A DEADLY SECOND WAVE (Illustration) American History Famous Historical Events Medicine Social Studies World War I Disasters

Although the "authorities" urged people to avoid gathering in crowds, during the time of Spanish Flu, it was difficult to stay home when major announcements excited everyone.  People in Philadelphia, where more than 12,000 individuals died of Spanish Flu in October of 1918, gathered the following month to celebrate the Armistice announcement on the 11th of November, 1918.  A similar gathering at Trafalgar Square, in London, caused many Brits to fatally "catch the flu."  Image online, courtesy U.S. National Archives.


Whether they were coming home from the war or preparing to leave for overseas duty, America’s protectors became the source of the country’s most immediate danger in the late summer and early fall of 1918.

First it was the sailors who returned to places like Boston’s Commonwealth Pier or Philadelphia’s Naval Yard. Then it was the soldiers who traveled on overcrowded troop trains infecting each other, and civilians, along the way. Within three weeks, influenza had spread throughout the whole country.

When the second wave of Spanish Flu struck, it did so violently and with little, if any, warning. One minute a person was apparently healthy. Within an hour or two, the patient was nearly prostrate. Fevers could quickly reach as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Sick people said they felt as though they’d been hit with a club.

American’s surgeon general, Rupert Blue, desperately tried to find a cure. He, like others around the world, was unsuccessful. To manage the contagion, health officials alternated the head-end and foot-end of sick beds.

People, everywhere, wore masks.  From postal carriers (delivering mail), to secretaries (typing letters), to policemen (walking their beats), masks were part of the dress code.  Streetcar conductors were known to turn-away potential passengers who weren't wearing masks.

For most, the illness passed after several days. But between five and ten percent of those infected with the virus developed severe and massive pneumonia. It was that complication which caused so many deaths.  And ... it was that complication which caused survivors to later recall:  "We Heard the Bells."

Americans supported the war in Europe with money as well as men. Much of the money was raised through war bonds or war stamps. As President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech in the U.S. Senate, supporting the right of American women to vote, Philadelphians prepared for a major rally to support the war through Liberty Bonds.

As word began to spread that the Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, and his entire family had been murdered by the Bolsheviks (the October Revolution, ushering in the era of the Soviet Union, had occurred one year earlier), people in America were utterly preoccupied with other matters.  Then, as the first wave of Spanish Flu seemed to dissipate, a second wave was about to begin.

On the 28th of September, 1918, people in Philadelphia gathered for a “Liberty Loan” parade.  Within days of that crowd-packed event, the flu pandemic had crippled the “city of brotherly love.”

Before the month of October was over, Spanish Flu and its complications had killed more than 12,000 Philadelphia citizens. The influenza death toll for the entire country that month was a staggering 175,000.

The world, truly, was in chaos.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5199stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Mar 17, 2020

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"A DEADLY SECOND WAVE without SOCIAL DISTANCING" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 01, 2006. Jun 02, 2023.
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