The 1918 Pandemic is widely known under the misnomer “Spanish Influenza”. Experts continue to analyze and study the origin and timing of this highly contagious, lethal and mysterious scourge. Most agree it wasn’t Spain nor limited to 1918, but rather spread in successive waves from early cases late in 1917 through recurrent epidemic in 1920. The month of October 1918 was the deadliest.
The disease is also known as the “forgotten pandemic” because it was eclipsed in real-time and in the history books by the Great War. To attempt to capture the magnitude of the loss, nutshell summaries repeat how tens of millions were killed by flu, more than by battle in World War I (WWI). Since the prevailing contenders for the original hot-zones for the disease were in or nearby military installations, perhaps there’s a case to be made for tallying civilian flu deaths together with any WWI datasets for a full impact of the casualties of WWI.
To this day, the precise number of cases of infection (morbidity) and deaths (mortality) caused by the 1918 Flu Pandemic are confounding and wildly disparate. A vast gulf of divergent research estimates from 17.4 million to as many as 100 million people1 died worldwide from this horrific epidemic; more than 700,000 died in the United States; and more than 260,0002 died in Spain.
When the Influenza of 1918 raged in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the death toll surged to 183* during six weeks in September and October.3
There was a perfect storm of transmissibility.
Until there wasn’t.
Gloucester ran a tight-ship.
*183 reflects the minimum deaths peak pandemic and published as of Oct. 26, 1918. A final tally would take into account pre and post pandemic.
Crests of various flu waves circulated the globe during World War 1. Killer flu strains in France and England in 19174 were portents of the pandemic to come. So too were milder variants that conversely spread like wildfire, through Allied forces and civilian populations, here and abroad. Since the former advents were isolated and the latter were mild– and all studied in depth– the documentation did not attract medical concern or public notice. Because of its rapid recovery and light side effects, the milder form was known as “three day fever” and “five day plague” when it reached Shanghai May 1918 and “swept over the country like a tidal wave”5. Contemporaneous reports are all over the global map: Camp Funston, Kansas, in February 19186; New York City Feb-April7; Camp Sevier South Carolina, China, and the Japanese navy in March; the Ford auto plant early April; Chaumont & Baccarat in May; the Royal Navy in France that spring and “Flanders fever” in the German trenches; Shanghai May-June; and more military establishments that spring and summer. Others pitched “German influenza,” insisting the disease originated in the German trenches before touring the world, crediting the French for coining the eponymous title after noting its severity in Spain.
Images of global spread – multiple sources 8
Setting aside conflicting prepandemic timelines and propaganda, consensus builds around what happens next.
In August 1918, naval and army establishments in Massachusetts sent the flu on a trajectory across the country.
Forget hand washing and physical distancing: challenging hygiene conditions are breeding grounds for lethal diseases of any nation at war. Clean water a luxury.
For a generation before WWI, infectious diseases like cholera, plague, dysentery, TB, smallpox, measles, and the flu were the dire norm. At the time and perhaps still, the Russian flu (1889-1892+) was considered the deadly disease bellwether, more disastrous than the 1918 Pandemic, lasting years pastpandemic and imparting after affect blows most severe. Accordingly, great steps were taken to minimize danger in order to preserve the health of the troops.
Sometimes WWI field sanitation included serviceable latrines, portable tubs, and cleaning stations like the one in the American Red Cross (ARC) photo op.10
Troops were rotated back and forth to divisional bath houses for rest and relief from the line; and before reentry back in the United States.
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Mobile bath disinfecting equipment, laundry machines, irons and delousing rinses were brought to the troops in the field or camps, and bases at home. Sterilizing wagons were deployed in New York to assist public health efforts to vanquish the flu. The barbershop station was the last stop before returning to the U.S.
cleanliness is next to battlefields block of images from multiple repositories12
Preventative measures weren’t enough. Virulent diseases are formidable foes.
Densely populated bases and transports weren’t ideal sanitary environments. The Navy yards in Boston and vicinity were among America’s busiest for transportation of troops and supplies. At the time of this aerial photograph circa 1906, the Navy Yards were called the Charlestown Navy Yard.
and Boston Navy Yard a decade later.
Vintage WWI embarkation and return photographs give a better idea of the scale of the operation of war: vessels are teeming with enlisted men squeezed shoulder to shoulder, potential carriers.
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Library of Congress 15
In August of 1918, Navy sailors shoreside were hospitalized in Boston with a flu so contagious that dozens at a time were admitted, and 1200 died by early October. The following brief account about the Boston outbreak was written in 1920 by Warren T. Vaughan, Preventative Medicine and Hygiene Department of the Harvard Medical School. His book, Influenza: An Epidemiological Study, was published by the American Journal of Hygiene in 1921. This Pandemic 1918 essential read includes Vaughan’s research investigating an outbreak at Camp Sevier in South Carolina, and a massive civilian census–thanks to a grant from Met Life– in Boston following the 1919 wave. (Vaughan was a physician at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital when he was drafted May 29, 1917; he advanced to lieutenant colonel.)
“Autumn Spread in the United States 1918
By the first of July, 1918, convalescent cases of influenza began to appear among members of the crews of transports and other vessels arriving in Boston from European parts. The number of such cases on each ship was usually not more than four or five, but Woodward records that in one or two instances between twenty and twenty-five individuals were sick on incoming vessels. None of these were seriously ill, none were sent to the hospital, and none died. The disease in this class of persons did not become severe until late August. Woodward has found on inquiry among practicing physicians that typical cases of influenza were seen with notable frequency in private practice in the vicinity of Boston during the month of August, and that they had developed no serious complications, the only after effect being the marked prostration. These mild preliminary cases failed to attract attention; first, because of their relative scarcity, and second because of their benign character. Public attention was first directed to the influenza in Boston by the apparently sudden appearance during the week ending August 28th of about fifty cases at the Naval station at Commonwealth Pier. Within the next two weeks over 2000 cases had occurred in the Naval forces of the First Naval district. One week later there was a similar sudden outbreak in the Aviation School and among the Naval Radio men at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The first death in Boston was reported on September 8th. The peak of daily incidence in Boston occurred around the first of October. In the week ending October 5th a total of 1,214 deaths from influenza and pneumonia was reported, while by the third week of October this total had fallen to less than 600, and for the week ending November 9th was down to 47…On or about December 1st the incidence again rose and continued increasing daily, to reach its peak in a severe recrudescence around December 31…”, and “A sudden and very significant increase was reported during the third week in August in the number of cases of pneumonia occurring in the army cantonment at Camp Devens, seeming to justify the statement that an influenza epidemic may have started among the soldiers there even before it appeared in the naval force…” 16Warren T. Vaughan
Sea of men (LOC) the author’s grandfather served on this ship; medical staff, Commonwealth pier (LOC); Naval training camp, MS (Naval Mus.) 17
Besides the naval bases in Boston, Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, was another military epicenter with fierce contagion and fast deaths; an estimated 15,000 men were infected by the flu and more than 800 died. Fort Devens was one of the country’s largest WW1 military bases, serving tens of thousands of soldiers in transition. According to the War Department research in 1926, “Accommodations were provided for only 36,000 men, but this figure often was exceeded, more especially in August and September 1918 when the strength was approximately 45,000 and 48,000 respectively.” Fort Devens housed the prisoners of war, also.
The base looks nearly a metropolis in vintage photographs. A selection of interior (clean!) and exterior shots were taken before the storm of flu. 18
‘Barracks at Camp Devens, Boys on Hillside Writing Letters, Ayer, Mass.’ the Keystone View Company stereograph card, includes a write up about the barracks verso:
Barracks at Camp Devens, Ayer, Mass. Camp Devens, near Ayer, Massachusetts, was one of those national army camps that had a miraculous and mushroom growth during the summer of 1917, when everything had to be done with a rush to train our boys for the great combat overseas. In ten weeks time, 5000 men, on a weekly payroll of $100,000, built 1,400 buildings, laid 20 miles of road, 400 miles of electric wiring, 60 miles of heating pipes, and installed 2200 shower baths. All of this work was accomplished in time for the cantonement [sic] to receive 40,000 men early in September, 1917, when the first selective draft men were impressed into service, a service which the patriotism of most led them to embrace willingly and without a murmur. The camp was a veritable city, and a well built one for its purposes. It had a post office, telegraph and telephone service, police station, guard house, fire department and hospital, all directed and manned by service men. The auditorium seated 3000 men, and the base hospital treated at times as many as 800 men in a single day. Bare and uninviting as the camp was to men accustomed to the comforts, and in many instances the luxuries of home, it provided an unusual degree of comfort to men in training for military service. The laundries and central power plant with its great furnaces are installed in the buildings with high chimneys which we see in the distance. The soldiers in the foreground were using a leisure hour to write home, for in the intervals of training it was to home that their thought turned, and at home parents and sweethearts always eagerly awaited letters.
As with the navy images, photographs of separate divisions illustrate the density at these camps and impossibility of social distancing in some environments.
Library of Congress19
Portraits of divisions as thick as forests help to illustrate the shattering descriptions expressed by front line responders confronting so many felled by flu. Camp physician, Roy Grist, related “boys laid out in long rows, ” 20 and Dr. Victor C. Vaughan recounted bodies “stacked like cord wood” in his autobiography published in 1926.
“…In the memory chambers of my brain there hang many pictures. Some are the joy of my life, too sacred and too personal to describe to any save my most intimate friends. But there are also ghastly ones which I would tear down and destroy were I able to do so, but this is beyond my power…While I am engaged in describing the horrors of my memory picture gallery I might as well say something of the others, and then I will promise never to touch this gruesome subject again…The fourth canvas is quite as large as the others. I see hundreds of young, stalwart men in the uniform of their country coming into the wards of the hospital in groups of ten or more. They are placed on the cots until every bed is full and yet others crowd in. The faces soon wear a bluish cast; a distressing cough brings up the blood stained sputum. In the morning the dead bodies are stacked about the morgue like cord wood. This picture was painted on my memory cells at the division hospital, Camp Devens, 1918, when the deadly influenza demonstrated the inferiority of human inventions in the destruction of human life.” 21Victor C. Vaughan
Library of Congress panoramas 22
As Dean of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and director of the Surgeon General’s Office of Communicable Disease, Vaughan was sent to Camp Devens as part of the federal government’s elite assessment team. Carol R. Byerly who wrote a book about the pandemic in 2005, The Fever of War, added in a 2010 journal article how, “Camp Devens physicians performing autopsies described influenza pathology as unique, characterized by “the intense congestion and hemorrhage” of the lungs. But as Vaughan and [John Hopkins pathologist William Henry] Welch investigated Camp Devens, the virus kept moving. Before any travel ban could be imposed, a contingent of replacement troops departed Devens for Camp Upton, Long Island, the Army’s debarkation point for France, and took influenza with them.” 23 It’s no wonder Vaughan didn’t dwell on this savage disease.
Another Vaughan, Dr. Warren T. Vaughan– who wrote in 1920 about the Boston outbreak in the Navy mentioned above– was “one of a board of officers appointed to investigate” a milder advent that “had broken out among troops stationed” in the army base at Camp Sevier, South Carolina. He explained how difficult pandemics were to predict.
“Sudden onset regimental infirmary…careful bacteriologic examination was made at that time and predominating organisms were found to be a gram negative coccus resembling micrococcus catarrhalis, and a non-hemolytic streptococcus. They were uncomplicated cases..at the time none of us dreamed of any possible connection with a severe epidemic to occur later (at that wave bacilli weren’t present)…”
Block of medical images, various collections 24
W.T. Vaughan felt not a single community in which there were reported cases reached tallying anywhere near the total of actual cases. And so he rolled up his sleeves. “Toward the end of January 1920 when recurrent epidemic as at its height in Boston,” Vaughn writes, “The author undertook with the aid of 13 trained social service workers and one physician graduate from the Harvard school of public health to make sickness census of 10,000 individuals,” in person, in six districts.
His statements from 1920 echo in today’s news:
“There is evidence –the collection of which has not been completed– pointing to the existence of cases of the disease in various centers, probably widely distributed, weeks before they were definitely recognized as influenza…”25 – Warren T. Vaughan, 1920
“Yes it does exist.”26 – Warren T. Vaughan, 1920
“Yet another phenomenon which would lead us to conclude that human intercourse is the most potent factor in the transmission of influenza is the fact that there is frequently a high increase in the influenza rate following crowd gatherings. Parkes observed long ago that person in overcrowded habitations, particularly in some epidemic, suffered especially, and several instances are on record of a large school or barracks being first attacked and the disease prevailing there for some days, before it became prevalent in the towns around…In discussing the recrudescence of influenza in Boston in November and December, Woodward remarks as follows: “Whether or not it may be more than a succession of coincidences it is certainly of interest to note that the November outbreak of influenza showed itself three days after the Peace Day celebration on November 12th, when the streets, eating places and public conveyances were jammed with crowds; that the December epidemic began to manifest itself after the Thanksgiving holiday…and that reported cases mounted rapidly during the period of Christmas shopping…” 27 – Warren T. Vaughan, 1920
Vaughan looked to the past as he researched the present:
He quoted 1847 influenza research by Thomas Watson that resonates poignantly:
“…although the general descent of the malady is, as I have said, very sudden and diffused, scattered cases of it, like the first droppings of a thunder shower, have usually been remembered as having preceded it.” Thomas Watson on Influenza, 1847 29
Local enlisted lads wrote about the infamous flu in letters home to Gloucester, Mass., and other Cape Ann towns before Labor Day, although they weren’t read or published until after the disease exploded in Gloucester. Private John J. Smith wrote his mother, Mrs. Charles W. Smith of 5 Center Court, a long letter dated September 1, 1918. At one point he puts it plainly: “I feel better over here than I did in Camp Devens and sure have got that same good old appetite…”30 The letter appeared in the Gloucester Daily Times on the last day of September, included as part of the series, “Our Boys Write Bright Letters Home.”
Lt. J. Irving Baker from Manchester-by-the-sea wrote his mother, “Somewhere from France, July 23, 1918.” about how he was, “getting along fine now, you can tell by this paper. I went down the street myself and bought it. I have been moved into another building where I have a room with another officer. It is fine. From the window I can see hills and trees. It is a summer resort in the foothills of the Alps. There is a mineral spring here in which I hope to have a bath before I leave.” He broke off before mailing, and added an update July 31 from an Army base hospital in Allery, France, where he was sent to convalesce.
“We just arrived at the convalescent camp and are pretty tired, did not get much chance to sleep on the train. This is a small place called Allery [sic] about 180 miles northeast of Flermont. It looks a good deal like an army cantonment with wooden barracks, partitioned into rooms, tow in a room. The town is only a station, cafe and a few houses…You know I lost nearly all my things when I came to the hospital, I am managing to get a kit together after a fashion. …They raise many geese in this section of France…Aug. 5. I am feeling fine now, only short of breath when I go up stairs or exert myself–as I’m pretty tired just now.”
The letter was published in the Manchester Cricket on September 21, 1918 within a column devoted to “Letters From Our Boys at the Front”.
Allery [sic] photo, WWI Centennial Commission31
Another soldier from Manchester, Private Wade Revere Brooks, joined the Marines. In a detailed letter from South Carolina, he described multiple quarantines at basic training camp(s) that began for him immediately upon arrival, back in June 1918, and with each new skills rotation until deployment. His undated letter was featured in the Manchester Cricket on October 26, 1918, long after the crest of the pandemic. From the contents it seems to have been written in September. He signs off:
“…After coming off the range we were held for the influenza quarantine, and we are now awaiting for shipment to Virginia where we get our overseas training, which consists of gas attack drills, hand grenade throwing and more trench work. I hope we will move soon. There are six thousand trained troops waiting for the quarantine for Flu to be lifted. Well I have told you as much as I can think of just now, so I will close hoping this will interest you some. I am sincerely yours, Pvt. Wade Revere Brooks, Company 332, Battalion O, United States Marine Corps, Paris Island, South Carolina. 32
Acting Mess Sergeant Frank A. McDonald sent a postcard from the hospital at Camp Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina, conveyed in the Gloucester Daily Times October 22, 1918 , “Many Local Boys Had the Influenza”:
“He is in the base hospital recovering from a three weeks’ serious illness of influenza. He states that Herman Amero* (illegible) is recovering after four weeks siege of pneumonia, Herbert Joyce and Robert Smith, Gloucester boys at the same camp, are also on the mending hand. The other Gloucester boys are all well, he [Frank A. McDonald] says.”
Social distancing is absent in the post office at Camp Jackson when this photograph was taken that September. Camp Jackson utilized tents for its flu management.
(Nat. Mus. of Health & Med., 1918) Camp Jackson, SC33
War news produced by the military stressed the strength in numbers of America’s fighting forces as with this 1917 photograph “Embarked for France”.
or this ‘We won’t stop coming till it’s over Over There’ image published on the front page of the Tribune Graphic September 8, 1918.
“This photograph, taken aboard one of the first American transports sailing for France has just been released by the censor. At the time Germany was still loudly boasting that we couldn’t get an army over there in time to make any difference. To-day she is singing another tune.”
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Besides arriving sick, more than 12,000 enlisted died from the flu pandemic on the troop transports heading to France before they landed.35 Men in the September 1918 photograph could very well have been among the afflicted.
When the flu was mentioned in Stars and Stripes, the newspaper written by American servicemen for soldiers, it was late news and downplayed. This article, “Hot Coffee Checks Flu at St. Nazaire: Colonel, Cooks, and K.P’s Steam Germs Out of Newcomers”, published December 13, 1918, claimed that coffee, climate and command vanquished the deadly epidemic.
“It was hot coffee—thousands of gallons of it –that ended the deadly influenza epidemic in the dark autumn days when that disease was working ravages among American troops en route to France.”
If the extent of flu deaths within the military that spring and summer were understood, the government’s fall conscription push for 15 million registrations may have been impossible. Who among us would knowingly support a draft for our sons and fathers, our brothers and friends, with such a lethal disease out of control at training camps and ships bound for France?
The records do appear to indicate that federal guidelines were mostly held back until after the September 12th national draft registration day (and the preceding parades and rallies that encouraged registration). By that date, officials including public health and infectious disease experts within the military knew key facts: that the death rate was higher in barracks and cantonments than tent camps; that quarantines were necessary at training camps; that geography was more important than cramped quarters; that healthy carriers exist; and that nurses and non commissioned suffered more than officers and privates. Gloucester would welcome and benefit from this military expertise.
Enlisted men who succumbed during training or transport, died from pneumonia or flu “in the line of duty. ”37 Still, death in battle was mourned more openly than death by disease, tamping down stories and comparisons about the flu. Efforts to reduce transmission at a time of heightened engagement in WW1 — whether communication was instantaneous (telegraph) or not; word of mouth or not; censored or not– were next to impossible by Labor Day.
The flu’s arrival in Gloucester was more or less timed with Boston’s.
World War I guaranteed that the end of summer of 1918 wasn’t carefree and innocent. Dramatic photographs about World War 1 were published nationally. This photograph, a “remarkable view of a battle scene on the Marne in which lines of French infantrymen are crawling forward into action behind a French tank”, was printed on the cover of a photogravure insert of the Sunday New York Times.38
This collage layout39 conveyed the sheer scale of the Labor Day parade in New York City, and support for our nation at war.
The traditional Labor Day weekend in Gloucester, Massachusetts, was a big one with residents and visitors traveling to-and-fro thanks to its long established destination reputation. Families hosted guests from in state and out of state. Pleasure boats and fishing boats set out and returned. Art fans were encouraged to Rocky Neck studios and the Gallery on the Moors exhibition before the season closed.
Despite a one-day traffic study banning cars that Sunday, to compel gas rationing, Stage Fort Park was packed:
“A large crowd participated in the picnic at Stage Fort Park yesterday, under the auspices of the Wainola Temperance Society and Waino Band. Two fine concerts were given by the band under the direction of Charles A. Glover. There were several tents for the sale of ice cream, tonic and lunches. Two baseball games attracted a large throng in the morning and afternoon…”40
On the pages of the Gloucester Daily Times and Cape Ann Advertiser and the Manchester Cricket, two local newspapers established in 1888, cultural events, casualty lists, and letters from enlisted men were published –unavoidably and disconcertingly –on the same page at times. Public notices and benefits in support of the war were broadcast over the long weekend, like this striking appeal for fruit stones for gas masks:
“Every peach stone counts: Patriotic barrel at board of trade will receive your contribution “The Board of trade peach stone campaign is meeting with wonderful success and the patriotic sugar barrel which has been placed in front of the rooms of Main street is rapidly being filled with the precious stones. Not only save the peach stones, but plum stones, olive pits, nutshells of all kinds except peanuts because they all make the best charcoal for making the gas masks our soldiers in France wear…One hundred peach stones makes enough charcoal for one mask and peaches are right in the height of their season. Get busy now and bring them…”41
The Gloucester Daily Times (GDT) regularly published submissions from the community on one or two inside pages, too. The individual joys & sorrows, boasts, and whereabouts were sorted by town and neighborhood with subheadings Rockport, Pigeon Cove, and Manchester; and in Gloucester, West Gloucester, Riverdale, Annisquam, Lanesville, Magnolia, and East Gloucester. The columns are chatty and informal, a bit Facebook meets Page Six depending upon the neighborhood.
Downtown, or specifically the Fort and Portuguese Hill, did not have a section.
Because the general public was not informed about the severity of flu deaths in the military that spring and summer, and even the experts missed possible tell tale signs, the busy destination season continued into September, as did the dreadful war.
The comings and goings over Labor Day were detailed within a September 3rd East Gloucester column. Residents hosting summer guests, including young men on furlough, were quite possibly literal harbingers of doom or vectors. Visitors on Mt. Pleasant returned to Worcester and Watertown, and back to Somerville from Chapel Street.
“…Joseph Ehler of the U.S. navy transport service is spending a brief furlough with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Ehler of Mt. Pleasant Avenue. Walter Peterson of Camp Devens, Ayer, spent the holiday weekend on 8 Davis Street with his mother, Nina. Mrs. Charles E. Locke and family returned to Worcester from Mt. Pleasant. Miss Suzanne Parsons of Mt. Pleasant back from a visit in the South to resume duties at Watertown High School…Mr. and Mrs. Fred Benson and little daughter Elizabeth of Somerville were the weekend and holiday guests of Mrs. Benson’s parents, Lewis Rowe on Chapel Street.“42
The East Gloucester column published on September 4th reveals a few more threads of what’s to come. East Gloucester would be hit particularly bad.
“…Walter Fenn, the artist, is improving gradually from his illness and at present he is at Rocky Neck.” (At the Chapel Street church school) “a full attendance is requested as business of importance is to come up for consideration and plans for the year made…There remains one more day to view the exhibition of paintings and sculpture at the Gallery-on-the-Moors…Members of the Chapel Street Baptist Sunday School will gather (for the end) of the summer season…” 43
The first day of school commenced Wednesday, September 4, 1918. Headlines from the paper pronounced a hopeful beginning, “Teachers and Pupils Enter on Work of the Year with Vigor”. That evening the city hosted a huge public event, “Community Sing at City Hall”.
“Community Sing Filled City Hall: Voices Raised High in Patriotic Song
The Community Sing at City hall…combined with the addresses by Dr. M. M. Graham, district service manager of the United States Shipping Board and Corporal Fran A.H. Street, a returned soldier who was twice wounded and later gassed while serving with the Canadian forces, attracted an audience which filled City Hall. Patriotic music was sung, opening with the “Star Spangled Banner,” following which a proclamation was read by President Antoine Silva of the municipal council, representing the city, after which the vast audience joined in singing “Speed Our Republic”…Among those on the platform was Private Joseph Merchant, who has recently returned from “over there” on a furlough after being wounded. The meeting closed with the singing of “America.”44
This special event revved up attention for the draft registration two weeks away. Under the Selective Service Act, all men ages 18 through 45 would be required to register on September 12, 1918, the third and final registration for WWI. 45 Local volunteer committees handled registration for this mandatory conscription and dispensed draft cards and exemption rulings. Booster efforts like the Community Sing in Gloucester were successful. About 13% of Gloucester’s total population would show up at the polls to register.46
Two days later, the first article about a lethal flu in Massachusetts was published in the Gloucester Daily Times on September 6, 1918 with the state surgeon general’s warning. There was no mention of the disease striking Fort Devens, or any other camp or military branch. The spread of the virulent flu was aptly described as a “pandemic”. Though small and buried on the inside pages of the GDT, it was printed– ahead of other papers—, “Lookout Now, Old Mr. Grip is Around”. 47
Old Mr. Grip was already here.
The funeral announcement for young mother Mrs. Margaret E. Miller of Bass Avenue (see maps)48 who died September 9th, 1918, “after an illness of only a week”, was one of the first published flu deaths in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Miller’s funeral was held at home, which was common, at her in-laws on Traverse Street in East Gloucester. She left behind a husband and their three month old daughter. The first civilian flu death reported in Boston was just one day earlier. Quincy came 6 days later. Worcester ten.
As the first major American offensives in France were underway, the Massachusetts battle of the flu turned into a public health crisis.
On September 11, 1918 hundreds of cases of flu in the general public were reported in Boston and dozens in Quincy. The previous day, visitors from Everett and Quincy (where the flu flared early as well) were visiting East Gloucester; the church event advertised earlier in the week assembled a crowd of 140 people; and another resident on Rocky Neck was sick, Letter Carrier Sherman T. Walen. 49
Were the Gloucester residents among the carriers or those exposed to the virus?
“Mrs. John Brainerd Wilson has been entertaining her sister, Miss Hildreth of Everett, who is supervisor in the public schools of that city. Mrs. Fred Pierson and Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop C. Sherman and child, all of Quincy, are spending a week at 62 Mt. Pleasant avenue. Letter Carrier Sherman T. Walen is indisposed at his home on Rocky Neck…The Ladies’ Society of the Chapel Street Church will hold a basket picnic in West Gloucester tomorrow…The Chapel Street Baptist church school gathered on Sunday noon, for the first time after the summer adjournment…There were 140 members of the school present…”50
The School Committee convened, voting to uphold the marriage bar for female teachers, unless the husband was deployed. Duncan Wright of Annisquam was brought to Court by the Board of Health for “collecting swill without permit”. Sometime that week the Schooners Natalie Hammond and Athlete left Gloucester Harbor. And on the front page of the paper September 11, 1918 a reminder about Registration at all the voting places was the headline:
“All Flags to Fly and Bands to Play tomorrow– From 7 o’clock tomorrow morning until 8 o’clock tomorrow evening the voting places in this city and Rockport will be open for the enrollment of those coming within the new draft every man between the ages of 18 to 45 years both inclusive not already registered must register tomorrow for the Selective Service Draft.”51
“Tomorrow our streets will be thronged with men,” the Governor’s proclamation urging liquor stores to close began, “The day should be devoted entirely to such activities as will best expedited the enrollment of such a large number of men as are required by the National Government to enroll for military service.” Gloucester encouraged a corps of volunteers, registrars and interpreters for those unable to speak English.
Though undoubtedly effective in generating support for the war and community, the local notices, meetings and events predate the coming calamity. With hindsight they make for a wincing read. Unlike the general population in those days, contemporary readers know how each of these gatherings, little or small, ordinary or special, might spread the deadly contagion and end.
Burn the peach stone barrel!
Avoid committee meetings!
Steer clear of the crowds—especially singing ones!
10 Days after Labor Day weekend . 5 Days after the Community Sing rally.
There was a massive turnout on draft day, September 12, 1918. “Cape Ann Awake to Registration: Over 1500 Had Respond to Country’s Call Before 11’ O’clock This Forenoon” was the headline, and after all the registrants were counted,
“The Total registration in the entire country is expected to pass the estimated 13,000,000 mark. Massachusetts has contributed 472,000, it is estimated and Boston has listed 102,867. Total registrations here yesterday were 3024 including 321 at Rockport and Pigeon Cove and 145 received by mail. Today 14 more have come in, making the grand total 3038…”52
Enlisted immigrants comprised nearly 20% of the US Army during WW1. The draft in Gloucester indicates a comparable percentage of declared and non-declared registrations on September 12th. Volunteers helped with in-person interpretation and written translation in multiple languages, especially Italian and Portuguese.
(Lib. of Congress) Vice President Thomas R. Marshall draws draft number 53
A second, smaller headline was startling: “Post Office Hit By Grip Malady: Eight Carriers and Two Clerks Victims of Prevailing Distemper,” 54 the first article reporting a flu outbreak in Gloucester, published 10 days after Labor Day, a week after the community sing, and two days after Letter Carrier Sherman T. Walen’s failing health was listed in the East Gloucester column. [A little over a week after Registration day, William Francis Murray, the Postmaster in Boston, died from the flu on September 21, 1918.]
The Gloucester post office was located at the corner of Main & Pleasant Streets in 1918 (photo ©c ryan)55
Post Office staff City Directory, 1917. Annotated with red arrows to indicate flu cases in 1918. 56
Inside the community pages, two enlisted Ehler brothers are mentioned in the East Gloucester column, and a brother-in-law visiting on leave; a third brother had visited from Camp Devens over Labor Day. With so many ill neighbors, the column required a sub-heading: “Spanish Influenza Prevalent Here” and included the first obituary to mention Spanish Influenza as the cause of death. Bertram Goodwin of 16 Highland Street fell sick September 5th and was dead within a week, among the first victims of the flu in Gloucester and the first to be public.
“Mrs. Carrie Hamsdell of Winchester is the guest of Mrs. Nellie M. Parsons of Highland street. Mrs. Parsons has just returned from a visit (illegible) the guest of Mrs. Jewell , of Boston, in Stratham, N.H. The Ladies’ Aid of the Methodist Episcopal church will hold a business meeting in the vestry this evening. Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Mason of Fall River, spent the week end with Mrs. Mason’s mother, Mrs. James Ehler of 51 Mt. Pleasant avenue. Mr. Mason is stationed as first class cook in naval service at Newport and he was here on two days leave of absence. Mr. and Mrs. Victor D. Ehler and family the former who is stationed at Bumpkin Island and Walter A. Ehler who is stationed at Camp Devens were (…illegible…). Spanish Influenza Prevalent Here The prevailing distemper of grip and Spanish influenza is felt much in this ward. Harry Dagle of the U.S. Mail Force is ill at home on Highland Place. Sherman T. Walen also of the U.S. Mail Force is very ill at his home on Rocky Neck. Freeman Hodson, a native of this place and letter carrier in the Mt. Pleasant Avenue lower district route of ward one, is confined to his home on Essex Avenue. Stanton and Eleanor Farrell, both children of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Farrell of East Main Street are ill with the malady. Agnes Ryan, the young daughter of Mrs. Alice Ryan is confined to her home on East Main Street. Fletcher Wonson, the young son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank P. Wonson has been ill for several days. Chester Brigham of Haskell Street, agent for the Metropolitan Insurance Company, was out yesterday, after a severe attack of the grip. Ida Gerring, the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Gerring of Avon Court is a late victim of the distemper. Mrs. Joseph T. Moulton was stricken on Tuesday, at her home on Highland Street. Miss Blanch Gilbert of East Main Street was stricken Tuesday and Dr. Arthur S. Torrey took to his bed today with the same trouble that has stricken a large number of his patients. Sudden Death of Bertram R. Goodwin Bertram R. Goodwin a well-known citizen of this ward, died at his home on Highland Street yesterday morning resulting from the effects of the prevailing disease, grip or Spanish influenza, which is broadcast at this time. The deceased was taken ill last Thursday…seven years ago he married Miss Della E. Frost of this ward. The funeral will be strictly private, owing to illness in the family.”57Gloucester Daily Times, East Gloucester column, Sept. 12
On September 13th a tiny notice was released nationally, prompted by complaints from colleges. The War Department cancelled football for “colleges and universities with Students’ Army Training Corps,” surely a preventative flu measure based on so many military outbreaks, but not stated directly.
Letter Carrier Samuel Curtis died Saturday, September 14th, at his parents’ home, two of his siblings still sick. That same day, the first guidelines from the U.S. Surgeon General were published nationally, very likely ready to go, but held back until after the draft registration.
Infectious Agent – The bacillus influence of pfeefifer [sic]. (Illegible) secretions from the nose, throat and respiratory passages or (illegible)
Incubation period: one to four days, generally two.
Mode of transmission – by direct contact or indirect contact through use of handkerchief, common towels, cups, mess gear, or other objects contaminated with fresh secretions. (illegible)
Period of communicability as long as the person harbors the causative organism in the respiration tract.
Method of control
(A) The infected individual and his environment.
“Recognition of the disease- By clinical manifestations and bacteriological findings.
Isolation- Bed isolation of infected individuals during the course of the disease. Screens between beds are to be recommended.
Immunization- Vaccines are used with only partial success.
Quarantine- None; impracticable.
Concurrent disinfection- The discharges from the mouth, throat, nose (illegible)causative organism is short-lived outside of the host.– End of U.S. Surgeon General Notification, published in the Gloucester Daily Times 9/14/1918
(B)General measure- The attend of the case should wear a gauze mask. During epidemics persons should avoid crowded assemblages, street cars and the like. Education as regards the danger of promiscuous coughing and pitting. Patients, because of the tendency to the development of broncho-pneumonia should be treated in well ventilated, warm rooms. The present outbreak of influenza may be controlled more or less extent only by intelligent action on the part of the public. “There is no such thing as an effective quarantine in the case of pandemic influenza,” Dr. Blue adds, “but precautionary measures may be taken and should be taken. Thus far we have little information as to the susceptibility of children, but it is fair to assume this type of Influenza might spread through a school as easily and rapidly as measles for example.”
By Monday three more deaths were reported and at least 300 cases of flu in town. A second letter carrier, Sherman T. Walen, succumbed. Not surprisingly, 600 students and 10 teachers skipped school, maybe sick or helping at home, or too scared to attend. Before the next school bell rang, Mayor Stoddart issued the first flu proclamation closing schools and banning all indoor gatherings. (The exemptions? Bars and churches were the last to close, and only after guidelines and state mandates.) The school board had to scramble and assemble to vote for closure as the action preceded procedure. Addison Gilbert Hospital was closed to visitors to prevent contagion. A Red Cross Emergency relief hospital was readied for patients, installed within the Spanish War Memorial Hall of the police station.
This strong roll-out happened within the first five or six days of Gloucester’s outbreak!
Clearly, city officials and various movers and shakers must have already sprang into action based on how fast they moved. Gloucester had the courage and foresight to get out ahead of the epidemic as much as possible, and far too much experience with the enormous sense of urgency and resolve required to handle a crisis after so many thousands of fishermen lost at sea. (From 1900 – 1918 nearly 800 Gloucester fishermen died at sea. A single February storm in 1879 claimed 143.) The devastating Influenza deaths in just five weeks added to a legacy of loss and coping.
On September 23 Boston reported 23 deaths from Influenza; Gloucester 11.
At the post office where the disease surged, nine staff still struggled and cases in East Gloucester surged. A few vessels returned with sick crew. Sawyer Free Public library closed on the 24th. Physicians and nurses from other towns arrived to help. There were so many new cases in Gloucester they enlarged the new Red Cross emergency hospital at the police station (and would again). Still, more hospital beds were necessary. The State Armory on Prospect Street seemed the ideal site to ready, however the State refused the request. Alderman (City Councilor) Poole headed to Boston with Osborne Knowles, Christian Saunders and John Radcliffe, representatives from Gloucester’s Board of Health and Public Safety, to negotiate with state and federal officials in person.
“That the authorities were fully cognizant of conditions in Gloucester was evident from the statement of Mr. Long, who said that Revere; Quincy and Gloucester were the most infected of any in the state. Mr. Long offered the committee every assistance and relief that could be given to handle the situation…In the opinion of state officials and leading physicians the out-door method of treating the disease is the most effective and successful. So interested were the officials in the local situation that the surgeon-general’s department yesterday afternoon notified Capt. Carleton H. Parsons, senior officer of the local state guard units; instructing him to present to the local authorities the offer of the state to send to Gloucester a military hospital unit to cope with the situation.”Lieut. John A. Radcliffe, State Guard, resident, and veteran Gloucester Daily Times (GDT) reporter of nearly 20 years & volunteer on the Board of Health for 15 prior to the pandemic
The state discussions prompted additional protective measures, informed by the best doctors in the armed services. There were more cases in Massachusetts by then than all the other states combined. Influenza cases at Camp Devens had already climbed to 11,000. The Gloucester contingent left the Boston conference armed with a state of the art plan for a crisis team to be deployed in Gloucester, a military unit of doctors, nurses and multiple local State Guard companies. It would be the first one established for care of civilians and a model to follow. All necessary presentations and votes were sorted by nightfall.
“The adjutant general’s department in Boston was immediately communicated with, and arrangements made to send tents, physicians, nurses’ field kitchen, military equipment and supplies to this city.”John Radcliffe, Gloucester Daily Times
Meanwhile, another floor was added to the Red Cross Emergency Hospital, State Guard called out, and police instructed to enforce any Board of Health recommendations such as the anti-spitting rule and fruit stand closures. Various strict fumigation requirements were put into immediate effect and there would be no crowding on street cars. Without calling it a quarantine, mighty efforts to effectively shut Gloucester down ensued. The City banned outdoor gatherings now, too. A women’s suffragist meeting and Liberty Loan rallies were among the first cancellations. “Gloucester calls her people to rise promptly to the emergency!” urged the op Ed.
Statewide the precise number of infected cases was a guess at best. (It would be a week before reporting deaths was required by law, ten days after Gloucester so ordered.) In local war news at this time, Gloucester advocates were seeking reimbursement from the federal government for vessels sunk by submarine– while pressing for flu support. Massachusetts established an Emergency Public Health Committee on September 25, 1918. Their first order of business was to ban all public gatherings especially in light of the upcoming liberty loan rallies and parades. It was suggested that the Federal Government was likely to take charge in Massachusetts as a war measure. The State Board of Health published treatment guidelines the next day because of the scarcity of physicians and nurses, and push back after bans and restrictions, which Henry Endicott defended mightily:
“…There are undoubtedly towns and cities in the Commonwealth from which the influenza has not been reported, but of course we must face the fact that the chances are very much in favor of the spread of the disease. I urge such communities to assume their part of the common responsibility, and to act as if they were already in the midst of the epidemic.
The doctors and nurses of Massachusetts who are devoting themselves to the care of the sick in this emergency are all heroes and heroines, and many of them have paid the penalty. Not one of them, as far as I am aware, has shirked in any way; they have overworked; they are without sleep—yet, still they go on. Massachusetts can never repay its debt to this noble band of men and women. We are using every effort, both through the government and outside the State to get additional help for these people… (Regarding) Cancellation of the Liberty loan meetings… It will never be said of Massachusetts that she was so immersed in her own private troubles that she for one moment failed to heed the Nation’s call to practical service. Massachusetts must and will do her part.”Henry B. Endicott, Chairman Massachusetts Emergency Public Health Committee, established Sept. 25, 1918
Dr. Kelley, Massachusetts Commissioner of Health and a member of the state’s Emergency Public Health Committee, reached out to U.S. Surgeon General Blue. The Federal government lent army and navy doctors to take over doctor assignments. Kelley appointed a nursing Commission and assigned Miss Billings from his department as chairman. They hired 100 nurses to serve in case of emergency in the Massachusetts State Guard. “These nurses were given the rank and pay of Lieutenant. It is believed that this is the first time such rank and pay have been given to women in the United States…” 59 The state deployed fifteen to Gloucester plus about 10 more registered nurses. The federal government released a detailed “Influenza” circular September 26. By then forty percent of Gloucester’s telephone company were absent “on account of sickness either of themselves or relatives whose care is devolving upon them.” The Gloucester Manufacturing Company “closed their plant indefinitely” and the Ipswich mills announced a shut down. There were 49 deaths in the city, up from 11 three days prior, among them Laura Silva, Alderman Silva’s sister, who died that morning from “pneumonia following an attack of the prevailing influenza.” Acting Governor Coolidge appealed to the President, select neighboring states, and the Mayor of Toronto for physicians and nurses:
“Massachusetts urgently in need of additional doctors and nurses to check growing epidemic of influenza. Our doctors and nurses are being thoroughly mobilized and worked to the limit. Many cases can receive no attention whatever. Hospitals are full, but arrangements can be made for outside facilities. Earnestly solicit your influence in obtaining for us this needed assistance in any way you can.”Governor urgent telegrams disseminated 9/26/1918 (published in GDT 9/27/1918)
With no time to spare, the State Military Unit was installed on the grounds of Addison Gilbert Hospital Friday September 27, 1918, and completed before the sun was down Saturday.
“In a remarkably short space of time the tents were up and the unit well established, so that this afternoon it will be ready for patients. There are 100 tents for patients, each waterproof, provided with board floor, cot and other essentials for the proper care of the sick…The field hospital is a wonderful institution and shows in a large measure what the State Guard can be depended upon to bring about. Day and night the men have worked to put the hospital in shape and to look out for the sick ones. It is simply remarkable the way the many details have been arranged to establish such a wonderful institution well worthy of the name. Electric lights, water, sewerage and floors in the tents have all been put in, chiefly through the efforts of the fine types of men that compose the State Guard.”John Radcliffe, GDT
Another 100 tents for the state guard, plus any necessary for administration and operations, were erected. Over on Main Street, the Red Cross established a children’s hospital in the Girl’s Club over Gloucester National Bank. Anticipating great need, the public safety committee announced an Emergency Fundraising drive for the Local Red Cross administered by Cape Ann Savings Bank. The Mayor and all but one Alderman were struck by flu—all those meetings! — and still that Monday they brought forth more precautions, seizing any and all educational opportunities and community measures possible to halt the spread. Public funerals were banned and soda fountains closed, though the latter was rescinded in one day. Detailed flu mask (face masks) instructions were published as part of optimum patient care and prevention.
Mayor Stoddart urged fresh air and ventilation.
“Every house whether a case of disease has existed or not, should be thoroughly aired during the day…Clean up the back yards, dumps and filthy places. If your neighbor will not act, consult the Board of Health or its emergency agents and prompt action will be taken. Let everyone co-operate and assist our health officials in the excellent work they are doing.”Mayor Stoddardt, September 30, 1918
The deadline for the Draft Registration questionnaire was postponed until influenza was over. One bright note that bleak weekend, ten nurses arrived from Ontario, Canada, and five from the state thanks to the commonwealth’s plea and Gloucester’s hustle. Unlike other locations during the Pandemic 1918, folks rushed here to help rather than away.
On October 1 the City implored women to volunteer in the fight against the flu. Major A. N. Thomson, an esteemed infectious disease specialist, was detailed from the US Army Medical Corps to command the entire camp. The Major was empowered by the Federal authorities to take over facilities and property should they fail to be turned over, which never happened. Mayor Thomson’s excellent communication skills were evident his first day: daily briefings and public health notices commenced and a Civilian Relief Committee was established. Some restrictions were specific to Gloucester such as the mandatory fumigation of any vessels coming or going, the need for heaters for the State Guard and the curious ban on milk dealers, at the time believed to be a vector in this city. The general boil order may have covered it sufficiently; political savvy can be added to Major Thomson’s talents.
On October 2 the state issued its first Official influenza Bulletin
Doctors at Tufts University announced vaccine research and gave the city supplies and face masks. The Governor added to a growing insistence to bring teachers back to help since schools were closed. Deaths and infections continued rising in Gloucester. The Red Cross Emergency Hospital was open 24 hours a day until physicians would be able to resume nightly calls; the base was closed to all but patients and caregivers. Despite fumigation and social distancing protocols, 33 men from the street railway (trolley) were afflicted.
On October 3, 1918, after the community sing that first week of September, after registering for the draft on September 12, after advocating on behalf of the citizens of Gloucester, after traveling to Boston, Alderman Poole died from the flu.
These public servants were aware of the dangers of viral infection –if not the extent of this particular lethal disease– yet they met in person with great exigency, to keep people safe. They looked to science as they wanted to deliver model guidelines of care. As the death toll climbed they worked hard to determine how to halt its spread and prevent transmission.
The flu battle continued. The city spread lime on “bad spots and catch basins” throughout the city. Major Thomson estimated 800 cases of infection, a marked decrease. Local businesses donated food and treats to the base camp. The Red Cross measured the State Guard for winter uniforms and shoes. At the three week mark since the first deaths were reported, Gloucester recorded 137 deaths by flu. Dr. Manning was brought from France where he had charge of a children’s hospital, helpful with so many children sick, or having lost a parent, maybe two. Major Thomson declared that the teamwork in Gloucester “was certainly most remarkable, the like of which he had never before experienced and congratulated the city upon its good fortune.”
Bars were closed October 8. The death list fell to 3.
There are at present 10 patients in camp whose condition is normal, these being children who are being kept in camp under the supervision of the hospital staff until such time as proper home conditions are found for them. The number of patients sick is 32, those dangerously ill 3, and those seriously ill 2. During 24 hour period from yesterday noon there were three deaths. A noticeable feature in connection with the hospital camp is the very small percentage of sickness that has occurred among the soldiers.Major Thomson October 8, 1918
Dr. Street joined Thomson’s medical team. He was the first to volunteer in Massachusetts to fight the flu and the last to leave Gloucester’s emergency. He had been practicing in China for 20 years. After Gloucester, he was sent to France.
Conditions were improving .
Not only the state, but the nation as well has its eyes on Gloucester at the present time. The first open air camp was established at Corey Hill, Boston, for the merchant marine, but the one in this city is the first for the civilian population and is far ahead of even the one at Corey Hill, so Col. Brooks, surgeon general, has stated. The wonderful success of the out-door treatment, the wonderful organization of the local unit and its many details is being set up as a model for other communities to follow.John Radcliffe writing for the GDT, October 8, 1918
Plans turned to social work and after care. There were 121 patients at the hospital camp on October 10. Thanks to Dr. Manning,
This morning the big convalescent tent was completed and fitted with chairs, settees, tables, a graphophone and literature. Here the patients who have reached the convalescent stage will go each day, until they are in proper health to return to their homes. The graphophone was kindly donated by the Y.M.C.A. who have extended many other courtesies and valuable assistance in the present emergency.John Radcliffe
The Mayor encouraged substantial philanthropy: Elizabeth Sherman (Mrs. Henry Souther) “offered the Red Cross the free use of (one of the) Souther residence(s in Gloucester), on Brightside avenue, Bass Rocks, as a children’s nursery for the care of the children now under treatment at the State Emergency Hospital Post and who on account of sickness or other conditions at their homes cannot go to their homes upon being discharged from the hospital.” [She was the daughter of Judge Edgar J. Sherman who built the iconic home perched on Bass rocks and nicknamed the gilded birdcage and Judge Sherman Cottage. Souther developed Bass Rocks and Sherman was a Trustee.]
Anticipating the closure of the camp and emulating its success, excitement built for a permanent out-door hospital to handle communicable diseases, and for pivoting efforts to support the Home Service Committee of the Local Red Cross:
“Only those who have been in close touch with the local conditions can have any idea of the extent of the suffering, or of the conditions that exist in many homes on account of the inroads of the epidemic. Whole families have been stricken and that means that the earning power of these families have been shattered. In many families it will be weeks before the members of the families who work will be (illegible) back bills to be paid, homes to be cleaned up, the sick made strong even after the over-worked doctor has ceased his visits. And in many homes where death has entered, sometimes both father and mother have been taken, leaving children who must be looked after and cared for for a long time, and where the father has been taken the mother and the children without the father’s care for a long time.”John Radcliffe, GDT October 11, 1918
On October 15th, Dr. Manning and some of the nurses were reassigned. The Trustees of Addison Gilbert Hospital were willing to grant the Board of Health and hence the City use of it land for such an out-door hospital, and voted that way just in case. In the end the city opted to purchase the Braewood property, the former estate of Maria H. Bray. (Bray operated a popular summer inn from her home; Louisa May Alcott was one famous guest). For convalescents not yet ready to go home and any lodging necessary for nurses, the site was ideal. St. John’s stepped up to provide shelter for convalescents that were homeless. Major Thomson’s last day at the base was October 16, the first day no deaths were reported. The State Guard started to breakdown the State Emergency Hospital Post. On October 18th the city council voted to continue the ban on public gatherings until October 22, 1918, and the school committee voted to re-open October 23. A resolution of appreciation of all who helped in the epidemic was passed October 24th. The State Emergency Hospital Post officially closed September 25, 1918. The total number of infections on closing day was 70 cases. Despite harrowing weeks at war and battling the flu, Gloucester surpassed its fundraising allotment for liberty bonds AND an emergency health fund.
Gloucester’s destination reputation, proximity to Boston, fishing industry, people & cultures, and their patriotic hearts, evident in strong showings at the community sing Sept. 5 and draft registration Sept.12, heightened gatherings and travel into and out of the city, especially at the end of the summer and the first weeks in September. Enlisted on leave came home. People traveled for art. Sadly, the timing was a tragic storm of transmissibility.
City, state, and federal leaders’ decisive response to establish temporary emergency facilities to address a broad range of needs, and to recruit personnel were stunning. An extensive operation was set into motion right out the gate, beginning with crucial partnerships with organizations like the Gloucester District Nursing Assoc., Salvation Army, and district Red Cross, as well as priming boards and committees, and a doctor and nurse network. The bold decision that both the “new” Armory on Prospect Street and Addison Gilbert Hospital would remain non-contaminant institutions in full operation was a masterstroke that allowed for maximum state and federal support not to mention the best in public health care. The government could send crisis teams straight away and did. Gloucester benefited from the latest military research, and top doctors serving in the U.S. armed forces. Major Thomson, the army major dispatched to lead Gloucester’s Flu Battle from the State Emergency Hospital Post was a nationally recognized epidemiologist. Expertise, speed and collaboration were possible thanks to an indefatigable army of citizen volunteers, and great hiring.
Although hit at the same time as Boston, the severe flu outbreak in Gloucester, Massachusetts, is relatively unknown. With a population just under 25,000 in 1917, Gloucester was perhaps too small to be on the radar of significant research study, notwithstanding its steep death rate, outstanding communication, bold decisions and impressive teamwork among local, state and federal officials. The city of Gloucester was struck early by the pandemic and should rightly be remembered for its sacrifices, resolve and model response.
Catherine Ryan, March 20, 2020
Here is the impressive list of key properties* of significance modified throughout the 1918 Pandemic flu battle in Gloucester. (*author note: search for surname, property, and addresses within the post to see skip around for any relevant info. Double click pictures to enlarge)
FAST FACTS – Population
Regarding 183* deaths in Gloucester, Mass.: The estimates of morbidity and mortality in Gloucester are not final or definitive as they encapsulate solely published stats at its apex. For the time being, the 2020 Covid-19 closures limit access to research. Final numbers will increase and are estimated to be more than 250. Follow-up will expand window from 1917-spring 1920, especially August and November 1918, to verify death records and tracing, etc., also delving into nuanced themes I’ve developed and curated here. Though the Fort was targeted for clean up, East Gloucester was the epicenter. The timeline of the flu impact on the fishing industry does not precede the Gloucester epidemic. Commonplace examples of prejudice sting: draft categories; status of women; and class.
“Spanish Influenza” in the Gloucester news accounts was also known as: grip, grippe, malady, prevailing affliction, pestilence, prevailing distemper, dread influenza, Grip Malady, flu, new distemper, ‘three day fever’, and malady.
The State Emergency Hospital Post installed on the grounds of Addison Gilbert Hospital was also known as: a military hospital camp, field hospital, state hospital, hospital camp, state military hospital, tent emergency hospital, out door hospital, and portable hospital.
No surprise here: Thacher Island is spelled Thacher and Thatcher.
What happened? Was it super spreader carriers or locations? How many patient zeros? Margaret Miller, Bertram Goodwin, and five Walen family members — each from East Gloucester– were among the first Gloucester deaths, followed by many more in East Gloucester. The Post Office was a ground zeros locale. All those war letters and stamps a red herring it seems. Other post offices were not devastated like Gloucester. Vaughan (1921) guides the lay person past dead ends. “Still another fallacy in the comparison of incidence in institutions and the like is proven by the work done by Jordan, Reed and Fink, who found that in the various Chicago telephone exchanges the attack rate varied from five per cent to twenty-seven per cent, although the working conditions were approximately the same.” Enlisted men on leave traveled back and forth to training camps and naval bases. Gloucester was a destination for visitors from in and out of state, including artists and art enthusiasts.
I was inspired to help connect local history and remember the victims and families impacted by this savage flu. The medical and military personnel, public officials and volunteers who performed heroically during this pandemic have not been memorialized in Gloucester. Councilor Poole lost his life; Councilor Silva lost his sister. What happened to Radcliffe and Drs. Thomson, Street and Manning? Gloucester could recognize the grand scale of the Lost Generation as a double tragedy – WW1 and the 1918 Pandemic. There are scarce memorials worldwide.
For my grandfather whom I adored, who lived to 101, a WWI veteran residing in Southie at the time; and his brother Arthur whom he cherished, who died in the 1918 Pandemic.
Look to the front line helpers that faced down this dreaded virus: I hope the many, many local heroes of the 1918 Pandemic in Gloucester are remembered. Readers in 2020 will recognize surnames, many associated with the very same neighborhoods then as now, and connect descendants that continue to volunteer in the community. I suggest searching surnames and/or street addresses within this piece.
The coverage of the pandemic in the Gloucester Daily Times was excellent, and deserving of rediscovery and recognition. If ever there was a posthumous award they’d be eligible.
The Gloucester Daily Times and Cape Ann Advertiser (GDT) employed 7 beat reporters, all but one were men, and most resided in Gloucester: John D. Woodbury, J. Harold Russell (11 Summit), Roy L. Parsons (7 Trask), John A. Radcliffe (27 Mt. Vernon), Alexander G. Tupper (60 Mt. Pleasant Ave), William S. Webber, Jr.(5 Columbia), and Margaret A. Dwyer (4 Phillips Ave. Pigeon Cove, Rockport). George H. Procter was the President and Associate Editor. Newburyport resident, Fred E. Smith, was the Managing Editor. Arthur L. Millett, the City Editor, lived downtown at 18 Mason Street. Representatives from the GDT joined former and active well-known newspaper men in establishing the Gloucester Press Club. Members included Walter Osborne, who owned and operated a hotel on Eastern Point Road in retirement, Wilmot A. Reed of the Associated Press, and James Pringle correspondent for the Boston Globe. Many of these writers served their community and country.
Looking back through daily newspapers, customary gatherings whether happy (celebrations/Church functions/first day of school/art exhibits) or serious (funerals/public meetings/draft registration/art exhibits) help to pinpoint the track of the virus and its containment by the crisis team led by Major Thomson, a nationally acclaimed infectious disease specialist. There are no bylines so sorting who wrote each article is unlikely. Perhaps some families found drafts in their attics.
Regardless, this busy fleet of writers delivered war news and essential pandemic coverage –fast facts and fast writing—that saved lives. Even at this time of war and battle all around, the journalists shared memorable small moments. See October 4th 1918 for Some Good News when the state guards initiated a collection for toys for the Red Cross childcare and children’s hospital (with help from the local Woolworth’s) and the doctors daring house call on a stormy night to the Lightkeeper’s family on Thacher Island. Don’t miss the double page spread on October 11, 1918, a sweeping recap of the efforts to combat the epidemic. Every day is worth a read; even the one revision I came upon was smart: “Charles Tifft Far From Dead: Summer Resident Reported Influenza Victim Talks With Wife On Phone”. [A true “Finnegan’s Wake” (1864 ballad) moment for me: “Common Jesus do you think I’m dead?”] Daily crisis reports were a matter of life and death and all involved went to great lengths to ensure the counts were accurate.
Emergency information and top expertise were broadcast in Gloucester in large part due to the specific talents of John Radcliffe. By the time of the pandemic, Lieutenant John A. Radcliffe was steeped in the city. He worked for the GDT for nearly 20 years, and had volunteered on the city’s Board of Health committee, acting as secretary, for 14 years, where his esteemed service was noticed at the State level. When the military hospital post was established he was a natural appointment. As a result, medical recommendations and decisions were gleaned from meetings first hand; and best practice notices were disseminated as fast as any in this digital age. His colleagues singled him out for credit.
The paper published a wrenching quantity of personalized obituaries. The flu took one employee: Mrs. Chester H. Dennen, Ella L. (Putnam), a beloved proof reader at the Gloucester Daily Times, died September 25, 1918. She was the second in her family to succumb. Although she was on staff, there was no article or mention on the front page of the paper, just the obituary. Maybe she preferred it that way.
Need to confirm death reports beyond *183 peak window
President Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and General Pershing were infected. David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of England, the King of Spain, Gandhi, and the German Kaiser- all stricken. The youngest son of the King of Sweden died. Cultural notables including Georgia O’Keefe, Raymond Chandler, Lilian Gish, Mary Pickford, Groucho Marx, Walt Disney, Virginia Woolf, John dos Passos, and Kafka lived to see another day. Gustav Klimt’s death in Vienna in February 1918 may have been an early wave contender. Painter Egon Schiele died peak pandemic, October 1918, three days after his spouse, Edith, and their unborn child. His family portrait, unfinished, a deliberate and devastating memorial.
Symbolic and perhaps apocryphal, the funeral procession for Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet and art influencer, wended and intensified amidst the jubilation of armistice celebrations.
While a journalist in Denver, Katherine Anne Porter barely survived her peak pandemic case that October. Her niece and fiance did not (nor Denver’s Mayor). Like Munch, Porter had preexisting conditions, having spent two years prior in a Texas sanatorium recovering from bronchitis. She published her masterwork, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (first edition 1936)– three short novels together– amidst rising global tensions leading up to WWII. It’s the most well known work of art of the dual terrors. Great War, Great Flu.
William Randolph Hearst’s mother died April 1919. Edvard Munch surmounted his bout that spring. Having chronicled a lifetime impacted by disease, he turned to art and life for this horror, too. Self Portrait with Spanish Flu (seated on bed) oil over crayon fetched 1,688,000 GBP at Sotheby’s auction in 2006. [You can see the vertical self portrait, seated with flu at the National Gallery of Norway, and the after at the Munch Museum.]
Expecting parents W.B Yeats and Georgie Hyde Lees nearly suffered the fate of the Schieles, had Lees not pulled through. Yeats wrote Second Coming (Second Birth) while she recuperated. Their daughter Anne was born in February 1919.
Spouses, poet T.S. Eliot and writer Vivien/ Vivienne Haigh-Wood, were ill in 1919. Eliot drafted bits of the The Waste Land (1922) in 1918, a time of demons — war and flu and an unhappy marriage. Author Willa Cather suffered during a late Influenza wave as well. The influenza pandemic is mentioned in her Pulitzer prize winning book, One of Ours (1922). The fictionalized snippet is asterisked to acknowledge she took liberty with the menace’s timeline– no offense, nor ignorance: *The actual outbreak of influenza on transports carrying United States troops is here anticipated by several months.” Maybe not. See prepandemic outbreaks.
During the height of this public health catastrophe, companies sold elixirs and cures and plastered the papers with advertisements presented like news. They increased in frequency during Gloucester’s desperate days of September and October 1918. Less than a year later, Vick’s vapor rub was no match for the 1918 pandemic: The flu killed its inventor in August 1919.
The two brothers who co-founded the Dodge Bros. automobile manufacturing company contracted the flu in New York in 1919: John died at the Ritz hotel in January 1920, and Horace in December 1920 after a wicked year battling its complications. Poet John Crowe Ransom published “Sickness” in Poems of God, 1919. I don’t know if he had the flu, but in two lines he managed to express the suffering that everyone must have felt from the war (mustard gas) and influenza. (Here Lies a Lady was published in Chills and Fever, 1924).
And on this poisonous glare of dawns,
The whole world crumples in diseaseJohn Crowe Ransom – lines from poem, Sickness (1919)
There are classic depictions in which artists transformed their experiences touched by WWI and/or disease in real time including Walter Bayes, Lovis Corinth, Kathe Kollwitz, Amy Lowell, Paul Nash, C.R. Nevinson, August Sander, John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert, Edward Wadsworth and John Hall Wheelock.
Some of the best art created in the midst of war and the “Spanish Influenza” pandemic came from syndicated artists like Clare Briggs, W.E. Hill, Winsor McKay and Walter Allman.
Hill was commissioned for a few syndicated series with different publishers. There’s a “Spanish Influenza” single panel from Among Us Mortals. I thought of it immediately when friends mentioned passengers moving to one side of a NYC subway car if there was coughing in the last week of February during Covid-19.
(You may have seen the optical trick illustration on the left published in 1915 without knowing W.. E. Hill’s name.)
The political cartoons were at times stunningly direct, even international examples printed in the U.S. papers. “Slaughtered by Influenza: Here lies confidence in our military medical authorities.” was from Zurich.
The generation fighting in WWI grew up captivated by Winsor McKay’s elaborate and glorious comic strip. In WWI , McKay created editorial cartoons for Hearst and Liberty Bonds. McKay’s son, Robert, an inspiration for Little Nemo in Slumberland, returned with war honors.
Pestilence is more than included in this single panel 1918, it pops.
A. Hyatt Mayor, esteemed curator with many connections to Gloucester, included McKay’s work in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1960s.
Another artist, Walter R. Allman shines brightly, even more when you learn that, “The Doings of the Duffs, ” comic strip was a daily. He succeeded in depicting ideas about war and influenza together, a rare instance of pandemic in the art of its time. Enjoy five strips to get a sense of his brilliant art, humor and commentary all from 1918.
Here’s Allman on the Draft Registration and Influenza Advice to open windows, “Speaking of Air and Questionnaires”:
And two more inspired by the final Draft Registration for males age 18-46. These were a bit PSA.
Here’s Allman on the timely Call to Woman to work or help, a side nod to the Red Cross, and an evergreen husband gag
Here’s Allman with the mic drop “In Flew Enza” reference (probably did more for public health message than any bulletin!)
Look at the sweet arrow! “Tom Thought They all had Spanish Flu.”
I don’t know if Allman had the flu personally but he did battle that punishing schedule. And he had a baby in 1917, so there’s his life as a dad in the mix. Sadly, he had some type of health issue or breakdown for months before dying in 1924. Others continued the Duffs strip for nearly a decade. (**Author note: Look again at the Federal guidelines related to Influenza methods of control September 26, 1918 and artists for whom interiority was an intrinsic source of inspiration like Munch, Woolf, and Porter. Severe mental health after affects were forewarned and expected: “Former epidemics have been characterized by marked mental depression.” Madness hung in the flu air– and suffering from shell shock and other effects from the war broadcast in newsreels. **)
Families in 2020 can appreciate Clare Briggs October “Influenza” and Halloween panel from The Days of Real Sport. A great Briggs single panel can last a day.
Works of art that predate the pandemic, created during– or inspired by– prior infamous pandemics, were used to illustrate 1918 Pandemic news stories. For example, a John Collier painting from 1902 was used to illustrate a syndicated article in October 1918 :
“The English Artist [John] Collier’s Famous Picture of “The Plague .” Such Epidemics Which Ravaged England and Almost All of Europe in the Seventeenth and Earlier Centuries Are Now Impossible, Modern Medical Science Having Devised Infallible Means of Coping with Them. The Influenza, Bad as It Is, Is a Slight Disorder Compared to Ancient Pestilences That Followed Wars.”
[John Collier 1898 painting, Lady Godiva, about 5 ft’ x 6 ft’, Herbert Museum Coventry, UK]
Not sure any matched Max Klinger – Plague (Pest), from the series Death, Part II (Vom Tode Zweiter Teil) etching from 1903
And of course WWI posters by James Montgomery Flagg
And across the pond
The war illustrated album de luxe; the story of the great European war told by camera, pen and pencil – Vol. one alone features 1130 pictures and chapters by Arthur Conan Doyle and HG Wells. After thousands of pages Influenza is mentioned in the final volume on a single page about General Marshall and the hardships of the Mesopotamia campaign:
Influenza added materially to the handicap of other diseases.
I will append this section with more local examples and inspiration at Cape Ann Museum when Covid-19 restrictions subside. The following poem, Autumn, translated from the French from Lamartine by Mary A. Witham, was published in the Gloucester Daily Times October 19, 1918.
“the flower in dying gives out its last perfumes…”
Listed at the end.
The sources and inspiration for this article were gathered from multiple books, journals, newspapers, rare old maps, local histories, photographs, background knowledge and family history. I confess to a certain deliberate favoritism & primary sources related to the arts. I am grateful for the great archives and open content. Voices from the past may interest descendants, and give us perspective and hope during Covid-19. With so many worthy of honor, especially those who sacrificed to keep Gloucester safe, and those who suffered and died, I thought it valuable to make Gloucester’s part in this history accessible to all. So I curated a resource and visual gallery to put Gloucester’s 1918 Pandemic history on line. The Gloucester Daily Times articles below which I transcribed intentionally are exhaustive & inspiring, and no part since 1918 had been previously published, or its full pages and article reproductions searchable on line. Other newspapers are fully accessible including big (New York Times) and small (Manchester Cricket).
Excerpts 9/1/1918-10/26/1918 related to the 1918 Flu Pandemic from the files of a Gloucester, Massachusetts, daily newspaper, Gloucester Daily Times, also known as “GDT” were transcribed by author, Catherine Ryan, from spooled reels, scanned by and from originals held at BP, accessed at Sawyer Free Library, and published for the first time since 1918 as first access to all. The selection includes full article reproductions. When various and sundry items not GDT are included on telling days, they’re so noted. The GDT did not publish a Sunday paper.
If you have time for just one day, make it October 11, 1918
**author note: Face masks 9flu masks) DIY sewing pattern instructions, September 30, 1918**
Continue to September 1918Continue reading “1918 Pandemic: Reconstructing how the flu raged then flattened in Gloucester Massachusetts when 183 died in 6 weeks”
Avis R. Murray, Gloucester resident and member of the USTA Hall of Fame, letter to the editor: “Reflecting on times past and present during these trying times”Gloucester Daily Times, April 22, 2020
“During these difficult times, it has given me time to reflect on times past and how blessed we are for the present modern conveniences.
Since I am in the classification of “elderly,” I recall growing up in the late 1930s and early ’40s and how things were then.
It was during World War II and I recall my mom and gram closing curtains at night and we all had to stay indoors as there was a threat of German submarines possibly in our harbor and ready to bomb us. Our parents never showed any fear, so we naturally just thought we were closing our curtains cause it was nighttime.
During those days we had electricity, heat by coal furnace, one radio for entertainment and news, our refrigerator was an ice box and milk was delivered to our door by a milkman. We also had a party line for a telephone — so many rings and it was for us.
Running hot water was a treat during the winter months, as we had a stove that held a tank that was full of oil, which heated our water tank. In the summer seasons we heated a pot of water to have hot water when we bathed.
We saved the grease from cooking as we turned it in and got a couple cents per pound. We also stood in line with our rations to get various foods.
With everything happening in the world right now, we can feel blessed in some ways as we have iPhones, iPads, computers, the internet, TV, lights and heat.
We have brave workers out there to help us daily — health workers, police, firemen, grocery workers, transportation workers, convenience and package store employees, gas station helpers, take out restaurants and coffee shops, volunteers who are delivering food and those who are working to provide the delivery packages for the elderly, and people helping in every way they can.
We need to wear a mask but we can go out and take walks, keeping the 6-foot distance. We can take rides, walk the beaches, ride a bike, and enjoy the fresh air.
We have a stimulus checks coming to us from the government, we have a mayor who is keeping us abreast and caring about our safety, a governor who is so passionate and fighting for all the equipment we need to help those affected by the virus and also equipment to keep all our health workers safe…”
Read more here
Thank you to everyone for your very kind comments for this series. It has been a joy creating for such an enthusiastic audience ❤
Thank you to Jennifer Davis and her adorable daughters Ellie and Isla. They stopped by one morning to see if they could find Snowy Owl. The girls and Mom were being so good at watching her from a safe distance. I asked Jenny if she minded if I took a photo and some footage, too. Jenny very graciously said yes!
Some good news-
In the two years that have passed since our Snowy visited Cape Ann’s Back Shore, all of Boston’s North Shore has not seen the same tremendous numbers of that winter of 2018. I read though on ProjectSNOWstorm’s website of the possibility of an exciting upcoming winter of 2020-2021 because there has been a good population of lemmings in the eastern portions of the Snowies breeding grounds. Let’s hope for more visits by beautiful Snowies ❤
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann was created for the kids in the Cape Ann community during this at-home school time. Please share with young people you know who may be interested.
Thank you again for watching!
To see all five episodes together, please go to the Snowy Owl Film Project page on my website.
Again, thank you to Scott Weidensaul from ProjectSNOWstorm for script advice.
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Part Five: Snowy Owl Returns to the Arctic
Friends of Snowy Owl wondered how long she would stay before heading north on her return migration to the Arctic. Typically, Snowies leave New England by March or April, but some have stayed as late as July.
Why do people find Snowy Owls so captivating?
Owls symbolize wisdom and intelligence, and the characters they are given in popular culture and literature strengthen our associations.
We are provided a wonderful window into the world of owls through Snowies because they are crepuscular creatures, which means they are most active at dawn and at dusk.
There are only about 30,000 Snowy Owls in the wild. No one knows if their numbers are stable or decreasing.
Snowies face many threats, especially when they come south to us, including vehicles, planes, and toxic chemicals.
Research analysis shows that most carry some degree of rat poison, pesticides, and/or mercury in their bodies.
We can all be conscientious stewards of Snowies by not using poisonous chemicals and by keeping a safe distance when observing.
In early March, Snowy Owl began to appear restless. Migration is the most dangerous period in an owl’s life, but hormonal changes triggered by longer days were urging her northward.
Snowy Owl survived the fierce winds and waves of powerful nor’easters along with constant heckling by gulls and crows.
She ate well during her winter stay on Cape Ann.
Snowy Owl was strong and healthy when she departed, increasing the likelihood of a safe journey and return to her breeding habitat of Arctic tundra and grasslands.
Safe travels beautiful Snowy!
Hello Friends on this rainy, windy day. People’s holiday weekend ran the gamut from joyful to tragic and I so hope yours was not too difficult and you were able to find some light. It was such a beautiful day weather-wise yesterday and if there is one thing about the coronavirus is how wonderful it is to see so many families enjoying each other’s company while out in the fresh air.
Part four, Snowy Owl Takes a Bath, was filmed early one morning. I stopped by to check on Snowy Owl (her nickname at the time was Hedwig) and noticed her face was stained red from breakfast. I only planned to take a few snapshots when she hopped over to a rocky tide pool and began to wash her face. I ran back to the car to grab my movie camera and am so glad I did! For the next 40 – 45 minutes she bathed, preened, and fluffed.I am calling this rare footage because I can’t find anything else like it. Unlike most owls, which are nocturnal (active at night) Snowy Owls are active during the day (diurnal), providing a rare glimpse into the world of owls in the wild.
Thank you for watching!
Again, thank you to Scott Weidensaul from ProjectSNOWstorm for script advice.
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Part Four: Snowy Owl Takes a Bath
After a snow squall and as the sun was beginning to appear, a Snowy Owl came out to take a bath. She found a watery icy pool tucked out of sight from dive bombing crows and gulls.
Snowy Owls, like most non-aquatic birds, take baths to clean their feathers.
First washing her face, she tip-dipped and then dunked. After bathing, Snowy fluff dried her feathers, pooped, and preened. During preening, oil from the preen gland, which is located at the base of the tail, is distributed through the feathers to help maintain waterproofing.
Washing, fluffing, and preening took about forty-five minutes from head to talon.
Casting a pellet is a totally normal thing that Snowy Owls, and all owls do. You may even have dissected a pellet in biology class. I just had no idea until seeing Snowy do this that they could be so enormous!
You can view the first three episodes here: Snowy Owl Film Project. All five will eventually be found on this page. Almost finished with Part Four: Snowy Owl Takes a Bath 🙂
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Part Three: Snowy Owl Casts a Pellet
Once or twice a day an owl casts, or regurgitates, a pellet, which is a mass of undigested parts of the bird’s food. Pellets form after an owl has fed. The owl often casts a pellet, and goes poop, shortly before heading out to hunt.
Pellets contain sharp-edged bones and teeth that could damage the bird’s lower digestive tract. Its presence prevents the owl from swallowing fresh prey.
Snowy Owl MightY Hunter is part two of the series A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann. The segment where Snowy is eating prey may be too graphic for very young children, so parents please preview.
Please share with friends and your young naturalists. Thank you for watching and take care ❤
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Not last winter but the winter before, an exquisite Snowy Owl arrived on Cape Ann. I think it was sometime in December we first began seeing her perched on Bass Rocks. Many of us followed her escapades daily and we took lots of photos. I was also filming her. Like many Snowies, she was tolerant of people, but I think she was especially unperturbed by humans. I also filmed other Snowies that irruptive winter, a stunning nearly all white male nicknamed Diablo at Salisbury Beach, a pretty female at Plum Island, and several males that were located at a beach just north of Logan Airport. And while filming one morning in the dunes at Crane Beach, two were having an epic battle. I was sitting super still and one of the combatants landed within several feet of where I was perched, startling us both!
About two months ago my computer crashed and I lost my film editing program and also became sick with what I thought was a cold. I had been mostly self-quarantining for a month prior to the mandated quarantine because I didn’t want any elderly friends to catch my cold. It turns out it is pneumonia. So between quarantining and learning my brand new film editing program I have made a series of short 3-5 minute films, mostly for the parents and kids in our neighborhood, and also for all our owl lovers. Hopefully, these shorts will help a bit to pass the time.
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann is part one in the first of five episodes. Next to come is Snowy Owl Mighty Hunter.
Please share with your neighbors and Moms and Dads home with the kids. I think you will love seeing the Snowy and how beautiful, too, Cape Ann looks in wintertime. And we’ll also learn some fun facts about Snowies!
Thank you for watching and please be well ❤
Dear Friends and Snowy Owl Lovers,
Not last winter but the winter before, an exquisite Snowy Owl arrived on Cape Ann. I think it was sometime in December we first began seeing her perched on Bass Rocks. Many of us followed her escapades daily and we took lots of photos. I was also filming her. Like many Snowies, she was tolerant of people, but I think she was especially unperturbed by humans. I also filmed other Snowies that irruptive winter, a stunning nearly all white male nicknamed Diablo at Salisbury Beach, a pretty female at Plum Island, and a pair of males that were located at a beach just north of Logan Airport. And while filming one morning in the dunes at Crane Beach, two were having an epic battle. I was sitting super still and one of the combatants landed within several feet of where I was perched, startling us both!
About two months ago my computer crashed and I lost my film editing program and also became sick with what I thought was a cold. I had been mostly self-quarantining for a month prior to the mandated quarantine because I didn’t want any elderly friends to catch my cold. It turns out it is pneumonia. So between quarantining and learning my brand new film editing program I have made a series of short 3-5 minute films, mostly for the parents and kids in our neighborhood, and also for all our owl lovers. Hopefully, these shorts will help a bit to pass the time.
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann is part one in the first of five episodes. Next to come is Snowy Owl Hunting. Stay tuned 🙂
Please share with your neighbors and Moms and Dads home with the kids. I think you will love seeing the Snowy and how beautiful, too, Cape Ann looks in wintertime. And we’ll also learn some fun facts about Snowies!
Thank you for watching and please be well ❤
Wild sea and atmospheric light made for some dramatic scenes this morning.
Last spring a Homer image of Gloucester boys in a dory fetched $400,000. Relatable, though not Gloucester: Life Brigade is expected to fetch 4x that amount at Sotheby’s; another classic motif , Gathering Wild Blackberries, is estimated to sell for $150,000-$200,000. There is a smashing Marsden Hartley of Dogtown.
Besides Stuart Davis, artists featured include Jane Peterson, Martha Walters, Hayley Lever, and George Bellows. There’s a classic Nahant work by William Stanley Haseltine and a marine themed WPA mural study by Lyonel Feininger.
Click on thumbnails to enlarge the photo and see descriptions. I’ll post results after the sales.
For the next two weeks, I am offering a limited edition of the photo “We Love You Too Snowy Owl.” The 8 x 12 photo will be printed on fine art hot press paper and signed. At the end of two weeks, after orders are in and checks received, I will place the order with the printer. The $95.00 price includes shipping and tax. If you would like to purchase a photo of Hedwig, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you!
Our beautiful Snowy Owl Hedwig was last seen on Monday night, March 12th. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. Well after dark, and after making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.
It has been two weeks since that last sighting and perhaps we will see her again, but I imagine her to be safe and undertaking her return journey to the Arctic tundra, well-fed from her stay on Cape Ann. Whether she was well-rested is another story. The great majority of people who came to see this most approachable of owls were respectful and considerate of her quiet space. The crows however, were nothing short of brutal. After learning about why crows attack owls, and the degree of aggression possible, I am surprised she lasted as long as she did, and without great injury.
Crows and owls are natural enemies because a murder of crows may mob an owl to death (or any raptor by which it feels threatened) and owls occasionally eat crows. Crows are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. The majority of North American owl species that they encounter are nocturnal (night feeding). In the case of Snowy Owls, which feed both day and night, their paths may occasionally cross, as happened when Hedwig moved into the crow’s territory along Gloucester’s Atlantic Road.
American Crows harassing Snowy Owl Hedwig
A flock of American Crows can run circles around most owls, pecking, dive bombing, chasing, and in some instances killing. Snowy Owls are the exception; they are larger, stronger, and faster flyers than other North American owl species. And too, Snowy Owls are closely related to Great Horned Owls, a species known to eat crows when they are roosting overnight. So even though a crow in our area may never before have encountered a Snowy Owl, they instinctively know danger is present.
With their incredible ability for recollection, crows are considered the brainiacs of the bird world. Daily, Hedwig outsmarted this smartest of bird species. She learned to stay well-hidden during the daylight hours, laying low atop the hotel roofs. Her salt and pepper coloring blended perfectly with the black, white, and gray colors of industrial roof venting equipment. She adapted to hunting strictly at night, after the crows had settled in for the evening, returning to her hideouts before the day began.
On one hand it would be fascinating if Hedwig had been outfitted with a tracking device. On the other, if she had been trapped for tagging, she may not return to this area. There is some evidence that Snowies occasionally return to an overwintering location. Next winter I’ll be taking more than a few peeks in the location of the Atlantis and Ocean House Inn Hotels to see if Hedwig has returned.
* * *
The sale of the “Super Blue Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse Over Gloucester Harbor” photo went very well. Thank you so very much to all who purchased a print! Many readers have asked about photos of Hedwig. For the next two weeks, I am offering a limited edition of the photo “We Love You Too Snowy Owl.” The 8 x 12 photo will be printed on fine art hot press paper and signed. At the end of two weeks, after orders are in and checks received, I will place the order with the printer. The $95.00 price includes shipping and tax. If you would like to purchase a photo of Hedwig, please email me at email@example.com Thank you!
Power line repair crew replacing a downed phone pole behind the Elks at Bass Rocks.
Last night’s fourth super high tide in two days again brought an incredible surge of seawater. Gloucester’s DPW Marco Numerosi was working last night at 2am and reports it was the worst of all. DPW crews and GDP Officers were on the job bright and early this Sunday morning, cleaning the roads of hurled rocks, popples, seaweed, and seagrass.
Officer Al D’Angelo and Marco Numerosi
Eastern Point Road, by Bemo Street, still littered with debris at 8am, is closed, and virtually impassable. One driver tried, and then quickly changed his mind.
This morning photographing and filming at 6:30 you would not believe it was dead low tide. There is so much water and I am afraid the next tide will bring with it another round of destruction. The waves are towering; a large ship, the Oldendorff appeared to head straight out and then steered closer to shore. Stay safe and warm friends.
Popples and debris are littering Atlantic Road, the footbridge sustained damage to the last half, fences and trees are down throughout the neighborhood, and the seas are gaining in ferocity, with the third of the super high tides expected at noon. Please be safe, the wind is mighty powerful this morning and their are potential projectiles everywhere.
Extensive damage to the railings at the Ocean House Inn, our Snowy Owl Hedwig’s current favorite perch. No sign of her the past few days, but Hedwig is so resourceful, we are hoping for the best.
Hedwig has been seen daily along the backshore, mostly laying low during the day. She has become quite expert in fooling the crows as to her whereabouts.
Early this week I watched in amazement as Hedwig swooped down from her perch and flew hundreds of feet directly to the rocks and in between crevasses. She resurfaced with a small mammal in her mouth and ate it very quickly–from the time she flew off her perch until she gave a satisfied lick of her beak could not have taken more than three minutes. I felt very fortunate to have witnessed a glimpse of her hunting prowess, albeit all too brief.
Perhaps the tail is too long for a mouse or rat and too short for a vole, but perhaps not. Small mammal caretaker Erin Whitmore wrote with her suggestion. What do you think Hedwig is eating?Hedwig eating a black and white sea duck.
Again, tonight she flew off her perch, this time heading out to sea. In mere minutes she returned with a sea duck of some sort and proceeded to eviscerate, much to the thrill of her Sunday evening fan club. The lighting was low and I was mostly filming, but did manage a few stills. The duck was black and white and as she mostly sat on her catch while eating, it was difficult to determine which species. Without a crow in sight (as they had surely settled for the night), Hedwig ate well into the early evening.
The feathers were flying! Hedwig with feathers on her face but it’s almost too dark to see.
She’s finding the eating here in Gloucester excellent, but with the warm weather predicted for the upcoming week, I wonder if Hedwig will stay or that will be a cue to depart for the Arctic.
In our Rats, Rats, and More Rats: Snowy Owl Hedwig Weekend Update #2, we shared that an Atlantic Puffin may have been seen over the weekend. Karen Piscke adds the following information and photo:
A Puffin was possibly seen at Bass Rocks. “There was a Snowy Owl on the roof of the hotel at the same time, but these birders only had eyes for the Puffin. The Puffin was hard to see, even when you knew it was there. The birder with the keen eye that spotted it said – “if it looks like as aclid, but sits differently in the water, it might be a puffin. Then the orange on the beak confirms it.” — Karen
Atlantic Puffins are not often seen so close to our shores. They spend the summer at breeding colonies on Rocky Islands in the North Atlantic and winter out at sea (see range map).
If you see a Puffin and get a good photo, please let us know and we will post it on GMG. Thank you!
Atlantic Puffins images courtesy wiki commons media
Hedwig was observed Saturday morning, when repeated harassment by a flock of crows sent her hiding. She reappeared Saturday afternoon, and was again seen Sunday morning in the drizzle, not too far from where she was perched Saturday evening. Later Sunday afternoon she slept and rested in the pouring rain.
Hedwig sleeping in the rain (thank you to Arly Pett for letting me know she was out in the rain!)
That she stays in a highly localized winter territory seems in keeping with known Snowy Owl behavior traits. I read that during the summer season in the Arctic, male Snowies hunt over hundreds of miles, whereas female Snowies typically hunt within a much smaller range. She has been observed eating sea ducks and rabbits and there are plenty of rat holes along the backshore rocks.
Both rats and lemmings (the Snowies super food in the Arctic) belong to the order Rodentia. From wiki, “A lemming is a small rodent usually found in or near the Arctic in tundra biomes. Lemmings are subnivean animals. They make up the subfamily Arcicolinae together with voles and muskrats which forms part of the superfamily Muroidea which also includes rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils.”
Often Hedwig has been seen flying straight out over the water towards Twin Lights. I wondered, if she is hunting there, does Thacher Island have a rat population. Thacher Island Association president Paul St. Germain answers that question for our readers,
“Hi Kim, there are lots of rats on Thacher mostly in the shore line rocks. We don’t see them often but know they are there. I discovered a bunch in the cellar of the keeper house making their nest in an old tarp. I would love to see Hedwig out there but we don’t go out in the winter. Have never seen snowy owls in the summer.”
Rat and Lemming photos courtesy wiki commons media
This brings up the topic, what to do if you have a rat problem. The absolute worst way to control rats is with rat poison, namely for the sake of beautiful predatory birds such as Snowy Owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles. Birds that ingest rats that have been poisoned with rat poison will generally become gravely ill and die. Secondly, it is a cruel, slow death for the rat. They will usually go back to their nest to die. If that nest is located behind a wall in your home, you will smell that unmistakeable horrendous smell for many months. Thirdly, rat poison is only 60 percent effective. I wonder if the rats that survive rat poison will go on to breed super rats.
The best way to avoid having to kill a rat is to make sure they cannot gain access to your home or business by regularly inspecting soffits and woodwork for holes. Old-fashioned snap traps and live trapping continue to be the most effective way to rid your home or business of rats.
Saturday I stopped to say hello to a group of birders flocked together along the backshore who had traveled all the way from western Mass. They were observing Grebes, Buffleheads, and a Common Murre. And a Puffin had been spotted! I asked if they were planning to go to any of our local restaurants for lunch, but they had packed lunches. One Mom shared that an expert from Audubon told the group that there were at least a “dozen Snowy Owls” on Bass Rocks. Bananas! I have to say that it makes me hoppin’ mad when folks spread misinformation about our local wildlife. I gently told her that no, there were not a dozen owls, but that if she and her group waited until late afternoon, they might catch sight of Hedwig.
Last weekend was a busy one for Hedwig. She is attracting crowds from all around the Boston area. I checked in on her Monday afternoon on my return from Brooklyn and according to a photographer friend she had a very rough day with the crows. One actually hit her hard in the head. She left Bass Rocks Monday evening and I didn’t see her the rest of the week until this morning.
Found this morning with messy face and talons, tidying up from a morning hunt.
A single crow came by to harass her and unlike previous incidents, where I have seen here hold her ground, she left her post immediately and flew to a very cool super secret hiding place. I have never seen her do this before but am so impressed with her ingenuity. She is safe from both crows and crowds in this locale.
Hedwig returned to the railings at the end of the day. After first fluffing and poohing she took off over the water and headed straight toward Twin Lights. I imagine there is good hunting on Thacher Island 🙂