7. October, 1918
During the month of October, 1918, news from the Western Front in Europe both exhilarated and concerned Americans. US troops heavily engaged the Germans in France, in many cases turning the tide of battle in favor of the Allies. But it was at a heavy cost. Wartime censorship could not completely quell the news of heavy loss of life in the trenches and skies above them. Until the late summer of 1918 American combat losses were light. The autumn months saw them rise during the late war offensives against the Germans. The month of October saw about 25,000 American troops killed during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which continued up to the day of the armistice, November 11, 1918.
During the same month of October, 200,000 Americans died of the Spanish Flu and the complications it caused in the United States. As of this writing, it remains the deadliest month in American history. Across the country, bans against public gathering meant no funerals. There were shortages of caskets, graves, and the diggers to excavate them. Bodies were held in storage; in some homes covered in ice and left in the bed in which they had died. In Philadelphia, a streetcar manufacturer was ordered by the city to build plain wooden boxes in which to bury the city’s deceased, and city employees were assigned to dig graves. During October, 1918, the rate in Philadelphia alone reached 1,000 per day, devastating families and overwhelming the city’s ability to cope with the crisis.