Don Carleton speaks with Ben Wright about the Briscoe Center’s Texas Oil Industry records, which help document the miseries of the Spanish Flu pandemic between 1918 and 1920. Austin American-Statesman columnist Michael Barnes and Christopher Rose Ph.D., a lecturer at St. Edwards University, join later in the episode to discuss the pandemic’s effects in the city of Austin, across America and around the globe.
[0:00:06 Speaker 0] This is American Rhapsody, a podcast of the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Each episode we interview those who witnessed American history first and who have since donated their archives to the Briscoe Center. We also talked to historians, journalists and others who research in those collections. We’re all asking the same question. What actually happened?
[0:00:41 Speaker 1] That a most pitiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen parents carrying shutting down the street on their shoulders. There’s unable to raise your heads, taking them to the doctor’s office. Seeing, uh, caskets just piled up bodies into my suppose somebody to be shipped out.
[0:01:03 Speaker 0] 100 years ago, the world was in the final throes of a deadly pandemic known as the Spanish flu, which began in 1918, the final year of the first World War. It came in two waves that year, and again in the spring of 1919. It’s finally burned itself out in the year that followed. During that time, it ravaged a war weary world, killing as many as 40 million people across the globe. Over a half million people in America died. In fact, more Americans died from the flu between 1918 and 1920 then were killed in the Civil War. And yet we have virtually no public memory of this catastrophic public health crisis. No monuments, statues, plaques are memorial days. Not much literature, either. The Flu plays a major role in Willow Cather’s 1923 war novel One of Ours, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and it was the subject of Catherine and Porters. Acclaimed short story Pale Horse Pale Rider, published in 1939 but not much else. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Steinbeck all wrote about the war in great detail, but they avoided the flu like, well, like the plague historians to haven’t paid it the attention it deserves. That is, until recently, today we hear from three scholars who have studied the Spanish flu. One of them has been right, is an associate director at the Briscoe Center. Earlier this year, I asked him to look through the center’s collections related to pass public health crises, pandemics and epidemics, or nothing new to American history, and I wanted to get a better feel for how our collections might speak to our current predicament. The results of Ben’s preliminary investigation are fascinating. Many personal papers, especially those of doctors and nurses, his collections air housed at the center, speak to how Americans have dealt with the pandemics of the past Today. Obviously, it makes sense for scientists, including many here at the University of Texas at Austin, to take the lead on matters related to Covidien 18. And yet when it comes to making sense of the coronavirus, the past is not without its lessons, warnings and perhaps even reassurances. Oh yeah, Ben, welcome to this episode in our series of podcasts.
[0:04:05 Speaker 1] Thank you for having may. You [0:04:07 Speaker 0] know, Ben. I I know that soon after Cove in 19 entered our lives back at the beginning of 2020 here, you’ve been looking in the Centre’s archives to learn Maura about the collections that the Briscoe Center has the document, the history of public health. What have you uncovered?
[0:04:26 Speaker 1] Well, I’ve uncovered all sorts of things in the Briscoe Centers collections. Um, public health history isn’t something that I’ve personally been focused on in my work at the center or in my graduate work on, but it’s certainly an emerging strength for a lot off young historians, and so it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it certainly did That Briscoe Center has all these collections related to epidemics, pandemics. Public health crises mostly focused on Texas in the 19th and early 20th century, but there are wider. There’s certainly more to the story than that. I’m thinking, for example, there at least a couple of photographic archives and thinking Matthew Nathan’s in particular, off photojournalists who were also medical doctors. But going back to the 19th century, the center has the papers off doctors, the Rummel family papers that swearing and papers, even Asheville Smith, one of the founding fathers of Texas. And we see in these doctor papers ah, history and, you know, well, recording off epidemics in Texas, yellow fever, cholera, that sort of thing. I also found a collection called The Medical History of Texas Collection, which was a collaboration between U T Archives back in the 19 forties with the Texas Medical Association to really Compiler the founding documents of Public Health in Texas. One. I can tell this collection has not been used very much over the last couple of decades, and so it’s sort of one of those collections that is right for the moment. Right now, it’s just begging for someone to get in there and on, you know, uncover this lost history off early Texas medicine. And then there’s the university archives, which document the university’s approach to pandemics and epidemics, particularly the Spanish flu of 1918 aan den. The Texas Oil Industry Records, which is an oral history collection that dates from the 19 fifties. They document the 1918 Spanish flu in the Texas oil fields. So there’s this whole gamut of different collections that look at public health crises in American history.
[0:06:41 Speaker 0] Well, you know, Ben, you’re digging around is actually gonna covered some valuable material that I don’t think any of us was aware of. I mean, for example, this medical history of Texas that was done in conjunction with University of Texas libraries and the Texas Medical Association and was concluded in 1942. I think that’s a very valuable find. So, you know, this is a very productive content search. Now, you know, you mentioned the interviews and the Texas Aural history records tell us a bit more about that collection.
[0:07:17 Speaker 1] So this collection e think it dates from 1951. There was a gathering of oil pioneers in Beaumont who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Spindletop discovery. And, as you know, 50th anniversaries are very popular for a sort of recollection project. It’s over. The last few years, we’ve had all these recollection projects in regard to civil rights because all the 50th anniversaries of civil rights that have been pumped out 1964 1965 we’ve seen it with Vietnam. We’re going to see it with Watergate in a few years. It’s It’s one of those points in American memory where eye witnesses are getting up. In years on, people decide that their eyewitness accounts need to be recorded for posterity, and that happened in the fifties as well. And so you have this 50th anniversary of Spindletop. There’s a lady called Estelle Sharp, who was the wife of one of the early Spindletop drillers. She saw this need to gather these recollections of the pioneers that was still around on DSO. We’re talking about interviews with with early oil industry folks. We’re talking about drillers, wildcatters, even mule skinners and rig workers, and some of thes or histories document the Spanish flu in those Texas oil fields.
[0:08:39 Speaker 0] Well, you know, Ben, you mentioned Estelle Sharp on this. You know, this whole project one of things I wanna point out that you may not be aware of. But this aural history project that was bandaged by the University of Texas back in the early 19 fifties, it was really among the very first organized oral history projects using, you know, tape recorders. The W P. A did a lot of oral histories, but they were transcribed by hand. Some of them were recorded with early wire recorders. But this particular project you’re talking about was it was historic in itself in terms of methodology, because it was among the first of its kind. Also, uh, a stele sharp going back to her a second. I just want to say that her husband, Walter be sharp, died vory young after he had made a fortune at Spindletop. And he was the partner of Howard Hughes, Senior, the father of the famed movie director, uh, interest, notorious Howard Hughes Jr. And when Walter Sharp died, he, of course, left his fortune to his wife, Estelle Sharp, and she became quite an important philanthropist in Houston, the city of Houston. she actually established an endowment at the university that is now at the Briscoe Center. The endowment. And we enjoy the income from her philanthropy to support a number of projects that we do every year. S o. I just wanted to mention that I digress a bit from other subject, but I wanted to get that in.
[0:10:16 Speaker 1] No, that’s That’s really interesting, because I’m sure Miss Sharp didn’t have in mind this, you know, British dude, what, you know, 70 years later, rifling around these interviews for a completely different sort of project?
[0:10:31 Speaker 0] Well, it’s It’s interesting you say that because actually it’s still sharp was one of things that she did in Houston, and she led. She was the leader for a number of women’s clubs in Houston, and she was well known for insisting that the agendas of these clubs that they would have open public forums to study quote unquote international and current affairs. So she was very much an internationalist, interestingly enough, and this is we’re talking about. The 19 twenties. One of the members of her organization was a woman named O Vida Cult hobby. I’ve heard that name before. I bet you have a visa card Hobby was the wife of Governor William P. Hobby was. Actually, she was greatly influenced by still sharp. She, of course, organized and was the first director of the Women’s Army Corps and later first secretary of health, education and welfare. But as I said, we digressed back to the back to the flu. Eso Ben Lett’s gett returned to the Spanish flu playing to our listeners. Really? What? The Spanish flu? Waas.
[0:11:38 Speaker 1] We’ll hear more about the origins of the Spanish flu in the second part of this podcast, but to surmise it really quickly, Spanish flu was a pandemic. That travail the whole world. In 1918, it was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. It infected half a billion people worldwide. Onda, which at the time was about a third of the population. Andi, it is estimated to have killed between 20 and 50 million people. We don’t know exactly because of the way records were kept at the time. Well, it killed over half a million Americans. It was just this incredibly tumultuous public health crisis. Andi, Texas was not spared either. Well,
[0:12:20 Speaker 0] so you’re You’re saying that Spanish flu came to Texas, And how was it experienced here? How did it impact Texas?
[0:12:28 Speaker 1] Well, there’s no coincidence that Spanish flu occurred during World War One. Spanish flu is actually a Miss Noma. There’s pretty good evidence that it originated in Kansas, but wherever originated, it originated in a military context. World War One was ranging in Europe. The United States was in this incredible mobilization effort, and so you had soldiers in cramped conditions all across the country. But you also had this incredible military movement across the country and indeed across the whole of Europe. So the flu came through the military. It was It was rife at Camp Mabry here in Austin. Andi, I came to the University of Texas. It completely destroyed the fall semester of 1918 as well. Learn later, it led to a shutdown in Austin. While we know a lot about what happened in places like Austin, Philadelphia, ST Louis, New York, we’ve got lots of newspapers. We’ve got the kind of public health documents we discussed earlier in places like the oil fields that there is less documentation. We’re not talking about the sort of folks that journal that kept diaries on dso we rely on collections like these oral histories done some 30 years after the facts to tell us what happened in places like the oil fields. And as it turned out, the oil fields were some of the hardest hit places in America.
[0:13:57 Speaker 0] Well, I find that very that Zaveri. Interesting point. Who would have known that the oil fields were the hardest hit? I mean, you know, you’re talking about Austin reminds me, you know, even Governor William P. Hobby. We had a very severe case of the flu and there was even some talk that he might die in. The lieutenant governor would have to take this place so no one was spared. But so if it was worse than Texas, off fills and it was in cities and rural areas. I mean, what parts of the state are we talking about here when we’re talking about oil
[0:14:30 Speaker 1] fills some of the interviews mentioned Buck Burnett, Ranger Goose Creek. Mostly, they tended to be rural communities, wildcat communities, oil boom towns, if you like, between Fort Worth and Abilene. So in the western portion of the state and then between Houston and Beaumont in the east, these were, at the time, mostly rural areas that we’re inundated by the oil industry. Once oil was discovered again, the first World War helped spike a demand for oil. And so, you know, wildcatters were combing the state trying to find fields to exploit. So while these were predominantly rural areas, there are also extremely crowded areas. And they were also places with poor sanitation. They were poorly planned. Often, people were living in shacks and tents and so on. You didn’t have the hospital infrastructure and the public health infrastructure in place to deal with the pandemic. So conditions in these camps were pretty horrendous.
[0:15:31 Speaker 0] Well, can we hear one? Let’s listen to one of those interviews.
[0:15:34 Speaker 1] Yeah, let me pull one up. There are fires and Ranger on. Had this to epidemic. And, uh, that was about a most pitiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen parents carrying Children down the street on their shoulders. There’s unable to raise your heads, taking them to the doctor’s office. Seeing, uh, task is just piled up bodies into my suppose somebody to be shipped out. That was one of the hardest things to see. So this gentleman Ogi Lawson, born in West Virginia on bond sort of was an itinerant oil worker who came to Ranger in 1917. It was, at the time, a drought location. And so the locals had initiated a search for oil on by mid 1917 had found some on daily production at one point, got up to 1700 barrels, which by today’s standards isn’t very high but was a sort of, you know, sort of local cash cow. At the time, it was a really there was a real bonanza. And so this kicked off in oil boom in the area that radically transformed Ranger. But again, these unsanitary conditions makeshift housing and indeed torrential rain, which followed the drought led to outbreaks of typhoid and things like that. So when the flu came along, it found the town ill prepared to deal with what happened. And Lawson describes the scene, you know, in his harrowing parents, carrying Children down the streets on their shoulders, unable to raise that, Mr Lawson also describes caskets piled on top of each other as if you know, there was a shortage of off funeral infrastructure, not just medical infrastructure.
[0:17:25 Speaker 0] That’s fascinating. Uh, you have some or let’s listen to more of this X.
[0:17:29 Speaker 1] Yes, we dio. This is Fred Jennings, who was a rig manager in Goose Creek, Texas, between Houston Beaumont. Yeah, there’s apparently a great deal of sickness, then, uh, terrible. Have it up until 1918. We had a flu epidemic. No. And they died. The people died and they just died so fast here, too. They didn’t have no undertakers. And you just have Thio put him in, pick up trucks and hauled him to Houston. Just put him in a pine box and bury him in a way you could, uh, that went on for well, and that was 1918. That was to the winter months of 1918, when the flu epidemic was so bad. Me and I saw one man working and walk home was dead in 30 minutes after he came home with that flu. So again, you just have thes recollections off the flu in the middle off. Ah, larger aural history project, which is, you know, quite a triumphant Texas legend. You know, the history of Spindletop, and then the people being interviewed, sort of they they enter hushed tones speaking about the Spanish flu as if it’s a nightmare they’d forgotten about.
[0:18:54 Speaker 0] The Goose Creek is now called Baytown that is now the city of Baytown. Yeah, just to the east of Houston and on the North, sure of Galveston Bay.
[0:19:08 Speaker 1] Well, Jennings Jennings talks about the founding of Goose Creek. Now Baytown believe it was Ross Sterling, president of Humble Oil on a future governor who you’ve studied on Britain about. Sterling pioneered a railroad connection leading to the fields, and this just led to a boom town almost overnight. Jennings talks about 30,000 people basically showing up one day
[0:19:32 Speaker 0] we’ll eventually, you know, eventually, Standard Oil of New Jersey actually took over Humble oil Company, and they built at the time. I don’t know if it still is, but at the time it was the largest oil refinery in the world. And you know, that’s really what Baytown grew out of the city of Baytown.
[0:19:52 Speaker 1] Well, Jennings talks about, you know, fistfights, gunfights, poor treatment of women, the arrival of the clan on. But he has this one line in his interview, where he’s trying to make sense of the Spanish flu, and he says something to the equipment off you know, if that that the managers, the rig managers, had a joke, which was Look, if you if you kill the mule, you have to get another mule, um, Ulis or expensive. But if a worker dies on the job, we just get another one. E people I know it’s awful. Eso these people were treated as they were expendable. Andi They were in an industry driven by a profit that could get someone else if they could weren’t available to do the work. So we described people showing up on the job with symptoms on, then dying 30 minutes after arriving at home. Um, so again, you just you just get these sort of micro apocalyptic scenes being described.
[0:20:54 Speaker 0] Yeah, that’s the fascinating thing. Why do you think that it was so bad? Are really much worse and the oil fields than it was in the cities of the e.
[0:21:04 Speaker 1] Think you have a few things going on? One. When you’ve got these crowded, unsanitary conditions, you have profit over people. You have a complete lack of public health infrastructure, complete lack of public health knowledge. Again, people are showing up to work with symptoms. You know, we talk a lot today about flattening the curve, the idea being that we need to keep the curve at a place where hospital capacity can handle things. You have these scenes, I can queue up another. Here, gentlemen, called Plumber Barfield, who was a mule train operator in Jefferson County. He described a scene where they can’t keep the curve under casket capacity. Let her alone hospital capacity, even his ladies 19 and 20. Well, well, pretty short handed during the flu epidemic around the cemetery because especially in the fall, is early spring and fall of 19. There in the spring of 20 when the epidemic was worst while people were just afraid to get out.
[0:22:10 Speaker 0] Well, been, uh, this is all amazing stuff. Is there any good news in this sad story?
[0:22:16 Speaker 1] I think we can see good news in two ways. One is that these stories would have been completely for gotten that that these tragedies, thes American lives would have been lost had these interviews not taken place on bond. We conglomerates something of thes ordinary Americans lives thes brig workers, mule train operators, we, their stories remembered because of this project in the 19 fifties, that Miss Sharp pioneered herself. I think that’s part of the good news. Um, and the other thing that these oral histories tell us is that there were community efforts in some places that there this was the Wild West. But at the same time, there were there was a communal spirit that rose up in the midst of off these debacles. We see him. Burke. Burnett, the Red Cross organized. We have an interview from it, gentlemen. Good Walter Klein, who was a Red Cross worker? Enberg Panetta.
[0:23:13 Speaker 0] That’s up around Wichita [0:23:14 Speaker 1] Falls. He describes the scene off the community coming together to help these itinerant workers.
[0:23:22 Speaker 2] I remember it quite well because I took a young lieutenant doctor and hardball gallon former regular army nurse on Irish gal out in my car, I think on our first trip west of Bourke Burnett way gathered up some six rate dead men, women and Children. Andi Uhh! They continued to die until we found temporary shelter for him. People in which stuff falls were most generous and helpful. They shipped lumber and bedding and food and clothing by Carlo a. Zai. Recall it. The railroad, uh, hold it to work Burnett three of any great charge. And the Teamsters they all build. Hold it, hold it out where it was needed without any charge. And the workers from which the ball in the net. We’re working without charge, Andre and it possibly waas one of the saddest sights I’ve ever had to experience. And since I Waas directing the Red Cross and since I had asked for government aid, I felt some personal responsibility and seeing to think through
[0:24:45 Speaker 0] you’ve given a lot of thought to this Been. I mean, is there anything in this history that can teach us something about our really our experience with Kobe? 19.
[0:24:55 Speaker 1] You know, we’re dealing with the coronavirus today. Ah, Spanish influenza was a coronavirus, and many of the public health measures are similar to today. There was social distancing. There was an emphasis on hygiene. And I think another similarity is the role of archives. How will coronavirus be remembered and recorded today? Well, we have these sort of oral history interviews being taking place in the future. Will we archive well this current moment so that we can study it later? I think one of the warnings from the Texas oil fields is what happens when profit is put over people when the desire to the need to be paid causes ill people to goto work, which puts the whole community a risk. We just see how this virus could rip through these these oil communities. I think one of the reassurances is that we are better set up today in public health infrastructure with sanitary conditions, with public health information to deal with something like this. And I used to think one of the reassurances was that people kind of just moved on with their lives and forgot the Spanish influenza. What I’m learning the more and more I dig into this topic is that it was forgotten for a reason it was forgotten because people thought of it as a defeat. They thought that they were at war with the coronavirus of their day, the Spanish influenza, and they feel that it was a war that they lost. And so it was sort of swept under the carpet. There was an emphasis on the first World War later on, then World War Two comes and sort of knocks every other memory outside the civil war in the revolution on DSO it becomes fly of a territory in American history. But again, these oral history interviews are here for us to re remember Onda thereon Amazing resource for historians today contemplating how how communities have dealt with pandemics in the past.
[0:26:51 Speaker 0] Well, you know, this is also a perfect example of how we can learn things from the past and the parallels between what we’re going through now with co vid and with the Spanish flu, so called Spanish flu. You know, it’s just really pretty stunning. It’s a perfect example of what archives could do to help rescue the past so that we can try toe come to grips with what we’re currently dealing with. You know, later in this episode, uh, understanding you’re going to do an interview with two others who have been studying the Spanish flu. Who are you going to be talking to, Ben.
[0:27:27 Speaker 1] So I’m gonna be talking to Christopher Rose, who is a recent PhD graduate from UT Austin’s history department. He studies the Spanish flu with a particular focus on Egypt, of all places, but he has a general understanding of how the Spanish flu affected the United States, Europe and indeed, Northern Africa on, then also going to be speaking with Michael Barnes, who is a historian of Austin over at the Austin American Statesman, who has also worked in the Briscoe Centers collections to uncover what happened in the city of Boston
[0:28:00 Speaker 0] during the Spanish influence. Okay, that’s great. Then I look forward to hearing Christopher and Michael and thank you for joining us today. Please, uh, give my regards to both of them. I look forward to hearing
[0:28:13 Speaker 1] it. Will do. Thank you. Don’t thank you. Yeah, Chris, I’ll start with you. If that’s okay for a start up. Can you Can you let listeners know why we refer to the Spanish flu Is the Spanish flu? The influence [0:28:38 Speaker 3] of pandemic became known as Spanish because when it presented in Europe, Spain as a neutral country was the only country that did not have its press under military censorship. And so speaking about the flu quote unquote as it was observed in Spain, was a way of getting around censorship in other countries. And so it would sort of signal to readers that these sorts of things were also occurring in their own countries. But it was a way of getting around press censorship. There is no connection between Spain and the origin of the flu. Although there is an urban legend, I don’t know if it’s true that certain publishing magnates encouraged in the United States the use of the term Spanish flu because Spain was the American bogeyman at the time. We had recently fought the Spanish American War. We’d acquired Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines from the ailing Spanish Empire. So there is a little bit of that in there. But otherwise the first cases weren’t recorded in Spain. Spain did not suffer inordinately mawr than any other part of the world during the pandemic.
[0:29:49 Speaker 1] So it is. Ah, maybe First Amendment flu would be better. This is a place where you could talk about it and you’re Your research in particular has focused on Egypt on my right.
[0:30:01 Speaker 3] That’s correct. It showed up in Egypt during a critical window between the end of military action with the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans surrendered on October 30th, 1918. The most lethal wave of the flu, which was the second wave, hit Egypt in November and December, and then in March there was a national uprising And so part of my research has looked at the role that the pandemic may have played in politicizing, in particular the peasantry who attended not to be considered. Ah, political demographic at the time.
[0:30:40 Speaker 1] Michael, you did a big story for the Statesman back in March. That really went sort of blow by blow through the city’s experience. We work with you a little bit on that, and just for our readers, where you drawing your information about what happened? Well, I went through the newspapers, which is easy to do these days. I looked at what was being reported, and early on the media had nothing on the earliest parts of it in in the spring of 1918 and then in the summer. Most of the stories were kind of blase. Are even comical about Well, it’s just a couple weeks in dead a couple of weeks in the country or whatever. By September 27th, one case was reported at Camp Mabry, which was one of those places where people were close together, densely packed. By October 4th, 900 fresh cases have been reported, So Justus Chris, it said, I mean it must have felt apocalyptic. Did you get a sense that people went from taking it less seriously to more seriously in the reporting? Absolutely. And part of it was, of course, the fact that the governor went missing. Governor Hobby was nowhere to be found later revealed that he had become ill and retired to Beaumont to recover, so people must have felt a little leaderless is well, so yes, there must have been an anxiety of political anxiety in the city around that, I imagine, absolutely. And the cases is they were reported in the paper, were divided up between soldiers. And because of the time of civilians and Negroes, we’re a third category, and it looks like the black community was much harder hit. In fact, there were appeals for volunteers to help out with the African American population that had fallen ill. And the biggest hot spots were, of course, the U. T campus Penfield and can’t Mabry. But also all the state institutions, the Insane Asylum, the Texas School for Deaf and Dumb and the Texas Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institute for Color view all had much higher rates of infection and death.
[0:32:56 Speaker 3] That’s really interesting that you point out that the African American population was heavily infected because there were a number of doctors up north. I’m thinking specifically Chicago and Detroit, who claimed that black people were immune to the flu because they reported rates up there were so low on Dove course. One of the great historical questions has been whether this is an actual accurate fact or whether the statistics just weren’t being reported properly and they were getting a false impression of the infection rates [0:33:30 Speaker 1] and once again mirrored in Cove it. Because early on, I remember seeing the mayor of Chicago on television saying the black community in Chicago believes they can’t get it. And so the way things were reported, as you say, often affect the way that people think about it. And, of course, recording the experience of the black community in Austin during 1918 1919, I’m sure recording the experience of peasant communities in Egypt. They’re similar dilemmas when it comes to primary sources here to discovering what happened and working out what happened. Chris, what sort of pitfalls did you find researching?
This [0:34:13 Speaker 3] is a population that the whole country was over 90% illiterate at the time, so any sorts off primary sources, diaries, writings were very difficult, if not impossible to come by. I relied mainly on the press. Um, and what was interesting was that they had spent much of the war doing this sort of normal for the time blamed the victim for diseases like typhus or typhoid fever or relapsing fever, all of which are illnesses associated with poverty because they thrive in dense areas on. Then, when it came to the flu, suddenly it was held up as an example of state and competence, uh, that poor people were dying from the flu. So it was a very interesting tone shift. And I think part of this may have well have had to do with the fact so many of the medical professionals in the country had been sent off with the campaign in Palestine because a lot of them held military rank. Egypt, at the time being a British possession and the idea that they were needed at home and we’re not available to treat people was sort of a recurring theme, especially in the Arabic press. But getting any sort of of primary account would, of course, be the Holy Grail here. I even put something out on my blawg, asking if anybody had family stories and some people do, and some people don’t. It’s It’s just interesting what is and isn’t commemorated.
[0:35:51 Speaker 1] I’d love to get on to this idea of commemoration eventually. First, I want to see if there was any sort of locked down or shut down measures. In Egypt, there [0:36:00 Speaker 3] were some. They were ad hoc. The British administration would not shut down religious institutions, so they were still meeting for communal prayer. Every Friday at the mosque and every Sunday at the church is because they have learned their lesson in India that they were not going to interfere with local religious practices. There were certain shutdown measures imposed, but they were frequently criticized for being inconsistent. So, for example, bars would be closed but not restaurants. Cinemas would be closed, but not dance halls. So there was a lot of complaining about you know why, for example, are the trams still allowed to operate when you’ve restricted the number of people that could take horse drawn carriages, for example, it was it was very inconsistent on sort of slapdash [0:36:50 Speaker 1] Michael, What about in Austin, where they’re shut down or lock down measures. Um, a public notice ran on October 7th, 1918 on my quote, an ordinance closing the State University, all public and private schools and colleges of the city of Boston, all churches and lodges and all other places of assemblage where people gather for religious, social, fraternal, political, business or other purposes for a period of 30 days. And they actually rescinded it in less than 30 days on November 2nd. So I definitely felt they had it under control. I understand there’s some conversation in December about a second shut down in Austin, and the mayor essentially didn’t feel he had the ability Thio to get away with it, so to speak well. Or at least he felt he didn’t have the ability to to enforce it. Do you think there was reluctance on Austinites to shut down? You know, I don’t have any insight on that, but I will say that the entire City Council, we’re all businessmen, white businessmen, and I’m sure a similar backlash happened with the original shutdown, Uh, that it just crushed business. There was a great deal of concern about even the central services, not having enough people to operate. And I would suspect that Mayor Woolridge came under pressure from his fellow businessman. Do you think that the war effort perhaps helped the response to Spanish flu because you’ve already got people who used to government instruction? At this point, they’re used Thio. They’re sort of supply chains and logistical dynamics in place. Do you think that is something that insisted the recovery? Well, that’s very interesting suggestion. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I, uh, I tend to think of the war effort, having had two very negative aspect in that men were being and women who were caring for them oftentimes were in crowded situations and moving, you know, from continent to continent and across the country. But also as we talked about before, the censorship meant that we weren’t getting good information, and a lot of it had to do with in this country not wanting to panic people during ah, wartime Chris, what is it about the Spanish influenza? That means we don’t remember it in, say the same way we do World War One or indeed, any war for that matter. You know, [0:39:34 Speaker 3] it’s it’s an interesting question. There was a piece in The New York Times that we’re in a couple months ago that I actually pulled for my students because, uh, it was a question that they asked as well. There are no monuments in North America to the victims of the Spanish flu. Or or maybe there was there was one in a cemetery somewhere. But it’s the same thing in Egypt when I got even. The official death toll is astonishing. It’s in none of the histories at all of this period of Egyptian history. I mean, almost fell out of my chair when I read it. I think part of it is that it just doesn’t mesh well with the end of the war triumphalist narrative that, you know, you’re supposed to feel good about the fact that the war is over, that the good guys one, whomever they are and that life is going to to get back to normal. And this quick, aberrant illness just does not fit well with that. In the Egyptian context, you know there’s a nationalist uprising at the beginning of March. There’s a little bit of rumbling in the press that there’s a third wave of the influence that it’s hit, and then it vanishes. And this this uprising was recast in the thirties is the Egyptian revolution of 1919. You know, people came out of the fields, you know, in order to demand Egypt’s right to self determination. And, you know, everybody’s hand in hand. Men and women, Muslims and Christians, you know, rallying for the glory of the nation. Of course, this is the version of the history that was written in the 19 thirties under sponsorship from the Egyptian monarchy. Um, but within this narrative, there’s no room for seeking vengeance for the victims, right? It doesn’t fit. It’s not sexy. There’s nothing sexy about the fight against Ah, microscopic germ [0:41:29 Speaker 1] race seems to bring up the question. What do we remember is a society.
[0:41:32 Speaker 3] This is where the poem, uh, you’ll see a decorum est pro Patria morir, right? You know, it’s wonderful thing to die for your country. Dying for microbes is is not, and I think there was just a sort of collective forgetting.
[0:41:48 Speaker 1] There [0:41:48 Speaker 3] were even very few histories of the pandemic until the Centenary or post 9 11. I suppose, when people started becoming concerned about the possibility of bioterrorism. Um, it was a convenient go to, but it was almost a footnote on the history of World War One.
[0:42:08 Speaker 1] If the thing that we think of his public memory is more gender than we perhaps, uh, like to admit and that one of the reasons we forget the Spanish flu is because it was a memory, it was experienced by women rather than men in a special way. Aziz nurses Aziz carers. What has made me wonder this out loud is the fact that the only real literary memory we have is from Katherine Importer Onda, we Lukather. We don’t see anything in Hemingway or Fitzgerald about the flu. And so it seems to have been something that women were more likely to remember than men perhaps, but also would have had less access Thio cultivating public memory.
[0:42:54 Speaker 3] I do think so, yes, The heroes coming back from the war are the ones who get the parades. The ones who stayed at home and suffered do [0:43:04 Speaker 1] not I think, that that one of the things that’s odd about 1918 is that in some ways it was for gotten by a lot of people. I think a lot of people wanted to forget it. I don’t really understand that, but it certainly pops up now and again that that it was not remembered in a public way, like other tragedies. You’re the expert on this. What is our commemoration of it? Where the monuments to the 50 million people that died. World War One memory in Austin There seems to be a sort of, ah, lesser conspiracy, but a conspiracy nonetheless to have for gotten, of course, the greatest monument toe World War One in town is Thetacticsroom Memorial Stadium and a 13 acres. It’s one of the largest war memorials in the country, but it was a place where I think people went to forget. That’s why they built an entertainment facility rather than a a sort of monolithic statuary complex. I think people probably wanted to get on with their lives and forget about the war and forget about Spanish flu, probably because both were considered defeats. I think the germs probably were thought of. Is the ones that one?
[0:44:19 Speaker 3] Yeah, you know, it’s interesting you make that point because even in Washington, D. C. The World War One Memorial and there is one. It’s a little classical rotunda with with columns right off the reflecting pool. But you almost have to be staring straight at it, or you’ll walk right by it without seeing it. It doesn’t have the same placement in the urban fabric, especially in an area that’s so laden with national monuments as the eventual World War two Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial or the Jefferson or the Washington. It’s just very quietly off to the side. It’s almost like they were tourney between. We have to commemorate this, and we’d like to forget it.
[0:45:07 Speaker 1] Well, I think that it’s a very apt metaphor on which we can end that both World War One and Spanish flu are sort of quietly to the side of American history and memory. But if you do stare long enough, you will see them on, but be able to reflect on what they meant. So I want to thank you, Chris on Michael for joining us. Thank you. You’re welcome.
[0:45:36 Speaker 0] Briscoe Center preserves the raw materials of the past photographs, letters, diaries, business and organizational records, artifacts and much more. Today’s episode was made possible by the aural history of the Texas oil industry records. The official records of the University of Texas, the Texas newspaper collection, the Medical History of Texas Collection, the Ash Bel Smith Papers and the Bay Our Archives. These collections air among thousands of others at the center. People across America have been entrusting this evidence to the university since the 18 eighties. Today, this evidence is used by people from across America. In addition to inspiring their work, collections, inspire our own books, documentaries, exhibits, online repositories and digital humanities projects by collecting, preserving and making available these archival materials, the Briscoe Center helps keep the debates and arguments about American history, our values, origins and identities rooted in evidence. And we keep the American Rhapsody going mhm, mhm