The anecdote reads as follows: “The man was made to believe that he occupied a bed where a cholera patient had died. Immediately the symptoms of this disease appeared, and the man died. The fact was, that he had not caught the cholera by material contact, because no cholera patient had been in that bed.”1
The earliest source we have located for this anecdote is Dr. Joseph Howe’s The Breath, and the Diseases Which Give it A Fetid Odor, first published in 1874. Howe is discussing the effect of the mind on the body and writes: “A similar incident occurred in Moscow a few years ago. A criminal, who had been condemned to suffer the death-penalty, was told he was to sleep in a bed from which the dead body of a cholera patient had just been removed. He was then conducted to a well-ventilated room and placed in a bed perfectly clean, which had never been used. Toward morning he was taken with all the symptoms of cholera, and died in a few hours.”2
We don’t know if Mary Baker Eddy read this account in Howe’s book or if she read an excerpt in a magazine or newspaper. However, we do know that this anecdote first appeared in the third edition of Science and Health, in 1881.
We don’t have much information on Howe, but he was apparently a well-known New York City surgeon, and a professor of surgery at the University of New York (now known as New York University). The Breath, and the Diseases Which Give it A Fetid Odor was republished at least once; an 1878 edition has been scanned and is available on Google Books.