Articles, Blog

The 1918 Flu Pandemic – Fighting the Ghost – Extra History – #4

November 20, 2019

September 28th Philadelphia The liberty loan parade
is in full swing. Thousands march in the streets. Hundreds of thousands watch. Few know that health officials have pressured
the mayor to cancel the event. Women wave flags. A child sits
on his father’s shoulders. The crowd falls silent
for a simulated bombing run. Airplanes buzz overhead, anti-aircraft guns fire
blanks into the sky. The crowd, necks craned, tries to imagine
what it’s like to be in mortal peril. Little do they know… they already are. [Music] “Birth of The People” The flu was already
burning in Philadelphia, but after
the Liberty Loan parade, it explodes. Three days later, the hospitals start to fill. With the war sapping
medical professionals, there aren’t enough
doctors or nurses. And the hospital staff starts to die. Though colleagues
fall around them, doctors and nurses
stay at their posts. Some in private practice
make 60 house calls a day. Over a thousand died
that 1st week, and in 3 weeks
the death toll approaches 5,000. The dead quickly begin
to overwhelm Philadelphia. Morticians post staff at hospitals
to free up beds the moment victims expire. If a patient
starts turning blue, nurses tagged them
for the morgue. It saves time. But the morgue is out of space
and refuses to accept more bodies. Workers keep doors and windows open
to dissipate the stench, and fluid runs out the door
and into the gutter. The Catholic Church gets involved, mobilizing clergy
to help clear the backlog. When the priests enter the morgue,
they find 400 bodies. They’re everywhere, lying on desks
and stacked in corners. The building is at 12 times
its maximum capacity. Things are no better
at graveyards. Pre-burial vaults are full. The city has run out of coffins
and wood to build coffins. People use wheelbarrows
and potato sacks to bring loved ones
to the cemetery, then leave them there. Once again,
the church steps in, hiring a construction crew
to dig trenches with steam shovels. They stack the coffins two deep while recording
exactly where each person is buried. At night, citizens hear them reciting
Latin prayers over the mass grave. But that took
time to organize, and for weeks, thousands
are not buried at all. With hospitals, morgues,
and cemeteries refusing to accept corpses, people have to live
with the dead in their homes. And many families are so ill
that they can’t move a corpse at all and simply sleep, eat, and live next to the deceased. Weeks in, Philadelphia leaders finally rent
a warehouse as an overflow morgue. Organized teams
of policemen and priests circle the city, collecting the dead
in horse-drawn carts. Philadelphia would be
the worst-hit city in America, with half a million cases. By the end of October, the city government almost
ceased to function, and private citizens stepped
in to run the response. People volunteered cars as ambulances
and worked as dispatchers at medical phone banks, a primitive “911.” But just up the coast,
it was a different story. While the head of New York’s board of health
had been slow to respond, the city had experience fighting epidemics,
like polio and tuberculosis. The Public Health Service
had a major presence, and experienced screening and quarantining people
at the Port of New York. In fact, the port had started quarantining ships the moment reports of the flu arose on the western front. But the war made
full quarantine impossible. The city instituted laws
criminalizing spitters and people who failed to cover
their mouths when they coughed or sneezed. They posted notices urging the sick
to stay home under voluntary quarantine, report illnesses to a doctor, and they called for people
to wear gauze masks. The Board of Health surveyed neighborhoods
to track the spread, they set up medical centers that dispatched
doctors and nurses on house calls, and most importantly, they convinced businesses
to stagger working hours and shopping times, reducing crowds on public transit. But even in New York, the press continued to minimize
the outbreak in order to “protect morale.” And it was the same in cities
and towns across America, even as the disease spread west. Newspapers would claim there was
nothing to worry about one day, and then the next announced
that all public gathering places were closed. The result was uncertainty and fear. Everyone knew newspapers
were covering it up; people could see the obituaries. They saw the Red Cross ads
begging for nurses. Families tracked the flu coming down the rail line or highway via letters and articles buried in the back pages. It was in the next state, the next county, the next town, and finally next door. In this climate of mistrust, rumours grew. One conspiracy theory claimed
the flu was a bioweapon, released from German u-boats off
the Atlantic coast. Another said that the German-owned Bayer Corporation had poisoned its aspirin with the disease. A rumor ran around Phoenix
that dogs carried the disease, and as a result, Arizonians killed thousands
of strays and pets. And in San Francisco, a policeman shot a man who refused to comply with
new flu-mask laws. Evangelist Billy Sunday claimed
the disease was “A punishment visited
upon a sinful nation,” and held a mass prayer meeting
to end the epidemic. Several in the crowd collapsed
of flu while praying for deliverance. Whole towns isolated themselves, hiring armed guards. The flu got in anyway, arriving with mailmen
and milk trucks. Shops began asking customers
to shout their orders, then leave the money
on the doorstep. The owner would take the money and leave the goods. Children distilled this paranoia
into a jump rope rhyme, one that captured the sense
of an unwanted visitor invading the home: ♪ “I had a little bird
and her name was Enza ♪ ♪ I opened up the window
and In-Flew-Enza” ♪ The country needs something to stop this nightmare. At the Rockefeller Institute, they isolate Pfeiffer’s bacillus
in mid-October, and the Army Medical School begins
the process of injecting it into horses, drawing their blood, and isolating the antibodies
for a vaccine. By October 25th, the vaccine is ready. Express trains rush deliveries to the west coast
to protect troops and shipbuilders there. They’ve made enough to vaccinate
the entire US Army and its civilian employees. But only enough for the Army. For the duration of the war, the Rockefeller Institute
was a military organization, and therefore their work focused
on the military. No matter how much mayors
and governors begged for vaccine, They wouldn’t receive
a single vial. It took a parallel civilian effort
to provide relief to the public. At the New York hygienic lab, Williams labors over lung samples
from hospitals and orphanages, trying to find whether Pfeiffer’s exists
in a majority of victims… and she finds it! Everywhere. She isolates a sample
and proves antibodies can bind to it, further confirming it was the culprit. That done, she cultures
vast quantities of Pfeiffer’s, liter upon liter, then hands them off to Park, who rushes upstate
to mass-produce vaccine at his farm. Deep down researchers knew
this was not good science. The process had been too fast. No one really knew
whether Pfeiffer’s caused the flu. And if, as some suspected, the culprit
was a virus invisible to microscopes, these vaccines would do nothing. It was, one researcher said, “Like fighting a ghost.” Still, it was worth trying. There was a possibility they’d accidentally snared
the disease-causing agent in their sample, and the horses
would make antibodies for it. That was how the first rabies
vaccine happened, after all. In fact, one Rockefeller researcher
counted on this, producing a vaccine that contained antibodies
for every bacteria he could find, all mixed together, hoping that one would
stop the disease. Even as they rolled out the vaccine, Surgeon General Gorgas cautioned
it was experimental and no one knew
if it would work. And… it didn’t. Labs across the country
produced dozens of vaccines, and none of them prevented flu, because flu was, as some feared, an invisible virus. Yet despite that failure, medical science was not helpless. They could do little for patients
killed directly by the flu (the ones that turned blue), but they could fight
the opportunistic pneumonias that followed it. The anti-pneumonia vaccine
and serum Avery had worked on during the earlier
measles epidemic was effective, and likely saved some people. Thousands of troops took it. On the surgical side, doctors developed
a new procedure to enter the lungs and drain the sacs of pus
that drowned patients. Others used oxygen, X-rays,
and cardiac stimulants to support ailing victims. But nurses provided
the most valuable care. There were too few doctors, too many patients, not enough medicine, and what treatments they had often
took too long to administer en masse. Nurses, on the other hand, could keep patients hydrated, warm,
and breathing comfortably. They could ease coughs
and lower temperatures. And that kind of long-term care probably affected a patient’s survival
more than anything a doctor could do in the few minutes they had
at each bedside. Added to that, the Red Cross developed a system
that predicted the flu cycle of infection, when it would die down in one area
and spring up in another, letting them deploy
emergency teams of nurses before they were needed. But as everyone from city officials
and the Red Cross responded to the crisis, there was one man who refused
to do anything… President Wilson. When briefed about
the deadly influenza outbreak, the one question on his mind was whether he should order the troop ships
to continue ferrying soldiers to France. He did, and the flu kept killing. [Music] “The Cytokine Storm”


  • Reply Extra Credits July 25, 2018 at 2:25 am

    By October 25th, the vaccine is ready. Express trains rush deliveries to the West Coast to protect troops and shipbuilders there. They’d made enough to vaccinate the entire US Army and its civilian employees… but only enough for the army.

  • Reply Mr. Coffee January 21, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    My esteemed colleagues. Whatever we do, whatever effort we put forth. Make no mistake, it is the germs and microbes, that in the end, will always have the last word.

    -Louis Pasteur. Speech to the academy of science.

  • Reply Paul A. January 22, 2019 at 1:03 am

    5:43 well thanks for my next few weeks of nightmares

  • Reply Dhoxin January 26, 2019 at 9:53 am

    that bird song shit scared the shit out of me

  • Reply Shawn Hayden February 2, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    3:13 Statue of liberty v.s pickle (rick)

  • Reply Morahman7vnNo2 February 5, 2019 at 5:23 am

    It's okay, it's in the past. We have smart phones and social media and drones…we've come a long way. It could never happen right!?

  • Reply The Fallout Kid February 6, 2019 at 3:45 am

    Bring out your dead
    Bring out your dead

  • Reply Saffana Siddiqui February 6, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Which vaccines did they make ? They weren't influenza vaccines and antibodies?

  • Reply Quaver February 8, 2019 at 3:06 am

    Well from what I've seen anti vaxxers are probably gonna be what kills us in the future

  • Reply Burkutace27 February 8, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Allowing that liberty lone drive to go ahead has to be one of the most criminally negligent moves of the 20th century.


  • Reply Jack Marston February 10, 2019 at 2:12 am

    I had a little bird and her name vas enza i opened up the window and in flu enza

  • Reply Alonzo Branson February 11, 2019 at 6:59 am

    Bring out your dead! >clank< Bring out your dead! >clank<

  • Reply QueenBoadicea February 12, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    2:42 Bring out your dead!

  • Reply itz_poofles February 16, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    The division in a nutshell exept theres no people with flamenwerfers and prisoners and its in the nineties

  • Reply Kerfuful Kertuful February 16, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    The horses you draw are cute.

  • Reply Unturned warrior February 19, 2019 at 4:00 am

    That bird was creepy as hell

  • Reply Googlar February 19, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    You've gotta love these generals and politicians who completely ignore the advice of top ranking doctors, causing the death toll to be 100's of thousands higher. Thankfully, today our politicians and leaders would never ignore the advice of our top scientists… oh wait, shit.

  • Reply DJ Lee February 22, 2019 at 2:46 am

    Good luck

  • Reply Goth PinkCatMeow February 25, 2019 at 3:11 am

    5:09 so proud to live in San Francisco

  • Reply Samuel Spears February 25, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    3:12 I know this is serious but I've always wanted to see the statue of liberty fight a giant pickle

  • Reply Redd Villar February 26, 2019 at 11:08 pm


  • Reply Marcus Phillips March 2, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Just more reasons to go back in time and kill Woodrow Wilson.

  • Reply Marcus Phillips March 2, 2019 at 7:54 am

    Is it me or is Woodrow Wilson the worst president ever?

  • Reply The Zodiac March 3, 2019 at 12:40 am

    5:42 be gone Satan!

  • Reply The Fallout Kid March 3, 2019 at 3:56 am

    Bring out your dead

  • Reply John Egbert March 9, 2019 at 5:14 am

    Put the liberty loan parade back in the box.
    I said put the Liberty Loan Parade back in the box.

    Now why couldn’t you put the Liberty Loan Parade back in the box.

  • Reply Gregory Walter March 9, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    "The beaches stay open!"

  • Reply Thurman stevenson March 12, 2019 at 4:30 am

    Wow he really is just one of the worst presidents

  • Reply Khyler King March 13, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    the flu the flu

  • Reply Khyler King March 13, 2019 at 2:10 pm


  • Reply Khyler King March 13, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    the statue of liberty won pickle lost

  • Reply OddCrafter March 14, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    A microscope won't be much help against a ghost.

    A Silph Scope, on the other hand…

  • Reply Kyouko Toshino March 18, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Nurses are like 911 dispatch. The invisible heroes

  • Reply blackearl7891 March 19, 2019 at 7:01 pm


  • Reply BloodStalker 500 March 20, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    5:02 I got no sympathy for that idiot. Not that hard to just strap on a freaking mask when the law says so.

  • Reply Corruptikoo March 21, 2019 at 1:31 am

    I guess they did get their deliverance?

  • Reply D2RG March 22, 2019 at 1:34 am

    Why is lady liberty fighting a pickle

  • Reply Mustache Cookieo March 22, 2019 at 4:08 am

    Poor doggos

  • Reply TheAmateurAsian March 29, 2019 at 5:31 am

    And now we have tons of idiotic anti vaxers.

  • Reply Orius25 April 2, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    So wait… I thought the U.S. has Freedom of Press under the First Amendment? So the government could tell newspapers not to write about the flu epidemic? That's crazy. If they could control the press then they definitely are doing it now!!

    Also it's CRAZY that the military had a vaccine but they would not help the civilian population whatsoever. Goes to show what the military really thinks of civilians.

  • Reply Captain Rex April 6, 2019 at 4:37 am

    At this point they should have burned the dead?

  • Reply Shoan Dutrieux April 6, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    You know things have gotten bad when the Church becomes useful

  • Reply Jai April 9, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    And what have we learned today? There are still people against vaccines and this will probably happen again.

  • Reply Szymon Roblox April 11, 2019 at 11:37 am

    spanish flu – the smurf epidemy

  • Reply The Auditor April 18, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    Spooky spooky fluy flu, they send shivers up ur ass. Spooky Spooky fluy flu, to small 4 u Spooky spooky fluy flu, they send shivers up ur ass.

  • Reply Howard Smith April 19, 2019 at 6:26 pm


  • Reply cris 14 April 19, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    this whole series has been chilling and scary. truly a horror story.

  • Reply Red Miner91 April 22, 2019 at 1:23 am

    I thought yellow fever was bad…..

  • Reply Cole Mair April 22, 2019 at 7:58 am

    A bioweapon seems like it was a just concern

  • Reply mcgames April 23, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    This the reason you vaccinate

  • Reply Iain Ostrofsky April 30, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    I knew America was sick but these atrocities …

  • Reply Jinhunter Slay May 2, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Best way to avoid an epidemic is to move to Greenland…

  • Reply ULTIMATE SUPERCHARGE ANIMS May 2, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    I like that influenza song it so fire

    By the way the measles outbreak is existent and i am watching a video about an epidemic while living through an epidemic

  • Reply big anxious meme May 4, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    I live in Cleveland which was relatively badly hit too, being a major port city on the lakes. There is a cemetery near my house and you really do notice how many graves are dated 1918-1919

  • Reply Lucas kincanyon May 6, 2019 at 2:37 am

    That jump rope rhyme was the freakiest thing I’ve ever heard on this chapter…

  • Reply Ben - May 11, 2019 at 5:52 am

    5:08 LOL

  • Reply Seven Guardians May 11, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Woodrow Wilson was the worst president most of our political problems today originated from Woodrow Wilson
    Islamic Terrorism
    Fractional reserve banking and the mountains of debt resulted by it
    Those are only a few examples
    Pretty much the worst president

  • Reply Robissoawesome7 May 14, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    5:40 Oh… Hey Bob. I thought you were only after the Palmer's.

  • Reply Joe Many Spahs May 18, 2019 at 12:08 am


  • Reply Emily Ding May 18, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    (o o)
    (^ ^)

  • Reply Robert Andrews May 25, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    8:33 cardiac stimulants, do you mean cocaine?

  • Reply Thoralmir May 29, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    Man, the more I learn about Wilson, the more I despise him.

  • Reply shooting star May 29, 2019 at 9:42 pm


  • Reply Georges June 8, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    I think this has just become my new worst nightmare.

  • Reply Nicholas Montiel June 17, 2019 at 12:10 am

    … what is the cost of lies?

  • Reply O K June 27, 2019 at 12:01 am


  • Reply Thomas Hooper June 30, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    This is actually way bigger than I thought…. this would be so scary in real life. I think they need to
    Teach this better

  • Reply Ben Gibbons July 14, 2019 at 5:31 am


  • Reply Mr jay July 14, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    5:43 max volume make sure there is no lights on and then click 5:43

  • Reply Ninja Kat July 16, 2019 at 1:47 am

    0:41 this is fine.

  • Reply Gentleball July 17, 2019 at 3:30 am

    Phoenix: * Kills Thousands of dogs due to a conspiracy *
    Keanu Reeves: WE GOT A CITY TO BURN

  • Reply aura lintang July 17, 2019 at 9:56 am

    5:42 dark, but clever.

  • Reply Nightshade the Mochi Raptor July 19, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    god stop playing plague inc

  • Reply Adolf Hilter July 21, 2019 at 11:04 am

    I am the only one that thinks that the horses in EH are CUTEEEEE

  • Reply A Bacteriophage July 22, 2019 at 2:21 am

    1:04 you silly billies!

  • Reply bellringer July 23, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Reason #940321 why Wilson was the worst president we have ever had..

  • Reply Theclickbaitknight August 3, 2019 at 4:59 am

    4:56 john wick wants to know your location

  • Reply Tamer Abdeldayem August 4, 2019 at 8:21 pm

    What a nightmare

  • Reply Westeford // GamerLink5 August 5, 2019 at 1:23 am

    If this ever becomes a TV show, the episode where they learn that Woodrow Wilson continued to send ships out to see should be followed by a sky shout of "WILSON!" then cut to credits.

  • Reply Muhammad Hussain August 18, 2019 at 5:30 am

    This sounds so satanic the disease just destroyed mankind even animals

  • Reply This is Patrick August 18, 2019 at 8:38 am

    4:44 proof that conspiracy theorists' been around since the dawn of mankind lmao

  • Reply Raibaru Fumetsu September 1, 2019 at 2:28 am

    New Jersey (right next to Philadelphia): *chuckles* I’m in danger

  • Reply Raibaru Fumetsu September 1, 2019 at 2:30 am

    No not the doggos!

  • Reply Samson H September 9, 2019 at 5:35 am

    hats off to the Catholic Church. I just cant hate them or even dislike them, even with all the bullshit happening around the world and myself being a young, politically-active, athiest gay man that totally disagrees with them on most modern issues. The amount of lives they have saved during every crisis known to them is staggering.

  • Reply Zachary Naegele September 12, 2019 at 12:04 am

    2:19 check that time on the clock…

  • Reply F14 tomcat A September 17, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    In flew Ineza oh I get influenza

  • Reply John Doe September 19, 2019 at 10:49 pm

    lets be clear on something here. what you are describing them making is NOT a vaccine. they're antibodies used for treatment via whats called "passive acquired immunity". the antibodies act as an antimicrobial, killing the bugs directly. vaccines are a way to stimulate Active acquired immunity, basically, training your own body to produce antibodies to a pathogen through exposure to a killed or attenuated microbe, or parts of a microbe. misinformation like this helps foster ignorance of these medical techniques by conflating a relatively dangerous treatment (antibody donation) with a relatively safe one (vaccination)

  • Reply Delete Me September 22, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    The this is fine me

  • Reply Thebenmix 11 September 23, 2019 at 11:37 pm

    0:40 these kind of easter eggs are really refreshing, I really love to see them.

  • Reply bellringer September 24, 2019 at 6:07 am

    To quote the Cynical Historian, WIIIIILLLSSSOOON!!!!!!!

  • Reply Dylan Zhang October 1, 2019 at 2:37 am

    Widrow Wilson is one of if not the worst president in history.

  • Reply Eric Herde October 1, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    If some general or admiral tries to break quarentine, lock him up, just like you would any other violator.

  • Reply John Egbert October 9, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    Oh… It's President Wilson… That guy also allowed people to horrifically in France during the war from Flu?
    Nick! Fire up the time machine and get me my shotgun!

  • Reply vaiyt October 21, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    It seems that, whenever there's a public health crisis, you can count on priests to turn it into a moral issue.

    Prohibition, AIDS and drug addiction say hi.

  • Reply Jono Hatwin November 2, 2019 at 10:02 am

    This reminds me of something…

    “Bring outcha dead! Bring outcha dead!”

  • Reply Corey Playz November 5, 2019 at 9:04 pm

    Is no one gonna talk about the fact Arizonians killed dogs…

  • Reply TNT Yeeter November 11, 2019 at 1:03 am

    This really encourages Karens to F-ING VACCINATE THEIR KIDS

  • Reply Forknife Battle royale November 12, 2019 at 1:53 am

    5:43 best nursery rhyme ever?

  • Reply Trustworthy McLegitimate November 17, 2019 at 4:39 am

    September 28th
    The monsters have overtaken the city.
    Somehow…. I'm still alive…

  • Reply AluTheWox November 18, 2019 at 1:00 am

    I guess this is where Stephen King got inspired for the Stand

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