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1918 Spanish Flu in Seattle | IN Close

November 12, 2019

Leonard Garfield: This is a face mask from
the Spanish flu in Seattle in 1918. Everybody was required to wear one if they were going
to go outside. It was believed to be impervious to the Spanish flu. Feliks Banel: Leonard Garfield is executive
director of Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry. He studies the region’s past, but
always with an eye to better understanding the present. Garfield: In October of 1918, right as World
War 1 ended, a train load of troops came from Philadelphia to Seattle to camp Lewis and
camp Lawton. And they were ill. They had been exposed to the Spanish flu in Philadelphia
and they brought it to Seattle. Within a matter of days, people in the city began to get sick.
And within a few months, 1600 people had died and many more were stricken. Banel: Then, as now, public officials were
faced with making decisions that could mean life or death. Garfield: Mayor Hanson decided that something
decisive and swift was needed to curb the illness. So he banned all public gatherings,
school was canceled for months on end, churches were closed, theaters were closed. Banel: Scientific understanding in 1918 of
how the flu spread was limited. So the actions taken were a gamble. Garfield: But you now those steps actually
had a positive effect, and by the spring Spanish flu had ended, Seattle was healthy again. Banel: And while the Ebola crisis is very
different from the flu of 1918, Garfield sees some parallels in how our community should
respond to Ebola. Garfield: You know I think there’s some
lessons to learn, I think that not panicking, but planning, and then taking decisive action.
But some of those actions won’t be popular. We’ll be required to do some things that
as a free society we may feel uncomfortable for a while, but that’s necessary for the
public health. And we can look back almost 100 years to see the Spanish flu in Seattle
and see that there are ways to conquer disease and preserve public health and personal liberty.
That’s the balance we need to strike.

1 Comment

  • Reply Hidden Arizona January 5, 2018 at 2:13 am

    I just found this. I knew my grandmother, Mary Estelle Jefferson, died in Seattle of the flu, but I had not heard that ill soldiers had been sent to Seattle in October of that year. She died in December.

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