Fort Pickens is not at all water-tight. Her engineers attempted to correct this by laying sheets of lead on the fort’s casemate roofs. Rain water would seep down through the earth and sand atop the casemates until it reached the lead sheets, and from there it would be channeled into troughs, each built at an angle, higher at the fort’s outer walls. The water ran along these slanted troughs to water spouts built into Pickens’ inner walls, Large wooden barrels sitting beneath the spouts collected the water. Details of men would carry the filled barrels to the fort’s two cisterns. There were two problems with this system. To begin with, the lead plates were more watertight than were the bricks and mortar beneath, but not by much. Beyond that, the water flowing across these plates carried with it lead particles. When the garrison consumed the water in the cisterns, they began to suffer from lead-poisoning, Doctors of the 19th Century knew nothing of this malady, so they proclaimed that the mysterious illness was some form of ‘swamp miasma.’
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