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In 1878, Memphis was hit by one of the worst epidemics to ever strike an American city. One in eight people died from a yellow fever outbreak, and the survivors fled Memphis en masse.

Memphis' population fell from 47,000 to 19,000 in the space of two months. The city was unable to pay its municipal debts, and temporarily lost its city charter.

For several years, Memphis was officially a taxing district instead of a city, but the efforts of the remaining inhabitants of Memphis led the city to rise from the ashes. By 1900, the population of Memphis was 102,320.