Philadelphia, Nineteen Eighteen, Influenza discussed on Distillations: Science + Culture + History
Off the amount of people that showed up here attest to how many people in touch by by the set them my grandparents from furry six. Oh I think a lot of people have have memories reading up blog posts where the museum director Robert Hicks Road That he anticipated that visitors Coming to the Motor Museum. During the lifetime of the exhibition would immediately make a connection to recent news reports of sort of killer disease outbreaks somewhere in the world. But could any of you have imagined how close to home this would all become and sort of how quickly well certainly not? I mean we knew as Robert said that since disease outbreaks are frequent all over the world that something would happen over the course of the run of this exhibition that people could make connections to in the news and for instance when we were planning the project. Zico virus was in the news. That seems a million years ago. Now Gosh you're right it is. It's so true but fortunately severe pandemics are much more rare and those kinds of outbreaks for influenza. There's only been three pandemics since nineteen eighteen in nineteen fifty seven in nineteen sixty eight to sixty nine and in two thousand nine the swine flu pandemic which many people remember so. It's the sort of thing where something is going to come down the pike. You just don't necessarily know what or when it's going to be so we knew would be relevant. We absolutely did not anticipate that it will become this extremely relevant so extremely quickly just a few months after the exhibit opened so we had our our parade with four hundred marchers at the end of September. We can't that's unimaginable now. So had something like that right no absolutely I mean. I think it's really interesting to sort of think about the parallels between what's happening in the world right now and and what was happening back then in nineteen eighteen are there parallels that you see in terms of what we're living through now It seems like Philadelphia's response is very different today than it was in nineteen eighteen. Now certainly that is true and I think that experience of nineteen eighteen has it. It's it's most likely informing. The are the very cautious response today but to go back to the past. The is that pandemic killed more people more quickly than any other disease than since there have been a plagues pandemics. That have killed certainly killed more people but not as quickly and the spread of the pandemic virus was exacerbated by this movement of people during World War One thousands millions of people moving over oceans and borders and continents and it also happened at the very end of the war and at the time there were no vaccines. No antibiotics to use against pneumonia. Which was the most common secondary infection? That was the real killer. Influence would weaken your immune system system and then the MONJA would come in and really carry you off. And even though we know a lot more medically and scientifically than we did. Then we know how virus's work they. They didn't know that influenza virus at the time they had identified a bacterium as the disease causing agent and they developed some vaccines against that but that was mistaken. So today we know how viruses work we can analyze their genomes. We can use that to develop vaccines against them. And so we have much more advance. Medical and scientific knowledge and treatments are much more advanced but with corona virus with this novel virus. That's very virulent. We can really be sort of. It's like a time travel machine. It just takes us right back into nineteen eighteen conditions because it takes time to develop and test a virus in the meantime these hospitals and doctors and nurses get overwhelmed. Supplies and equipment runs short. The coffins start to stack up because they people are dying. Were quickly than they can be. Buried temporary hospitals get set up in auditoriums and parking. Lots the stories and photos that I'm seeing from places like Bergamo Italy and now from New York just very close to us here in Philadelphia there are lots and lots of echoes of Nineteen Eighteen. So even with all this medical and scientific knowledge that we have when systems reached their breaking point. Were really living those past conditions all over again in some ways. I would say that if there was one lesson to draw from one hundred years ago I would say that it's the importance of transparency and it wasn't possible at the time to be transparent about the situation. There were federal laws that mandated press censorship in punished free speech all to keep up wartime row but people in power really need to be honest about the situation. They need to say what is happening. What's being done? An issue very clear guidance about what individuals should and shouldn't do and we've seen what goes wrong and how many people suffer when that transparency is lacking both one hundred years ago and today as we're thinking about nineteen eighteen today. Are we ever really going to be the same you know? Are we forever changed? Are we always going to obsess over these germs? And you know be scared of embracing our friends and you know all all of that. Sort of stuff And so I I think you know I wonder. After nineteen eighteen were Philadelphians. Really forever changed well the pendulum. It came and went very quickly. And it's looking like our experiences going to be a bit more long drawn out even even if the actual peak of the disease in a any particular location is going to be really quickly but in nineteen the worst weeks in Philadelphia where from late September to early November in the peak was in October in nineteen eighteen so but very soon after the death rate dropped the end of World War One was declared so there is enormous relief and rejoicing on November eleventh on Armistice Day and afterwards that terrible toll of pandemic was kind of swept under the rug to some extent and many people just wanted to forget about both of those trauma the pandemic in the war so they really didn't talk about their experiences in their feelings and additional thing is since there wasn't a public memorial memorial for the victims of the pandemic and there are only very few memorials anywhere in the world. There really wasn't any sort of communal way for people to grieve those losses so because diseases have not been viewed as historic as the same kind of historic event as as a war or some other kind of political conflict. They just a treated as kind of the ebb and flow of life. And so it's it's something that just gets remember privately and not in a communal fashion. Even though a these desk came out of an event that affected the entire world there. Just wasn't that kind of recognition that this was something that was worthy of commemoration in that way unlike the combat losses of of the soldiers and sailors. Those do have memorials and people really mostly mourned really quietly very privately. And I think that's part of the reason why this pandemic recalled the forgotten pandemic in quotes that's because historians didn't really pay much attention to it until later in the century most histories of that time were focused on political events military events but we found in our research that people definitely remembered the pandemic. Not just those loved ones they lost but also those emotions and stations and sights and sounds even the smells of living through those terrible weeks in those terrible months. For instance there are oral histories recorded a from Philadelphians in the early Nineteen Eighty S. Where people talk about Steven coffins stacked up and smelling the dead bodies and being just afraid and when people started to hear about this project our project they began to send a stories of the pandemic that were passed down in their families and we have dozens of these stories so far and more coming in every day and we were able to put some of the stories into the exhibition and we're compiling more of them to make a digital scrapbook to go online later. This year wow. That is amazing. That was actually going to be. My next question is going to be like his. Anyone actually sent you anything so absolutely so actually. I could tell you a really incredible story that we got at the beginning of the year. Yeah please so. This is a story. A woman sent in that her mother used to tell so. When the mother was a baby her family lived in. Camden New Jersey across the river from Philadelphia. There was a twin sister who died in the pandemic but there wasn't any undertaker available to bury the body so the mother was absolutely desperate so she put the dead baby and the living baby into the carriage and took them on the ferry across the river to Philadelphia and this was before the Benjamin Franklin Bridge was built because she knew an undertaker in her old neighborhood in Frankfurt neighborhood in Philadelphia so this is one of the harrowing parts is that people on the ferry were complimenting her on her beautiful children and all the while she was just terrified that she get caught for transporting a dead body across state lines. Oh my gosh. Isn't that amazing. So when she got off the ferry she walked several miles north to Frankford pushing the baby carriage to reach the undertaker where she left the body and the woman. Who wrote this letter telling us? This said that the story was told regularly at family gatherings. And you start to wonder. What was it like to grow up with a kind of origin story? Like that sort of haunted by your dead twin and by the trauma of your mother. Yeah so we have lots of stories like that. Do not as dramatic as that way they raise. Show how how deeply the pandemic affected people so really. People were changed because of their intense experiences and they did carry their memories with them even if they didn't really talk about them at the time so if people have family stories like to send them to influence a nine hundred eighteen at college of Physicians Dot Org or visit the Motor Museum website for the address particularly from the Philadelphia area. Were also interested in finding out. If you have an artifact pass down in your family from someone who died in the pandemic or photographs or documents. We'd really be interested in hearing about those. Thank you so so much. Jane relay this was. This was fantastic. Thank you you too. Bye-bye thanks to blast theory for letting US use x search from spits spreads death the parade a film by blast theory with music by David Lang performed by the crossing for distillation. I'm Alexis Patrick. Banks for listening..