An Historical Perspective

Pandemic Diary Day 17

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Court being held in Portsmouth Square San Francisco 1918–1919 — Note the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Statue in the back. — -Photo from University of Michigan History Archives.

April 10, 2020

As we shelter in place a lot of news can be seen about our present circumstances, in fact, with todays technology the term “a lot” implies 24/7 ad nauseum. Some outlets are trying to find a new angle, and in San Francisco there are a few articles comparing the 1918–1919 Pandemic to Covid-19. I thought I would do a quick run down of the history of the 1918–1919 Pandemic in San Francisco for fun.

San Francisco was spared from the first wave of Influenza in the spring of 1918. In the fall however it arrived with a bang, possibly from a man that had recently been in Chicago.

In October the San Francisco Board of Health voted to “close all places of public amusement, ban all lodge meetings, close all public and private schools, and to prohibit all dances and other social gatherings effective at 1:00 am on Friday, October 18”. Churches weren’t closed, but were told that either services were to be discontinued or held out of doors. The war effort’s, Liberty Loan Drive was allowed to continue.

Interestingly, it was the mask that was to be at the forefront of the crusade, in fact it became a sign of patriotism such that the Red Cross issued a rather terse statement saying “the man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker,” Mayor Sunny Jim Rolph told the public that “conscience, patriotism and self-protection demand immediate and rigid compliance” and eventually made wearing a mask in public mandatory.

Nurses were recruited to make linen masks but as the masks became harder to come by the San Francisco Chronicle described some city residents as “wearing masks ranging from standard surgical gauze to creations resembling nosebags, from the Turkish-inspired muslin yashmak veil to flimsy chiffon coverings draped lazily across the mouth and nose. Some wore “fearsome looking machines like extended muzzles” on their faces as they walked the streets and shopped in downtown stores”.

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Church service during the 1918–1919 Pandemic, at Saint Mary’s (now Old Saint Mary’s) in San Francisco. Photo from OpenSF History. The horrible part seeing this photo is that as Easter approaches, people are not heeding the Shelter in Place order in states like Kansas.

In November the city lifted the ban on public gathering and unfortunately there was a second wave of the influenza that was more deadly than the first. There were actually two more waves of influenza, less were infected during those waves, but may the lesson be learned.

San Francisco saw around 45,000 cases of influenza with over 3500 deaths in the fall of 1918 and the winter of 1919.

All quotations are from articles of the time in the San Francisco Chronicle. I would be happy to cite them, but that is extremely hard on this platform, for that I apologize.

People often refer to the term Spanish Flu when talking about the 1918–1919 Pandemic, and this is not really correct.

From Spain was one of only a few major European countries to remain neutral during World War I. Unlike in the Allied and Central Powers nations, where wartime censors suppressed news of the flu to avoid affecting morale, the Spanish media was free to report on it in gory detail. News of the sickness first made headlines in Madrid in late-May 1918, and coverage only increased after the Spanish King Alfonso XIII came down with a nasty case a week later. Since nations undergoing a media blackout could only read in depth accounts from Spanish news sources, they naturally assumed that the country was the pandemic’s ground zero. The Spanish, meanwhile, believed the virus had spread to them from France, so they took to calling it the “French Flu.”

Also, did you know that President Woodrow Wilson contracted influenza while negotiating the Versailles Treaty?

Trivial Things

My Horoscope for today: There’s no need to rake over the coals of past recriminations and disappointments. Wish each other well and move on. You’ll both be happier elsewhere.

The NYT Crossword Puzzle: I got stuck in the lower left hand corner.

This was atop today’s puzzle: When last month’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was postponed on account of the coronavirus pandemic, two crossword enthusiasts, Kevin Der and Finn Vigeland, quickly set up an online event to take its place. This is the final puzzle. The tournament’s other puzzles remain available online (look for “Crossword Tournament From Your Couch”) at no cost.

San Francisco weather: 57 degrees and cloudy

NYSE DOW opened at: Closed for Good Friday

Italian word of the day: combinato (combined)

Spanish word of the day: reciclar (to recycle)

OED word of the day: armisonous

Days under Shelter In Place: 28

Reading: Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt

Reading Canto XIV, XV of Dante’s Inferno

A Special Something: Oakland will close 74 miles of streets throughout the city to create more space for increasing pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

My Black and White Picture of the Day

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Funny sayings going around the internet: · Better 6 feet apart than 6 feet under

If you liked this please clap and let me know. Thank you

My travel blog and my blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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