Headlines of Yore

How the ‘Grande Dame of Broad Street’ led to the discovery of Legionnaires’ disease

It took months to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak at the Philly hotel.

Hyatt at the Bellevue / Google Maps

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Once considered the most glorious hotel in the nation, Philadelphia’s Bellevue-Stratford took a crashing reputation hit after nearly 200 members of the American Legion who’d attended a 1970s conference there sickened, and more than two dozen died.

A hunt for the cause was taken up by scientists and medical doctors in Philly and around the region. Theories proliferated, and it wasn’t until months later that someone discovered the pneumonia-like bacteria responsible, and described its spread via the building’s air-conditioning system.

The hotel, now called the Hyatt at the Bellevue and greatly downsized from its original 1,000-plus rooms, is still a locus for high-end society events. But it never quite regained its initial glory as the “Grande Dame of Broad Street.”

The disease discovered there is now treatable with antibiotics. Here’s how its discovery unfolded.

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