Donald Trump’s Grandfather Died in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Frederick_Friedrich_Trump_2

His name was Frederick Trump. He died in the first wave of deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Mary Pilon’s report at The New York Times includes interviews with historians and authors Nancy Bristow, Gwenda Blair, and James Harris.

Here is a taste:

The winter following Frederick Trump’s death, deaths from the flu pandemic exploded. Public health resources were already strained by World War I, so not much was done to combat it. “Little was done those first two thirds of the pandemic,” said James Harris, a lecturer at Ohio State University who studies medical history and pandemics. “There was the wartime context, pushback to social distancing, people moving around the globe on a massive scale.”

Since then, the world has benefited from better understanding the need for social distancing and quarantining, the rise of antibiotics and vaccinations, and improved hygiene. “An important lesson we can learn is to be proactive,” Professor Harris said.

In her numerous interviews with Donald Trump, Ms. Blair said, he “showed zero interest in history.” That included the story of his grandfather’s life and death, and the impact it had on his father and relatives at the time. “There was no rear view mirror,” she said.

Among his many comments on the ongoing coronavirus crisis, in Atlanta on March 6, Donald Trump, more than a century after his grandfather’s passing, commented on the current state of flu deaths, an estimated 36,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Does anybody die from the flu?” the president said. “I didn’t know people died from the flu.”

Read the entire piece here.

How the Chicago Archdiocese Dealt With the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Chicago Archdiocese

St. George’s Catholic Church, 39th St. and Wentworth, Chicago, IL

Here is an October 17, 1918 letter from E.F. Hoban, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago (on behalf of  Cardinal, Archbishop George William Mundelein), to the pastors of all the Catholic churches in the archdiocese.

  1. All evening services are suspended. The faithful may visit the Church during the day for private devotion, but there are to be no public devotions in the afternoons or evenings.
  2. Wherever missions are being held, they must close with the end of the week, to be resumed, if so desired, after the wave of sickness has passed.
  3. Masses will take place on Sundays at the usual hours, but no service is to last over 45 minutes. All long sermons are prohibited for the meanwhile, and the clergy will prepare the scheduled Sunday instructions so that it is delivered within five minutes.
  4. Between the Masses, the church is to be thoroughly ventilated for ten to fifteen minutes, while the people are out of the building, care being taken not to expose the parishioners unnecessarily to cold currents of air.
  5. Additional ushers will be stationed in the aisles, not only to facilitate both the seating and the exit of the changing congregations, but also to request the departure of any person showing indications of  having contracted the disease, by violent sneezing, coughing, etc.
  6. Church to be cleaned frequently, disinfectant used where necessary, and well-aired at all times.
  7. During this period, all confirmation and other episcopal ceremonies are suspended, but such churches will receive preference when the epidemic has passed. As the Archbishop has promised the public authorities that every precaution will be taken by the churches under his care during the time of this epidemic, he looks to each of his priests to see that in his own parish this promise is carried out to the letter.

Finally, commend to the prayers of your people, particularly the children, the speedy recovery of all those on whom sickness has laid its hand and the early termination of this epic.

By Order of the Most Rev. Archbishop,

E.F. Hoban,

Chancellor

Source

Comparing the Coronavirus and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The Pandemic CenturyMark Honigsbaum is a medical historian and lecturer in journalism at the City University, London. His is the author of The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris. Check out his piece at The New York Review of Books in which he compares the coronavirus to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Here is a taste:

To be sure, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is a very different pathogen to influenza. Although both spread via respiratory droplets in coughs and sneezes, coronaviruses do not transmit very efficiently as aerosols, as flu does. Indeed, SARS-CoV-2 is not thought to present a risk at distances further than six feet. Instead, the virus’s principal mode of spread appears to be through prolonged social contact, such as occurs in family groupings.

Another difference is that, unlike the Spanish flu, which had a notably high rate of mortality for adults between the ages of twenty and forty, SARS-CoV-2 is principally a risk to the elderly, those sixty and over, and people with underlying medical conditions. There is also no firm evidence, as yet, that children are a significant vector of infection, a crucial contrast with influenza and, indeed, the Spanish flu, which was seen to sicken children before adults.

On the debit side, there is mounting evidence that people who are symptom-free but infected may be capable of transmitting the virus. Worse, the average reproduction rate of SARS-CoV-2—that is, the number of people who will be infected by one infected person—is running at 2.2, which is markedly higher than the rate for Spanish flu, which was 1.8.

Another consideration is that in 1918 almost everyone had been exposed to some type of influenza before, meaning most people could count on a degree of immunity. The result was that the Spanish flu infected only a third of the world’s population. By contrast, no one has any immunity to the new coronavirus—hence the estimates that as much as 80 percent of the world’s population could have been infected by the time the pandemic will have run its course.

The greatest reason for concern, though, is that so far, SARS-CoV-2 appears to kill about 2 percent of confirmed cases. That is a very similar mortality rate to the Spanish flu.

But even that should not be a cause for panic or despair. One of the chief lessons of the 1918 pandemic is that cities such as St. Louis that acted early and decisively to contain the virus by banning large public gatherings, closing schools, and isolating ill or suspected case, fared notably better than cities such as Philadelphia that failed to take timely measures or did not sustain them. The problem, of course, is that such actions are hugely disruptive to the economy, a fact reflected in the reluctance of authorities to employ such measures except as a last resort.

That was before last week. Now that President Trump has reversed his previous position, rejoined evidence-based reality, and declared a national emergency, officials are having to contemplate even more decisive measures, such as calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to erect temporary medical shelters to cope with the expected influx of patients. This is not something we saw, outside of the US Army’s own camps, even in 1918.

Read the entire piece here.

How Billy Sunday Handled the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

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One of the first things I ever published was a journal article on evangelist Billy Sunday’s 1918 crusade in Chicago. The title played-off a line from a popular Frank Sinatra song about Chicago: “The Town That Billy Sunday Could Not Shut down: Prohibition and Sunday’s Chicago Crusade of 1918.” Here’s Frank:

But I digress.

Chicago was the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down.  But Providence was the town that shut Billy Sunday down, at least for three weeks.

During his Chicago crusade, which ran from March 10 to May 20, 1918, Sunday fought the city’s prohibition forces. He preached his now-famous sermon “Get on the Water Wagon.” He always began this sermon by describing a conversation he had with his wife: “Nell, when I am dead, send for the butcher and skin me and have my hide tanned and made into drum heads, and hire men to go up and down the land and beat the drums and say, ‘My husband, Bill Sunday still lives and gives the whiskey gang a run for its money.'” Sunday described the “booze interests” as a “rattlesnake that wriggled its miserable carcass out of hell, where there was a jubilee when the lager beer was invented.” When it came to the “liquor trade,” Sunday said, “I’ll fight them until freezes over than I’ll buy a pair of skates and fight ’em on ice.” For all Sunday’s sensational rhetoric, the “wet forces” in Chicago won the day, at least for the moment. Despite Sunday’s efforts, Chicago did not manage to get Prohibition on the ballot during the April 2018 election.  In the long run, however, the “dry” forces in Illinois contributed a national Prohibition amendment (the 19th), which was ratified in January of 1919.

Later in the year, Sunday conducted a revival in Providence, Rhode Island. As was his custom, Sunday (his advance men) built a temporary tabernacle in the city.  He held seventy meetings in that tabernacle between September 21 and November 17, 2018.  The Congregationalist and Advance, a religious journal of the era, noted that Sunday preached to a “quarter of a million listeners” during the course of the crusade. But he could have reached even more. Sunday only had seventy meetings in this three month period (he usually preached every night) because during the crusade the influenza epidemic hit Providence. Sunday did not preach for three weeks.

The influenza hit Providence hard. In October, 6000 people in the city got sick. 814 died of pneumonia in 1918. On October 5, the Board of Alderman closed schools, theaters, dance halls, and most religious services.  Prior to this, Providence newspapers ran stories about the death of Providence citizens alongside reports of Sunday’s crusade. The Congregationalist and Advance claimed that 10,000 people “grasped Mr. Sunday’s hand” during the crusade. Newspapers described people collapsing with the flu as Sunday preached.  As we look back today, during this time of “social distancing” during the coronavirus, one can’t help but wonder how much the Sunday crusade contributed to the spread of the epidemic.

Sunday’s foe in Providence was much stronger than the “wet forces” of Chicago, but that doesn’t mean that the evangelist did not go down without a fight. Before the Providence Board of Aldermen closed the crusade, Sunday, in his trademark style, informed his audience about the true cause of the epidemic rocking Providence and the nation:

We can meet here tonight and pray down an epidemic just as well as we can pray down a German victory. The whole thing is a part of their propaganda; it started over there in Spain, where they scattered germs around, and that’s why you ought to dig down all the deeper and buy more Liberty bonds. If they can do this to us 3000 miles away, think of what the bunch would do if they were walking our streets. There’s nothing short of hell that they haven’t stopped to do since the war began–darn their hides

The epidemic, of course, broke-out during World War I and Sunday was a master at blaming every American problem on the Germans, including German Higher Criticism of the Bible and the influenza. As historian George Marsden writes, “Although Sunday had little interest in the war until the United States joined it, he soon concluded that zeal for the Gospel and patriotic enthusiasm should go hand in hand. It apparently did not strain his principles…to conclude in 1917 that ‘Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms and hell and traitors are synonymous.”  Marsden continues:

As the war effort accelerated he used the rhetoric of Christian nativism to fan the fires of anti-German furor and was famous for sermons that ended with his jumping on the pulpit waving the flag. “If you turn hell upside down,” he said, “you will find ‘Made in Germany’ stamped on the bottom.” Praying before the House of Representatives in 1918 he advised God that the Germans were a ‘great pack of wolfish Huns whose fangs drip with blood and gore.”

Today, one cannot help but think about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s recent suggestion that the coronavirus was a North Korean and Chinese attempt undermine Donald Trump and the various conspiracy theories we have heard on Fox News and elsewhere.

But when the Providence Board of Aldermen closed the city’s public venues in early October, Sunday submitted to its authority:

It is up to us to hope and pray. We are always willing to help anything that is for the public good and do it cheerfully. There is nothing drastic in the [Alderman’s] order, and it is issued in an attempt to stamp out this epidemic.

Eventually, the influenza faded, Providence re-opened schools and public places, and the Sunday crusade continued. The Christian Advocate, another religious paper, quipped: “We are not sure but that influenza is preaching to more people than Billy Sunday ever did….”

An African-American Pastor Guides His Congregation Through the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

Grinke

Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937) pastored the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., an African-American congregation, for nearly fifty years.  He was an active member of W.E.B. Du Bois’s Niagara Movement and was involved in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Church historian Louis Weeks has published a short introduction to Grimké at the website of the Presbyterian Historical Society.  Here is a taste:

Throughout his ministry, Francis Grimké stood for equal rights and the end of racism against black Americans. He eloquently demonstrated this during his sermons and lectures, such as his address at the Union Thanksgiving Service at Plymouth Congregational Church, Washington, D.C., in 1919: “On an occasion such as this, it is well for us to ask ourselves the question, What reason or reasons have we, as an oppressed, aggrieved, circumscribed class in this country, in the midst of this great white population, to be thankful during this past year?” He answered the question with the Bible, specifically the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule of Jesus. He went on to appeal to Reformed teachings about respect and citizenship, condemned lynchings and pervasive racism, and lauded black leadership “no longer to submit quietly to the acts of violence that a certain class of whites have felt free to inflict upon (us).”

In my efforts to think historically and Christianly about our current coronavirus pandemic, I stumbled across Grimké’s November 3, 1918 address, “Some Reflections, Growing Out of the Recent Epidemic of Influenza That Afflicted Our City.” Here is how he begins the address:

We know now, perhaps, as we have never known before the meaning of the terms pestilence, plague, epidemic, since we have been passing through this terrible scourge of Spanish influenza, with its enormous death rate and its consequent wretchedness and misery.  Every part of the land has felt its deadly touch–North, South, East and West–in the Army, in the Navy, among civilians, among all classes and conditions, rich and poor, high and low, white and black. Over the land it has thrown a gloom, and has stricken down such large numbers that it has been difficult to care for them properly, overcrowding all of our hospitals–and it has proven fatal in so many cases that it has been difficult at times to dig graves fast enough in which to bury them. Our own beautiful city has suffered terribly from it, making it necessary, as a precautionary measure, to close the schools, theaters, churches, and to forbid all public gathering within the doors as well as outdoors. At last, however, the scourge has been stayed, and we are permitted again to resume the public worship of God, and to open again the schools of our city.

Now that the worst is over, I have been thinking, as doubtless you have all been, of these calamitous weeks through which we have been passing–thinking of the large numbers that have been sick–the large numbers that have died, the many, many homes that have been made desolate–the many, many bleeding, sorrowing hearts that have been left behind, and I have been asking myself the question, What is the meaning of it all? What ought it to mean to us? Is it to come and go and we be no wiser, or better for it? Surely God has a purpose in it, and it is our duty to find out, as far as we may, what that purpose is, and try to profit for it.

Grimké offered his congregation several lessons about the meaning of the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed over 675,000 Americans and over 2800 in Washington D.C.:

1. Humility. Humans are at the mercy of viruses and diseases. It reminds us that there are some things that we cannot control. Grimké writes, “How easy it would be for God to wipe out the whole human race, in this way, if he wanted to; for these terrible epidemics, plagues, the mighty forces of nature, all are at His command, are all His agents. At any moment, if He willed it, in this way, vast populations or portions of populations could be destroyed.” This was Grimké’s Calvinism at work. He believed in a providential God who sometimes brought suffering to his people. He referenced the Book of Job and Psalm 91 on this front.  God’s ways are mysterious.

2. Follow the advice and instructions of experts. In their attempts to curb the influenza and “safeguard” the general public, Washington D.C.’s public health commissioners closed theaters, schools, churches, and large public gatherings. Not everyone was happy about this. Grimké writes, “There has been considerable grumbling, I know, on the part of some, particularly in regard to the closing of the churches. It seems to me, however, in a matter like this it is always wise to submit to such restrictions for the time being.” The local government’s exercise of power in this moment was indeed “extraordinary” and would “not be tolerated under ordinary circumstances,” but the circumstances in Washington D.C. and the nation during the epidemic were far from “ordinary.” Grimké warned his congregation not to “needlessly run into danger, and expect God to protect us.” He added that, “All the churches, as well as the community at large, are going to be stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.” Listen to the experts. Self-quarantine an practice social distancing.

3. Influenza does not discriminate based on race. Grimké has a message to his white neighbors: “during this epidemic scourge, if he gave any thought to the matter, if a particle of sense remained in him, he must have seen the folly of counting upon a white skin. Did the whiteness of his skin protect him? Did the epidemic pause to see whether his skin was white or black before smiting him?” Grimké believed that God was bringing this epidemic, at least in part, “to beat a little sense into the white man’s head” and “show him the folly of the empty conceit of his vaunted race superiority.” For once, he added, “a white skin counted for nothing in the way of securing better treatment–in the way of obtaining for its possessor considerations denied to those of darker hue.” Grimké was not very optimistic that his white neighbors would learn this lesson from the epidemic.

4. When churches close, the life of the faithful and the larger community is weaker.  Grimké called attention to “the sincere regrets that I have heard expressed all over the city by numbers of people at the closing of the churches.” He used these sentiments to encourage people to start attending church on a more regular basis now that the doors of congregations were open once again.

5. The possibility of death is always before us and we should live accordingly.  The 1918 epidemic, in Grimké’s words, “kept the thought of death and of eternity constantly before the people.” Grimké used this reality to preach the Gospel: “You who are not Christians, who have not yet repented of your sins, who have not yet surrendered yourselves to the guidance of Jesus Christ, if you allow these repeated warnings that you have had, day by day, week by week, to go uneeded…God has opened the way for your salvation, through the gift of His only begotten Son, who died that you might have the opportunity of making your peace with God….”

6. We should not fear because God is with us in the midst of life’s storms.  Here is Grimké: “While the plague was raging, while thousands were dying, what a comfort it was to feel that we were in the hands of a loving Father who was looking out for us, who had given us the great assurance that all things should work together for our good. And, therefore, that come what would–whether we were smitten or perished, we knew it would be well with us, that there was no reason to be alarmed.”

What Does History Teach Us About Our Current Coronavirus Moment?

BristowI have been trying to read more about pandemics in the United States so that I can share some good history with my readers here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  On Saturday night, I read Nancy Bristow‘s fascinating 2012 book American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.  (Thanks to Messiah College‘s Murray Library for making this book part of its e-book collection).

When thinking about the past, historians always look for continuity and change. How was the 1918 outbreak different from our current coronavirus pandemic? How was it similar? What might we learn from the 1918 outbreak as we think about our current moment? I had all of these questions in mind as I read Bristow’s book, but if I were honest, I was more in search of continuity than change. Frankly, there were so many parallels between 1918 and our present moment that I could not put the book down. I read it in one sitting!

So here are a few things I took away from American Pandemic:

First, I was struck by how local and municipal public health authorities took responsibility for controlling the influenza. This is happening today as well, but most of our attention seems to be focused on the national response. (Woodrow Wilson is only mentioned on three pages of Bristow’s book). This makes perfect sense. There was no television, internet, or national newspapers in 1918. Radio was limited. Bristow focuses on efforts in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Roanoke, San Francisco, Seattle, Tacoma, and Washington D.C.

Second, local public health authorities urged their residents, with an appeal to their sense of patriotism, civic duty, and commitment to the public good, to stay away from public spaces. They told people to wash their hands regularly, keep their hands and objects out of their mouths, stop sharing drinking cups, and avoid public transportation if possible. Initially, most Americans submitted to these restrictions. But the longer the restrictions stayed in place, the more people lost patience. In other words, many people eventually came to resist government control over their lives.  (Keep an eye out for this today). Some people began to resent the public health “experts” behind these restrictions. The Progressive Era was coming to a close.

Third, decisions to close schools and churches were controversial and contested.

Fourth, and most interesting, Americans developed a severe case of amnesia in the wake of the epidemic. Bristow argues that individuals and families told stories about this tragic moment in American history, but the nation as a whole wanted to forget about what happened. The tragic results of the epidemic (over 675,000 dead) did not fit well with the kind of “optimistic” or “progressive” narrative Americans like to commemorate. This amnesia comes with consequences for our society. When the nation did tell stories of the epidemic, these stories tended to emphasize the positive: heroic health care workers, renewed faith in God, and other stories of “redemption.” Stories of suffering (both individual and familial, physical and emotional), death, trauma, “constitutional failures,” “ethical doubts,” and failures to serve the common good were often ignored. Bristow writes:

How a people   remember their past has real, lived consequences.  Perhaps most important is the forgetting such remembering imposes, the silencing of other narratives the preferred storylines demand. In the case of the pandemic, the simplified and singular memory of the complex events of the crisis forestalled deeper analysis of the meaning of those events. In the case of health care professionals, the positive and ultimately triumphant narrative of their experience in the pandemic quieted the more troubled voices among them.

She concludes:

There is no simple way to prepare for the pandemics of the future. As a recent volume on influenza and public health reminded its readers, “Each pandemic unfolds in a different way.” While we will turn to scientists to determine the best way to contain disease, and public health leaders to determine the best way to protect and educate the public, it will be left to others of us to remember and act on the human lessons of the 1918 pandemic. Should we face such an eventuality, let us prove better prepared to admit to a tale of sorrow and loss, to acknowledge the trauma such a tragedy leaves in its wake, and to provide the support and understanding sufferers would need in its wake.

Wise words.