The Flu of 1918 (continued)
Philadelphia, October 10: 5,531 new cases, 361 deaths.
Philadelphia hospitals are filled to overflowing.
Hospital beds are set up in the Armory. The Medico-Chirurgical Hospital,
closed to make room for the construction of the new Benjamin Franklin
Parkway, is reopened. The University of Pennsylvania, together with Jefferson
College and Hahnemann Medical College, recruits 300 fourth-year medical
students to aid overworked physicians.
Isaac Starr, M'20, is assigned to the Medico-Chirurgical
Hospital. With only a single lecture about influenza to guide him, he
finds there is little he can do, other than get the dead out of the way
for the living. He never sees the faces of his fellow workers. They are
gowned and masked like himself.
The Philadelphia Public Ledger uses the epidemic
as a stick in its long-running battle with State Senator Edwin H. Vare
and his political machine. A front-page article claims that Vare holds
the street-cleaning contracts for South Philadelphia, where mortality
is heaviest. Besieged by outraged residents, the Bureau of Street Cleaning
agrees to sprinkle the streets with disinfectant.
Red Cross volunteers meet to make influenza masks and
sew shrouds for the mounting numbers of dead. The daily death notices
fill an entire page: seven columns of small print with a repetitious litany:
"...of pneumonia, age 21" "...of influenza, age 26."
The toll is heaviest among young adults.
Philadelphia, October 11: 4,013 new cases, 517 deaths.
Local businessmen voluntarily close their shops
and distribute food and supplies to suffering families. One department
store -- Lit Brothers -- donates two delivery trucks to serve as ambulances.
Another -- Strawbridge and Clothier -- uses its telephone-order line to
field calls for help: Call Filbert 100. If the response is 'Strawbridge
and Clothier,' ask for 'Influenza.'
Penn students join with off-duty policemen to relieve
the shortage of hospital stretcher-bearers, carrying in the living only
to exchange them for the dead. Other Penn student-volunteers at the University
Settlement House help in the dispensary and operate a soup kitchen for
children whose parents are too ill to feed them.
After 12 Penn dental students are stricken, the University
closes the Dental School, noting that "working over patients' mouths
subjects the men to the danger of contracting the disease."
Philadelphia, October 14: 4,302 new cases, 557 deaths.
A new health menace threatens: the dead are not being
buried fast enough.
More than 500 corpses are awaiting burial, some for
more than a week. The Office of the Coroner cannot keep up with the demand
for death certificates. Cold-storage plants are used as temporary morgues,
and the J.G. Brill Company, manufacturers of trolley cars, donates 200
packing crates to be used as coffins. Prisoners from the House of Correction
team up with seminarians from St. Charles Seminary to dig graves, as the
cemeteries cannot keep up with the demand.
To deal with the problem of hundreds of unburied corpses,
volunteers drive horse-drawn carts through the city streets, calling people
to bring out the dead. Wagonloads of bodies, each tagged for identification,
are buried at Potter's Field at Second and Luzerne Streets, where the
Bureau of Highways is digging trenches for graves. Only the promise that
bodies can be reinterred when the epidemic abates persuades grieving relatives
to give up their loved ones to the "dead wagons."
Fifty students from Penn's Dental School volunteer to
work in city hospitals to relieve exhausted medical staffs. The Board
of Health bans all public meetings on campus and shuts down the pool.
University officials receive word that Arthur T. Eissing, W'18,
class president, has died of pneumonia at Camp Dick, Texas, after contracting
influenza while in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, October 16: 2,280 new cases, 650 deaths.
The heavy death toll attracts human vultures. Some cemeteries
raise burial fees to $15 and tell families they will have to dig the graves
themselves. Several undertakers increase the price of their services by
Unscrupulous pharmacists inflate the price of cheap
whiskey -- usually the only treatment prescribed for influenza -- to $52
a gallon. Enterprising barkeeps defy the Board of Health ban on saloons
with back-door sales. One saloon owner argues with the Vice Squad that
he is only looking after the health of his regular customers.
The ferries are jammed with people anxious to get to
Camden, where the bars are still open. The daily mass exodus causes Dr.
Henry Davis, chief of the Camden Board of Health, to close the city's
saloons "in the interest of public health. Thousands of the lowest
people of Philadelphia came over the river and created great disorder.
They were the vilest men and women that have visited Camden."
At Penn, the Wharton Evening School of Finance
and Accounting finally opens after several postponements. Photo sessions
for new students in the College and the Towne Scientific School are canceled
due to illness of the photographers. K.B. Crawford, a senior medical student
who contracted the flu while working at the Emergency Red Cross Hospital,
dies of complications from the disease.
November/December Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 10/28/98