Thank you for publishing accounts of the 1918 flu pandemic in the ”Learning from the Past” column. Parallels between then and now continue to surprise me. Like then, some of us seem to not take the pandemic seriously.
CDC statistics show that the U.S. has suffered over 20% of worldwide COVID-19 deaths. Yet our country has just 4.25% of the world’s population. That suggests we face a serious health crisis, and a befuddling one, especially since we’re a country with topnotch medical resources.
One compelling story from the Herald’s historical account of the 1918 pandemic is that of Walter Paulson, whose remains were brought home from the Philadelphia naval station for burial in Wells, Minn. He was likely one of 600-plus soldiers and sailors who lay seriously ill, while Philadelphia’s public health director assured citizens that it was just the normal flu and would be contained before infecting the civilian population.
So on Sept. 28, thousands of soldiers, Boy Scouts, marching bands and local dignitaries paraded through downtown Philadelphia celebrating Liberty Bonds as 200,000 spectators lined the streets. Days later, hospitals in the area filled with patients suffering and dying. Soon, as many as 500 corpses awaited burial, some for more than a week. Cold-storage plants became temporary morgues.
According to Walter Paulson’s obituary quoted in the Herald, “The scattered members of the family went to Wells to attend the funeral. It was reported the casket was opened at the undertaking establishment, so the family could view Walter for the last time.” Several of those family members contracted the flu. Two died, as did the pastor who conducted the funeral service. There were eventually 300 flu cases in the small town of Wells.
In publishing stories from the pandemic of 100 years ago, the Herald informs us of potential realities. In 1918, my 31-year-old grandfather was one of tens of thousands of Americans who died that fall, as did our current president’s grandfather. I hope we all take this threat seriously, and by “Learning from the Past,” we do everything possible to keep ourselves and our families healthy and safe.