Editorial from the May-June, 2020 issue:
We’ve been here before… The 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic
[This issue includes an article about the 1918-19 pandemic in Alaska, free to read online at the premier digital magazine site, Issuu]
The past few weeks have been unusual in our lifetime, but not unprecedented in the history of Alaska. As most are aware, we’ve been here before, if not literally, then certainly historically. The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 was utterly catastrophic, wiping out entire communities and leaving so many orphaned children that facilities were overrun and struggled to care for them all. The devastation was described by Eva Greenslit Anderson, Ph.D. in her book about the venerable Dr. Joseph Romig, titled Dog Team Doctor, published by Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho, in 1940:
“The fight at Bethel lasted all summer. During six weeks of germ warfare, there were seventy-two deaths at the mission alone. Everyone in all Alaska was sick, or so it seemed. A census taken soon after revealed that of the 3,500 who had lived in that section, 1,500 had died. Half of the natives on the lower Yukon passed out of the picture that summer, too. Tied to the mission by the specter that haunted the place, Dr. Romig was unable to travel down the river, so the lower Kuskokwim natives suffered most. In one village below Bethel, where before the epidemic this doctor had counted 121 natives, not twenty were left.”
Alaska recovered from the 1918-19 pandemic, of course, and we will recover from this current scourge as well. But just as in the past, the disease will leave an indelible mark on us all. This time will become a reference point in our lives, just as other disasters, both natural and man-made, have assumed their unwelcome places on the ever-marching timeline of history.
The May-June issue includes an article about the 1918-19 pandemic in Alaska, free to read online at the premier digital magazine site, Issuu: