Flu 1918 (Part 2 of 3)

(Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) Last year my family and I got lucky. We got the flu. Twice. We got the H1N1 in October 2009 and the seasonal flu in February 2010. By the time the H1N1 flu vaccine was available in town, two months had passed since the H1N1 hit our area.

At one point it seemed like everyone was sick. Parents were sick. Kids were sick. Sick parents ended up in the emergency room with sick kids. One mom I know, a mother of three, brought her eight-year-old and her baby to the emergency room. The baby had pneumonia. Another mom of three brought two boys to the emergency room. The older one was admitted with pneumonia. If misery loves company, it sure loves a crowd.

In our case my son came down with the flu right before Halloween. He was out of school for about a week, but finally seemed to get better. Two days after returning to school he was sick again. His case of the flu followed the classic pattern all the health professionals tell you to watch out for--the ill person gets better only to worsen again. A bacterial infection had set in.

What does all of this have to do with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918? A lot. Imagine a time before antibiotics, before easy access to health care, and before health insurance was available to cover medical costs. As I read the Telegram article about the impact of the flu pandemic on the Polish community in Worcester, the story hit home with me. How many families suffered situations similar to my Aunt Rose?

Thankfully the virulent strain of the flu that killed so many in 1918 and 1919 has not been seen since. What was strange about that particular flu was the intensity with which it hit. People sickened and sometimes died within hours of first showing symptoms. The usual segments of the population most susceptible to the flu--the very young and the very old--were not as affected as young and middle aged adults. People like me.

If my grandmother picked up the Worcester Telegram on October 1, 1918, these are the headlines she would have read. Consider the paper was only fourteen pages in its entirety that day.

Winchendon Has 26 New Epidemic Cases

Hardwick Schools Are Ordered to Be Closed


Rochdale Pupils Are On Epidemic Vacation

Churches And Schools Are Closed In Dana

Influenza Closes Oxford Mill

Pneumonia Takes Off Two At Northbridge

Millbury Soldier Dies in Camp


Double Crew Working Day And Night To Convert Greendale Dance Hall of Agricultural Society Into Hospital

Southbridge Acts As A Precaution

Massachusetts Gaining In Fight Against The Influenza Epidemic

Marlboro Reports 16 New Cases

Needed Drugs Arrive In Clinton

Second Hospital Will Be Opened

Illness of Staff Leaves Mayor Holmes Alone

Marlboro Sends 1000 Gauze Masks to Boston

Practical Healthy Women Are Needed
[by the Red Cross]

and ironically

Influenza Epidemic Does Not Interfere With Work Of Draft Boards

Fourteen pages. Even with the war raging in Europe, flu coverage clearly trumped war coverage. I didn't list the headlines that refer to specific people dying of the flu or pneumonia. There were also 58 obituaries listed that day. Imagine similar headlines and coverage in Boston, or New York, or San Francisco. Or your town.

Imagine the enormity of it.

Flu 1918 (Part 1 of 3)
Flu 1918 (Part 3 of 3)

Other Posts You Might Like:

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: WWI Red Cross Volunteers
Veteran's Day: The Life of a Doughboy, 1918
The Stories My Grandmother Told Me
Meditation: The Strength of Ordinary Women


Kristin said...

"Pale Horse, Pale Rider", about the flu epidemic, by Katherine Anne Porter is one of my favorite novels. I never connected it with my grandparents until I was reading some of their letters to each other and found a reference to low attendance at church due to the flu. I should look for news reports of the epidemic in Montgomery, AL.

Dorene from Ohio said...

Excellent research! Very interesting!

The Genealogy Gals said...

Thanks for these posts about the 1918 flu. This was huge event in our history. My mother, who was born in 1918 remembered it well. In Philadelphia, where she was lived, 300 people died in a single day. John Barry has written a wonderful book about all that came out of the flu called The Great Influenza.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Kristin - I kind of forgot about Pale Horse, Pale Rider until you mentioned it. I majored in English in college and read some of Katherine Anne Porter's work, but not this one. Now I must read it. I would be most interested to hear what you find if you do decide to research the flu in Montgomery.

Gals - So interesting about your mom and Philadelphia. I have read the Barry book (I reference it in part 3 of this post.). It details the enormous scale of the flu on the population there. Tragic. Interesting, but tragic.