Your Great Grandparent Experienced This in 1918! - PT 1

During this COVID-19 crisis of 2020, everyone has unusual experiences whether related to employment, getting supplies, not seeing and hugging family members, etc. However, do look back to 1918 with the Spanish Flu worldwide and see how different and what is the same from 100 years later. It would be good to include similar experiences of your ancestors and of yourself in the family history.

With time on their hands due to the shut down of many businesses and forms of entertainment, in October 1918 in Salt Lake City, a group of 50 vaudeville actors, strangers to the city and out of work since the theaters were closed, spent time sightseeing, looking into store windows, walking the streets and even playing together for hours blackjack. The shutdown of businesses in other cities came from the big increase of flu cases in Philadelphia in September when people were celebrating the near ending of the Great War.

In Los Angeles, a group of out-of-work actors experienced a ”trying idleness” as their weeks away from work dragged on, so they turned to the “national game” of poker. With vast lockdown orders another group of 100 actors was stranded in Omaha, Nebraska, until the end of October. To pass the time, cast members from the show ‘Somewhere in France’ began loading and unloading salt in a South Omaha packaging plant. Another set of actors toiled away at the American Smelting and Refining Company. In exchange, local charity groups like the Elks Club provided them with free meals.

Scientists and medical professionals in 1918 had never actually laid eyes on a virus up close (using a microscope). The population most vulnerable to the 1918 flu were ages 20 to 40.

Lockdown in 1918 did, of course, have different rules than lockdown today. Even in those cities that took the most decisive action—St. Louis was warning residents to avoid crowds before the virus had even reached the city. In Hamilton, Montana, their local policy allowed movie theaters to stay in business as long as customers left a seat between each other.

Bookstores also sometimes remained open, and they reported massive sales. Wichita, Kansas book stores had excellent sales in magazines. As soon as a new issue of a popular magazine published, customers raced to snatch it off the stands.

People were thrown upon their own resources for amusement. Public restaurants were “out of the question” for the simple reason that “it’s hard to eat wearing a ‘flu’ mask.” So residents turned to magazine stands. One local dealer reported that he was constantly sold out.

Many advertisers tried to sell their products that would entertain people at home. The Parker Brothers Game Company came up with “Pastime Puzzles” to keep kids and adults occupied during the pandemic. The Company distributed its Pastime puzzles nationwide by mail order direct to the customer and through department and stationery stores, as well as through branches in London and Paris.

In 1918, many people refused to leave their houses without atomizers—water vapor sprays that, it was believed, helped prevent disease by keeping nasal and throat passages clear.

Transportation was also a problem with trains across the country severely curtailing service. Trains saw their lowest ridership numbers in U.S. history, passengers who did venture on board clutched atomizers for dear life. On these near-empty train rides, women also pretended to sneeze and act sick to deflect unwanted male attention.

Photos: Parker Bros. ‘Pastime Puzzle’; Magazine Nov. 1918; a water atomizer and Seattle streetcar in 1918.

Related Blogs:

World War One Ancestors


World Events

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