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The Flu of 1918, by Eileen Lynch

Urban Archives, Temple UniversityIt was the end of the summer in 1918 in Philadelphia, a city of a million and a half people.
   World War I, "the war to end all wars," was drawing to a close as the British crossed the Hindenburg Line. At the University of Pennsylvania, drilling, uniforms, and war courses were the order of the day for 2,240 students of draft age who had been inducted into the Students' Army Training Corps (SATC), a federal program designed to prepare young men as officers. Penn's dormitories and fraternity houses served as barracks. By order of Major Charles T. Griffith, the officer in charge of the program, the University's daily newspaper, The Pennsylvanian, had been placed under military authority and served as the official bulletin of the SATC.

  In Philadelphia, it was business as usual. People were flocking to the long-running British musical Chu Chin Chow at the Shubert Theater, Jerome Kern's Leave It to Jane at the Chestnut Street Opera House, and John Philip Sousa's Liberty Loan concert at Willow Grove Park. Everyone was sure it was just a matter of time until "the boys came home." No one was paying much attention to the account of an unusual sickness reported earlier in the year by a Spanish wire service to Reuter's London headquarters: "A strange form of disease of epidemic character has appeared in Madrid."
   Within a short time, eight million Spaniards were ill with what was to be named the "Spanish influenza." Fueled by troop movements, it spread like wildfire across Europe, the Mideast, and Asia. By the summer of 1918, the "Spanish Lady" had reached American soil. In 120 days, more than half of the world's population would fall victim to the influenza pandemic, and nearly 22 million would die of complications.
   The disease began with a cough, then increasing pain behind the eyes and ears. Body temperature, heart rate, and respiration escalated rapidly. In the worst cases, pneumonia quickly followed. The two diseases inflamed and irritated the lungs until they filled with liquid, suffocating the patients and causing their bodies to turn a cyanotic blue-black.
   In Pennsylvania, the influenza epidemic began almost unnoticed in the middle of September. First a few cases, and then the numbers began to rise rapidly. Worried state health authorities decided to add influenza to the list of reportable diseases. Their concern increased when 75,000 cases were reported statewide. The worst was still ahead.
   Philadelphia was about to become the American city with the highest death toll in one of the three worst epidemics in recorded history.
   Philadelphia newspapers and The Pennsylvanian chronicled the passage of the "Spanish Lady" day-by-day through city and campus.

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