20. The press downplayed the Spanish Flu
The most volatile period of the Spanish Flu, the second wave during the autumn of 1918, coincided with the peak of American combat involvement during the First World War. The press ignored the virus in favor of war coverage. On October 3, 1918 – a Thursday – 191 people died in Boston, according to the records of the Boston Globe. The total appeared on the newspaper’s front page the following morning, framed by two stories about the war, both of which featured much larger typeface, and both of which contained the inflammatory reference to the Germans popular at the time. They referred to them as “Huns”. The story about the casualties in Boston said that the nearly 200 persons had died of the “grippe”.
The Boston newspapers printed Friday, October 4, 1918, reported little regarding the crisis beyond the existence of the seasonal flu. The Boston Post reported, “Health authorities are encouraged that the increase is but a small one”, in reference to the number of deceased the preceding day. Instead, the several newspapers of the flu stricken city focused their attention on the Boston community’s failure to meet its goals in the sale of Liberty Bonds to support the war. Another story in the Boston Globe reported the governor of Massachusetts’ request to the federal government to cancel the ban on driving automobiles on Sunday (a wartime savings measure). In his plea, Governor Samuel McCall referenced the flu, and claimed driving in fresh air would help citizens, because “fresh air and sunshine will enable them to better fight the grippe”.