The National was once the grandest hotel in the capital. In 1857, it twice hosted President-elect James Buchanan and his advisors, and on both occasions, most of the party was quickly stricken by an acute illness. Over the course of several months, hundreds fell ill, and over thirty died from what became known as the National Hotel disease. Buchanan barely recovered enough to give his inauguration speech. Rumors ran rampant across the city and the nation. Some claimed that the illness was born of a sewage effluvia, while others darkly speculated about an assassination attempt by either abolitionists or southern slaveowners intent on war. Author Kerry Walters investigates the mysteries of the National Hotel disease.
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