The Deadliest Flu in the World (4)

More Deaths in Philadelphia

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Deadliest Flu (4): If you recall, three hundred sailors reached the Navy docks in Philadelphia on September 7, 1918. 

Together with incoming ships, shipbuilding alone brought thirty-five thousand men to Philadelphia, and nearby in New York City, another eleven thousand five hundred men.

influenza-1918This was a time when big cities were industrial, and thousands could be employed in one area; one example, Baldwin Locomotive employed twenty thousand workers.

In 1918, Philadelphia remained the largest city with tenements; some of these tenements were slums and others in respectable neighborhoods.  The population in Philadelphia reached 1.75 million. Immigrants were also arriving and flowing into the city of brotherly love.

During the winter of 1917 – 1918, the cost of coal raised due to a coal strike, and more deaths occurred in Philadelphia than in any city due to its’ population and living arrangements.  Families and friends jammed into small apartments, and sickness due to the cold weather proved deadly.

A city would never handle an epidemic like what they were about to see come into their streets since Philadelphia was already known, and written about in major newspapers, as “the worst city government in the nation.”  Philadelphia politics; known as the machine.  In New York, it was Tammany’s power or hall.

The machine received kickbacks from city workers, and the people’s paychecks were handed out from the Republican Party Headquarters.  Even the Mayor of Philadelphia would kickback at least one thousand dollars from his pay.  Imagine this would be considered one of the largest takes in that day and age, although the State and Federal Government still received their fair share.

In 1917 – 1918, a family lived comfortably with a salary of three thousand dollars a year. Still, the Mayor also ran a street-cleaning business and held the contract for twenty years, which netted him five million dollars.  People who lived in South Philadelphia continued to complain about the filth scattered about the streets.

The lack of city services helped the machine, providing food to the poor, favors people, including employment if they voted the right way. Their pay would be handed to them like the others, at their headquarters, and the city would get a return on their investment.

In Philadelphia, the Director of Public Health included charities, and the Mayor appointed the head.  The doctor’s term expired when the Mayor lost his run for re-election.  During this time, the doctor honestly cared about the people of his city, Doctor Wilmer Krusen, who would become a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic.  He was a great doctor but not one who knew much about Public Health, nor did he bring up the need to place money into Public Health for future disasters.  Doctor Krusen was a gynecologist during his time spent in Philadelphia, and he outwardly refused to help the government with their national campaign against prostitution.  Philadelphia was a corrupt city, which included letting ships enter its’ ports with knowledge of a deadly disease raging through the ship.

On the ship with three hundred sailors, nineteen of them were ill with influenza symptoms.  The Chief Health Officer for the Navy knew about the outbreak and epidemic in Devens.  He also knew about larger camps sending reports of similar cases, and he knew about the sick from Commonwealth Pier, which spread to civilians.  The Chief of Health for the Navy quarantined the men’s barracks with orders to disinfect everything.  The Chief had no idea the virus escaped, and there was no controlling the epidemic.  One day before the ship left the Navy yard in Philadelphia (as discussed in part three) for Puget Sound, the sailors would arrive at the next port in ill health.

The Chief called in an expert scientist by the name of Paul Lewis.  Lewis first worked at the N.Y. Institute but moved on to the Henry Phipps Institute.  Lewis recalled the British sailors who died in July, and he cultured bacteria from those men to come up with a cure.  He would be the scientist to track down the virus in Philadelphia through his research for a serum or vaccine.

Remember, on day one; nineteen servicemen were sick with influenza; by the second day, eighty-seven, and on September 15th, six hundred people were hospitalized. The numbers increased by the hour.

Records were kept of every person who entered the hospital and showed nineteen medical personnel fell to the floor, being fine only minutes before; within hours, they would be showing the deadly symptoms.

As ships continued to leave large ports and arrived at their destinations, reports surfaced of the same symptoms from those on board. One of the country’s largest Naval Stations, thirty-two miles north of Chicago, with forty-five thousand men, was hit with influenza so quickly you would think a tornado blew it into port, dispersing the bug-like scattered pieces of life.  This would be like all the other cases, one day at port, and the virus opened like a letter waiting to be read, spreading from person to person as gossip.  It became another Camp Devon as they ran out of space for the sick, dying, and dead. The sick cluttered the halls, and the dead piled one on top of one, waiting for instructions on what to do with bodies infected with this unknown virus.  The chore of wrapping dead bodies in white sheets became the job for nurses, who also tied toe tags for identification when the time arrived for a full report. It became a morgue, and no one had an answer.

The flu swept through Boston, Camp Devens, and several military facilities in different parts of the country, Philadelphia, Puget Sound, New Orleans, and north of Chicago.  With warnings given to other Military Bases and Camps, you would have thought the Public Health Officer in Philadelphia order some security for the civilians.  Nothing happened for one week, so a meeting came about with the Scientist and officials from the city.

During the meeting, the facts came to be, one thousand dead in Boston, including civilians, and tens of thousands were ill.  Lewis turned around and told those who attended the meeting, “No civilians were ill.”  On the side, he told the machine it would take months to make enough vaccine for the population in Philadelphia, alone.  He spoke of the future since no vaccine was available to combat this virus. The actions suggested by the Scientist; to ban meetings, close movie houses, businesses, and schools.  He confirmed, “We must keep those men in quarantine.  No one voted or agreed with the doctor, so the meeting ended with a quick shake of hands, and no plans were ever instituted to carry out any plan.

The following day reports were to stay clear of Fort Dix in New Jersey and Camp Meade in Maryland. It would be the Philadelphia Tuberculosis Society who tacked posted around the city to remind people to cover their faces.  Reporters kept asking about the dead, and the Mayor reported no one died in Philadelphia.  The following day, fourteen sailors died and one civilian.  The next day twenty more lives were stricken and dead.

September 21st, when the Philadelphia Board of Health announced this influenza is now a reportable disease.  Information now had to be provided to the State concerning the number of cases, where they were located, and where the virus was heading.

Those who attended the previous meeting continued to tell citizens no one has died in Philadelphia.  The men from the meeting told the public to remain warm, keep their feet dry, and stay away from crowds.  That seemed nearly impossible in a city of 1.7 million.

One thing was on the machine’s minds to benefit the city, a huge parade to sell millions of dollars in war bonds.  Thousands were planning to march in the parade, and tens of thousands were planning to attend.  It was the time of war effort, meatless days, and wheat-less days. This became known as “Hoovers Food Administration.”  Hoover was on a bandwagon. He said, “The world lives by phrases, and the advertising companies are about to become bigger and better.”  Due to the war effort, advertisers began to ask citizens to have a gasless Sunday.

It would then be the Wilson Administration, encouraging boy scouts to sell bonds.  The scouts learned, “With every bond, you will have saved a soldier.”

With all this service, it was still a time of vigilantes who kidnapped veterans of the war, shoved them inside boxcars, and let them die from the heat in Arizona.  Veterans were dragged through streets tied to cars or trucks or hung from trees or posts to die. At this time, the country was filled with hate, turmoil from war, lynching, and this unknown virus.

Each city had quotas to meet regarding Liberty Loans, regardless of the vigilantes.    Philadelphia had organized the largest parade in the city’s historyFear of an epidemic never reached the public:  Local doctors advised against the parade.  The Philadelphia machine closed their ears. “The parade must go on.”  The countdown began, the parade would be in the morning, and both the Public Health Official, and Infectious Disease Specialists, explaining this virus would spread as if fuel covered the city and a match would light a fire and rob people of their lives.  Not one reporter mentioned any of the reports.

The machine had been notified about the Army Camps stopping the impending draft, and still, no one changed any of the plans for the largest parade in Philadelphia.  The day before, crowds would monopolize the city: Fourteen hundred men were in hospitals from the docks, and the Navy’s Chief Health Officer knew it.  His only step to keep the men safe was to tell them to stay away from places of entertainment.  On September 27th, two hundred people were admitted into hospitals around Philadelphia; two of three were citizens.

Some additional news arrived the day before the parade. The machine received news from Paul Lewis; he thought he found a pathogen for the virus. He promised to work on a serum as quickly as possible to make it available to Philadelphia’s citizens.  The paper wrote the news concerning Paul Lewis in bold, black headlines.  The people felt safe and began piling into the city.

On September 28th, a line of men, women, and children stretched for over two miles, from the start of the parade route to the end.  Boy scouts, women from civic organizations, men and women from every available marching band from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.  These young servicemen and women carried flags or played a musical instrument. Onlookers pushed and shoved to see the parade.  People continued to move shoulder to shoulder, breathing into each other’s faces as they made their way through thick crowds to gain a curbside view. The statistics were correct. Tens of thousands turned out to see the largest parade for the war effort, the largest parade in Philadelphia’s history.

Scientists knew the incubation period for the flu was 24 – 72 hours. The citizens of Philadelphia were in shock when a release came from Krusen, “The epidemic is now present in the civilian population and is assuming the type found at Naval Stations and Cantonments.”

Other parts in this series:
The Deadliest Flu in History (1)
The Deadliest Flu in History (2)
The Deadliest Flu in History (3)
The Deadliest Flu in History (4)
The Deadliest Flu in History (5)
The Deadliest Flu in History (6)
The Deadliest Flu in History (7)
The Deadliest Flu in History (8)

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