One Small Thread in History’s Tapestry

Did you get the flu this year? All the flu-news brought to mind the flu epidemic of 1918, one hundred years later.  This global pandemic killed 50 MILLION people, largely healthy young adults from age 20-50.  You could feel fine in the morning and be dead by midnight.  So I wasn’t surprised to find a family connection to this crisis as a result of my recent Gloucester research.  Sadly, this is a particularly tragic story.

William Bentley is a first cousin of mine, William being the grandson of Captain John Bentley.

You will note he married Blanche Wagner.  As children, Blanche and her sister Margaret survived a horrific fire that killed two of their siblings.  Tragically, you also notice that Margaret also died in the flu epidemic just one day after William died, leaving behind four young children including a 2 month old baby.

Very tragic story all the way around.  Flu related news was all over the papers in this time period, in Gloucester and around the world.  Sometimes we don’t consider that our families participated in the history of our country or world, but this is one small thread in the tapestry of world history.

3 thoughts on “One Small Thread in History’s Tapestry

  1. Thanks for sharing this – it’s tragic for sure and children and elderly seem to take the hardest hits but not always.

    I know during the 1968-1969 season was not as bad but took a lot of us out very high fevers and yuk I was 13-14 this time frame all of us sick and out of it few days. Dave

    The 1968–1969 pandemic The first record of the outbreak in Hong Kong appeared on 13 July 1968. By the end of July 1968, extensive outbreaks were reported in Vietnam and Singapore. Despite the fatality of the 1957 Asian Flu in China, little improvement had been made regarding the handling of such epidemics. The Times newspaper was actually the first source to sound alarm regarding this new possible pandemic.

    By September 1968, the flu reached India, the Philippines, northern Australia and Europe. That same month, the virus entered California from returning Vietnam War troops but did not become widespread in the United States until December 1968. It would reach Japan, Africa and South America by 1969.[4] The outbreak in Hong Kong, where density is about 500 people per acre, reached maximum intensity in two weeks, lasting six months in total from July to December 1968, however worldwide deaths from this virus peaked much later, in December 1968 and January 1969. By that time, public health warnings[5] and virus descriptions[6] were issued in the scientific and medical journals.

    In comparison to other pandemics, the Hong Kong flu yielded a low death rate, with a case-fatality ratio below 0.5% making it a category 2 disease on the Pandemic Severity Index. The pandemic infected an estimated 500,000 Hong Kong residents, 15% of the population.[4] In the United States, approximately 33,800 people died,[7] including conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton in January 1969.

    The same virus returned the following years: a year later, in late 1969 and early 1970, and in 1972.

    Fewer people died during this pandemic than the two previous pandemics for various reasons:[8]

    some immunity against the N2 flu virus may have been retained in populations struck by the Asian Flu strains which had been circulating since 1957; the pandemic did not gain momentum until near the winter school holidays, thus limiting the infection spreading; improved medical care gave vital support to the very ill; the availability of antibiotics that were more effective against secondary bacterial infections.


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