Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: Concerning the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic

I love books in my library that deal with the history of the little Western Maryland town where my ancestors came from, Frostburg, Allegany County, and the area nearby. Most recently I stumbled onto a writer that I enjoy a lot because he's written extensively about the events that formed the area as well as other historical books. His name is James Rada Jr.

Right now on his web site he's featuring a new work about the 50th reunion of soldiers who fought at Gettysburg. Although it looks pretty cool, I'll not stop now to read it because I'm reading a whole other stack of his books about Cumberland, the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918, and the Irish immigrants who worked on the C&O Canal. He has two books of short essays, a form of writing I dearly love, all about Western Maryland, called Looking Back and Looking Back II. I plan to get those next!

Mom is now reading The Rain Man, about the 1936 flood of the Potomac River in Cumberland, also called the St. Patricks Day Flood. She remembers that day because she made a new green dress to wear to a St. Paddy's Day dance which was cancelled. Instead she boarded the bus to Cumberland and took in the awful sights of the flood's destruction.

The focus of our energies today is a book entitled, October Mourning. OK, so maybe you're thinking, what? A book about the flu?! Yikes! But this historical novel had me going from the second page. And I say second page because it takes my brain that long to grab a writer's style such that I can "hear" his words in my head. Does that make sense? (Mom does that too.)

In this book, we follow a doctor through the panic of the flu epidemic as it sweeps through Cumberland, during WWI. People have their concerns and worries about the war, some have lost sons and husbands. But when the German doctor tries to do what he can, and admittedly it's not much in the face of the flu, but he's trying with all his might, some of the citizens turn their anger towards him. There's a crazy street preacher, locals of all stripes, a cop named Cow, and a woman who has just lost her soldier fiance to, not the war, but the flu. She's an interesting character as we follow her journey to real redemption and healing.

It's an easy read but don't get your "literary" meat hooks and red pencil ready. And yes, you'll find some typos but that simply indicates that someone somewhere was rushing. Give a guy a break. What this book does provide is a window for me to look through and observe the world my ancestors inhabited. I'm wondering if my ancestors purposely avoided nearby Cumberland during this time? Did they take shelter in the location of Frostburg that was just far enough away? Now I keep thinking, which of my ancestors died in October 1918?

Rada lets the story unwind and tucks in what you need to know in a gentle way, like the description of what happened physically to flu victims that caused death. A historical synopsis is at the very end under the title "Afterword: Spanish Flu in Allegany County," and that felt like the perfect place. I was surprised to understand that the flu hit remote Cumberland in one disastrous month, from September to October. By the end of that time cases were dwindling. It's unnerving to think that people were dying so fast burials couldn't keep up. And besides, no public gatherings of the population were allowed so funerals, if they could be scheduled, were immediate family only, and outdoors. It's a mind-blower!

So thank you, James Rada! Keep writing, please:)

Treasure Chest Thursday is a blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.

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