And history repeats itself

I haven’t written anything in this blog because, well, nothing has happened. I thought I’d be filling it up with state Reading Bowl competition, Katy’s trip to Washington DC, some Girl Scout camping trips and a night at Hamilton. Well, none of that is happening. Also, I’ve been keeping a written journal in a notebook. I figured that will last long after technology changes, websites go out of business and you lose everything (I am planning on somehow printing out my blog) and there’s just something personal about handwritten things.

The other night I noticed the candlestick holder that my great-grandmother (Big Ma) bought at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Then it occurred to me, that fair was in 1904. The Spanish flu pandemic was 1918-1920. Big Ma lived through that. In 1918 she was married, had my granddad in February and turned 21 sometime that year. I don’t know when her birthday was.  She married Tom Knight and he died in 1968 when my mother was pregnant with me. Big Ma died in 1987at the age of 90 (and smoked for about 70 of those years), I was a freshman in college. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral. I remember visiting her while growing up. She lived in an old-fashioned type of mobile home out in the country. You walked in the front door into the living room, the kitchen was on the right. There was a hall down the left from living room with bathroom, laundry room and two bedrooms all lined up. If my brother and I got too rambunctious the house shook a little. Big Ma usually had a paper grocery bag full of toys for each of us and there was always a big bucket of fried chicken, usually from Kentucky Fried Chicken. If she didn’t already have it, we went to pick it up. I never knew about her childhood. I never knew about my granddad’s, either. I know they were really poor and lived on a farm. My mother’s whole family is not much on talking about the past, my dad’s family is a bunch of storytellers. And being a child and even teenager it never occurred to ask about the things she lived through. So I wonder what her experience was living, being newly married and raising a baby during the Spanish flu and what advice she might have.

And last week I read about a 102-year-old WWII veteran who contracted Covid-19 and survived. He was born in 1918 toward the beginning of the Spanish flu. What a way to bookend (sort of) your life. I wonder if his mother was nervous having a baby at that time.

I thought about some of the parallels between then and now.

One thing I thought about as I was leafing through the paper (yes, we still get an actual newspaper thrown in the driveway every day) is that for all the deaths we’ve had there hasn’t really been that many more obituaries. But a lot of people don’t do printed obits, they are expensive and not the “modern” thing. Now everyone puts them online where people can leave condolences for them. Between the lack of printed obituaries and a growing trend toward cremation without putting the ashes in a mausoleum with a marker, we aren’t leaving any kind of a historical record for the future. Then yesterday there were two full pages of obits and the list of names did seem longer than usual.

In movies I have seen that take place during the Spanish flu they often show the front page of the newspaper with lists of who had died. I didn’t find a newspaper with the whole front page like that but I did find this:

No idea where this was.

So what has been the same?

Well, they knew it spread in crowds.

Notice they closed the churches, too. And when school was out, well, no internet based learning, no photocopy machines for take-home packets.


Health tips:

I couldn’t figure out why it said plant doctor but then figured it must have been posted in some type of company housing.

It’s pretty much the same advice we are following now.

And of course, someone has a cure.

If that doesn’t work, you can try this.

I didn’t know masks were a part of the Spanish flu, it wasn’t in any of the movies I’ve seen.

People made them for themselves and others.

Quick and to the point.

Red Cross volunteers turned out lots of masks.

This is a family portrait featuring masks. Now people are doing “porch portraits”. Families assemble on their porch and a drive-by photographer takes their photo. With a good zoom lens and the internet for communication there’s no need to get anywhere close to each other.

Play close attention to the cat. I looked up this photo and it’s real.

And San Francisco wasn’t messing around about the masks.

Bet that guy slept in a mask after that. And just like now, the hospital would have been a dangerous place to be.


And speaking of hospitals. Nurses were masked up and hard at work.

This looks like it might be a boarding house or something that was taken over for sick people and they ran out of room inside. Space was a problem then, just like now.

This photo is from a military hospital.

Besides the flu, there was a massive war going on. I read that the flu might actually have started in Kansas on a farm (it was H1N1 like the swine flu that went around about 10 years ago), was spread to a nearby army base and then carried to Europe from there. It was known as Spanish flu because people took notice of it when it hit Madrid. But there are other theories, too, At any rate, there was a war going on and it spread through the military and turned out to be an even bigger enemy.

The war finally ended but that gave the flu a push in some places where great victory parades were held.

Just as now, there were editorial cartoons in the paper.

This is from the Oct. 12 1918 edition of The Los Angeles Times.

I read something the other day that said “History essay in 2053: Explain the use and role of memes as a coping mechanism during the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020”. This is a real possibility. In 1918 there were no memes but people did find things to laugh at or have fun with.

I don’t know where the artwork is from but the rhyme has been traced back to the Spanish flu.

The poor dog in the corner.

Well, when all is said and done, we will come through this just like they did. The Spanish flu lasted from Jan. 1918 to Dec. 1920, three full years. We aren’t going to have three years of what we have now but it’s going to be a slow crawl back to normal, both in daily activity and in our thinking. There will be a vaccine, we’ll get it and our children will get it. Their children yet-tobe-born will get it but it will just be “some disease people used to get”. It’ll fade into memory. Until the next worldwide pandemic. Maybe next time people will not only see the signs early but will pay attention to them.





2 thoughts on “And history repeats itself

  1. My great-aunt (My Grandmother’s baby sister age 20 and her husband died in Kansas of the Spanish flu in 2018. Aunt Eva was pregnant at the time. I look just like her pictures, keep one in my living room and often look at it and think “ that is really ME!”). My great-grandmother, grandmother and Mother talked about her a lot. She was always a sick child as was I and then I had polio and so there were constant comparisons between Aunt Eva and I. I was born 22 years after her death and she died the year before my Mother was born, but she was always a consistent presence in my life. Once she was too sick to go to the Jansas State Fair and the other 5 kids got to go, so they brought her a very small cranberry that looked like a glass coal scuttle with gold inscription “Kansas State Fair” . My Grandmother and Mother gave it to me when I had a home of my own. Recently my cousins in their early 30’s, newlyweds in Louisiana, caught the virus. We all held our breath and wondered if it was the Cooke family curse, but they got better and are going to be OK. We are all grateful.

  2. Kansas not Jansas
    Cranberry glass coal scuttle. (Somehow that word floated free!)
    Sorry, I thought I proofread my entry.
    Can I blame it on SpellCheck!!

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