Spanish Flu

Currently, I am reading The Given Day: A Novel, which is set in 1918-1919 (and perhaps later, though I haven’t gotten that far). This is not a time period I’ve spent much time considering, though Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment had some events in that time period. In any case, I’m finding the story and the historical context quite fascinating. So far, the novel tells two parallel stories, one of Danny, a Boston policeman of Irish heritage who is son and uncle two high-ranking members of the force, the other of Luther, a Black munitions worker who, when laid off at the factory to make room for jobs for white veterans, moves to Greenwood (Tulsa). I am very curious how or if these two stories will come together, but at the moment, both Danny and Luther have survived the influenza pandemic of 1918. In the book, the illness moves so quickly and is so debilitating and deadly. While people seem to have little protection, they do wear masks, and in most communities, it’s illegal to go without them. Despite the danger, policemen in Boston must patrol their beats and deal with the violence that comes out of fear and anxiety. They are often among the first responders and are called upon to help the sick or remove dead bodies, though the police department provides no death benefits because it claims police officers could easily have contracted the grippe outside of work.

Curious, I read online about the epidemic and found some interesting photographs at the national archives.

This streetcar driver refuses to let an unmasked passenger on the car.

Postal workers who came into contact with the pubic were required to wear masks.

These Seattle police officers wore masks made by members of the Red Cross.

The Influenza Epic of 1918 at the National Archives