Minnesota Untold: After the Plague

At the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers’ Memorial Cemetery, the city’s oldest, about two dozen graves mark a dark chapter in Minnesota’s history, the 1918 Spanish Flu.

Cemetery historian Sue Hunter-Weir knows the stories of many of them.

An anonymous grave belongs to Percy Gould and his wife.

According to Hunter-Weir’s research, the couple were among the first Minnesotans to succumb to the flu in 1918. They died ten days apart, leaving three children behind.

One hundred years later, the similarities are striking.

“I mean, there was a story in the Washington Post last week about a young California couple who died less than two weeks apart, and they left five children behind.” she reminded herself.

Daniel and Davy Macias lived in Southern California.

A century of proof that pandemic deaths aren’t just about the here and now. The loss of loved ones will affect families for generations.

“I think what people really need to remember is that this pandemic is not an individual crisis. I mean, it’s definitely for the person who is dying, but it’s bigger than that, that the consequences reverberate, “Hunter-Weir told FOX 9.

She saw this ripple effect in her own family when her grandmother died of the 1918 flu, leaving her mother behind.

“I think it affected her whole life. She never really got to know her mother, it disrupts family matters in really interesting ways.”

The nurse comforts the children

The 1918 influenza pandemic is believed to have started in Kansas because of soldiers fighting in World War I.

According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Fort Snelling Hospital reported its first case in September 1918.

The timing was horrible. Medical personnel across the country were already exhausted from the war. Nurses have become indispensable.

Former Hennepin County History Center intern Hannah Dyson recently researched the story of nurse-in-training Pearl McIver.

The 23-year-old was taken to the frontline at the University of Minnesota Hospital in 1918 when the pandemic struck.

For weeks, she was the only one working the night shift in the pediatric ward. She wrote about it about fifty years later.

“Often sick and frightened children were bundled up and taken to the university hospital in rice wagons,” McIver wrote. “Hospital rules required all staff to wear masks, fitted caps and white coats, supposedly to prevent staff from contracting the flu. Imagine the terror of these children at finding themselves in a strange environment among a group of ghosts. “

Dyson said McIver took matters into his own hands, removing his mask to comfort the children.

“She decided that she would get the kids out of their cribs and put them in the rocking chair and put them to sleep. It wasn’t the advice she got from the hospital because you really didn’t pick them up. children. ” Dyson remembers his research.

McIver put the lives of these children before his own, in the same way that today’s frontline workers rallied for us during the first months of COVID-19, with limited PPE and no vaccine.

Balance between governmental authority and individual freedoms

In 1918, the Minneapolis Health Commissioner, Dr HM Guilford, put in place severe restrictions.

He banned public gatherings and closed businesses and schools. People were confused and skeptical, especially because the rules were much more lax in neighboring Saint-Paul.

At the same time, the equivalent of a “super spreader” event was erupting in Minneapolis.

The dorms at the University of Minnesota were full of young men training to be soldiers for war and became a breeding ground for disease.

A century later, there is the same reluctance towards science, medicine and mandates and the same tendency to come together at all costs.

In August 2020, more than 400,000 people descended on South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, believing it to be safe.

Contact tracing subsequently found at least 649 cases of COVID, across the United States due to the big event. In Minnesota, one person died and four others were hospitalized.

Rich Danila is the Minnesota Assistant Epidemiologist. He and his team have helped shape the state’s public health protocols, around COVID and much like Dr Guilford, they have their share of criticism.

“In our wildest dreams, no one ever imagined there would be a politicization of something as simple as wearing a cloth mask,” he told FOX 9. “He didn’t It also never occurred to us that people wouldn’t trust science in terms of vaccination. If someone, if you or your loved one has cancer, you go to the doctor. Of course, you want it. best cancer treatment, most modern treatment possible. So that’s beyond us. ”

Politics aside, most people agree that science is central to stopping the spread of any pandemic. However, it is never a “perfect science”.

“I think we still have a long way to go before we even see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel,” Danila said.


Officially, the COVID-19 pandemic is the deadliest disease in American history, surpassing the Spanish flu of 1918.

At the time, approximately 675,000 people died in the United States

As of mid-November, COVID deaths in the United States were 764,882.

However, the current population is three times what it was just before 1920.

In the late 1900s, record keeping was not as accurate as it is now. Experts believe the number of people who died at the time could be much higher than what is reported.

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