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Post Remembering the Flu Pandemic of 1918-'19: Rosewood, Florida (from Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 03/24/20 8:08 AM

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Remembering the Flu Pandemic of 1918-'19: Rosewood, Florida (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 03/24/20 8:08 am)

Gary Moore writes:

Patrick Mears's informative look (March 18th) at the 1918-'19 flu pandemic, as his mother experienced it in Michigan, reminds of another 1919 node, in Florida.

In researching the Rosewood, Florida, pogrom of 1923, which destroyed an isolated hamlet in timber country, my canvassing of surviving witnesses inadvertently also brought a picture of 1919, showing how the virus spread even into remote places (though the Rosewood area also saw two passenger trains a day, and drifters came in on freights seeking sawmill work). Truisms about the 1919 epidemic were borne out to some degree by Rosewood memories, such as the reputation that the 1919 flu tended to specifically target healthy young adults. In two thriving sawmill towns on either side of Rosewood, energetic top bosses and their families were hit hard.

Walter Pillsbury--originally from the woods of Michigan and of the Eastern flour-mill-doughboy stock, was an unstoppable, never-been-sick-a-day-in-his-life type, but the 1919 menace knocked him off his feet. Pillsbury, his wife and all his children but one were in bed for a week, though they did recover. In Rosewood itself, the African American household of Ed and Eilza Bradley was hit the same way, leaving everyone in bed except for one adolescent girl, who had to care for the rest. It seems that neither the Pillsburys nor the Bradleys knew of each other's similar distress, separated by three miles of railroad track.

I learned of only two deaths in the area from the pandemic, one an aging independent sawmill operator who had had some reverses in business and was viewed as being particularly vulnerable, though the other was a young housewife seemingly in good health.

The world was filled with variegated nooks like this. For instance, caveats about gauging the death toll of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 caution not to go by census figures alone (Mexico was officially tallied as losing about a million of its population from 1910 to 1920), because part of the reduction represented flight to the United States--and, it's said, no one knows how the chaos might have masked deaths from the worldwide flu.

At the end of 1918, just before coming to his new sawmill post in the wilderness--where he was immediately struck by the flu--Walter Pillsbury had exuberantly driven his family down to the Jacksonville wharf because ships were coming in that brought soldiers home from the war. Pillsbury had served in the Spanish-American War and was determined to show his support for the latest veterans. He would be remembered climbing from his car and walking up to the gangway as they came down, as he enthusiastically shook each man's hand.

JE comments:  The terror of 1918-'19 certainly dispelled the myth about the old and infirm.  The virile American farm boys drafted into the AEF were particularly vulnerable.  Nearly as many were killed by the flu (45,000) as by the Germans (53,000).

Gary, I think we may have our Pillsburys confused:  Walter Pillsbury was a noted psychologist at the U of Michigan.  The flour company was founded by Charles Alfred Pillsbury, who set up his empire in Minnesota.  I do note with alumnus pride that CA Pillsbury was a Dartmouth grad (1863)--I didn't know that.


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