The Flu of 1918 (continued)
Philadelphia, October 4: 636 new cases, 139 deaths.
Dr. A.A. Cairns, acting president of the Philadelphia
Board of Health, is frantic: more new cases every day, and the city's
death toll is mounting. How can the disease be stopped when no one even
knows why it is spreading? The state has already closed all the vaudeville
and picture houses, theaters, and saloons in Pennsylvania. Cairns decides
to close all schools and churches in the city...
Philadelphia businessmen are up in arms about the epidemic.
More cases mean more employee absences and fewer customers. It is no longer
business as usual, but business if possible. In desperation, the Bell
Telephone Company runs the following full-page notice in the newspapers:
Telephone Service Faces A Crisis
The situation is one which the public must meet squarely
-- 800 operators -- 27% of our force -- are now absent due to the influenza.
It is every person's duty to the community to cut out every call that
is not absolutely necessary that the essential needs of the government,
doctors and nurses may be cared for.
Worried Philadelphians, wearing gauze influenza
masks over their noses and mouths, quickly cross to the other side of
the street if a passerby chances to cough or sneeze.
Weeping women in West Manayunk block the car of Dr.
Joseph Schlotterer, who is making a house call, and permit him to leave
only after he treats 57 neighborhood children.
Frantic shoppers strip pharmacy shelves bare. The press
of customers is so great that the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and
Temple University suspend classes so that pharmacy students can help fill
prescriptions. Most are for whiskey, which, now that saloons are closed,
is available only in drugstores. Rather than wait to become a statistic,
people turn to home remedies: goose-grease poultices, sulfur fumes, onion
syrup, chloride of lime.
Snake-oil artists hawk their useless potions in newspaper
Use Oil of Hyomei. Bathe your breathing organs with
Munyon's Paw Paw Pills for influenza insurance.
Sick with influenza? Use Ely's Cream Balm. No
more snuffling. No struggling for breath.
To prevent further spread of the epidemic among
Penn students, most of whom are in the SATC, the Board of Health cancels
a football rally and a campus Liberty Loan rally featuring screen actor
William S. Hart.
Major Griffith, in charge of the SATC at Penn, warns
that campus residents who fail to keep their windows open will be severely
punished. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is quarantined,
and no visitors are permitted.
The SATC commandeers two of the University's largest
fraternity houses -- Delta Psi and Phi Kappa Psi -- and fits them out
as emergency hospitals. Due to the shortage of physicians, third- and
fourth-year Penn medical students volunteer to take care of the patients.
Panic is beginning the grip the city.
Philadelphia, October 6: 788 new cases, 171 deaths.
The Philadelphia Inquirer derides the closing
of public places:
What are the authorities trying to do? Scare everyone
to death? What is to be gained by shutting up well-ventilated churches
and theaters and letting people press into trolley cars?
What then should a man do to prevent panic and fear?
Live a clean life. Do not even discuss influenza... Worry is useless.
Talk of cheerful things instead of disease.
The Inquirer heeds its own admonitions and relegates
all further news of the epidemic to its back pages. In the other city
newspapers, the flu is still page-one news.
The war continues in Europe. General Pershing's forces
advance three miles but, across the Atlantic, the epidemic is stalling
the homefront war effort. To boost the case for the Fourth Liberty Bond
Loan, the Evening Bulletin prints an anonymous article that
claims the Spanish influenza began in the German trenches. Whether an
artful propaganda piece or mere speculation, the report stirs bitter feelings
against the "beastly Huns." The sale of Liberty Bonds skyrockets.
At Penn, the Board of Health puts the Houston Hall poolroom
under indefinite quarantine and fumigates all dormitories. The Christian
Association calls for student volunteers to help in the current emergency.
Philadelphia, October 8: 1,481 new cases, 250 deaths.
The shortage of doctors and nurses, 75 percent of
whom had been called to military duty, is acute. The director of the Philadelphia
Hospital pleads for volunteers to relieve nurses who have collapsed from
In many families, both parents are ill and unable to
care for their children. Their cries for help often go unheeded, as many
neighbors fear entering a house where there is influenza. Others, without
thought of their own safety, tend the ill, care for the children, and
comfort the dying. Roman Catholic Archbishop Dennis Dougherty gives permission
to 1,000 Sisters of Saint Joseph to work in private residences caring
for the sick.
November/December Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 10/28/98