History Repeats Itself

The husband talks about the events of his day during our nightly walks. I’ve been telling him the latest horror I learned from reading The Great Influenza, a history of the 1918-19 flu pandemic. I love medical history and thought, what the hell, it looks like an interesting, maybe even entertaining, book for now. This is a fine example of my tendency to be stupendously muddleheaded.

He just made coffee to power us through the morning work and, when I came down to pour a cup, he said, “I just heard something that blew my mind. One in twenty people are projected to be infected by the virus this weekend.” For extra emphasis, he repeated, “one in twenty.”

That microscopic spiky killer is packing its bag and flying to Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend a rousing election rally in a jammed arena that will be echoing with enthusiastic shouts and fired-up speeches saturated with lethal droplets for hours on end. 100,000 people are expected. The rally’s organizers calculate there will be more pressed together in another venue and on the streets outside.

I can’t wait to tell him tonight about Philadelphia when, in September 1918, city officials and national politicians, including President Woodrow Wilson, insisted a political event was safe and must go forward.

Here’s a hint for you: Three days after the parade, all the hospitals in Philadelphia were filled with patients exhibiting flu symptoms. Of the estimate 200,000 people at the parade, approximately 45,000 were stricken by the end of the week. Six weeks later, 12,000 people in Philadelphia had died–including my dad’s baby brother.