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SATC on the Hill 1 1024x417Student Army Training Corps on the Hill at the University of Tennessee. (Cindy and Mark Proteau/KHP) 

Knoxville & The Spanish Flu: How 1918 was the same–and very different 

By Jack Neely
via the Knoxville History Project (TN) web site

These are strange days. You don’t need me to tell you that. What we’re going through now may be “unprecedented” in some ways, as dozens of well-meaning pundits have parroted, in recent weeks.

Before we use that word with confidence, of course, we’ll at least have to consider 1918.

In my youth I knew several people who remembered what happened. Maybe you did, too. None of them are around today. It was the year of what became known as the Spanish Flu. What made it similar to the coronavirus pandemic today is as striking as what made it very different, especially in terms of the public perception of it.

That year, the epidemic was indeed considered newsworthy, but it was never what dominated the front pages. There might be several reasons why that was true.

The newspapers brought violent stories, each day dozens of them, about something else that was unprecedented in scale, the big war in Europe. Both papers, the morning Journal and the evening Sentinel, were full of them. Many of them were optimistic, concerning the “Hohenzollern Proposal,” predicting that Germany was just about to capitulate to the Allied onslaught.

Each daily paper had a Roll of Honor–a list of the American dead and seriously wounded. Despite the optimism, the worst was yet to come. For Knoxvillians in uniform, October, 1918, would be the deadliest month since the Civil War.

But every day that October there was news of something even deadlier than bullets and bombs, and much closer to home.

It’s hard to say exactly when the first Spanish Flu microbe came to town, riding on a human host, but even that almost certainly had something to do with the war.

Read the entire article on the Knoxville History Project web site here:

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