George Rashid, known as the Pickens leper, migrated to the United States from Syria in 1902. He suffered from leprosy, now also called Hansen’s disease, an ancient affliction characterized by loss of feeling and even of skin and flesh. The ominous first signs of the dreaded disease appeared while Rashid was working as a railroad section hand in Maine. He tried to keep his affliction secret by wearing gloves and long-sleeved shirts. When suspicious coworkers began asking questions, he and his wife became wanderers, ending up in Elkins, working for his brother, Charley. In July 1906, Charley Rashid alerted Dr. W. W. ‘‘Ben’’ Golden of George’s medical condition.
Knowing that he had leprosy from having been exposed to it in Syria, George Rashid caught a pre-dawn eastbound coal train out of Elkins in a desperate attempt to return home, believing that if he could swim in the Jordan River he would be healed. Railroad officials apprehended him in Cumberland, Maryland. Since he was aboard a Baltimore & Ohio train, the company accepted responsibility for him and shipped him to Pickens, Randolph County, the most remote terminal on the line.
In Pickens, Dr. James L. Cunningham had quarters erected for Rashid and cared for him as best he could. While performing a physical examination, the doctor discovered that Rashid also had an untreatable heart condition known as mitral stenosis. In October 1906, caretaker James Thomas found him dead, not of leprosy but more likely from his heart condition. George Rashid now rests beside the abandoned railroad tracks a few feet from where he died.
This Article was written by L. Wayne Sheets
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Sheets, Wayne L. The Pickens Leper. Goldenseal, (Fall 1997).