102 years ago, the United States, along with much of the world, was slowly descending into a state of terror. The devastating and bloody Great War was receding, but influenza was advancing.

The spread of the Spanish flu, as most people called it, looks very familiar. As people and governments struggled to get a handle on the disease, everyday life began to alter and new precautions became the norm.

As part of the response to the pandemic, the American Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington DC held a demonstration. Masked nurses picked up a patient on a stretcher and put him into an ambulance.

LOC. Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C.

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The names and faces of men like Thomas Edison and Theodore Roosevelt are familiar to us. Perhaps we’ve seen grainy silent video clips of them moving about. We can read their biographies and learn about their achievements and sometimes even famous speeches.

Few of us know what their voices actually sounded like. Does that matter? Absolutely!  The voice matters at least as much as the words. It shapes how we feel about the message.

At his inauguration, President John F. Kennedy made a famous plea to the American people: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

When those who remember or have studied Kennedy read these words, they recall how he looked and sounded, as he said them. Imagine the same words being uttered in a comical way or with a very timid voice. They would have been soon forgotten.

John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address

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I’m avoiding the pandemic coverage. Once you understand what you can/should do, it seems needlessly depressing to continue to watch the coverage. But earlier today, I heard part of a radio interview with an epidemiologist, i.e., a person who studies disease. She said that most people in her field believe that there is a devastating pandemic about every 100 years and gave some frightening numbers that represent the worst case scenario.

She talked a little about the Spanish flu, and how the scale could be about the same with COVID-19. And it’s right on time: the Spanish Flu ravaged the earth from 1918-1920. It made me wonder about the parallels between then and now. I’d like to figure out a few categories (like socializing, working, etc.) and compare human behavior between then and now. There must be something we could reach back and seize to use today. Or some mistake that was made that we could examine and avoid.

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