Influenza Epidemic

My grandmother (mother’s mother) lost her first family, except for a three-year-old daughter, in the flu epidemic of 1918–a  husband and two sons.

  • Spanish influenza first appeared in early spring 1918. (Crosby, pg. 203)
  • It continued through 1920, but as a less virulent strain than in 1918 and 1919. (ibid.)
  • Around 550,000 people died in the US, but that may be a low estimate. (Crosby, pg. 207)
  • 21 million people died in the whole world, but that is probably a “gross underestimation”. (ibid.)
  • More Americans died in the influenza epidemic of 1918 than in WWI and WWII combined.


  • America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918, W. Crosby, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter, New American Library of World Literature, 1962. Three short novels. First published in 1939. The third one is about her experience with influenza.
  • They Came Like Swallows, novel by William Keepers Maxwell, Vintage Reprint Edition, 1997. Originally published in 1937. Beautifully written. Keep the tissue box handy.

Prohibition: 1920 to 1933

From Ken Burns story (see npr.org below)–“Anyone who doubts the openness with which Prohibition was defied by the population meant to be ruled by it need only consider what is clearly Burns’ favorite piece of trivia from the time: At one point, what was supposed to be a dry nation had become the number one importer of cocktail shakers.”

See more comments by Ken Burns here–http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2011/10/02/140956498/ken-burns-prohibition-recalls-a-law-so-strict-it-was-tee-totally-doomed

His wonderful three-part documentary film–http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/

See also:

  • The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Jazz Age Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum, Penguin, 2010. See the section on Wood Alcohol. Dr. Charles Norris, the first trained medical examiner in New York City, worried about the rise in the number of deaths attributed to methyl alcohol as a result of Prohibition. The government added it to liquor as a means to prevent drinking. But people drank anyway and died.
  • Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City, by Ellen NicKenzie Lawson, State University of New York Press, 2013. Information about rum running, neighborhood gangs, and speakeasies in New York City during Prohibition.