Philadelphia and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

With the impending weather (as I write this it's too soon to tell what will be happening in PA), please check ahead before heading out for Trails of History events this weekend. Stay safe.

Today's guest post comes from Christina M. Stetler, membership and annual giving coordinator for the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation. Chris began researching the 1918 influenza pandemic while on staff at the Pennsylvania State Archives and was responsible for creating the Archives Research Guide on the subject. She also wrote a longer article, "The 1918 Spanish Influenza: Three Months of Horror in Philadelphia," which appears in the Autumn 2017 (Volume 84, No. 4) issue of Pennsylvania History, the journal of the Pennsylvania Historical Association. EDITOR'S NOTE/UPDATED INFO: The Fall 2018 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage includes "1918's Deadliest Killer: The Flu Pandemic Hits Pennsylvania," by Thomas J. McGuire.

For information on the 2018-19 flu season, including vaccination options, visit the influenza page on the PA Department of Health's website. This has been a public service announcement.

Soldiers Co K 110th Regt in ruins of French town Sept. 1918
Members of Co. K, 110th Regiment Infantry, passing through town captured by their comrades. Varennes-en-Argonne, Meuse, France. Sept. 26, 1918 (PA State Archives, MG-156 - Edward Martin Papers, 1866-1967)
In the fall of 1918, the war to end all wars raged in Europe. The United States, having joined the war in 1917, hoped their entrance would bring a swift conclusion to a battle-worn Europe. The war would end in November 1918, but not before death encircled the globe.

Medical professionals in the spring of 1918 recorded an unusual flu season. Doctors in Haskill, Kansas, noted an uptick in cases with symptoms unlike the typical flu season, though there were not an abnormal number of deaths. A doctor in Kansas mailed his notes to the Board of Health in Washington, D.C., which indicated he was concerned with what he saw. This act itself was uncommon, as influenza was not a mandatory reportable disease at the time.

Cases of influenza were few during the months of June, July, and early August. By the end of August, however, the influenza virus from the spring had returned, but more virulent and deadly.

The first indication of the coming calamity came from the Boston Naval Yard. In late August, men began going to the naval hospital complaining of illness. A few at a time, then a steady stream. So many coming in daily, that tents were set up to accommodate the ill. The war effort continued, however, and ships left the Boston Navy Yard for other American and European ports. One such vessel sailed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, arriving on September 6. This ship carried the influenza virus into Philadelphia, leading to the deadliest outbreak of any U.S. city.

Once docked in Philadelphia, several sailors went immediately to the Naval Hospital complaining of flu symptoms. As in Boston, as the days went on, more sailors started developing symptoms and needing medical assistance. According to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, on September 19, three sailors from the Navy Hospital passed away from the virus: James J. Keegan, Storekeeper 1st Class; Richard Singleton, Chief Boatswain’s Mate; and Mark J. Harrison, Fireman 1st Class. On the date of publication, there were 565 total cases of influenza at the Navy Yard and the 4th Naval District, with 136 cases presenting the previous day.

Death certificate for JJ Keegan victim of 1918 flu epidemic
James J. Keegan death certificate (Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. PHMC/PA State Archives)

Cases of the virus spread to the rest of the city with civilian employees who worked at the Navy Yard. Though there were approximately 150 influenza cases outside the Navy Yard in mid-September, the Director of Public Health and Charities, Dr. William Krusen, believed the virus could be contained with normal precautions.

Shortly after the first deaths attributed to the outbreak were recorded, the Board of Health required influenza to be a reportable disease. Doctors were now required to report cases and isolate patients to try to curb the spread of the disease. Initially, this was to be only a temporary measure, but the requirement to report influenza cases continues to this day.

Liberty Loan Parade Philadelphia Sept 28 1918
Liberty Loan Parade at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 28 September 1918 (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command NH41730)
On September 28, 1918, Philadelphia put aside its concern with the influenza virus to support the Fourth Liberty Loan parade. In the previous three parades, Philadelphia had exceeded goals for support of the war effort and nothing would stop the city from kicking off the Fourth Liberty Loan drive.

This would be disastrous to the city and its citizens. Within days, the number of ill jumped to 635 new cases, with more being reported hourly. The city needed to take strong measures to curb the disease and on Thursday, October 3, the Philadelphia Board of Health closed all public schools and canceled all outdoor Liberty Loan meetings. [Editor's note: "Parade to Raise Money for World War I Brought Deadly Influenza to Williams Valley in 1918," on the Wynning History blog, explores a similar situation in a smaller Pennsylvania community.]

With the number of ill and dead mounting, the Board of Health also closed all saloons, theaters, and churches.

There's more to the story (read it here).

The week ahead (9/14-20)...

Bushy Run Battlefield
Sept. 19: History Speaks Series—Dana Knezevich, author of Life of Eastern Woodland Indians, will present “The Making of Native American Clothing” (program description is on the website). Cost is $8 in advance, $10 at the door (members get a 10% discount). Contact or Bushy Run Battlefield at 724-527-5584 for advance tickets.

Drake Well Museum and Park
Sept. 15: Fall Gas Up—the museum hosts the Pioneer Steam and Gas Engine Society's display of antique gas engines, oil field and farm equipment, and more. Included in regular admission. 9 am-3 pm.

Erie Maritime Museum and U.S. Brig Niagara
Sept. 20: Erie Yacht Club Happy Hour—the Lettie G. Howard will be at the Erie Yacht Club for a special dockside happy hour. The event is open to the public. Check the website for updated info.

Graeme Park
Sept. 16: Living History Sunday—today's event explores the struggle Pennsylvania’s Quaker families faced during the Civil War and the impact the war had on farms like Graeme Park. Admission charged. Noon-3 pm; presentation at 2 pm, tours of the Keith House available during the afternoon.
Sept. 20: Happy Hour with the Historian—Dr. Stephen Griffith will explore the history of theater production in colonial Philadelphia from the establishment of Pennsylvania in 1681 to 1800 (more details on the website). Cost to attend is $5 (free for members). Munchies and wine/beer available for purchase starting at 6 pm; lecture begins at 7.

Hope Lodge
Sept. 16: Site open—enjoy the grounds and take a guided tour of the mansion. Admission charged. 1-4 pm (tours at 1:00 and 2:30 pm).

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum
Sept. 15: Wool Frolic and Yarn Sale—celebrate the fiber arts and the people, plants, and animals that make them possible. Enjoy activities for the kids and shop for deals on yarn, patterns, and paraphernalia. New this year - did you know that sheepdogs practice herding sheep by herding ducks? I didn't either, but now I do. You can give it a try. Admission charged. 10 am-4 pm.

Old Economy Village
Sept. 15: Gardening class—"Next Year's Garden," presented by master gardener Cynthia Pagesh, will teach you how to help this year's garden become next year's garden through seed saving and cuttings (more info on Facebook event page). Call David Miller at (724)266-4500 ext.110 for details. 10 am-1 pm.

Pennsbury Manor
Sept. 16: Special programmingOpen Hearth Cooking features the bake oven today. Included in regular admission. 1-4 pm.

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum
CORRECTION Sept. 15 22: "3rd" Weekend Program—"Voices of Pine Creek" is an oral history presentation (two documentaries) exploring life in the region through the experiences of local residents. Together the two films run about one hour and 20 minutes. Attendees will also get a sneak peek at the Webber Cabin, home to Bob and Dotty Webber for many years; Bob Webber is among the oral historians featured in "Voices of Pine Creek." 1 pm.

Pennsylvania Military Museum
Sept. 19: Civil War Lecture—William C. Davis, retired history professor and executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, will present "Looking for Loreta--the Confederate Kardashian." Davis's talk, sponsored by the Civil War Era Center at Penn State, focuses on Loreta Velazquez, who allegedly disguised herself as a man to fight and and served as a Confederate spy during the Civil War. 7-8 pm.

State Museum of Pennsylvania
Please check the Planetarium page for program schedule.
Sept. 14: Learn at Lunchtime—author and photographer Tim Palmer will present "Twilight of the Hemlocks and Beeches," based on his book of the same title (more info). Included in general admission. 12:15 pm.
Sept. 16: Archaeology at Fort Hunter—Section of Archaeology staff and volunteers will be on hand for Fort Hunter Day to share their info with the public. This season's Fort Hunter excavations started Sept 5 and will continue on weekdays into October (see museum website for schedule details).

Catching Up

Please see last week's post for info on events coming up this weekend. If you're planning further ahead, the September program page has what you need.

Before I launch us into a selection of items that have come across my screen recently, I wanted to share some info related to the recent devastating fire at the National Museum of Brazil. Among the many responses coming from the spectrum that is the international museum community, the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums reposted a note from the Council of Museum Anthropology's Facebook page. If you (or someone you know) has ever visited the museum in Rio and took any photos (the irony here should not escape any of us), there is an initiative to create a visual archive of visitor photos. You can email photos to:,, or

Looking Back at Labor Day

Lewis Hine photo of anthracite breaker boys, Library of Congress
"A View of Ewen Breaker..." in South Pittston, PA, circa 1911 (photo by Lewis W. Hine, in collection of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-nclc-01127)
An article in the Washington Post on Sept. 2 featured photographer Lewis Wickes Hine and the impact of his work on ending industrial child labor in the 20th century (read article online). Hine photographed work settings in various parts of the U.S., including the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania. Many of his photos can be found in the National Child Labor Committee collection at the Library of Congress. Learn more about breaker boys, coal miners, and mining communities by visiting the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Eckley Miners' Village on the PA Trails of History.

The Daily Antiquarian posted a history of Labor Day on their Facebook page and featured photos from several Trails of History sites, including Old Economy Village and Ephrata Cloister. It's a reminder that while some of our sites are focused on industrial labor (see industrial heritage trail), all of our sites interpret work in some form, be it domestic (see program at Conrad Weiser Homestead below), agricultural, or scientific, to name a few.

Pictures, pictures, pictures

The October 2018 issue of Early American Life has a beautiful photo of the Walter's Mill Covered Bridge at Somerset Historical Center by Ron Bruner (see it here on Facebook). This weekend (Sept. 7-9) you can see it in person and enjoy a vast array of craft demonstrations, entertainment, and regional foods at SHC's annual Mountain Craft Days festival (info here).

Old Economy Village plays a leading role in a new video from Beaver County Tourism that promotes the Ambridge Historic District (see below).

Staff of the Pennsylvania Military Museum hosted history classes from Penn State Altoona this summer, providing an insider's tour (literally) of a Sherman tank as well as hands-on experience with artifacts from the museum's collection (article from PSU Altoona website includes more details and photos of the visit).

Photographer Curt Weinhold, who works closely with the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, posted a night sky image taken from the logging camp exhibit on the museum grounds. Potter County, where the museum is located, is known for its dark skies, and Curt is well-known for his night sky photography.

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum
Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum

This year's "Ice Cream Sunday" event at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum (Sept. 2) was expanded into a fine art and fine craft event (with ice cream) through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen. There are loads of beautiful photos on LVM's Facebook page and Jennifer MacNeill Photography shared a gorgeous bunch more. Enjoy (you'll have to supply your own ice cream)!

On the Trails of History, Sept. 1-13

Many PA Trails of History sites will be open on Monday, Sept. 3, for Labor Day (noted below). The full listing of September programs is available.

View from upper floor of Sisters House at Ephrata Cloister
View of the Saal (meetinghouse) from upper floor of the Sisters' House at Ephrata Cloister (photo AKF)
Anthracite Heritage Museum
Sept. 1: Museum Night at the Ballpark—watch the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders take on the Pawtucket Red Sox, remember The Office (maybe get a bobblehead), and help support the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Scranton Iron Furnaces. More info is on the museum website. Game time is 7:05 pm.
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.

Brandywine Battlefield
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.
Sept. 9: Afternoon Lecture Seriescheck the website for details.
Sept. 11: Remembrance Day—the annual ceremony commemorating the Battle of Brandywine, Sept. 11, 1777, and the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will be held. Event is free. 6-7 pm.

Bushy Run Battlefield
Sept. 8: General Meeting and Lecture—Serena Pape will present a program on West Overton Village, birthplace of Henry Clay Frick, exploring the history of the site as well as its current museum and other activities. Cost is $5 (free for members). 1 pm.

Conrad Weiser Homestead
UPDATE Sept. 1-2: Site open and Patriotic Concert—the site will be open Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday from noon to 5 pm. Also on Sunday, the rescheduled Ringgold Band concert (free of charge) will take place at 5 pm.
Sept. 9: Living History Sunday—historical reenactors help bring the site and its history to life; today's theme is women's domestic activities. Guided tours offered. Noon-4 pm.

Cornwall Iron Furnace
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.

Drake Well Museum and Park
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.

Eckley Miners' Village
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.

Ephrata Cloister
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.
Sept. 6: Student Historians Informational Meeting—students aged 14 and up and their parents are invited to learn more about Ephrata Cloister's Student Historian program. This after-school club (meets Thursdays 3:30-5 pm) invites young people to gain community service experience while engaging in a variety of activities at the historic site. Register for the informational meeting by calling 717/733-6600.
Sept. 8: Ephrata Cloister Upstairs—a chance to view the upper floors of the 1743 Sisters' House, which are generally not open to visitors. Stairs are narrow and steep and may not be suitable for all visitors. Tickets are limited and advance registrations are encouraged; call the site at 717/733-6600. Cost per person is regular admission plus $15. 10 am-3 pm.
Sept. 10-11: Closed for maintenance—the site is schedule to be closed for maintenance on Monday, Sept. 10. Sept. 11 is the rain date for the maintenance project. If you plan to visit on the 11th, please call ahead (717/733-6600) to make sure they are open.

Erie Maritime Museum and U.S. Brig Niagara
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.
Sept. 10: Commemoration of the Battle of Lake Erie—to mark the 205th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, a wreath laying ceremony and remarks will take place on the Outdoor Plaza of the Erie Maritime Museum. This year also is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the current incarnation of the U.S. Brig Niagara. Event is free and open to the public. 5:30 pm.

Fort Pitt Museum
Please check the Fort Pitt Museum website for information on programs and events this month.

Graeme Park
Sept. 5: Life in William Penn's Woods—take a guided walk of the grounds to learn about the plants and trees there now and in the Graemes' time. Leashed dogs are welcome. Cost is $2 per person. 6-7 pm.

Hope Lodge
Sept. 9: Site open—enjoy the grounds and take a guided tour of the mansion. Admission charged. 1-4 pm (tours at 1:00 and 2:30 pm). NOTE: site is closed for tours on Sun., Sept. 2.

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum
September 2: Ice Cream Sunday—enjoy a "Celebration of Fine Art & Fine Craft" with the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen. The event is the culmination of a competition among artists and features judging of plein air artworks produced outdoors throughout the summer at the museum. Juried artists and craftspeople will also exhibit their pieces in the grove while lively music will play in the Firehouse. Free ice cream and wagon rides round out the event. (More details on the website.) Included in regular admission (free for members). Noon-5 pm.
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.

Old Economy Village
Sept. 13: Lecture—Jeffrey Snedden, freelance writer and historical researcher, will present a talk on life in Beaver County during World War I. Visitors will also have a chance to see OEV's exhibit on World War I. Free and open to the public. 7 pm.

Pennsbury Manor
Sept. 2 & 9: Special programming—Sept. 2, Historic Trades Day features joyners, blacksmiths, and spinners; Sept. 9, Living History Theater presents "New Colony, New Rules."Included in regular admission. 1-4 pm.
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum
Sept. 1: Community Yard Sale—bargain hunters traveling Route 6 will find vendors in the parking lot of the museum on Saturday. Interested vendors may contact the museum at 814/435-2652 to reserve a spot ($10 donation). 10 am-4 pm.
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.

Pennsylvania Military Museum
Sept. 3: Labor Day—open regular hours, 10 am-5 pm. Guided tours at 11 am and 1 pm.
Sept. 8-9: Then & Now Living History Bivouac—explore a range of military uniforms and equipment from the 18th century to the present during this military timeline program. Battle dress uniform show and weapons demos at 1 pm each day. 10 am-4 pm. UPDATE 9/8: due to impending weather, the program is cancelled for 9/9.
Sept. 9: Friends' Lecture Series—Colonel Lewis Watt will present "Experiences of a Test Pilot." 2-3 pm.

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
Sept. 3: Labor Day—site open, check website for hours.
Sept. 8-9: Railroad Heritage Days—explore the rich history of railroading through presentations, model train layouts, art and photography, and more. Included in regular admission. Sat., 9 am-5 pm; Sun., noon-5 pm.

Somerset Historical Center
Sept. 7-9: Mountain Craft Days—since 1970, this event has brought together artisans and craftspeople of all types, and now includes children’s activities, cooking demonstrations, entertainment, and great food (visit SHC's Facebook page for previews of all kinds of activities). Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for kids 6-17 (Friday school tours are $3 per student). 10 am-5 pm.

State Museum of Pennsylvania
Please check the Planetarium page for program schedule.
Sept. 1-3: Archaeology at Kipona—staff from the museum's Section of Archaeology will be on Harrisburg's City Island to talk about excavations on the island. 10 am-6 pm each day.
Sept. 5-12: Mammal Hall closed—due to construction, Mammal Hall will be closed for a week. Later this month the museum will celebrate Mammal Hall's 50th birthday with a slew of activities (see calendar of events).
Sept. 5-25 (weekdays only): Archaeology at Fort Hunter—Section of Archaeology staff and volunteers will be at Fort Hunter (north of Harrisburg) for this season's excavations (more info on the website). The public is invited to stop by between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm on weekdays.
Sept. 7: StoryTime—this month's focus is spiders! Gather in Ecology Hall to read Walter's Wonderful Web by Tim Hopgood, play a fun spider web game, and make a spider web craft to take home. Designed for kids 3-5 years old with an adult. Included in general admission. 10-11 am.
Sept. 7 & 9: Art of the State activities—on Sept. 7, visit the Art of the State exhibit during a Learn at Lunchtime event; museum docents will provide tours of the exhibit starting at 12:15 pm. Included in general admission. On Sept. 9 (the last day of the Art of the State exhibit), the museum will participate in Harrisburg's Gallery Walk, which means general admission is free; an Artist Conversation program will be offered at 2 pm.
Sept. 13: Nature Lab program—learn about Pennsylvania Wild Canines, such as coyotes, red and gray foxes, and timber wolves. Designed for visitors age 7 and up. Included in general admission. 11:30 am.

Washington Crossing Historic Park
Please visit Washington Crossing's Calendar of Events page for info on park and historical programming.