The Spanish flu is once again topical. Its U.S. death toll of 675,000 was surpassed by COVID-19 on September 20.
And the coronavirus is pushing up the score, killing 705,000 people on Tuesday afternoon, October 5, according to Johns Hopkins University. Which means that in the past two weeks alone, this ongoing tragedy has wiped out 30,000 Americans – more people than Loma Linda lives.
Hardly anyone at this point has a first-hand memory of the Spanish flu. But I know of three living connections in the Inland Empire.
Harry Goldsworthy, who turned 107 in April, resides at the Westmont Village Home for Army Retirees in Riverside. The lieutenant general, born in Spokane, Washington in 1914, gave an interview to the Village’s public relations manager, Julie M. Walke, last year.
“In 1918, I almost lost my father,” Goldsworthy reminded Walke. Her father was quarantined at home with a nurse to help him.
“I was 4 at the time, but I have a vivid memory of the house, the living room, and the stairs up to his bedroom,” Goldsworthy said. “I remember the family got together because he was a very sick man. But he was one of the lucky ones and survived.
When I attended Emmy Lou Berryman’s 100th birthday party in Ontario in July, she told me about the previous pandemic. Born in 1921, luckily she missed it, but her family was not spared.
“My parents went through this Spanish flu,” Berryman said. “My mother said, ‘We couldn’t move. It was terrible.
Two older siblings aged 3 and 6 survived it. A newborn sister did not.
“The baby they had at that time, they lost it,” Berryman said.
Her son, Steven, later explained via email. The three children – Robert, Catherine and Lucy – “all contracted the Spanish flu and were terribly ill. Lucy did not survive.
He explained the circumstances: “They were not far from Fort Riley, Kansas, where World War I troops were returning home in droves, and Kansas is believed to be a major source of the spread.
Her mother had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Did she think the blows were important? “Absolutely, I do. I’m not afraid, she said. “A friend cannot come because she is part of this group of people who do not believe in it. We are talking on the phone.
Helen Lair from Rancho Cucamonga is 87 years old too young to have experienced the Spanish flu firsthand. (She may like to read that she’s too young for anything.) But she has some stories that she shared when I visited on Monday.
His grandparents, Thomas and Alice Austin, and their children left Kansas at the turn of the 20th century in a boxcar and headed west. They were living in Prescott, Arizona, and picking cotton when the flu hit. The family mobilized to help their neighbors.
Nora Austin was 19 at the time. She dictated a reminiscence at the age of 92 as a letter to her sister, Edith. Nora, who was Lair’s mother, died two years later in 1994. Lair showed me a copy of the letter.
“Dad was a nurse, (sister) Maude was a cook and I was a vagabond, I guess. Every morning we would go from tent to tent and if we found someone whose fingers turned black we knew they would be dead the next morning, ”wrote Nora Austin.
“(Sister) Laura’s boyfriend has passed away. My best friend died in just a week, ”she continued. “As far as I know, aspirin was the only thing we had to give them. It was terrible. (Aunt) Ethel’s husband and one of her three children are deceased.
Lair said of the aunt: “She lost her husband and a baby in four days.”
Lair’s daughter, Lavella Fitzgerald, also told a story about Nora’s service: “One of the most difficult times for my then 18-year-old grandmother was walking quite a distance to the morgue in carrying a baby who had died.
Fitzgerald, who is 67, described Nora to me as a hard worker. Life on the farm has conditioned the whole family to participate.
“When someone was in need, they just ran out and did what they had to do,” Fitzgerald said.
Surprisingly, no one in the Austin family has contracted the virus despite their work with patients.
A bit of history: despite its name, the flu is unlikely to originate in Spain. (In Spain, where they were sure it came from France, people called it “the French flu”.)
It has infected a third of the world’s population and killed around 50 million people. COVID has killed 4.8 million people. There were no vaccines or antibiotics. Quarantine, hygiene, disinfectants, masks and limits on public gatherings were part of random efforts to control it.
The Spanish flu has hit healthy young adults under the age of 40 particularly hard. The flu has crossed such a swath across the United States – killing 1 in 150 Americans, compared to 1 in 500 for COVID-19 – that life expectancy has dropped by 12 years.
Helen Lair and her husband, Monroe, who live in the Red Hill neighborhood, are both vaccinated against COVID-19, as is Lavella Fitzgerald.
“I see a lot of parallels,” said Fitzgerald, who has researched the Spanish flu. “The fights for masks, whether to wear them or not. A first wave which was not too bad, then the second wave came. It’s a little more politicized now.
“We had neither television nor radio,” added his mother. In other words, fewer sources of information or misinformation.
Fitzgerald’s son-in-law is a doctor in Fontana. He told her patients were being treated during the coronavirus outbreak in tents in the parking lot because hospital beds were full. It reminded him of how his grandmother and great-grandfather looked after the sick in tents.
“In both,” she said of the two pandemics a century apart, “people were just doing their best.”
Speaking of doing our best, I need to get my flu shot.
Ludd Trozpek of Claremont was checking his vaccination record on the state website when he was amused by this ambiguously worded sentence: “Learn more about how to protect yourself and others from the Centers for Disease Control.” “. Said a worried Trozpek: “Do they know something that I don’t know? “
David Allen, who knows very little, writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Email [email protected], call 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @ davidallen909 on Twitter.