Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Flu pandemic and quackery in Iowa in 1918

Roy R. Behrens (©1980), Cream City Review
Richard Critchfield, Those Days: An American Album. New York: Dell, 1986, p. 189—

[Jessie in Postville, Iowa, writing to Anne in Minneapolis, October 28, 1918, in reference to the Spanish flu pandemic] . . . Hope you and the children got there safely. Helen got ill just after you left. It seems to be a recurrence. She had it awfully hard last year. I’m keeping her out of school. So far the rest of us have been spared. We keep hearing wild rumors. One is that some doctors and nurses at Camp Dodge outside Des Moines were caught injecting flu germs into patients and were court-martialed and shot. Another is that fifty black soldiers who died of flu were buried in a mass grave behind the hospital. Who can be believed? Dad says none of it's true but that so many of the young boys who got drafted and are down at Camp Dodge are sick and going overseas. One of the fellows we knew died of flu on his way to France and had to be buried at sea. Liquor is outlawed here, but the police will issue medicinal whiskey permits if Doc Schmidt signs them. No more than a quart and the man is watched. Doc Schmidt got hold of what he calls “pneumonia serum.” He told Papa, “I don't know if it's any good, but c'mon over and I'll give you a shot.” So he went. I tried a new medicine, “Vick's Vaporub,” with Helen. Folks have been trying just about anything—onions, kerosene, Hicks tablets, mustard poultices, lemon juice, turpentine, linament. Papa had me make up some little cheesecloth breath strainers. But there's plenty of quackery…