March 1918, Camp Funston, Kansas Suzanne W. Vincent
That date and that place might ring a bell for some of you.
It was there, at that time, that the worst pandemic in world history began.
History has recorded it as the Spanish Flu Pandemic, probably because of a particularly virulent outbreak in Madrid. How did it get to Madrid from Kansas? Another notable world historical event was occurring at the same time: World War I. The young men being trained at Camp Funston were being shipped to Europe, to filthy trenches knee-deep in mud, where they joined soldiers from France, Italy, Russia, and Romania, and might have spent leave in the sunny climes of militarily neutral Spain.
In the months that followed, the flu would spread throughout the militaries of the European theater and from there throughout the world.
October 1918 was particularly troublesome for the United States. During that time, theaters, schools, restaurants, and churches shut down. Sound familiar?
Some cities fined residents who refused to wear gauze masks. Others ordered staggered business hours to minimize contact with as many people as possible. With no central government agency to provide broad guidelines for states and cities to follow, handling of the epidemic was spotty and haphazard. In Philadelphia, for example, then public health director, Wilmer Krusen, refused to cancel a war bonds parade. Krusen’s decision would have tragic consequences. 200,000 people attended that parade. Within days, the city’s hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, and “Philadelphia,” according to author, Kenneth C. Davis (Book: More Deadly than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War), “was almost on the verge of a total collapse as a functioning city.”
102 years later, we can be comforted by the fact that we are far and away more advanced in medical, technological, and communications science than we were in 1918, when microscopes capable of seeing viruses had yet to be invented, when an understanding of antibiotics was in its infancy, when working from home was an impossibility for the majority of urban workers, when word of the epidemic often arrived with the first sick person in town.
But, inevitably, the 1918 Flu Pandemic altered history, fundamentally changing life for people worldwide.
And the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic is likely to alter history for us. For good or bad? We won’t know until we have time to live with the decisions we make as individuals and communities and cities and nations. As a Family History nut, I encourage you to write down your own experiences and feelings from these days.
As a fiction editor, I can take you on a ride into speculating on what our future might be.
Our stories this month look to the future, to a world both like and unlike the one we live in today. From backyard time machines vs. the HOA to automated hitchhiking to post-apocalyptic religious fervor to galactic exploration, spend a few minutes with us in the far-flung future.
Hang in there! We’re all in this together.
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