Thursday, May 07, 2009

Spanish Flu (1918) In Lovecraft's Providence

I've not yet read any statements by Lovecraft during the epidemic. He would have loathed the populist rumors, rallied that Providence - and the whole country - should be dry (free of alcohol), and bemoaned that he might have died had he been successful in enlisting in WWI. He was often vocal about his own death, or possible death. In the current swine flu crisis, it's interesting to see part of an article describing the 1918 pandemic.

From Rhode Island Roads Magazine (About the author, Patti Cassidy: Patti Cassidy is a writer/photographer/videomaker who lives on an island in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.)


There was no flu vaccine in 1918. And that year's so called "Spanish Influenza" was roaringly deadly - killing 21 million people worldwide and over 2300 in Rhode Island alone during its short reign of terror.

Ordinary people had ... theories ... One woman in Boston said she had seen a ship come into port with a greasy dark cloud hanging around it just before the epidemic began. Others said that the German pharmaceutical company Bayer had packed the flu in its aspirin. In Rhode Island, the fall version of the flu (there had been a less deadly version in the Spring) began at Newport's Navy base in early September. Within 10 days, over 30 sailors died in the Naval District. It easily spread out into the community. By October 3, the Newport Daily News reported that "Camphor, whiskey and onions are in great demand by persons who have their own notions about keeping off the disease, but the health authorities are not offering any suggestions in this line."

According to many sources, liquor provided some protection and some cure, but this was a source of friction between Newport, which was dry, and the rest of the state. The Newport Daily News triumphantly reported that "the internal use of alcohol in the present situation is substantiated by medical publications. In brief, the argument is that alcohol puts to sleep the blood corpuscles which otherwise would work to destroy the disease germs, and hence has a direct tendency to increase the disease."

Providence volleyed back that Newport would never have succumbed to the disease in the first place if it hadn't been dry, and quoted studies on the efficacy of the use of booze in the treatment of pneumonia.

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