Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Recommended: When the Spanish Flu Clobbered Philadelphia

Men Dig a Mass Grave in Philadelphia to Bury
Victims of Influenza

By John  Kopp & Bob McGovern of the PhillyVoice,  27 September 2018

September 28, 1918, was to go down as a great day in Philadelphia. Some 10,000 people were expected to watch the latest Liberty Loan parade–a patriotic spectacle designed to boost public financing for World War I. But amid growing excitement that the war was nearing an end, 200,000 people flooded Center City, loudly cheering as thousands of military personnel, industry workers, relief workers, scouts and veterans marched down Broad Street.

That so many people came out astounded the local press, which did not hold back any praise in its coverage. The Philadelphia Inquirer lauded the parade for its pageantry and the enthusiasm of its onlookers, often in flowery prose.

The energies of the city–its wealth, its brawn, its intellect, its patience, its skill in the works of brain or of hand–these were seen, as they never had been seen before in such a time and under such stress,” The Inquirer wrote in a front-page story. “Yet in every stride and in every voice there was to be seen and heard the first premonition of–victory.

The Evening Bulletin, published later that afternoon, was more succinct but no less laudatory in its parade coverage. “This is a great day in Philadelphia,” its front-page story began.

But tucked deep inside the newspaper was a story about Thomas Harlacker, a 30-year-old city policeman who was one of influenza’s latest local victims. The account, which noted 118 new cases of the disease in the city in the last day, carried a warning that, 100 years later, reads prescient. "The epidemic is assuming more serious proportions,” the story cautioned, citing a warning by the city’s health director, Dr. Wilmer Krusen. “If the people are careless thousands of cases may develop and the epidemic may get beyond control.”

The Parade of 28 September 1918

If only health officials had followed their own advice. Officials went ahead with the Liberty Loan parade in the face of an influenza epidemic that already had ravaged New England and was gaining traction at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and elsewhere in the city. It proved to be a grave mistake.

The parade became an opportunity for mass infection. Within days, influenza had become so widespread that Philadelphia and state officials essentially shuttered the city. By the third week of October influenza, or the "grippe" as it was called by many, had afflicted tens of thousands of people and claimed the lives of more than 4,500 Philadelphians. Few American cities were hit harder.

“The Liberty Loan decision was one in a series of decisions that, I think, contributed to the death toll,” said historian John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza. “When you mix politics and science, you get politics.”

The influenza epidemic had reached Philly in early September when a Navy ship from Boston arrived at the Navy Yard. By the Liberty Loan parade, 525 people had come down with the illness. Seventy had died.  Still, the so-called “Spanish Flu” had yet to instill the fear that it would just weeks later, when many people were too afraid to leave their homes.  Krusen, director of the Department of Health and Charities, assured the public that the flu would not spread beyond the military camps. And the press downplayed its severity.

World War I—and the upcoming bond drive—was of far greater concern, dominating headlines and the public consciousness. Though the war was drawing to a close, the city had been tasked with raising $259 million for the Philadelphia boys fighting in Europe. City officials needed the parade to proceed.

Her Sister Is Suffering from the Flu

Continue reading the two-part article here:

1 comment:

  1. My great uncle Cpl. Emmanuel R. Finzer was serving with the USMC at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard Marine Barracks. His daughter was born 11/11/1918 in Ohio, Harriet Peace Finzer . He returned to Philadelphia after leave in November to see his new daughter. He died 28 December 1918 of pneumonia at the Naval Hospital.