Just over 100 years ago, there was an outbreak of flu doing the rounds. This wasn’t just your average case of winter sniffles and needing to take a couple of days off work, though. It was an influenza pandemic.
This was the horrific Spanish Flu that wiped out an estimated 100 million people worldwide. It was genuinely the stuff of nightmares.
Where did it even come from?
The flu couldn’t have come at a worse time. Millions had already lost their lives to the Great War and then Spanish Flu claimed millions more. It was believed to have started in an army camp in France.
The close confines, dense population, frequent movement of troops en masse, poor hygiene, and transportation of livestock was a perfect storm for the flu virus to thrive. It was out of control before anybody even knew about it.
The symptoms were pretty much the same as standard flu. But a fever, nausea, aches, and diarrhea were only the start.
The unlucky ones would become gripped by an attack of acute pneumonia. This is what often led to death.
Dark spots would appear on the cheeks and people turned blue. They couldn’t breathe in enough oxygen because their lungs became filled with a frothy bloody liquid instead. This would result in them vomiting blood and blood also seeping from their orifices.
You know if there’s blood coming out of your ears that something is seriously wrong.
The beginning of the end
It was in January 1918 that the alleged first account surfaced of the disease being recorded in the US – in Kansas. The true scale of the disease was realized a couple of months later.
On March 4, 1918, cook Albert Glitchell reported sick at the US military base Fort Riley. The base was training American troops to fight in the war. Within a matter of days, there were 522 reports of men falling ill with the disease within the base.
Just one week later, reports came from Queens in New York of the virus. The US government was heavily criticized for not taking preventative measures quickly enough to stop the spread of the disease that was claiming thousands of victims.
Witnesses of the time have said that theaters, shops and restaurants were closed. Family members would leave their loved ones to die in order to save themselves from becoming infected. Funerals were held on the streets every day. One witness described bodies “piled up like cords of wood”.
How the Spanish Flu got its name
Things got even worse as the war drew to a close at the end of 1918. A more aggressive mutation of the virus was recorded simultaneously in France, Sierra Leone, and Massachusetts, US.
It was during November when it spread from France to Spain that it gained its notorious name of “The Spanish Flu”. Until this point the true impact of the virus had been under-estimated.
Over a third of the global population were estimated to have been infected by the disease by 1919. It’s widely considered as the worst medical holocaust of all-time with the number of deaths potentially exceeding that of the Black Death of 1347 to 1351.
The darkest day in NHL history
Nothing could escape the hellish grasp of the disease. Not even professional sport.
The sixth and deciding game of the 1919 Stanley Cup Finals (Montreal Canadiens vs Seattle Metropolitans) was scheduled to be played on April 1 of that year. The series was tied at 2-2-1 heading into the final game.
Newsy Lalonde, Joe Hall, Wilfred Billy Coutu, Louis Berlinguette, and Jack McDonald of the Canadiens were all hospitalized with the illness. This resulted in the game being cancelled just 5 and a half hours before face-off. Canadiens manager George Kennedy stated that he was forfeiting the final game.
In one of the great acts of sportsmanship, Metropolitans manager, Pete Muldoon, refused to accept the forfeit win claiming that the Canadiens being unable to fulfil the fixture was not their fault.
Tragically, just four days later, Canadiens defenseman, Hall, died of pneumonia as a result of the flu virus. Kennedy was also hospitalized because of the virus a short time later.
Despite appearing to make a slight recovery, he never fully got over the illness and died years later as a consequence of it.
The series was deemed an uncompleted draw. Neither team’s name was engraved on the trophy until 1948. That year, the trophy was redesigned with the names of both teams engraved on it along with the phrase “Series Not Completed”.
Tempting a deathly fate
A few years ago, for some bizarre reason, some scientists thought it would be a good idea to bring the deadly virus back to life.
Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the experiment, faced heavy criticism but argued that it would help scientists to develop an anti-virus, should the disease or a similar strain ever appear again.
Whether the risks of such an experiment are worth the potential benefits remains a topic very much up for discussion.