtheria in our city during the past few years, the many stricken households who mourn the loss of dear ones, the importance of our city, and the necessity of maintaining the title it enjoyed a few years back of ‘the healthiest city in the state’, is sufficient reason to warrant me in asking the use of your columns in presenting to our citizens a few extracts and opinions of eminent men who have given the study of this disease special attention. It is not the object of the article to attract the attention of physicians, or to present anything relating to the nature of the disease or its treatment, but to present views and opinions of what causes or conditions are instrumental in producing it -- facts which are interesting to the people, who must be and are the guardians of health in their own homes. The opinion has prevailed to a considerable extent among the people, as well as with a few physicians, that diphtheria is not contagious or communicable from one to another, and great suffering and loss of life has followed from the want of proper caution being taken to isolate those afflicted with it. Many instances may be cited of the positive communication of the disease from one to another, as well as individual cases where no communication was had with those effected with it, and yet the latter assume a malignant type and communicate it to others. The poison which produces diphtheria is not as definite and as distinctly a specific poison, as far as our knowledge now extends, as smallpox, which reproduces itself like a ferment and does not occur spontaneously as if it were from filth or decomposing animal or vegetable matter, although diphtheria is just as surely contagious under proper circumstances as smallpox.
A predisposing condition of the individual is certainly favorable, if not necessary, to the development of the disease (diphtheria). These predisposing conditions are oftenest found in young persons from one year old to sixteen. Colds or slight sore throats in persons living in places favorable to the development of the disease render them especially liable to an attack.
Diphtheria appears to break out in some isolated localities anew without being able to trace any connection with the disease through contagion.
In the Sanitary Record of Sept. 6, 1878, W. N. Thursfield, M.D., S. Sc. C. camb, thus puts the proposition, “That its endemic breeding grounds are to be found in well defined spots in rural districts, where it is constantly liable to break out as if de novo, and that the constant condition of these localities is structural dampness of habitation. I can point to isolated houses which have been attacked by diphtheria at intervals of years where the dampness has chiefly resulted from the house being shut in and closely surrounded by trees with, in some cases, the earth at the backs as high as the caves. Hence, whatever conditions seem to favor fungoid growth, would seem to favor the incidence and persistence of the disease.[”] Dr. Arthur Downs suggests that “the contagium vivum of diphtheria is capable of prolonged existence under conditions independent of the human organization -- possibly as a low growth of damp surfaces. Is not this the true way of accounting for the apparent origin of the disease from decaying vegetables in the cellar, from filthy cesspools and from sewer gas, conditions in each case favoring fungoid growth.”
I quote from a communication relative to an outbreak of diphtheria in Ottawa Township, by Malader Sabin, M.D., to the state board of health, August 81, 1879: “Last week an epidemic of diphtheria broke out in our Township. During the week ending July 29 our mill race was empty, on account of repairs at the mill. An offensive odor came from the pond and the race. Diphtheria has not visited this locality in several years. There was no possible trace of contagion except that a family who lived in the house where the disease first made its appearance of late, some sixteen years ago, had a child die of diphtheria, and another family living in the same house eight years ago is said to have had a case of the disease.”
The disease is communicable from the mildest of cases. Such cases are especially liable to give origin to an epidemic which may be severe or even malignant. This is the reason why, of all diseases, diphtheria is more liable to be spread by schools, children being frequently affected with the disease so lightly as not only not to be disabled from attending school, but not even to give any external sign that they are the subject of the disease. hence when diphtheria is known to exist in a neighborhood, children affected even with slight sore throat should be scrupulously isolated or the school should be closed.
It is sometimes said that some physicians appear unwarrantably to increase the number of their cases of diphtheria and especially their percentage of cures by calling all cases of slight sore throat, and especially all cases with slight patches of a whitish color on the tonsels [sic] or any part of the fauces, cases of true diphtheria, especially if in the vicinity there has been an undoubted case or two if the disease. Such a practice as that is doubtless deleterious to professional accuracy in the diagnosis of the disease, and is a large element of error in its statistics, but accompanied by proper sanitary restrictions in all cases of so called diphtheria, would it not be more likely to restrict its spread than a more exact and exclusive diagnosis which in its exactness might overlook or misname some real though slight case of the disease?
Almost every epidemic of diphtheria, is either preceded, accompanied, or followed by numerous cases of sore throat, called sometimes quinay, or tonsillitis or simply sore throat. This form of disease Dr. Arthur Downs considers essentially identical with undoubted diphtheria, for these reasons, viz: First, These sore throats prevail correlative with the unquestioned cases of diphtheria. Second, Under favorable conditions they may communicate the typical form of the disease. Third, The latter also, in its turn, gives rise to these apparently trivial sore throats.
“The infection of diphtheria is especially portable.”
Thus we see it apparently conveyed for quite long distances by persons going from an infected house, but who themselves have not had the disease. In other cases persons just going to an infected house, though tarrying only for a few minutes, seem to convey and communicate the disease to others though themselves escape. Persons long considered convalescent also appear in some cases to retain about them the germs of the contagium vivum of the disease so as readily to communicate it to others. These considerations, apparently established, demonstrate the importance of strict and long continued isolation, and an effective disinfection of person and clothing.
I select a very marked case of the occurrence of diphtheria from briefly inhaling sewer gas, and the transmission of the disease through another person reported by Dr. David J. Brakenride, assistant physician to the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh. ‘Mrs. K., a widow 25 years of age, previously (?) healthy, passed an open drain on Feb. 5, remarked the bad smell at the time, and said to her sister, “I am sure I have caught something.” On the 10th she had well marked diphtheria. On the first day of the disease a little girl residing in the house was sent away to the village to be out of danger. She escaped herself, but carried the poison to a younger sister of the patient (Mrs. K.), who took the disease and died after six days' illness.
There are certain cases in which the disease appears to be conveyed and distributed by milk, as in the cases reported by Dr. Goodwin of Cassopolis to the secretary of the state Board of Health, as follows:
“DEAR SIR: -- I attended three cases of diphtheria last week, one -- a boy -- proving fatal. . . . There had been no diphtheria in town for six weeks previous to April 1. Then Mrs. D. ____ , a lady about 26 years of age, was taken and had it very severe. . . . Now, the point I wish to call your attention to is, that this family sold milk to two families in opposite directions in the same block, and this milk was given to the boy to drink which died of diphtheria, and the other family that took the milk had a child 18 months old which they were weaning, and it took the diphtheria, but lived through. One child in each family had it since, and both recovered. There has not been another case in that part of town.
“Public funerals of persons dying of contagious diseases is dangerous to the public health, and ought to be prohibited by law. I suppose it is safe to say that, aside from public schools, there is not a more fertile way of spreading diphtheria than by public funerals, where the dead body is presented to the curious. Many persons, young and old, on such an occasion, crowd every part of the house which has perhaps for days been infected with the disease, and when the disease becomes fearfully and fatally epidemic the whole community wonder and are aghast at the mysterious dispensation of Divine Providence, whereas had the family and a few adult friends quietly and speedily buried the dead and thoroughly disinfected their house, Divine Providence would have smiled on that community by giving general health.”
The above extracts have been taken to a considerable extent from the report of the committee of the state board of health on endemic, epidemic and contagious disease, and are worthy the attention of every citizen, and we think shows conclusively that the disease is endemic, epidemic, contagious and infectious, and that too much care cannot be taken to isolate every case no matter how slight, and to thoroughly disinfect the house and clothing as soon as convalescence occurs.
In common with all zimatic diseases the causes of diphtheria is one of the most difficult problems of medical science to solve. Various opinions have been held as to its nature, and many different theories advanced. All however are agreed that it is due to a specific poison traceable to conditions which tend to the disorganization of a highly organized substance, and the formation of a new substance or element of another and poisonous nature of lower organization which takes the place under the influence of moisture, and is commonly called effluvia, which is found in damp cellars, privy vaults, cesspools, filthy streets, alleys and yards. But the most deadly form of it is sewer gas, which is defined to be a nonanalyzable element which poisons the blood of human beings. The poisonous element may enter the system through the water we drink, the food we eat, or the air we breathe. Wells situated within 20 feet of a privy or cesspool in sandy soil soon become impregnated with the poisonous drainage from them, and disease results. Imperfect drains from within the house leading to the sewer or cesspool fill your houses with the deadly gas, and you wonder where your children caught the diphtheria.
It is clear then that you are the guardians of health in your own homes, and that your duty is undone if you fail to make frequent inspections of and correct these sources of disease.
Walter served as City Physician for Grand Rapids until May of 1882, and in November of 1882 he was elected Kent County coroner. Morrison won with 7693 votes as opposed to Dr. Bradish's 7554, Dr. Eadie’s 7286 and incumbent Coroner Dr. Laubenstein’s 7161. Walter served in that capacity from 1883 to 1884.
As a physician in a bustling community such as Grand Rapids, Morrison had to deal with a variety of health problems in addition to infectious diseases, and trauma was especially widespread. On May 17, 1881, while passing Eckermann’s drug store in Grand Rapids, Morrison was called to attend to two sisters, Bridget and Elizabeth Malloy who had been seriously injured in a runaway wagon accident; Elizabeth soon afterwards died. And on July 17, 1882, Morrison was called to Bowen Station in Kent County, “to perform a difficult surgical operation. Oscar Shaffer, a lad whose parents live near there was playing with a toy gun. The ramrod became fast he tried to loosen it with his teeth. When the ramrod was driven out in the usual manner, and down his throat and out through his neck. He is doing as well as could be expected, since Dr. Morrison removed it.”
Indeed, the number of deaths by trauma or violence caused some concern in the community. On October 2, a reporter for the Democrat, “Noticing the large number of violent deaths that have occurred lately, . . called on Coroner Morrison and ascertained that since January 1, 1883, he had held inquests over the bodies of twenty persons whose deaths were caused by violence; of these eight were killed by railway trains.” Violence indeed. On December 3, 1883, one George Mitchell committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, and Morrison was called to investigate, ruling two days later that the cause of death was suicide. In late March 1884, Dr. Morrison was called to attended to one David Morehead who had been struck by Winston Fox, a saloon-owner. Morehead died soon afterwards.
About midnight on April 6, 1884, “A man named Reed living on Hickory Street, fell in a fit on Monroe Street, about midnight last night, and was conveyed to the Morton House where he remained until this morning. Dr. Morrison, who was called, says it was an epileptic fit and the man says that he never had one before.”
For reasons which are not known, shortly after finishing his term as Coroner in 1884, Morrison left Grand Rapids for Honduras to practice medicine and did not return to western Michigan until 1887. Upon his return from Central America he settled in Muskegon in late 1887 or early 1888 and lived in Muskegon the rest of his life, practicing medicine and surgery. He worked for some years as surgeon for the West Michigan Railroad, and he served on the government pension board.
Walter was reportedly active in the Democratic party. He also developed a deep interest in the growing temperance movement in Muskegon and in early March of 1877 the Reform Club in Muskegon, numbering 800 members, elected Dr. Morrison president. “The Club,” wrote the Democrat on March 10, “is to open a gymnasium and reading room immediately. One saloon-keeper has converted his place into a temperance billiard hall, and has signed the pledge himself.”
He was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, but was dropped at his own request in December of 1884. He was also a member of the Grand Army of the Republic Custer Post No. 5 in Grand Rapids until he was transferred in 1899 to Kearny Post No. 7 in Muskegon.
In 1887 he applied for and received a pension (no. 397248).
Walter also belonged to the Muskegon Medical Association, the Knights of Pythias and as an amateur actor. In 1890 he was residing at 77 Western avenue and suffering from piles and “fistulae in anus.” By 1894 he was residing in Muskegon’s Fourth ward.
Walter married his third wife Mrs. Mary Bates (widow of Captain Bates of Port Sherman) on October 3, 1893, in Muskegon (it is not known what became of his second wife). By the late 1890s he was suffering from consumption and was forced to give up much if not most of his medical practice. Consumption continued to ravage his body, and about 1898 he became quite ill but seemed to recover, and his health steadily improved until about 1901 when he began to deteriorate once again.
He went to San Antonio, Texas in October, of 1901, and showed some signs of improvement through 1902. He suffered a relapse, however, and on March 20, 1903, he returned to Muskegon where he died of consumption at 10:50 a.m. on May 2, 1903, at his home on 87 First Street. He was buried in Evergreen cemetery, Muskegon: 7-12-4.
Dr. Morrison, wrote one obituary, “was a man of exceptional medical qualifications and surgical skill and formerly enjoyed a very large practice in this city. For nearly five years he had been afflicted with disease and his condition finally became so complicated and serious that he was compelled to abandon practice altogether.”
In August of 1903 his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 591379).