Corrections XIX – posted June 19th 2017

On page 19 of Chasing The Scream, I write, about Billie Holiday: “Billie brought herself up on the streets of Baltimore, alone, defiant. It was the last city without a sewer system in the United States, and she spent her childhood among clouds of stinking smoke from all the burning shit.”

I have been contacted by a reader called Debrah Sambuco explaining that the second sentence there can’t be right. She wrote: “I am writing to tell you of an error in your otherwise very good and interesting book Chasing the Scream… The sewer system in Baltimore was built before Billie Holiday was born. She never lived in the city before it had a sewer system. Baltimore’s sewer system was begun after the Great Fire of 1904. By 1915, when Billie Holiday was born, it was already very extensive and nearing completion. Here is a pdf of a history of Baltimore’s sewer system from

I also checked the historic newspaper database Baltimore Sun Historic, and found many articles, dated before Ms. Holiday’s birth, about the work being done on the new sewage system. One article, dated January 6, 1912, was entitled “Sewers Rapidly Completed.” Here is part of the text of that article: “The Sewerage Commission is preparing to notify the Health Department of the new completion of large sections of the new sanitary system of sewers in East, South, West, and Northwest Baltimore…..  Letters from Moscow and Constantinople received yesterday by Sewage Engineer Hendrick show the extent of international advertising Baltimore is getting from the new sewage system. This was three years before Billie Holiday was born.”

I’ve checked this out and Debrah is right: I’ll have that second sentence cut from future editions of the book.

She also pointed out a related error in the publishing of the endnotes. On p311, I refer the reader to page 6 of Billie’s memoir ‘Lady Sings The Blues.’ I had intended to refer the reader to this if they want further information relating to the first sentence I quote above – “Billie brought herself up on the streets of Baltimore, alone, defiant”, which is the subject of that chapter of the memoir. By an editing mistake I should have spotted before publication, the endnotes make it seem like this is, in fact, the place to look for a reference for the second sentence – “It was the last city without a sewer system in the United States.” That’s incorrect – the next endnote I give in the book gives the source for that claim, which turned out to be incorrect, or to be misunderstood by me. I’ll also have this end-noting error corrected in future editions too.

Thanks to Debrah for pointing out these mistakes – I appreciate it. If you’ve read the book and spotted any errors please do drop me a line (click to email). I’ll look into it and if you’re right I’ll thank you on here.


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