STUMP » Articles » Memory Monday: Last Week of January 1918 » 29 January 2018, 03:42

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Memory Monday: Last Week of January 1918  


29 January 2018, 03:42

Still no signs of the Spanish flu, but there’s plenty of war-related items in the local paper.

Before I pull a few of those items, let’s look at a couple current items.

The flu can kill tens of millions of people. In 1918, that’s exactly what it did.

The flu arrived as a great war raged in Europe, a conflict that would leave about 20 million people dead over four years.

In 1918, the flu would kill more than twice that number – and perhaps five times as many – in just 15 months. Though mostly forgotten, it has been called “the greatest medical holocaust in history.”

Experts believe between 50 and 100 million people were killed. More than two-thirds of them died in a single 10-week period in the autumn of 1918.

Never have so many died so swiftly from a single disease. In the United States alone, it killed about 675,000 in about a year – the same number who have died of AIDS in nearly 40 years.

As the country muddles through a particularly nasty flu season – one that the Centers for Disease Control says has killed 24 children in the first three weeks of January and 37 since the start of the flu season – the 1918 nightmare serves a reminder. If a virulent enough strain were to emerge again, a century of modern medicine might not save millions from dying.

The flu brought life to a standstill, emptying city streets, closing churches, pool halls, saloons and theaters. Coffin makers couldn’t keep up with demand, so mass graves were dug to bury the dead. People cowered behind closed doors for fear they would be struck down.

In Philadelphia, news stories described priests driving carts through the streets, encouraging people to bring out the dead so that they might be buried.

In New York there were accounts of people feeling perfectly healthy when they boarded the subway in Coney Island and being taken off dead when they reached Columbus Circle.

In 10 weeks, the flu killed 20,000 in New York City and produced 31,000 orphans.

One Army doctor, quoted by historian John M. Barry, author of the bestseller, “The Great Influenza,” described the scene at a base hospital in Massachusetts:

An American policeman wearing a ‘Flu …Topical Press Agency, Getty ImagesAn American policeman wearing a ‘Flu Mask’ to protect himself from the outbreak of Spanish flu following World War I.

“When brought to the [hospital] they very rapidly develop the most vicious type of pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see [the blueness] extending from their ears and spreading all over the face. . . . It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes. . . . It is horrible.”

Yet President Woodrow Wilson was unwilling to take any action that would compromise the war effort.

In early October, even as the disease was sweeping through military bases, killing soldiers and sailors by the thousands, U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue warned against rushing to see doctors with “mild cases of influenza.”

“The present generation,” Blue said, “has been spoiled by having had expert medical and nursing care readily available.”


So I’ll keep an eye out for the fall… and remember that WWI ended in November 1918.

The Denver Post story is fairly extensive, and a good read if you want more details.


I copied over a post from Dennis Kuo:

Flu rant time, because the media’s blowing up about flu.

Between 1977 and 1987, Japan made influenza immunization mandatory for schoolchildren. Coverage rates ranged from 50-85%. School absenteeism plummeted and illness death rates dropped – not only for children, but for the elderly, for whom attack rates dropped as much as 80% and deaths dropped by about half even though they weren’t prioritized for vaccination. Serious side effects were estimated to be about one in a million. And yes, illness and deaths rose immediately after the program was discontinued.

I bring up the Japanese experience as the US media blows up about how horrible this flu season is, how the vaccine isn’t working, and we’re helpless under this pandemic of biblical proportions. The thing, though, is that flu does this every year. US estimates of annual hospitalizations are in the hundreds of thousands, and flu typically kills more people than car accidents. Some seasons are worse than others, and this season is worse than last year, but it’s looking similar to 2014-15, when 148 children died. Even if the ultimate illness and death numbers are higher than 2014-15, we need to recognize that this is a NORMAL flu year. And we have plenty of data and experience to do something about it.

It goes on for a bit, and exhorts people to get flu shots, especially children. As noted before, it’s mostly old folks who die from the flu, but vaccines don’t take as well with them. Kids are active disease vectors, and few die but man, they’re great at spreading disease.

I get the flu vaccine every year. It’s not that expensive, and it’s available all over the place, at drug stores, even without appointment. It’s not too late to get a shot.

(If that widget doesn’t work: go here to find where you can get a flu shot.)


NY Declares Flu Disaster As Cuomo Issues Emergency Order

As the region continues to grip with one of the worst flu epidemics in a decade, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared a disaster emergency allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines to children and teenagers older than 2 years old.

Cuomo issued the executive order on Thursday, suspending the state law forbidding pharmacists from administering the vaccination to New Yorkers under the age of 18.

Whelp, off to take the kids this week (I was having issues being able to schedule shots for the kids).


Again, the only deaths I note in the paper either were older folks who had died of long-standing ailments, or just not told what they died of.

So one of the things that I see in the papers are items about the rationing.

Here is some detail:

I was thinking that here’s some anti-Catholic evidence: the meatless day isn’t Friday, which the Catholics were still following at the time. Nope, the WASPs have got to put it on Tuesdays so that nobody thinks they’re accomodating Catholics.

A more fair comment: the point is to reduce meat consumption for the nation. The Catholics had always had meatless Fridays, so to get them to cut more, you have to pick a different day.

Of course, many families in the South only had meat on Sundays (chicken!) and then you’d use the leftover bits for the rest of the week. That wasn’t just a war thing.

I do see a lot of the Meatless/Wheatless stuff showing up in ads.

Here’s a fun poem:

And before I get to an amusing comment, something else:

Uh, the mortality rate for British troops was far worse than 7%. An estimate here is that 673,375 killed or missing – which would lead one to assume a full force of about 10 million men if the mortality rate were 7%. I guess the weasel words was that it was the British Expeditionary Force – the pros (not the later “Kitchener’s army”).

U.S. casualties were definitely at a far fewer rate, and most U.S. deaths were from disease (esp. Spanish flu).

But finally, I smirked at this comment in passing:

The main objection to the Star-Spangled Banner currently is that it’s unsingable (compared to easier-to-sing songs like “God Bless America” and “America, the Beautiful”). Of course, back then, people would have known better that it was a drinking song tune.

FWIW, the Star-Spangled Banner was not yet the official anthem in 1918, though one Congressman tried to make it so:

On April 10, 1918, John Charles Linthicum, U.S. Congressman from Maryland, introduced a bill to officially recognize “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. The bill did not pass. On April 15, 1929, Linthicum introduced the bill again, his sixth time doing so. On November 3, 1929, Robert Ripley drew a panel in his syndicated cartoon, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, saying “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem”.

It did get adopted in the 1930s.

If you read the Wiki article, President Wilson had gotten an official version of the song & music settled in 1917. So that’s probably why the issue was current.