Pandemic blog 9: The Class of 1895

I was wondering about what the last major pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918, looked like in real time, so I looked at the 25th anniversary report of the Harvard Class of 1895, published in June 1920 and written in 1919. To my surprise, the flu is barely mentioned. Henry Adsit Bull lost his oldest daughter to it. A couple of classmates worked in influenza hospitals. Morton Aldrich used it as an excuse for being late with his report. Paul Washburn reported being quite ill with it, and emphasizing that it might be his last report, demanded that the editors print his curriculum vitae with no editorial changes. (Nope — he was still alive and well and banking in the 1935 report.) I thought 1894, whose report was written more in the thick of the epidemic, might have more to say, but not really. Two men died of it, including one who made it through hideous battles of the Great War only to succumb to flu in November 1918. Another lost daughter.

But no one weighs in on it; I have read a lot of old Harvard class reports, and if there’s one thing I can tell you about an early 20th century Harvard man, it’s that he likes to weigh in. Not sure what to make of this. Maybe the pandemic didn’t much touch the lives of the elite. Or maybe people just died of stuff more and the Spanish flu didn’t make much of an impression. Or maybe it was just too rough to talk about (but I don’t think so — people recount pretty grisly material about the war.)

Back to the present. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered all jury trials halted for two months for the safety of jurors, witnesses, and officers of the court; an extremely overwrought dissent from Justice Rebecca Bradley insists that if a right is in the constitution it can’t be put on pause, even for a couple of months, even in a pandemic, which will be news to the people in every state whose governors have suspended their right to assemble.

CJ made a blueberry bundt cake, the best thing he’s made so far, aided by the fact that at the Regent Market Co-op I found a box of pectin, an ingredient I didn’t even know existed. Powdered sugar there was not, but it turns out that powdered sugar is literally nothing but regular sugar ground fine and mixed with a little cornstarch! You can make it yourself if you have a good blender. And we do have a good blender. We love to blend.

Walked around the neighborhood a bit. Ran into the owner of a popular local restaurant and talked to him from across the street. He’s been spending days and days working to renegotiate his loan with the bank. He thinks we ought to be on the “Denmark plan” where the government straight up pays worker’s salaries rather than make businesses apply to loans so they can eventually get reimbursed for the money they’re losing right now. (I did not check whether this is actually the Denmark plan.) Also saw my kids’ pediatrician, who told me that regular pediatrics has been suspended except for babies and they’ve closed the regular clinic, everything is consolidated in 20 S. Park.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about different groups’ COVID projections, claims and counterclaims. I’ll write about it a little in the next entry to show how little I know. But I think nobody knows anything.

Tomorrow it’ll be two weeks since the last time I was more than a quarter-mile from my house. We are told to be ready for another month. It won’t be that hard for us, but it’ll be hard for a lot of people.

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6 thoughts on “Pandemic blog 9: The Class of 1895

  1. Richard Séguin says:

    I’ve heard (probably on public radio) people remark with wonder about how quickly the Spanish flu was forgotten and not talked about. It’s remarkable because more people died from the flu than from the war. Was it so grisly that people had an emotional need to forget?

    I’m afraid that once the novelty of social distancing and isolating at home has worn off, boredom and restlessness is going to set in. Just today in a food market I was really annoyed at how quickly some people seem to be forgetting or rejecting social distancing.

  2. Jon Awbrey says:

    From what I’ve read, the term “Spanish flu” was a scapegoating misnomer, on the order of XLV’s “Chinese virus”. It arose because the Spanish authorities and press began reporting the outbreak first, at a time when other countries were still suppressing news of it.

  3. Martin Wollensak says:

    If the Spanish flue and why it is possibly remembered less by contemporary people, then have a look the recent YouTube from the Penn Museum: “Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918–19 in Philadelphia”

  4. ventullo says:

    “…only to succumb to flu in November 2018”. Typo?

  5. JSE says:

    Fixed, thanks!

  6. Adam says:

    > He thinks we ought to be on the “Denmark plan” where the government
    > straight up pays worker’s salaries rather than make businesses apply
    > to loans so they can eventually get reimbursed for the money they’re
    > losing right now. (I did not check whether this is actually the
    > Denmark plan.)

    In Denmark businesses can apply for “salary compensation” for employees
    that are forced to not work due to the situation – the government pays
    75% of the salary, but at most 30000 DKK/month, which is ~4400$.

    Best regards, a reader from Denmark

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