This author received a copy of the above cartoon from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago in 1998. The image was an isolated copy, not part of an article. There was no source listed. The cartoon came along with a package of other research material related to District history, including the flood of August 1885 and the mythical cholera epidemic. Based on the subject matter of the cartoon and because of the proximity of the flood material, it was an easy and obvious inference that the cartoon was showing deaths by disease, thus substantiating the story of the epidemic. The style of the cartoon is like an old, possibly 19th century newspaper cartoon.
Because of these reasons, at the time of the original website posting in 1998, this author made the assumption that the cartoon was from a newspaper contemporaneous with the 1885 flood or with the early events of the Sanitary Canal. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that the cartoon ever came from a newspaper, nor is there any evidence that it is old. It should have been noted that the cartoon image is in color, whereas all old newspapers were only in black and white.
In an attempt to find the real source of the cartoon, this author has searched newspapers and newspaper databases from around the time of the August 2, 1885 flood, at the times of the adoption of the Chicago Sanitary District (July, 1889 when the Illinois legislature acted and November, 1889 when the District was approved), and at the time of the Sanitary Canal opening (January 2, 1900 when the canal was filled, and January 17, when the gate was lifted to open the flow). The cartoon did not appear, nor were there any cartoons of similar style. The graphics file of the Chicago History Museum was reviewed with the help of a research assistant without finding a copy of the cartoon image.
Since the source of the cartoon was The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, several staff members were interviewed to attempt to find out where the original had come from. None of the staff interviewed knew the source of the cartoon but all were familiar with the image as a “fixture” of the District. Mary Carroll, Public Information Office, said in October, 2006, that a slide of the cartoon image was still being used in District presentations and in orientation for new employees. Finally, in November 2006, this author found a copy of a Water Reclamation District Newsletter with a copy of the cartoon included. District library staff identified the Newsletter as June of 1994, but had no information on the source of the cartoon.
The only possible conclusion that this author can make is that the original source of the cartoon is The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago itself, and that it was produced relatively recently, not back in the 19th century.