The Quarantine Poem That Wasn’t Written During the Spanish Flu—And One That Was

It’s been attributed to authors in the 1800s, or to the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919, but none of that is true. Here’s the real story.

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In case you haven’t been on social media in the past few months, you may have missed something that’s been making the internet rounds.

The social media posts usually go something like this.

There’s usually an image of an Edwardian or Victorian couple, or sometimes one from the Spanish Flu with face masks, like these ladies:

1919-pandemic-photo

Then there’s some text, something like: “This poem was written in 1896 (or 1918, or 1919) but it’s SO relevant today. I can’t believe it!” or “How timeless!” and so on. The author, if they’re cited at all, is listed as Grace Ramsay/Kathleen O’Meara or Kitty O’Meara, or sometimes as “anonymous.”

Then comes the actual poem, which goes like this:

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Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice poem. I like it, though I’m not a great judge of poetry. But this poem wasn’t written by long dead authors in 1918 or 1869. It was posted on Facebook on March 13, 2020 and was written by Catherine “Kitty” O’Meara, a retired teacher from Madison, Wisconsin, in direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic lock down.

Kitty describes her inspiration for the poem in an interview with Oprah Magazine:

“I was anxious for the past few months. I knew this was coming and couldn’t be of service…I was getting kind of sad. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t help my friends. I was very worried about them. My husband said: ‘Write. Just write again.’ I kind of just sat down and wrote it…I saw the maps of receding pollution over China and Europe. I thought, ‘There you go. There’s something of blessing in all suffering.’ And I thought with my passionate love for the Earth, maybe that’s one good thing.”

Just days after posting on Facebook, Kitty’s poem went viral, and ever since then folks have been sharing it everywhere as a form of commentary on our current times.

The reality of the stituation—who Kitty O’Meara really is and the actual context of her poem—are easily verifiable with a simple Google search. Yet, many of the social media posts that share the poem insist it was written during the Spanish Flu, or in 1869, or cite another author entirely as the source. The error became so common that there’s even a Snopes page dedicated to it, and Reuters had to fact-check it as well. Even when her poem was read aloud on MSNBC, says Kitty, it was said to have been written in 1890. She found this bewildering: “I give up,” she said in an interview with Deseret News. “Don’t journalists fact-check anything anymore?

So why has Kitty’s poem been given this false historical context?

Part of it may be confusing her with another author who has a very similar name. Kathleen O’Meara, who wrote under the pseudonym Grace Ramsay, was an author and journalist during the late Victorian era who was well-known for her biographies of famous Catholics. Her supposedly best work, The Bells of the Sanctuary (1871), is a series of biographies about famous Catholics and was very well received during her time. Given the similarities between their names, and the time period O’Meara wrote (the 1860s-1890s), it makes sense that people would confuse the two of them and peg Kitty’s poem with an 1869 date.

What about the Spanish Flu references, though?

Personally, I think it comes from an urge to connect to the past. As people look for reassurance that we will survive this global pandemic, they really only have one major and relatively recent historical event to fall back on: the Spanish Flu. It makes sense, then, that someone might want to believe that this poem came from that time, and that people back then felt much as we do now about their experiences—even if none of them lived through a lock down quite like ours.

If you want to find actual literature that addresses the Spanish Flu from 1918, however, you’re mostly out of luck. That’s because there’s a reason that the Spanish Flu didn’t really become part of the national conversation until Alfred W. Crosby’s landmark 1997 book, The Forgotten Pandemic. Following so closely on the heels of WWI, the pandemic was rolled up into the horrors of war, something people wanted to forget as quickly as possible and move on. As a result, there are very few examples of it in art and literature of the time, save for everyday items like ordinary people’s personal letters, diaries or newspaper articles.

There are shadows, though, if you know where to look.

Literature professor Elizabeth Outka cites such classics as T.S. Elliot’s poem The Wasteland, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and the stories of H. P. Lovecraft as all containing themes and imagery from the pandemic, whether they address it directly or not. Themes about death, grief, the fragility of the body, physical transformation, disintegration and loss are all related to the pandemic.

If you’re looking for something written specifically about the Spanish Flu itself, however, there’s really one option: the novel Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1937) by Katherine Anne Porter.

Inspired by her personal experiences with the Spanish Flu—a soldier she dated died from it, after he’d nursed her through her own illness—it is a hallucinatory combination of wartime propaganda and surreal experiences with illness. After surviving the flu, the main character, Miranda, feels disconnected from life, her body, and history, a sentiment that was echoed by the author herself in a 1936 interview about Pale Rider: “[The flu] simply divided my life, cut across it like that. So that everything before that was just getting ready, and after that I was in some strange way altered.” If you’re looking for a piece of literature to connect to today, Pale Rider may be a good bet.

As for poetry, though, there’s less of that around, at least that I could find. While Professor Outka cites The Wasteland as related to the Spanish Flu, I could only really find one poem that addressed it directly and was written during the time it was happening. In the course of researching this post, I came across a poem by Joe Bogle, African American man from Knoxville, Tennessee, whose work appeared in the Knoxville Journal & Tribune in 1918. Here it is:

 The Spanish Flu

“Listen here, children,” said Deacon Brown,

“There’s something new just struck this town

And it’s among the white and the colored, too

And I think they call it the Spanish Flu.”

They say it starts right in your head:

You begin to sneeze and your eyes turn red.

You then have a tight feeling in your chest,

And you cough at night and you just can’t rest.

Your head feels dizzy when you are on your feet;

You go to your table and you just can’t eat.

And if this ever happens to you,

You can just say you got the Spanish Flu.

Now, I got a brother and his name is John,

And he went to buy a Liberty Bond.

And he stopped to hear the big band play,

Upon the corner of Church and Gay.

But when he heard about the Flu–

It tickled me and would tickle you–

He bought his bond and went away:

Said he’d hear the band some other day.

But just as he got down on Vine,

He began to stagger like he was blind.

And a doctor who was passing by

Said, “What is the matter with this country guy?”

But as soon as he asked John a question or two,

He said, “Good night, you got the Spanish Flu.”

—Joe Bogle

~*~

No matter who wrote it or when, though, Kitty O’Meara’s Covid-19 inspired poem, “And People Stayed Home” speaks to our time, and is worth reading or hearing in its own right. Below you will find a couple of readings of this poem, if you’re so inclined. Enjoy! 🙂

This one has music:

And this one has more of a New Age vibe to it:

~*~

What about you, Dear Readers? Are there any books or poetry that are helping you get through these strange times? Personally, I find myself not being able to read very much, as focusing is hard. What are you guys reading these days?

Posted in 1918 Spanish Flu | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Make A Face Mask, 1918 Style

st clair facemask

This April the CDC issued at statement that encouraged all Americans, regardless of their Covid-19 status, to wear a cloth face mask when out in public. One hundred and two years ago, Americans were doing the same thing—they were sporting a “new, simple, cheap and successful device” to protect themselves from the Spanish Flu: the cloth face mask.1

While the idea of using masks to ward off disease wasn’t exactly new, in 1918, face masks had only recently been proven to prevent disease.

Just eight years earlier in 1910, a new strain of bubonic plague originating in marmots  broke out across Northern China. Highly infectious and extremely deadly, it killed within a day or two of producing symptoms. Desperate to try to locate the source of the infections and stop its spread, the Chinese Imperial Court called in doctors from all over the world. One of them was Lien-teh Wu, a young doctor fresh from medical school, who was eventually put in charge of public health for the epidemic.

dr wu china 1910 plague

Dr. Lien teh-Wu, the man who would go on to modernize China’s health care system in 1912. Photo Source: Memories of Dr. Lein teh-Wu, Plague Fighter, which is available online from Areca Books

After discovering via autopsy that the new plague was spread through the air rather than fleas as had other iterations, Wu created a new mask to use around his sick patients. Loosely based off Western surgical masks of the 1870s, Wu’s mask was a “hardier” mass of cotton and gauze tied securely to the face with some extra layers of cloth on top for extra filtration. They were cheap, easy to produce, and effective. Unlike surgical masks, which are still primarily used today to prevent a surgeon from coughing or spitting into open wounds as they work, Wu’s masks were worn to reduce the spread between the sick and the healthy—something they did remarkably well, especially in combination with his new quarantine techniques.

Not everyone was receptive to Wu’s ideas, however. Thanks to the open racism of the time, many non-Asian doctors questioned its effectiveness. This often led to needless death, as this famous story sum up from historian Christos Lynteris about an interaction between Dr. Wu and a French doctor demonstrates:

He’s confronted by a famous old hand in the region, a French doctor [Gérald Mesny] . . . and Wu explains to the French doctor his theory that plague is pneumonic and airborne,” Lynteris says. “And the French guy humiliates him . . . and in very racist terms says, ‘What can we expect from a Chinaman?’ And to prove this point, [Mesny] goes and attends the sick in a plague hospital without wearing Wu’s mask, and he dies in two days with plague.”

Despite these doubts, Wu’s mask proved itself time and again in the field, and by 1911 they were being handed out to both healthcare workers and the general public alike across Manchuria, helping to stop the spread of the new plague.

When the Spanish Flu hit the world eight years later, healthcare professionals around the world turned to Wu’s face masks for inspiration in creating their own designs.

~*~

Initially, cloth face masks were only deemed necessary for healthcare workers and the sick. Only nurses, those nursing the sick, and the sick people themselves were encouraged to wear them. “The sick person and [their] attendants should wear face masks,” instructed Dr. W. A. Evans on one of his many articles on how to treat the Spanish Flu.2  “The nurse should wear a face mask when waiting on the patient” and “the mask should be sterilized by boiling daily.”3 “The wearing of face masks by nurses and other hospital attendants should be made compulsory in hospitals and by all who are directly exposed to the disease,” recommended the American Public Health Association of Chicago, including barbers and dentists and any others “whose work compels them to bring their faces close to the faces of others.”4

Eventually, the use of masks was recommended for the public as well. Across the country, it became illegal not to wear one, and people could be denied service, arrested, or fined if they did not comply.

san fran must wear masks

An ordinance in San Francisco forced the public to wear face masks, with severe penalties if they refused. Photo Source: this CNN article

Their usefulness regarding the general public, however, was debatable even back in 1918. Some doctors thought they helped significantly, while others were more doubtful. One of their biggest proponents in Chicago was the city’s former health commissioner, Dr. A. R. Reynolds. He trumpeted the usefulness of masks in the Tribune, declaring that they would allow an immediate return to normalcy:

“…if the general public can be made to use [masks], there will be no need to restrict public assemblages or impede in any way the usual habits of the public…prudence demands that everybody should wear the mask in crowded rooms, on windy days, or when engaged in dusty occupations.”5

Instilling that kind false confidence, however, is a dangerous thing to do, and the doctors of 1918 took pains to point that out as well. Dr. W. A. Evans, the Chicago Tribune’s health contributor from 1913 to 1933, was less enthusiastic about the public using masks:

“The wearing of face masks as a means of preventing influenza is on trial. It seems to offer something as a means of prevention for nurses and hospital attendants. The proof that it is effective as a measure employed by men on the street is poor at best. Nevertheless, any trial given the method should be a fair one. The wearing of improperly made masks that are wet and soiled or masks that are improperly placed does not constitute a fair trial.”6

A face mask, Dr. Evans noted further, was only worth it if used it correctly—and not many people were doing that. In one article, he described meeting a man on the street from Fort Wayne, Indiana who was not using his mask correctly:

“A while ago I met a man who had just come from Fort Wayne…he stopped and showed me the face mask he had worn while in Fort Wayne. It was soiled and wadded. He said he had carried it in his pocket and that whenever he went into a building he held it in front of his face. That illustrates how not to wear a face mask.”7

Towards the end of the epidemic, healthcare professionals had backed off from encouraging the public to use masks, saying they were less effective than previously thought. The American Public Health Association of Chicago did not recommend them for general public:

“The general wearing of masks in the streets and elsewhere the committee did not advice. The principal reason lay in the certainty that most of the masks worn would be improperly made or improperly adjusted;” yet, they added, “There is no reason why any individual who wishes to wear a face mask as a means of self-protection should not do so.”8

When he looked back at the epidemic in 1920, Dr. Evans deemed them worthless, largely thanks to people not using them correctly:

“Some communities passed ordinances requiring that every person wear masks all the time. Other communities encouraged the use of masks but did not require it. At the end of the first wave there was a general agreement that the measure had proved ineffective. Unquestionably a part of the failure was due to bad faith on the part of the people. They wore masks when on the street or when under observation but took them off when they got inside the house. Some wore masks in a slipshod fashion. Some called any excuse a mask. Some wore masks after the masks had become dirty and wet. California communities gave the mask the best tryout,” he noted, but in the end if the mask didn’t fit right or was made out of the wrong materials, at best it reduced the number of bacteria by “one half,” and this was “not enough to warrant the compulsory use of masks by all the population.”9

The debate over public mask use is still going on today. While the CDC now officially recommends it, the World Health Organization sees them as only one step in a larger process, as this publication from April 6th, 2020 explains:

Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should be adopted. Whether to not masks are used, maximum compliance with hand hygiene and other IPC measures is critical to prevent human-to-human transmission of Covid-19.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for President Trump, cautions against looking at masks as some sort of cure-all as well. At a White House press briefing in April, she said:

The most important thing is the social distancing and washing your hands. And we don’t want people to get an artificial sense of protection, because they’re behind a mask.  Because if they’re touching things — remember, your eyes are not in the masks.  So if you’re touching things and then touching your eyes, you’re exposing yourself in the same way….we don’t want people to feel like, ‘Oh, I’m wearing a mask.  I’m protected and I’m protecting others.’  You may be protecting others, but don’t get a false sense of security that that mask is protecting you exclusively from getting infected, because there are other ways that you can get infected because of the number of asymptomatic and mild cases that are out there.”

~*~

So cloth face masks won’t protect you from Covid-19, just like they didn’t protect the public from Spanish Flu—but that doesn’t actually mean they’re useless. Besides providing at least some basic protection from large respiratory droplets, face masks can also increase the “psychological resiliency” of wearers in a stressful time, increasing feelings of safety and control, while also acting as signs of solidarity, as they’ve done in Asian countries which embraced them socially years ago.

It helps, too, to remember that we’re dealing with a different disease. Unlike the Spanish Flu of 1918, Covid-19 can present asymptomatically, so it’s possible to be sick without knowing it and spread it to others. Therefore, it behooves all of us, in the interest of protecting those who might die from it, to act as if we’re already infected. Ultimately, then, you’re not wearing a face mask to prevent YOU from getting sick—you’re wearing one to prevent OTHERS from getting sick. In that light, a homemade face mask is better than nothing when it comes to Covid-19, so we might as well all get on the bandwagon.

So, bring on the 1918 models! 🙂

~*~

HOW TO MAKE A FACE MASK FROM 1918:

Face masks in 1918 were a bit different than the ones that the CDC is suggesting we make now. Different materials, different styles, and different sizes were all possibilities. Here are a few of the more common models of 1918:

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THE RECTANGLE:

how to make face mask isntructions from epidemics_clipped

This mask design can be found on page 19 of Epidemics: How to Meet Them by Louis A. Hansen. Photo Source: Hathitrust Digital Library

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It’s your standard rectangle with fabric ties, more or less. Smaller and squarer than today’s CDC guidelines (it’s shorter by a few inches on both sides), it also calls for a marker to distinguish the outside-facing part of the mask from the inside one, so you don’t accidentally put the wrong side against your face. This particular page with mask directions comes from Epidemics: How to Meet Them by Louis A. Hansen, which was published for free in 1919 to help educate the general public about the spread of infectious diseases. One of the materials it asks for—“butter cloth”—is probably butter muslin, a finer grade of cheesecloth which is closer to a pillow case in terms of weave. However, another medical study on face masks at the time—Dr. George Weaver’s Droplet Infection And Its Prevention By The Face Mask (1919)—deemed butter cloth unsuitable, seeing as most of it was treated to be “nonabsorbent,” didn’t have “as fine a mesh as is desirable,” and was difficult to obtain in large quantities.

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THE DURAND HOSPITAL MASK

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This particular style, which covers the entire lower half of the face, comes from Droplet Infection and its Prevention by the Face Mask by Dr. George H. Weaver. Full of lots of fun charts on expectorating disease particles, it also has face mask instructions. Dr. Weaver’s masks are different from the previous rectangle since they include diagonal corners on each end. This means the whole lower part of the face is covered while reducing “traction on the chin” and “not drawing on the nose and lips,” which was increased user comfort.

expectoration chart droplets

A chart showing how much of a particular bacteria is spread via different actions, from whistling to puffing. Photo Source: this page of Droplet Infections

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THE MASS-PRODUCED MASK

man trolley no service for you

The man without a mask in this picture is being told by the trolley conductor that he can’t ride without one. Notice how both men are wearing a very similar masks—and how one of them doesn’t even have his tied on properly. Photo Source: this Wikimedia file

~*~

When the public were encouraged to wear masks by city officials in Chicago, they were either told to make them themselves or to obtain mass-produced ones. This description of a mass-produced mask comes from the Tribune:

“It is made of four thicknesses of plain unmedicated gauze, about four inches wide and six inches long, with a small tape or string sewed to each corner. It is just large enough to cover the mouth and nostrils, with allowance for shrinkage, and it is tied to the back of the head with the four strings. It freely admits the air in breathing and prevents the escape of droplets in expiration, cough, or sneezing.”10

A longer description of a proper face mask, which includes mass-produced “frames” to clip material on to, comes from a different Tribune article which calls for “butter cloth,” gauze, and mesh but cautions against using too many “non-absorbent” materials11:

how to keep well_face masks_desc

Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

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THE BIAS SQUARE

germ screen dr st clair

Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

~*~

This particular mask shape was attributed to Dr. C. St. Clair Drake, the Illinois state health director during the Spanish Flu. Unlike the other models, it’s a diagonally set square.

Surprisingly, this shape may be the most effective compared to the others. According to a study in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, the shape of a cloth mask actually matters when it comes to protecting its user. In a study about air pollution, scientists tested three popular Indian cloth masks—the kind you can buy from street vendors to protect against air pollution, as well as a standard surgical mask—to see if they could block common air pollution particles like diesel fumes. While none of the cloth masks performed particularly well compared to modern plastic materials found in medical masks, only one of the cloth masks—the one which was formed to fit a user’s face—actually protected the user from air pollution. The worst ones, they noted, were “simple rectangles with loops to connect behind the ear.” The lack of “sufficient fit” from that shape allowed “the leakage of a significant fraction of particles”—something you don’t want when you’re trying to prevent those particles from leaving or getting near your mouth and nose.

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…COTTON BALLS AND…MOUTHWASH?

The most ridiculous alternative to a cloth face mask that I found while researching this post was actually an advertisement. Here it is in all its glory, for maximum impact:

kolynos gas mask ad for post

Hardly the first ad I came across for Kolynos, but certainly one of the more dramatic ones. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

In case it isn’t immediately apparent, Kolynos Liquid is NOT a cleaning product like bleach—it’s a brand of mouthwash.

Established in 1908, Kolynos offered a range of oral care products that were quite popular throughout the 1930s and 1940s. While it disappeared from U.S. markets sometime in the early 1960s, it lived on in Latin America and Eastern Europe, where it was quite popular—until it became a subsidiary of Colgate in 1995, which subsequently killed their competition.

Kolynos your toothbrush is a weapon ad title

Kloynos really got into this idea with their advertising, as you’ll see. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

Kolynos toothpaste box vintage

A vintage box of Kolynos toothpaste. Photo Source: Pinterest

In a strange echo of Alex Jones’ Covid-19 toothpaste scandal, Kolynos advertisers were quick to claim their products prevented Spanish Flu. Since many doctors were promoting keeping mouths clean to combat influenza, many of Kolynos’ ads stressed using their product at least three times a day to “sanitize” one’s mouth and throat of disease: “Kolynos Dental Cream will give you clean teeth, a clean mouth, and a clean throat. This sanitary cleanliness endures for several hours and greatly diminishes the danger of infection.”12

Most ridiculous of all, though, these same ads also recommended applying “at the first sign of a cold…a small amount of dental cream—about half the size of a pea—in the entrance of each nostril, when retiring, and several times a day.”13 Cotton balls soaked in toothpaste or mouthwash were deemed particularly effective, thanks to the “filtering” action, as this Kloynos ad explains:

Kolynos ad with pea sized filtering action

Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

So did soaking cotton balls in toothpaste and shoving them up your nose really prevent the Spanish Flu? I’ll let you guys make the call on that one… 😉

~*~

So, Dear Readers, where to begin with creating your own mask?

While you could always try making one of the 1918 models, the internet is chock full of guides for more modern face masks, many of which are larger than the 1918 models and thus offer more coverage. Here are a few links to get you started if you’re looking for some ideas:

The official CDC guidelines, which include both sew and no-sew options.

This Smithsonian article showcases a few different videos on how to make masks and further explains the face mask debate.

This New York Times article offers some decent guidelines.

Wired offers some different mask options as well.

Good Housekeeping offers some different instructions and material recommendations.

Time magazine has three different methods for you to try.

CNN has a bunch of animated GIFs with coffee filters that are kind of fun.

While it’s hard to scientifically determine which fabrics are best to make masks from, the New York Times recommends quilting fabric, batik fabric, or other dense weaves. So doesSew Can She, which also offers different mask-making instructions depending on your skill level.

And of course, there’s always the official video guidelines from the CDC.

What about you, Dear Readers? Have you made a mask yet? If not, good luck on your mask-making adventure, and stay safe! 🙂

~*~


Works Cited:
Please note: These links only work if you have access to Proquest,
1. Reynolds, A. R. “REYNOLDS CALLS FACE MASK BEST EPIDEMIC CHECK: DISEASE CONTRACTED ONLY THROUGH NOSE OR THE MOUTH, HE SAYS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 18, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174464163?accountid=3688
2. Evans, Dr. W. A. “How to Keep Well: SPANISH INFLUENZA.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 10, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174408724?accountid=3688
3. Evans, Dr. W. A. “How to Keep Well: NURSING A “FLU” CASE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 27, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174471176?accountid=3688
4. Evans, Dr. W. A. “How to Keep Well: FAILED TO KNOCK OUT ‘FLU.’” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 29, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174428234?accountid=3688
5. Reynolds, A. R. “REYNOLDS CALLS FACE MASK BEST EPIDEMIC CHECK: DISEASE CONTRACTED ONLY THROUGH NOSE OR THE MOUTH, HE SAYS.”
6. Evans, Dr. W. A. “HOW to Keep Well: FACE MASKS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 26, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174407060?accountid=3688
7. Ibid.
8. Evans, Dr. W. A. “How to Keep Well: FAILED TO KNOCK OUT ‘FLU.’”
9. Evans, Dr. W. A. “How to Keep Well: FACE MASKS AND CONTAGION.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Feb 11, 1920. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174576134?accountid=3688
10. Reynolds, A. R. “REYNOLDS CALLS FACE MASK BEST EPIDEMIC CHECK: DISEASE CONTRACTED ONLY THROUGH NOSE OR THE MOUTH, HE SAYS.”
11. Evans, Dr. W. A. “HOW to Keep Well: FACE MASKS.”
12. “Display Ad 6 — no Title.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 18, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174463010?accountid=3688
13. “Display Ad 6 — no Title.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 29, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174457149?accountid=3688
Posted in 1918 Spanish Flu, today in history, vintage how-to | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Lifting the Lid” Too Fast: Reopening During the 1918 Pandemic After Shutdowns Led to More Death

dont worry Dr Roberston

Yeah, no…

~*~

Chicago’s first brush with the Spanish flu came via the Great Lakes Naval Station. Home to the United States’ Navy only boot camp, the Great Lakes Naval Station churned out roughly 125,000 American sailors during the Great War—and it was still training 50,000 of them when the “Spanish flu,” or “the influenza, as the papers called it, began spreading among its recruits in early September of 1918.1

Victory at Great Lakes

Sailors stand in a “victory” formation in 1918 at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Photo Source: Wikimedia commons

But there was no need to worry, right?

After all, the “greatest precautionary measures” were being taken, assured the Chicago Tribune, with all men given “daily nose and throat sprays” to combat infection, as well as isolating the sick.2 By September 20th an “increasing prevalence” of influenza was at the Station—as well as the neighboring north shore Chicago suburbs.3 Yet only two days later, in an attempt to quell “sensational rumors that had reached Chicago,” Station Capt. W. A. Moffett allowed “worried relatives and friends of the sailors” to visit their sick loved ones—and take the bug back with them to Chicago.4 After all, anyone who got sick would hardly have a problem. “[Flu] for the average man…is not a great hazard provided he will coddle himself while aching and for a few days thereafter,” reassured Tribune health consultant Dr. W. A. Evans. “The threatened oncoming of an epidemic need not disturb our equanimity.”5

Dr. W. A. Evans was wrong, of course. The Spanish Flu was much deadlier than previous forms of influenza, and by September of 1918 it was at the height of its deadly march across America. September 19th saw Boston, New York, Norfolk, Philadelphia, and Camp Dix in New Jersey—one of the first hot spots for the disease—reporting rising numbers of new cases and deaths daily.

Outside Chicago, the northern suburbs began to take the brunt of things. Fort Sheridan in Lake Forest saw a spike of 120 cases in a day on September 24th, and entire villages like Waukegan shut down completely, with theaters, public halls and schools shuttered as everyone stayed home.6 By September 26th, the state of Illinois’ director of public health, Dr. C. St. Clair Drake, called for “immediate” reports of influenza across the state, as well as “strict isolation” for any carriers—-all while insisting that the battle against the epidemic was “being fought to a standstill” with a “speedy victory ensured.”7

Other Tribune articles echoed this lackadaisical response, repeatedly downplaying the seriousness of the disease despite the rising statistics. “Forty, fifty, or even as many sixty out of every 100 persons in Chicago will be victims of influenza during the next few months,” predicted medical experts at a public health conference, but “the victim of influenza alone has a better than 99 out of 100 chances to recover,” and that “everything possible will be done to check the infection and care for the afflicted.”8 On October 2nd, officials announced a statewide shortage of doctors, nurses, hospital beds and medical equipment in Illinois. “A great many of the hospitals are hard hit,” admitted state officials at another public health conference, lacking beds and trained staff—many of whom were falling ill and dying as they tried to save their patients.9

john_dill_robertson pic

Dr. John Dill Roberston, he of the soft pedal. Photo Source: this excellent Circulating Now article on Chicago’s response to the ‘flu

Yet the very next day, Chicago’s Health Commissioner Dr. Robertson attempted to “put a gentle soft pedal” on the alarming information the state had been presenting: “I think it will all blow over in as far as Chicago is concerned in six weeks,” Dr. Robertson reassured anxious Chicagoans in a phrase eerily reminiscent of Trump.10 “…I believe that the high intelligence of the Chicago people will cause them to follow the directions of the health department and others on how to keep themselves free from infection. And, if they do, there is every likelihood that the number of deaths will not be many more than in the normal year” of influenza cases.11

Quite the contrast to Mayor Lightfoot, isn’t he? :p

The hemming and hawing from local authorities continued even when the disease hit Chicago in earnest. Estimates after the first week of the first pandemic wave were “between 40,000 to 60,000” cases, with a 1,323 new cases cited within 24 hours, as well as 101 deaths in a day—but this still wasn’t seen as cause for alarm by city officials.12 In fact, within the next two days, health commissioners claimed it was “on the wane,” with only 479 new cases and 45 deaths the following day.13 “Favorable weather” was cited as a reason, though the public was encouraged to “not relax vigilance.”14

By mid-October, however, city officials finally changed their tune and the city began to shut down in earnest. Descriptions of Chicago at this time, such as in this article from October 16th, are eerily similar to all the photos of a silent downtown that have flooded our social media feed these days:

“Chicago’s loop district last night was lightless, theatreless, and danceless. At 9 o’clock the streets looked the way they usually do about the time the owl cars start running.

The sidewalks were clear. Private automobiles were scarce and taxicabs were idle. The big restaurants were half deserted. The hotel lobbies wore their early morning look.

Only one species of activity attracted attention. That was the washing down of the streets by the fire department. The streams from the big hose swept the day’s accumulation of dust and rubbish to the gutters before the eyes of watchful little groups.

‘The absence of people from the streets is a good sign,’ said Health Commissioner Roberston.”15

This response was in line with strict orders from the Illinois emergency commission which had been formed to oversee the state’s response to the epidemic. Just a few days beforehand, the state had issued an order barring against all forms of “public dancing,” which was seen as particularly unsafe due to “the close contact between dancers, the exercise of the dance and the frequent chilling of the body that is apt to follow.”16 Funeral attendance was also limited to “immediate relatives and close friends.”17 Theaters, movie theaters, and dance halls weren’t all that the state government wanted to shut down, however. Skating rinks “and all other places of public amusement” were to be shut down as well.18

Business owners in Chicago didn’t like the sound of that, of course. If all places of “public amusement” were to shutter, did that mean that restaurants, saloons, cafes, clubs, pool halls, bowling alleys, museums, parades, athletic events, conventions, political meetings and ice cream parlors had to follow suit?19 And what about the “financial losses” these shutdowns would incur?20 When city officials met to discuss the state mandate, they had a five hour meeting which “adjourned without having taken any definite action”—but not due to the businessmen.21

It was the church.

Just like now, churches were a major source of emotional and social support for Chicagoans. How, did the city’s religious leaders ask, could they deny people such comfort in these troubled times? City officials caved, while requesting that church leaders at least attempt to “minimize the danger of their services.”22 Chicago’s church leaders seemed to take this to heart, and as the crisis worsened, many religious services were voluntarily cancelled, with congregation sizes shrinking from one half to one third.23 Many church leaders pleaded to keep them open no matter how bad things got, though, citing them as good for the community’s health. “The authorities ought to urge the people to go to church, because church attendance is a strengthener of the morale,” said Rev. Gilbert Wilson of the New First Congressional Church of Chicago.24 Today’s Americans seem to agree with him, as many people continue to violate stay at home orders across the country to attend church gatherings, such as these people in Florida and these people in New Orleans.

Churches weren’t the only places seen as essential during this time, however. True to form, the city allowed saloons, pool rooms, bowling alleys, cafes, restaurants, and other places of public amusement to stay open throughout the epidemic, so long as they prevented “crowding” and kept their places well ventilated (fresh air was seen as a cure-all at the time).25 Crowds were further discouraged by banning all music and entertainment, sporting events, and basically anything amusing.26 It didn’t stop the crowds, however. A raid at a saloon on West Van Buren Street found men standing “two deep” at the bar, with fifteen men sleeping in the back rooms, using whiskey and beer barrels for beds.27 Clearly, these folks weren’t taking the shutdown orders very seriously.

Not everywhere was like Chicago, though. Other communities—such as the hard-hit northern suburbs—got even stricter, shutting down all public places entirely. For example, in the suburb of Lake Forest, which saw a large outbreak among Fort Sheridan army recruits, “there people are not even permitted to gather in little groups on the sidewalk. The police disperse them as soon as they gather,” noted Dr. Robertson disdainfully at another of his endless press conferences.I Oak Park, another northern suburb, saw “improvement” in as little as twenty four hours regarding their situation.28

So maybe there’s something to all this quarantine stuff, eh? 😉

One thing city officials felt very different about during the epidemic, though, was schooling. While today’s children are distance learning from the comfort of their own home, in 1918, Chicago children were still attending classes in person. That’s because city officials saw schools as a safer place for children to be—a place where they could be controlled and monitored for signs of disease at all times. They were also seen as less likely to get the disease, and more likely to survive it as well, so it mattered less if they got it. In his daily health column for the Tribune, Dr. W. A. Evans explains the decision, which he saw as worth doing:

“First, that the disease was not unduly prevalent among school children…this age period should have suffered about the worst of all, since they were young, unused to withstanding pneumonia infection and in close contact daily in the schoolroom…[yet] studying the mortality rate…we find the disease…was a little less than average bad…Second, it was thought that children would be safer if they were in school, looked over by teachers, nurses, and school physicians…it was deemed to be the saner policy under city conditions.”29

the days of real sport_sick kid_ed cartoon

Not everyone was as cavalier towards children getting sick, as this editorial cartoon from the Tribune shows. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

The “conditions” seemed to be getting better as time went on. In October, newspapers were full of cautious optimism. By October 22nd , the Tribune claimed that the epidemic “may have reached its peak in Chicago…but everywhere there were warnings against reassuring the public so strongly that it will drop the guards it has put up against the epidemic.”30 The trend appeared to be statewide as well, with a 30-40% decrease in new cases across Illinois.31 All in all, this trend was taken to represent a “downward curve,” and as a result, by October 28th, the city was already announcing a weekly schedule for reopening across the city, which was as follows:

“Tuesday night will see music restored to the restaurants.

Wednesday night will see theaters, movies and other places of public congregation permitted to open…

Thursday will see the zone extended to the entire city south of Twelfth Street.

Friday will see the entire city open with the exception possibly of South Chicago.

Saturday night dancing will be permitted, and with this the last barrier to Chicago’s night life imposed by the influenza epidemic will have been lifted.”32

Interestingly, the Illinois influenza commission attached a rider of sorts on these plans: a 10 P.M. curfew.  “The last curtain must fall at the theater, the political meeting must adjourn, and the music in the café must stop at that hour,” noted the Tribune. “Performances and oratory may be begun earlier, but when 10 o’clock comes—GOOD NIGHT!”33 The curfew was instigated as a way to discourage folks from celebrating a premature end to the flu, and to encourage the public to “get plenty of sleep and maintain its vitality” as the epidemic went on.34 On November 4th, the city was declared “almost normal, and by November 10th, Dr. John Dill Robertson was back to declaring everything was fine.35 “We are practically out of the woods,” said Robertson at yet another press conference. “All bans are off. In a few days I am sure I shall again be justified in stating that Chicago is the healthiest city in the world.”36

He was wrong.

When December came, a second wave of infection hit, this one worse than the last—and that was on top of the losses in November. By Nov 18th, the Tribune observed, “between 300,000 and 350,000” people had died nationwide from the flu.37 That was more soldiers than had died from “all causes” in the Great War, “from the time the first unit landed in France until hostilities ceased.”38 The second wave of infection, while deemed “milder” by doctors, spread more rapidly than the first, with cases growing exponentially overnight. December 5th saw 273 new cases of influenza with 54 new cases of pneumonia,39 with a jump of 404 new cases of influenza and 89 cases of pneumonia the next—“nearly double” that of yesterday.40

These rising numbers worried even the unflappable Dr. John Dill Robertson. “We don’t expect as many deaths from the new cases as we had when the epidemic was at its height…the cases now seem milder, but there should be no let-down on the precautions.”41 By the end of December, America had seen 400,000 deaths in a matter of twelve weeks, from Sept. 1st through December 1st.42 The pandemic truly didn’t end until the summer of 1919, when “the monthly number of deaths…[fell] below the number for the same month of 1918.”43

In the end, roughly 50 million people died from the Spanish Flu worldwide, 8,500 of whom were Chicagoans. Despite all the unknowns in 1918, many of these deaths could likely have been prevented all the same if a more rigid shutdown—like that practiced by the suburban communities on the north shore—had been put in place by city officials. It didn’t help, either, that they were lifted so quickly. Normal, everyday activities and crowds were allowed within just a few days of the first wave. It was hardly surprising, then, that the virus came back with a vengeance.

~*~

So what can we take away from all of this today, Dear Readers? Don’t be so eager to get things “back to normal,” perhaps—-not until we’re sure we have a “lid” on this thing in the form of a vaccine, widespread testing and strict quarantine measures, or at the very least some kind of plan. Otherwise, “lifting the lid” on our stay-at-home orders too soon could seriously backfire.

~*~

EXTRA! EXTRA!

Looking for more information about Chicago’s battle with the 1918 Spanish Flu? Try some of these other articles:

This article from Chicago Magazine gives a nice basic overview of the city’s response.

This article from Circulating Now, the U. S. National Library of Medicine’s magazine gives more info about Dr. Robertson and features posters from city health officials.

This article from the Chicago Public Library about other measures Chicago took to combat the flu.

This article about Chicago’s response comes from a digital archive of Spanish Flu material which is definitely worth a look!

~*~

Works Cited:
1. “GUARD SAILORS AT GREAT LAKES FROM INFLUENZA.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Sep 16, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174451790?accountid=3688
2. Ibid.https://search.proquest.com/docview/174451790?accountid=3688
3. “GRIP SHUTS OFF JACKIE LIBERTY AT GREAT LAKES: NAVAL CAMP UNDER STRICT ORDERS TO STAMP OUT SPANISH INFLUENZA.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Sep 20, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174435554?accountid=3688
4. “SAYS INFLUENZA AT GREAT LAKES IS NOT ALARMING: CAPT. MOFFETT CALMS RELATIVES OF SAILORS; ADMIT VISITORS TODAY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Sep 22, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174436294?accountid=3688
5. Dr. W. A. Evans. “How to Keep Well: SPANISH INFLUENZA ON THE WAY?” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Aug 23, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174407698?accountid=3688
6. “120 NEW CASES OF INFLUENZA AT SHERIDAN IN DAY: NORTH SHORE TOWNS CLOSE SCHOOLS AND THEATERS AS PRECAUTION.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Sep 24, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174434233?accountid=3688
7. “STATE DEMANDS REPORT OF ALL NEW ‘FLU’ CASES: EPIDEMIC UNDER CONTROL, IS BELIEF; 77 DEATHS IN DAY AT GREAT LAKES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Sep 26, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174436700?accountid=3688
8. “’FLU’ TO AFFECT HALF OF NATION, PHYSICIANS SAY: PREDICT “INFLUENZA YEAR,” BUT SEE NO CAUSE FOR PUBLIC ALARM.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Sep 30, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174432491?accountid=3688
9. “INFLUENZA CASES OVERTAX NURSES AND PHYSICIANS: HOSPITAL AIDS CONTRACT DISEASE; FORCES CAN’T MEET DEMANDS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 02, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174438457?accountid=3688
10. “DR. ROBERTSON PREDICTS SMALL INFLUENZA TOLL: ESTIMATES FRIGHTEN PUBLIC, HE THINKS; URGES ALL PRECAUTIONS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 03, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174436961?accountid=3688
11. Ibid.
12. “INFLUENZA CASES HERE ESTIMATED 40,000 TO 60,000: MAJORITY DECLARED LIGHT ATTACKS; NO CAUSE FOR ALARM.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 06, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174471538?accountid=3688
13. “HEALTH OFFICERS FIND INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC-WANING: CITY AND STATE REPORTS DECREASE IN CASES AND DEATHS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 07, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174430863?accountid=3688
14. “INFLUENZA WAVE STILL RECEDING; WEATHER AIDS: EVANSTON ONLY PART OF CHICAGO TO CLOSE PUBLIC PLACES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 08, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174457843?accountid=3688
15. “INFLUENZA: HUNDREDS OF DEATHS AND THOUSANDS OF NEW CASES REPORTED IN MANY CITIES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 16, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174444686?accountid=3688
16. “PUBLIC DANCING BARRED IN FIGHT ON INFLUENZA: EMERGENCY COMMISSION ALSO LIMITS ATTENDANCE AT FUNERALS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 12, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174440770?accountid=3688
17. Ibid.
18. “INFLUENZA BOARD DEADLOCKED ON CLOSING ORDER: IF CHURCHES ARE SHUT, CLUBS, CABARETS AND SALOONS WILL SUSPEND.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 16, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174444789?accountid=3688
19. Ibid.
20. “THEATERS AND MOVIES CLOSED BY ‘FLU’ ORDER: INFLUENZA ORDER SHUTS THEATERS, STARTING TODAY MOVIES AND LODGE MEETINGS CLOSED; SCHOOLS REMAIN OPEN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 15, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174417398?accountid=3688
21. “INFLUENZA BOARD DEADLOCKED ON CLOSING ORDER: IF CHURCHES ARE SHUT, CLUBS, CABARETS AND SALOONS WILL SUSPEND.”
22. “‘NONESSENTIAL’ CROWDS BARRED IN EPIDEMIC WAR: CHURCHES AND SALOONS EXEMPT; CONVENTIONS, ATHLETICS, PARTIES HIT. FREE DOCTOR.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 17, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174443520?accountid=3688
23. Norton, W. B. “CHURCHES OPEN, BUT INFLUENZA REDUCES CROWDS: ALL MEETINGS PLANNED FOR THIS WEEK ARE CALLED OFF.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 21, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174438165?accountid=3688
24. Norton, W. B. “CHURCHES OPEN, BUT INFLUENZA REDUCES CROWDS: ALL MEETINGS PLANNED FOR THIS WEEK ARE CALLED OFF.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 21, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174438165?accountid=3688
25. “‘NONESSENTIAL’ CROWDS BARRED IN EPIDEMIC WAR: CHURCHES AND SALOONS EXEMPT; CONVENTIONS, ATHLETICS, PARTIES HIT. FREE DOCTOR.”
26. “CABARETS CLOSE, OUTDOOR GAMES OFF, ‘FLU’ ORDER: BAN EXTENDED TO COVER ALL SORTS OF PUBLIC MEETING PLACES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 18, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174423629?accountid=3688
27. “SALOONS RAIDED, CROWDS TAKEN IN BATTLE ON ‘FLU’: WHOLE CITY WARNED TO WEAR MASKS AS CRISIS NEARS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 20, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174449562?accountid=3688
28. “‘NONESSENTIAL’ CROWDS BARRED IN EPIDEMIC WAR: CHURCHES AND SALOONS EXEMPT; CONVENTIONS, ATHLETICS, PARTIES HIT. FREE DOCTOR.”
29. Dr. W. A. Evans. “How to Keep Well: SHOULD THE SCHOOLS BE CLOSED IN ORDER TO CONTROL INFLUENZA?” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Nov 19, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174423248?accountid=3688
30. “EPIDEMIC NEAR CREST, RELIEF SEEMS IN SIGHT: REPORTS INDICATE CRISIS THIS WEEK, BUT UTMOST CARE IS NECESSARY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 22, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174457699?accountid=3688
31. Ibid.
32. “FLU LID TO BE LIFTED IN CITY DAY BY DAY: GRADUAL REOPENING OF PUBLIC PLACES BEGINS TOMORROW.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 28, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174445312?accountid=3688
33. “10 O’CLOCK LIMIT PUT ON SLOWLY RISING ‘FLU’ LID: AMUSEMENTS TO OPEN BY ZONES, STARTING ON NORTH SIDE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 29, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174433221?accountid=3688
34. Ibid.
35. “FLU CHECKED IN CITY AND STATE; LID TO BE RAISED: CHICAGO HAS RECORD OF LOW DEATH RATE FROM EPIDEMIC.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Nov 04, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174452756?accountid=3688
36. “ALL BANS OFF: CHICAGO HEALTHIEST CITY IN THE WORLD, SAYS ROBERTSON.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Nov 10, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174419616?accountid=3688
37. “FLU MORE DEADLY THAN WAR; 300,000 VICTIMS IN U. S. A.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 05, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174467296?accountid=3688
38. “BATTLE SAFER: U. S. LOSSES IN WAR LESS THAN DEATHS DUE TO INFLUENZA.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Nov 18, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174424636?accountid=3688
39. “SHUT 4 MOVIES FOR VIOLATION OF ‘FLU’ ORDERS: ROBERTSON SAYS DANGER OF NEW EPIDEMIC IS GREATER.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 05, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174409442?accountid=3688
40. “FLU GAINS: TWO MORE MOVIES SHUT AS SITUATION GROWS MORE SERIOUS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 06, 1918. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174452734?accountid=3688
41. “SHUT 4 MOVIES FOR VIOLATION OF ‘FLU’ ORDERS: ROBERTSON SAYS DANGER OF NEW EPIDEMIC IS GREATER.”
42. Dr. W. A. Evans. “How to Keep Well: PLAGUES AND EPIDEMICS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Feb 23, 1919. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174434835?accountid=3688
43. Dr. W. A. Evans. “How to Keep Well: YEAR AGO “FLU” RULED.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 16, 1919. https://search-proquest-com.glenviewpl.idm.oclc.org/docview/174562810?accountid=3688
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Headlines From 1918 Flu Could Be Ours Today

Display ad 8_wash your hands_lifebuoy soap

This 1918 ad for soap which ran during the Spanish flu pandemic emphasizes proper hand washing. Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

~*~

Stay indoors. Isolate sick family members. Wear a mask, especially if you’re caring for a sick person. Wash your hands often, and don’t touch your mouth, nose, or face.

Sound familiar?

Covid-19 may be ravaging the world today, but 102 years ago in 1918, another deadly global pandemic was sweeping the world. Spanish Influenza—so-called because it was first openly reported there, rather than originating from Spain itself—ravaged the world over a terrifying two year period, killing millions of people and leaving the world particularly gutted in the wake of World War I.

Reading Chicago Tribune articles from 1918, I find it simultaneously comforting and disturbing prescient. They could easily be today’s headlines—minus the period wording, of course. Look and see if you can spot any Covid-19 related trends in these headlines from 1918:

SPANISH INFLUENZA: Epidemic Appears in Various Cities of the Country (Sept. 19)

GRIP SHUTS OFF JACKIE LIBERTY AT GREAT LAKES: Naval Camp Under Strict Orders to Stamp Out Spanish Influenza (Sept. 20)

SAYS INFLUENZA AT GREAT LAKES IS NOT ALARMING: Capt. Moffett Calms Relatives of Sailors; Admit Visitors Today (Sept. 22)

120 NEW CASES OF INFLUENZA AT SHERIDAN IN DAY: North Shore Towns Close Schools and Theaters as Precaution (Sept. 24)

20,211 CASES OF INFLUENZA IN U. S. ARMY CAMPS (Sept. 24)

STATE DEMANDS REPORT OF ALL NEW ‘FLU’ CASES: Epidemic Under Control, Is Belief; 77 Deaths in Day at Great Lakes (Sept. 26)

EPIDEMIC VICTIM: Evanston Girl, Settlement and Red Cross Worker, Dies of Pneumonia Following Spanish Influenza (Sept. 27)

200 PHYSICIANS CALLED TO FIGHT “FLU” EPIDEMIC: Request for State Action Comes from National Defense Official (Sept. 28)

‘FLU’ TO AFFECT HALF OF NATION, PHYSICIANS SAY: Predict Influenza Year But No Call for Alarm (Sept. 30)

INFLUENZA CASES OVERTAX NURSES AND PHYSICIANS: Hospital Aids Contract Disease; Forces Can’t Meet Demands (Oct. 2)

TURN GOLF CLUB INTO A HOSPITAL FOR INFLUENZA: Exmoor Meets Emergency in North Shore Epidemic; 54 Patients (Oct. 3)

NEED OF NURSES TO COMBAT ‘FLU’ GROWS URGENT: Red Cross Put in Charge of Work; Makes Plea for Volunteers (Oct. 4)

OFFICIALS MOVE TO CHECK “FLU” AT WASHINGTON: Try to Stop Gathering of People as Epidemic Grows (Oct. 16)

INFLUENZA: Hundreds of Deaths and Thousands of New Cases Reported in Many Cities (Oct. 16)

‘NONESSENTIAL’ CROWDS BARRED IN EPIDEMIC WAR: Churches and Saloons Exempt; Conventions, Athletics, Parties Hit (Oct. 17)

REYNOLDS CALLS FACE MASK BEST EPIDEMIC CHECK: Disease Contracted Only Through Nose or the Mouth, He Says (Oct. 18)

CABARETS CLOSE, OUTDOOR GAMES OFF, ‘FLU’ ORDER: Ban Extended to Cover All Sorts of Public Meeting Places (Oct. 18)

SOCIETY and Entertainments: Parties at Casino Continue Despite Influenza Ravages (Oct. 19)

ALL WHO PERIL HEALTH OF CITY TO BE ARRESTED: Alcock Orders Police to Enforce “Influenza” Rules Strictly (Oct. 19)

SALOONS RAIDED, CROWDS TAKEN IN BATTLE ON ‘FLU’: Whole City Warned to Wear Masks as Crisis Nears (Oct. 20)

2 YOUNG DOCTORS GIVE LIVES IN INFLUENZA FIGHT (Oct. 26)

‘FLU’ EPIDEMIC PASSING; DEATH RATE DECLINES: Restrictions on Public Gatherings to Be Maintained (Oct. 26)

LOOK OUT! “FLU” WILL LURK ABOUT FOUR MORE YEARS: Danger Until the Last Trace Goes, Warning of Doctors (Dec. 4)

WORKERS INSIST WOLF IS AT DOOR IF THEY FALL ILL: 72 Cents an Hour Wage Now Asked from Packers (Dec. 19)

INSURANCE LOSS FOR YEAR SETS NEW RECORDS: Government Action and Influenza the Chief Factors (Dec. 31)

~*~

Creepy, isn’t it? Yet, I think these headlines offer something else as well: a bit of hope. If the world can survive a global pandemic that killed roughly 50 million people with rudimentary drugs, lack of medical personnel, and an even greater lack of understanding regarding viruses, I’d like to think that our world has a chance of beating Covid-19 too.

So, for the next little while folks, I’ll be diverting this blog from my more usual programming to discuss the Spanish Flu and how to relates to our situation in 2020, with the hopes of bringing a bit of comfort and knowledge to you all.

Stay safe Dear Readers,

M. S.

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1928 Children’s Book Recommendations From a Former Chicago Public Librarian, Just in Time for Christmas…

kid book ad 1928

A Christmas book ad from the 1928 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Since my previous Christmas book recommendations were popular last year, I figured I’d try another one. This time around, however, we’re focusing on children’s books.

~*~

Today’s 1928 recommendations come from Agatha L. Shea, a former Supervisor of Children’s Services at the Chicago Public Library. While largely forgotten today, Agatha was known at the time for her pioneering work with revolutionary African American librarian Charlemae Hill Rollins to “develop new standards for children’s literature1 through encouraging libraries to stop buying books with racist caricatures and instead “look for books with accurate portraits of black people…in which black characters spoke as they do in real life…books that avoided unnecessary use of derogatory terms…and books with themes that did not stress socioeconomic class differences between white and black characters“,2 which helped change public attitudes towards African Americans in a positive manner.

Back in 1928, however, Shea had only been working with Rollins for a year (she joined the Chicago Public Library in 1927), and so her Christmas book suggestions for the Tribune are utterly lacking in controversy of any kind. They’re still fairly interesting, however, with an emphasis on action and adventure titles as well as classic literature. Here are the books she recommended for boys and girls in 1928, split into two age ranges:

~*~

For “Older Boys and Girls”:

Re-Issued Classics, or “Old Friends in New Attire”

“Old favorites in new and attractive dress” were all the rage in 1928, with many old classics getting nicely illustrated revamped editions.3 Shae cites a number of reissued classics from Dodd, Mead & Company, a pioneering New York publisher at the time who are famous for publishing Agatha Christie.

~*~

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, illustrated by Mead Schaeffer

count of monte cristo 1920s v.jpg

Check out that moody cover illustration! Eye-catching, isn’t it? This copy’s been sold, unfortunately. Cover photo from Abe Books.

popular choice for adults that same year as well, this version for children is both abridged and illustrated, which Shea points out is terrific for struggling readers: “an edition which should prove popular with the boy or girl who has long waited to read the story but has found the older edition rather long and difficult.”4 The six full color gorgeous paintings by Mead Schaeffer don’t hurt, either.

Schaeffer_illustration_for_Black_Buccaneer

While this piece is for a different story called The Black Buccaneer, it is a fine example of Mead Schaffer’s painterly illustration style, which makes fine use of dramatic lighting and texture. Source: Wikimedia Commons

~*~

Masterman Ready, or the Wreck of the Pacific by Captain Marryat, illustrated by John Rae

masterman ready 1912 ed cover

This 1912 edition gives a sneak peek at the illustrations as well. It’s on sale at Austin’s Antiquarian Books as well.

Considered one of the most popular children’s book of the 1800sMasterman Ready was written as a direct response to Johann Wyss’ The Swiss Family Robinson, which author Capt. Marryat felt was “too romantic.” In response, he wrote a tale of another family—the Seagraves—who get stranded on a dangerous desert island, but manage to survive thanks to the skills of veteran seamen Masterman Ready, who keeps them alive long enough to be rescued by another ship. The edition Shea mentions is part of the Louis Rhead Classics series, but was illustrated after Rhead’s death by John Rae, whose color and black and white illustrations are “worthy of that tradition in all respects.”5 If you want, you can read the entire thing here for free on Project Gutenburg, but be aware that it contains a lot of preaching, which modern readers may find off-putting. If you’re looking for a physical copy, there’s one for sale at Abe Books as well.

~*~

The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, illustrated by James Daugherty

white company daugherty cover

Mr. Daugherty’s “modernistic” illustrations didn’t appeal to everyone. This 1928 edition is for sale at Worthpoint.

While Doyle will always be remembered for Sherlock Holmes, he was also a prolific writer of historical fiction, and this was one of his favorite books. Set during the Hundred Years’ War, it follows a company of archers as they fight alongside Edward the Black Prince at the Battle of Najera. Unlike the beloved N. C. Wyeth edition (which is still in print today), the 1928 reissue is remarkable for its “modernistic” black and white illustrations by James Daugherty.6 You can also read the entirety of The White Company on Project Gutenberg for free, if you feel so inclined.

~*~

The Boys’ Ben-Hur, A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

ben hur 1920s copy

This 1920s copy is on sale at Abe Books.

Another abridged classic of a popular American novel, Ben-Hur follows the adventures of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince, as he escapes Roman slavery to become a Charioteer. His attempts to get revenge for being enslaved by the Romans ends, however, when he witnesses the Crucifixion firsthand, and then converts to Christianity. According to Shea, this edition features “good paper, excellent, clear type, and good illustrations,” making it “a very attractive book” for boys.7 Today, the story is mostly remembered for the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston, as well as a forgettable 2016 remake.

~*~

Drums by James Boyd, illustrations by N. C. Wyeth

drums wyeth 1928 with sleeve

This 1928 signed copy is up for auction at Heritage Auctions.

“In this new illustrated edition it is no overstatement to say that a finer gift book could hardly be imagined,” says a period Tribune ad for Drums by James Boyd.8 Considered “a very fine tale of the American Revolution,” this historical novel follows the adventures of a young Johnny Fraser as he deals with divided loyalties during the revolution, and was extremely popular decades later as well.9 Shea recommends the book to “the boy who likes history and adventure particularly,” and apparently it still has appeal even today.10 Historian David McCullough cites Drums as one of the books that turned him on to history as a child.

wyeth drums ad 1928 pic

This 1928 Tribune ad for Drums describes it as a favorite of young readers.ADTAG

~*~

Heroes from Haklyut by Charles Finger, illustrated by Paul Honore

heroes inner page illo

This inner title page of the 1928 edition gives a sample of the “striking color woodcuts” found throughout. On sale at Amazon, among other places.

In a break from novels, this nonfiction title contains passages from the travel notes of Elizabethan travel writer Richard Haklyut, who was famous for promoting the colonization of North America through writing works like Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America and The Principall Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English NationThis abridged collection of his work contains “striking color woodcuts and imaginative line drawings,” which presumably liven up a story that might otherwise be dry for kids, though apparently it’s been “sanitized” for them as well.11

Shea, however, describes it in glowing tones:

“…the story of England’s voyagers and sea rovers from the almost legendary days of King Arthur to the soul-stirring days of the 15th and 16th centuries. It is a book which leaves one dreaming of bleak, storm-ridden seas, of ships sailing gayly into the unknown, and of men who were unafraid.”12

Today, Richard’s contributions are remembered in the name of an English historical society which is dedicated to preserving travel writings from the past.

~*~

The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray, illustrated by J. H. Tinker

1928 edition rose and ring

This original 1928 edition features a sample illustration on the cover. For sale at Biblio.com

Originally published in 1855, this satiric fantasy by Thackeray of Vanity Fair fame revolves around the mythical kingdom of Paflagonia and four young cousins who are set to inherit it, plus a fairy called Blackstick who causes lots of trouble for them all. Written as a sort of a satirical fairy-tale that critiques the monarchy, it was considered suitable for children as well as adults, though it might go over a lot of children’s heads today. If you’re interested, there is a fun little review of it over at Vintage Novels as well.

~*~

Boy’s Trader Horn by Alfred Aloysious Horn

trader horn flyleaf inner

This inner flyleaf of the 1928 edition features a map of Africa. On sale at Abe Books.

Another abridged version of a popular adult title, The Boy’s Trader Horn is a memoir of a British ivory trader Alfred Aloysious Horn’s experiences in Africa that’s been adapted for children. A lively tale of adventure meant for “the boy who longs for strange tales and stranger sights,”13 it follows the narrator as he “journeys into jungles teaming with buffalo, gorillas, and man-eating leopards, frees slaves, meets Cecil Rhodes (founder of Rhodesia) and liberates a princess from captivity.” Folks on Goodreads say it’s a lively and entertaining read which captures an Africa that’s very different from today.

It was eventually turned into an MGM movie as well. Apparently, it deviates quite a lot from the actual memoir, but was very influential in movie history. Not only was it the first talkie made by MGM, but also the first Hollywood movie to be shot on location in another part of the world, with its actors contracting deadly diseases and fending off wild animals on set. The general flavor comes through with these movie posters:

~*~

Robin Hood, a “new interpretation” by Edith Heal and Phillip Schuyler Allen of the University of Chicago

robin hood 1928 kids

This 1928 edition with a faded color cover is on sale at Abe Books

Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch, this 1928 edition features a unique retelling of the Robin Hood legend, thanks to the efforts of the University of Chicago. Phillip Schuyler Allen was a professor of Germanic languages at the University of Chicago who worked with Ms. Heal to offer a different vision of Robin Hood, who is:

“…not the merry, dauntless leader, outlawed by the inadvertent killing of the king’s deer, but a Saxon patriot whose idols are Thomas Beckett and Hereward, whose liege lady is the Virgin Mary, and whose avowed purpose in gathering together the loyal band in Lincoln green is to save his people from the hated Norman yoke. Going back to the sources for her material, the author has not feared to reject the more popular but no more authentic story of Robin’s origin, and by doing so has presented us with a hero, like, but strangely unlike the one we knew.”14

Though this is a very different idea of Robin from what we are accustomed to, according to folks on Goodreads, it’s well worth a read for fans of the Robin Hood legend.

~*~

For The “Small Folk”: Books for Younger Children

Davy and the Goblin by Charles E. Carryl

davy goblin cvr

This 1928 edition is on sale at Etsy. Check out all that color!

Essentially the first official piece of Lewis Carroll fan fiction, Davy and the Goblin follows Davy, a young boy, who falls asleep in front of the fireplace after reading Alice and Wonderland. In his dreams, a goblin appears in his fireplace and takes him away on a “believing journey” to a magical land where he meets many famous literary and folktale characters, including Sinbad the sailor and Robinson Crusoe.

The 1886 edition, with lovely illustrations by Edmund Birckhend Bensell, is available online for free through the New York Public Library’s internet archives.

~*~

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Irving’s tale comes to life with gorgeous paintings by master illustrator Arthur Rackham. While the 1928 edition features less illustrations than previous versions (there are eight of them), they are no less charming. Shea says the artist’s “fantastic images” have always appealed to her, and they seem “particularly appropriate for this book.”15

Here are some sample illustrations. More can be found here at David Brass Rare Books, which is also selling a 1928 copy:

witch rackham 1

A witch from Sleepy Hollow. Source: David Brass Rare Books

flyleaf rahakm 2.jpg

The gorgeous inner flyleaf for Sleepy Hollow. Source: David Brass Rare Books

ichaod rakham 3

Ichabod and his lady friend. Source: David Brass Rare Books

~*~

The Bastable Children by Edith Nesbit

bastable 3 cover

This is actually a 1929 edition on sale at Abe Books

Considered a bargain buy, this particular edition contains three books in one: The Treasure Seekers, The Would Be Goods, and The New Treasure Seekers. While the books focus on English characters, Shea felt that since the stories featured “real children with the problems and joys of universal childhood,” it should “appeal to all young readers” regardless of origin.16

~*~

Have you read any of these these books, dear readers? What did you think of them? Do you think kids would still enjoy them today? Please comment below, and happy holidays and best wishes to you all! 😀

A Merry Christmas - Volumes of Good Wishes - Books and Holly

~*~


Works Cited:
1 Mills, Claudia. 2014. Ethics and Children”s Literature (Ashgate Studies in Childhood, 1700 to the Present). Ashgate Publishing Group. Pg. 46. Accessed 9/23/19 here at Google Books.
2 Miller, Marilyn Lea. 2003. Pioneers and leaders in library services to youth: a biographical dictionary. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited. Pg. 201. Accessed 9/23/19 here at Google Books.
3 Shea, Agatha L. “Many Juvenile Books on Hand for Yule Season: Old Favorites in New and Attractive Dress.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 08, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180994790?accountid=3688.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid
6 Ibid
7 Ibid
8 “Display Ad 13 — no Title.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 15, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/181001747?accountid=3688.
9 Shea, Agatha L. “Many Juvenile Books on Hand for Yule Season: Old Favorites in New and Attractive Dress.”
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
Posted in book list, book reviews, holiday post | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Hallowe’en How-To: Tell The Future at Your Vintage Halloween Party

good fortune witch_card

One hundred years ago, Halloween was about…love? ❤

~*~

Maidens their fate may tell on this Hallowe’en.

Of him they love so well learn on this Hallowe’en.

Learn what his trade may be,

If he’ll be true to thee.

Maybe his face they’ll see, this mystic Hallowe’en.

Haste where candles burn, this mystic Hallowe’en.

Come, try thou every charm,

Bravely face each alarm.

Fair maid ne’er came to harm, on a mystic Hallowe’en.

–partial poem from The Complete Hallowe’en Book, circa 1915.1

~*~

Who will you marry, and when? What will be the occupation of your future spouse? Will you be rich or poorWill they remain faithful, or leave you for someone else? Or will you remain alone forever?

These were the kinds of questions that young people of the past spent Halloween night desperately trying to answer—and if any of you dear readers try some of these fortune-telling games tonight, you may learn your own romantic fate as well! 😉

halloween marriage girl

This 1910s or 1920s postcard indicates how much Halloween rituals were still about love and matchmaking. Photo source: cardcow.com

~*~

HALLOWEEN IS “LOVE’S OWN EVE”

Instead of candy, costumes, ghosts and goblins, back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Halloween was really about one thing: love! ❤

Specifically, if you were a young person, it was about finding out who you were destined to marry. A short story by early romance writer Laura Jean Libbey from 1901, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune, captured this attitude towards Halloween rather well, particularly regarding young women:

“…Halloween, night of all nights, when goblin witches and all things uncanny step slowly forth, when the darkness of night gathers, and hold high revelry under the light of the moon, which hides her face now and then to laugh. Even the stars wink an eye, the waves dance, and the winds whistle gleefully to see the elves of the air flirting with audaciously with Cupid. This is love’s own night, the night maidens challenge Cupid, to find out if there is to be marriage for them within the next twelvemonth, or still another year of waiting for the hero who is to crown their hearts with love’s jeweled diadem and clasp their hands in wedded bliss. This is the night of all nights when youths and maidens take their fling of mirth and fun, just as their grandparents and grandmamas did when they were young, and eyes strive to peep into the mysteries of the future.”2

While it might seem odd today to think of Halloween as full of swooning lovers, this is less surprising when one takes into account the early history of Halloween in America, as well as its previous associations in Europe.

When Halloween arrived in the Colonies, it combined with earlier harvest traditions in ways that emphasized romantic fortune-telling above all else. For example, one popular Colonial tradition during fall was a “play party,” a non-denominational event for farming communities where people got together to have fun and enjoy the fruits of the harvest.3 Such gatherings were a rare opportunities for young folks from far-flung communities to look for a husband or wife. As a result, fortune-telling games like apple bobbing were a popular part of these festivities, where “whoever could snag an apple from a big bucket full of water, hands tied behind the back, would be wed soonest.”4

This association, however, really began in Europe. As Lisa Morton notes in Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, “marriage was probably the most important event in the life of a rural, pre-industrial young person,” and to that effect, many other earlier European holidays—like May Day—also involved fortune-telling games that could predict marriage.5 Over time, however, these traditions ended up migrating to Halloween. In Scotland, fortune-telling games were already a well-established part of the holiday by at least 1785, when the Scottish poet Robert Burns refers to a number of divination practices, such as burning nuts, throwing yarn and pulling kale in his poem “Hallowe’en.”6 The mystical divination aspect of Halloween, however, is even older than that. According to Lesley Bannatyne in Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, divination ultimately began as a “Celtic practice” thanks to Druids foretelling the future during Samhain using animal entrails and natural omens.7 Thus, many “quaint” Halloween divination practices involve the elements—fire, water, wind and earth—as well as common sources for them, such as hearth fires, running water, candles, wells, apples and nuts.8

Whatever their origins, in America, the Victorian age reinforced the holiday’s association with young lovers. In America, Halloween was deliberately “subdued, to be made safe for…adults and children” in keeping with ideals of middle class Victorian morality, especially regarding courting; romantic fortune-telling games were a fun way to tantalize young men and women while still keeping things relatively chaste.9 This attitude was reinforced by mass-market publications like Ladies Home Journal, where Halloween was turned into a holiday of “delicious mystery” that was “primarily known for its divination games.”10 Victorian dime novels particularly loved employing these games as plot devices, with many a heroine finding themselves eating “apples at midnight on Halloween while looking into a mirror for the face of a future husband” or following “balls of unwound yarn to dark barns and cellars” only to “fall helplessly into the arms of some gallant hero” who was destined to be their husband.11 A multitude of new “historic” divination games were invented during the Victorian age as well, as “old Halloween rites were given new twists and those twists spawned new games.”12

By the early 1900s, these party games were still going strong. This is very clear when one looks at Halloween postcards from the time period, many of which refer to or depict various fortune-telling activities. Take a look at these examples from Cardcow.com:

girl cat fortune postcard_snap apple

This little girl is playing a variant of “snap-apple,” another popular Halloween game that was similar to apple bobbing. Photo source: cardcow.com

Alll Hallow's Eve.

Another popular American game was turnip or cabbage pulls, where young couples would pull up vegetables from a field at midnight on Halloween to predict aspects of their future mate. This game comes from Ireland and Scotland, where the vegetable was usually a stalk of kale or cabbage stolen from a neighbor’s garden. Photo source: cardcow.com

Woman With Pumpkin And Candle Stares In Mirror To See Her Beau

This girl is performing a mirror test with a candle, another popular divination game—and the man to her left is doing his best to tip the scales in his favor. Photo source: cardcow.com

apple peel throw card

This card comes with instructions for how to perform the apple peel test, as well as your likely outcome (hope hers doesn’t involve the creepy man next to her!). Photo source: Cardcow.com

~*~

Divination games imported directly from Ireland and Scotland, such as the “three luggies,” or three bowls test, were also very popular. As David J. Skal notes in Death Makes a Holiday, “countless [post]cards [of the 1900s] show young women performing…a divination game involving three bowls, or ‘luggies,’ one empty, one containing clear water, and the last containing foul or soapy water, or simply dirt. A blindfolded player would approach the bowls and dip her fingers into one. The clear water represented a virginal mate, the cloudy water or dirt represented ‘damaged goods,’ and the empty bowl the barren fate of a spinster or bachelor”.13 This would be done three times in a row in order to determine the final outcome of the test.14

Such meanings, however, are subject to interpretation—as are the contents of each bowl, which has many different variations, each with a different meaning. Bannatyne, for instance, says the clouded water foretells widowhood, and she also offers a pioneer variant on the game, with bowls full of apples (standing for good luck, wealth, or love), nuts (no change in luck), or soot (sickness and loss of love).15 Hostess guides from the time period offer different interpretations as well. Dame Curtsey’s Book of Novel Entertainments for Every Day in the Year (1911), for example, says the bowls should be filled with water, milk, and nothing. If she touched water she will marry a bachelor, milk a widower, and if her hand comes up empty, she is “fated to remain single.”16 Another American version features bowls of earth, water, a ring, and a rag. The earth meant divorce, water a journey across the ocean, the ring a trip to the altar, and the rag no marriage at all.17

scotish luggie bowl card

A woman preparing to test her luck with the fateful luggie bowls. Source: cardcow.com

Interestingly, variations of the Three Luggies test were being performed as late as the 1940s in America. During WWII, a wartime version of this game consisted of blindfolded girls selecting one of seven bowls, each filled with a different item connected to the military: “red cloth…indicated they would marry an army man and a blue cloth, a sailor.”18 Another version had bowls “filled with red, white and blue-colored water and named for different branches of the armed services; thus a girl might discover the military affiliation of her future beloved.”19

Regardless of their origins, these fortune-telling games were enjoyed by Jazz Age party goers as well. For example Doris Blake, Chicago Tribune reporter, offered a long list of many of the games just mentioned—the same list she’d been offering, more or less, since 1910. This was because they livened up a party considerably in spite of their age. Even the Bogie Book, those ubiquitous party planning books of the 1920s, agrees: “although a few new and untried games may be interspersed on Hallowe’en, the old ones that have been handed down are the very life of the celebration and must never be omitted“.20 Besides, “no Hallowe’en party is considered a success unless all have bobbed for apples, each girl has walked down stairs backwards mirror in hand to catch a glimpse of her future husband, walnut shell boats have sailed in a tub of water, and apple parings flung over the left shoulder have formed a letter as they fall to the floor.”21

So, if you’re looking to add unique to your Halloween party this year, dear readers, why not get together with some of your friends at the Witching Hour and try your hands at some of these tests and games?

~*~

FORTUNE-TELLING WITH APPLES, NUTS AND FIRE:

Apples and nuts, particularly chestnuts and walnuts, were popular divination tools during Halloween. While both were obviously “plentiful at harvest time,” there may be other reasons for their popularity as well.22U To this day, many sources cite the possibly fictional Roman festival of Pomona as another reason for this particular association. Considered the goddess of orchards, seeds and the harvest, Romans supposedly sacrificed apples and nuts to Pomona on November 1st, and this festival may have combined with Druidic Samhain rituals in England to “give later generations the charms and omens that come from nuts and apples which are made trial of at Hallowe’en.”23 Just as popular, nuts were also an important part of divination rituals. In Scotland and northern England, nut games were such an important part of the celebrations that the evening was known as “Nut Crack Night.”24

Whether or not ancient Rome was involved, however, these games are still pretty fun. So why not grab a few apples and try them yourself, dear readers…if you dare! 😉

~*~

~ APPLE PEEL LETTERS ~ 

apple paring test

Witch Dressed in Red With Flying Bats

Image source: Cardcow.com

As you peel your apple, there a number of rhymes you can recite as well. This one comes from John Gay’s 1714 poem The Shepard’s Week:

“I pare this pippin round and round again,

My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain;

I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head,

My sweetheart’s letter on the ground is read.”25

This one comes from Diane Arkin’s book Halloween: Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear:

By this magic paring I wish to discover,

The first letter of the name of my true lover.

Three times around with movement slow,

Then upon the floor lie low;

Show me, if you know the same,

The letter of my true love’s name.26

If no letter can be determined from the peeling, then it is assumed that the inquirer will not marry—however, a “bright girl” could usually make out any letter she chose, if she was clever enough, and thus use the test to her advantage.27

~*~

~ FLAMING WALNUT BOATS ~

walnut boat test

walnut boat test pt 2

~*~

~ COUNTING APPLE SEEDS ~

apple eat test 1920

There are quite a lot of variants on what the number of seeds mean, but here a few different interpretations from various poems:

One seed means “a journey,” “an enemy,” or “you’ll get a letter”

Two seeds mean wealth, “a new friend,” an early marriage, or “you’re going to break”

Three seeds mean true love, “your luck is going to mend,” a legacy, or “you’ll hear some good news”

Four seeds mean health, “a short sickness,” great wealth or “a ride you soon will take”

Five seeds mean a quarrel, “new clothes,” a sea voyage, or “you will be disappointed”

Six seeds mean “a pleasant journey,” “great fame as a orator or singer,” or “you’ll meet a friend”

Seven seeds mean marriage, “a lovers’ quarrel,” “possession of an item most desired,” or “a surprise”

Eight seeds mean “a new name,” “twice you’ll wed,” or “some money you will spend”

Nine seeds mean travel, “a long life before you’re dead,” or “there’s pleasure coming”

Ten seeds mean a ring, “you’ll be happy,” or “you’ll have something to wear”

Eleven seeds mean a fortune, “riches galore,” or “you will take a trip”

Twelve seeds mean four children, or “some good luck you will share”

Thirteen seeds mean honor, or “you’ll have a fright”

Fourteen seeds mean “a good name” or “your future days are bright”

Fifteen seeds mean “political fame.”28

~*~

~ BURNING NUTS ~

Halloween Nuts

A visual sum-up of the nut test, where the actions of your nuts foretell your future relationship. Photo source: cardcow.com 

A popular old game that stretches back to at least the early 1700s, this test can be performed with either walnuts or chestnuts.

burning nuts better

~*~

~ APPLE SEEDS ~

Apple seeds, if applied to the face, can determine the steadfastness of your lover:

apple seed test 1920

For a variation on this game, you can recite this verse as you apply each seed:

“Pippin, pippin, I stick thee there

That thou is true thou mayest declare.”29

~*~

~ RAISIN RACE ~

raisin test 1920

~*~

~ SNAP APPLE, WITH AND WITHOUT CANDLE ~

Suspend a series of apples from the ceiling with string or ribbon, tying the string to the stems. Blindfold all players and have them bite at the apples. The first who successfully bites an apple—something which is much harder than it looks—will “be the first to marry.”30

For a more daring variant, try this little number from the early 1900s. According to a 1907 edition of Harper’s Bazaar, this particular game was loads of fun, especially when “the candle flame brushed noses and chins in the sauciest manner”31:

“The apple and candle game is another favorite sport. From the ceiling a strong cord is suspended and is tied to the center of a stick about two feet long. To one end of this stick an apple is fastened; to the other end a lighted candle. The string is set in motion, and contestants try to catch the apple with their teeth [with hands bound behind their back]…[if you want to be safer,] instead of a candle, a bag of some thin material, filled with flour, may be substituted…three attempts to catch the fruit, with failure each time, is a fatal blow to all hopes of a speedy marriage.”32

apple bobbing trib

Apple bobbing was another fun pastime that could be used to predict future sweethearts. Either initials were carved into the back of the apples or small tags with names were attached to the stems. Whoever you drew from the bucket was destined to be your love. If done as a group, whoever got the first apple would marry within the year. If the apple was caught on the first attempt, then the lover was seen as true, while more slippery apples were seen as fickle lovers or no worth pursuit from the bobber.

~*~

FORTUNE-TELLING WITH HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS AND PLANTS:

Besides fruits and nuts, various everyday objects could also be turned into fortune-telling tools. Bowls, water, eggs, needles, candles, and plates all feature in these easy tests to help men and women find their true loves.

~*~

~ THE NEEDLE AND THE BOWL ~

needle test

~*~

~ THE RING AND THE GLASS ~

ring and goblet test

~*~

~ JUMPING THE CANDLE ~

jump candle 1920

~*~

~ THREADING THE NEEDLE ~

threading needle game

~ THE WELL ~

This test from Ireland was popular throughout the Midwest after it was brought over by Irish immigrants:

“Lie down on your back by a well on Halloween and hold a mirror over your head so that you can see a reflection of the bottom of the well. If you are to marry, the picture of your future marriage partner will appear in the mirror.”33

~*~

~ THE FOUR PLATES ~

four saucers variant

1927 partiers with div tests

1920s party guests ready to play the Four Saucers game, a variant on the more traditional Luggie Bowls.

~*~

~ THE YARN TEST ~

For this test, one needs a barn or cellar and a ball of yarn. The person throws the ball into the barn or down the cellar stairs so it unravels, all while holding onto the other end of the string. Then the person begins rolling it up until it catches on something. When it does, one is supposed to ask “Who holds?” Either the wind will whisper the name of your future spouse, or their spectre will appear behind you to wind up the ball.34

Alternatively, one could throw the ball of yarn and repeat one of these chants as they wound it up:

I wind, I wind, my true love to find

The color of his hair, the clothes he will wear

The day he is married to me.35

Or:

Whoever will my husband be

Come wind this ball behind of me.36

~*~

~ PULLING CABBAGE ~

In Scotland, Ireland, and England, this test was done with kale, leeks, or cabbages. Romantics would go out hand in hand to pull vegetables from the garden at midnight while blindfolded; the attributes of the selected vegetable would determine aspects of your future mate. How easily or difficult the stalk was to pull indicated how easily your mate would be to win. After that, the shape and condition of the vegetable denoted various aspects: a full, green head symbolized an attractive mate, while a closed white stalk was old or stingy; dirt on the roots meant wealth while clean roots meant poverty; the flavor of the plant, whether sharp, sweet, or “insipid” foretold your mate’s disposition, and the shape, whether tall, stout, bold or graceful, denoted the mate’s “physical build.”37

~*~

~ ROSE TEST ~

rose test doris blake masquerade.jpeg

~*~

~ THE PUMPKIN SEER ~

pumpkin alphabet doris pumpkin ghosts

bowl scrying image trib

A group gathers around for what is probably an egg white or molten lead test. During the test, hot lead or egg whites are poured into a bowl of cold water, and the shapes made by the material as it hardens are interpreted to determine the future.

~*~

halloween ring cake fortune

This 1910s postcard refers to another form of fortune cake: bake a wedding ring into a cake, and whoever gets the slice with the ring is destined to marry within the year. Photo source: cardcow.com

FORTUNE-TELLING WITH PROPHETIC DREAMS, VISIONS, AND CAKE:

Halloween night, when the spirit world comes closer to ours than any other point in the year, is also supposed to be great for prophetic visions or dreams. In this section, mirrors, candles, cake and trinkets to put under your pillow are sure to induce visions of love…

~*~

~ MIRROR, MIRROR ~

There are a wide variety of mirror tests, many of which also involve candles. Here are a few:

Round and round, O stars so fair!

Ye travel, search out everywhere.

I pray you, sweet stars, now show to me,

This night, who my future husband will be!39

Whoever she meets or runs into while walking backwards will be her future husband.

  • Stand in front of a mirror at midnight in a candlelit room and eat an apple. If your lover loves you back, their spurt will appear in the mirror and ask for the last bite.40
  • Walk backwards down the cellar or basement stairs while holding a mirror. Behind you, in the glass, you should “catch the features of your [future] mate.”41
~*~

~ THE FLOUR CAKE ~

“Tightly pack a bowl with flour and insert a ring vertically into some part. When the bowl is full, invert it onto a plate and invite fortune-seekers to cut a thin slice from the mound using a sharp knife. The guest whose slice contains the ring will be the first to marry.”42

~*~

~ DREAM A LITTLE DREAM… ~

There were a wide variety of ways to induce dreams of your future spouse on Halloween night. Here are a few ideas:

  • Place bay leaves under your pillow at night if you’re a man, or rosemary if you’re a woman, and you will dream of your future lover.43
  • Remove the yolk from a hard boiled egg, fill the cavity with salt, and eat it before going to bed without drinking any water. You will dream that your future lover will bring you water.44
  • Make small pills of grated walnuts, hazelnuts, nutmeg, butter and sugar and eat them before bed, and you will learn your future husband’s occupation. If you dream of gold, he will be rich; of noise, he will be a tradesman; of thunderstorms, he will be a traveler.45
  • Rub each of your bedposts with a piece of lemon, and your lover should appear to you at night in a dream to bring you two lemons.46
  • Before going to bed on Halloween night, place a glass of water on your nightstand and add a sliver of wood to it while repeating this rhyme: “Husband mine that is to be, come tonight and rescue me.” During the night if you dream of falling from a bridge into a river, your future mate will come and rescue you in your dream.47
  • “Write the names of three sweethearts on slips of paper and put them beneath your pillow. If you dream of one of those named, you can be assured that person cares for you. If his is the name you draw out first in the morning, he will be the one you marry.”48

Walk out the front door backwards at the stroke of midnight on Halloween and pick three blades of grass. Wrap them in orange paper and tuck them under your pillow, thus ensuring whatever you dream that night will come true.49

pills for dreams bw illos

This recipe for “dream pills” comes from a 1915 Chicago Tribune article, but there are many variations.

Alternative interpretations for the dream pills are: pleasant dreams mean you’ll marry a gentleman, difficult dreams mean you’ll marry a laborer, and dreams of storms mean you’ll marry a ne’er-do-well or a rogue.50

future husband candle test

This young couple is performing a mirror test…which this fellow is obviously influencing to his advantage. Image source: Cardcow.com

~*~

Looking to add even more games and fortunes to your vintage Halloween party? Then try Halloween Happenings (1921) by Lettie Van Derveer. It’s full of even more fortune-telling games and tests and is suitable for any Roaring Twenties Halloween party, although most of the games require some assembly beforehand on the part of the host, particularly in writing out all the fortunes. Many of the games appear to have been invented for the sake of the book as well, so they’re definitely examples of period activities.

Another possibility is the “Games of Fate” section of Hallowe’en Festivities (1903) by Stanley Schell (1903). While this resource is technically older than the Roaring Twenties, many of the games I’ve listed here are described in it as well, plus many more.

~*~

So what about you, dear readers? Will you try any of these games tonight? If so, dear readers, I’d love to know what the fates foretold for you, so please come back and share in the Comments! And whatever you do this year, dear readers, I hope you have…

…a Happy Halloween! 😀

boy happy halloween

~*~


Works Cited Within Text:
1. Arkins, Diane C. Halloween: Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear. Gretna: Pelican Pub, 2000. 11.
2. Libbey, Laura Jean. “All Halloween is Love’s Own Eve.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 31, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173564143?accountid=3688.
3. Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, And American History. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1990. 53.
4. Bannatyne, Halloween, 56.
5. Morton, Lisa. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. London, UK: Reaktion Books, 2012.  37.
6. Ibid.
7. Bannatyne, Halloween, 71.
8. Bannatyne, 72.
9. Bannatyne, 105.
10. Bannatyne, 107.
11. Bannatyne 114
12. Bannatyne,115.
13. Skal, David J. Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. New York : Bloomsbury, 2002. 39.
14. Paull, Marion. Creating Your Vintage Hallowe’en: The Folklore, Traditions, and Some Crafty Makes. New York, NY: CICO Books, 2014. 118.
15. Bannatyne, 57.
16. Glover, Ellye Howell, 1868-. “Dame Curtsey’s” Book of Novel Entertainments for Every Day In the Year. 7th ed. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & co., 1911. 98.
17. Paull, Vintage Hallowe’en, 118.
18. Bannatyne, 131.
19. Morton, Trick or Treat, 65-66.
20. Dennison Manufacturing Company. The Bogie Book. 1922. 12.
21. Dennison Manufacturing Company. The Bogie Book. 1923. 35.
22. Bannatyne, 57.
23. Kelley, Ruth Edna. The Book of Hallowe’en. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard co, 1919. 26.
24. Bannatyne, 57.
25. Morton, 55.
26. Arkins, 24.
27. Ibid.
28. Arkins, 27-29.
29. Bannatyne, 72.
30. Arkins, 22
31. Arkins, 23.
32. “SPELLS for ALL HALOWEEN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 26, 1902. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173111478?accountid=3688.
33. Bannatyne, 75.
34. Paull, 113.
35. Bannatyne, 75.
36. Bannatyne, 72.
37. Arkins, 41.
38. Kelley, 162.
39. Ibid.
40. Schell, Stanley. Hallowe’en Festivities. New York: Edgar S. Werner Pub. & Company, 1903. 52.
41. Blain, Mary E., 1872-. Games for All Occasions. Chicago: Brewer, Barse & co, 1909. 23.
42. Arkins, 61.
43. Paull, 117.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid.
46. Arkins, 53.
47. Arkins, 54.
48. Ibid.
49. Ibid.
50. Arkins, 57.

Please note: The tests pictured in this post, as well as the black and white illustrations, are taken from the following Chicago Tribune articles, in no particular order:
Blake, Doris. “Love Superstitions for Hallowe’en.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1915. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173969438?accountid=3688.
Blake, Doris. “Hallowe’en Superstitions.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 22, 1922. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174950181?accountid=3688.
Blake, Doris. “Hallowe’en Lore.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 28, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180954597?accountid=3688.
Blake, Doris. “HALLOW-E’EN LORE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1920. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174749541?accountid=3688.
Blake, Doris. “Halloween Superstitions: They’re Not to be Taken Seriously, but They Provide a Lot of Fun for a Party.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 30, 1927. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180814682?accountid=3688.

 

 

~*~

Posted in holiday post, list post, Social Customs of the 1920s | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bit of Holiday Fun: Boozy Easter Eggs from 1932

“How much for the eggs?” John Huntley asked, eyeing the large display of Easter candy on the delicatessen’s counter.

He’d heard the stuff had been selling like hot cakes, and no one was sure why—but being a Prohibition agent, he figured he’d better check it out.

“Three and a quarter for a dozen,” the shopkeeper said, coming around from behind the counter to hover nearby.1

Huntley whistled, his eyebrows rising. “That much? Gee, I don’t know…”

The storekeeper pulled one of the eggs out of the box and handed it to him with a wink and a smile. “Why not try one first, eh? On the house.”

Huntley did—and he immediately bought the rest.

When he saw his fellow Prohibition agents the next day, he had a fine story to tell.

“Those eggs…were candy on the outside, but there’s enough liquor on the inside of half a dozen of them to start an ordinary drinker on a real spree.”2

When he and his fellow agents went back to raid the store, they found twenty boxes’ worth of the stuff in the basement.3 Both store owner Otto Fiebig and clerk John Oser were arrested, then later released on bail at $1000 each, with their trial set for March 23rd.4

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On March 17th, 1932, Otto Fiebig and John Oser really were arrested for selling boozy Easter candy at their store at 4386 N. Elston Avenue. Here’s what their “Easter display” looked like:

Boozy eggs 1920s tribune

I was unable to find the results of their trial in the Tribune archives, but I figured this little blurb was entertaining in and of itself. I think these fellas were rather clever about selling their illegal hooch—and in such a tasty way, too. These treats would certainly be welcome at MY Easter table! 😀

Want to add your own alcoholic twist to Easter today? You could try making these whiskey-filled chocolate Easter bunnies or add a little Bourbon to them instead. If you want your booze-candy premade, however, you’ll have to stop by the United Kingdom, as apparently literally all the rest of it is made there. Sadness!

But whatever you eat and drink, I hope you all have a very happy…and maybe slightly hoppy…Easter. Enjoy the holiday, folks! Hooray for Spring.

~*~

naughty easter greetings.jpg

Enjoy this slightly naughty Easter greeting card that’s on sale at CardCow.Com

~*~


Works Cited:
  1. “DRY FINDS REAL KICK IN SEARCH FOR EASTER EGGS.” 1932.Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Mar 17, 9. https://search.proquest.com/docview/181321597?accountid=3688
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
Posted in bootlegging, holiday post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

There Goes the Neighborhood: Al Capone’s House Has Finally Been Sold!

Al Capone’s House is officially off the market—

and for double the asking price!

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al capone house_snow_gawkers

Potential buyers eye Al Capone’s former home at 7244 S. Prairie Avenue on the South Side. Photo Source: Chicago Sun Times


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Well, dear readers, it finally happened! Al Capone’s family home at 7244 South Prairie Avenue, the travails of which I’ve posted about on numerous occasions, was officially sold on April 5th, 2019, to the tune of $206,000. That’s more than DOUBLE the asking price of $109,900 back in February—and in two months, no less! That’s a pretty terrific turnaround for a property that’s been struggling on and off the market since 2009, thanks in a large part to the notoriety of its former owner. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the price of the home steadily dropped “from about $450,000 to $179,000,” and it had gone into foreclosure more than once. Such prices are a far cry from the $15,000 Al paid for it back in 1923, when he bought it for his family to live in while he worked as Johnny Torrio’s right hand man downtown.

As you’ve seen in my previous posts, the 1905 home is pretty rundown inside, but one hopes that the new owners will keep a few of the more unique features—like the barred living room windows—around for the sake of history and flavor. However, given that it’s apparently been sold to “investors” rather than “end users” (i.e., homeowners), the future of Al’s former home is unclear. Real estate agent Ryan Smith of Re/Max said that the continued press on the property “helped it out” considerably, leading to over 80 offers and tons of interested phone calls. Smith says he has “no idea what the buyers want to do with it,” but that it “needs updating” if it’s to be livable.

Personally, I hope that whoever bought the place isn’t planning to tear it down. That fate might be in store for some lovely old Chicago mansions in the Lakeview neighborhood, however. Gorgeous homes akin to this one at 530 W. Hawthorne Place and this recently purchased location are getting quietly bought up by the Chicago City Day School, an expensive independent children’s school that is located within Lakeview.

According to a 2011 post at Connecting the Windy City, the Day School has a “track record…with destroying historic buildings” in the area, a feat which goes back to the 1996 destruction of an 101-year old coach house at 541 W. Hawthorne, which was done via a surprise permit issuance from a “high level building department official” in defiance of neighborhood residents, preservationists, and Mayor Richard J. Daley himself.1 The demolition came about from a loophole in the landmark preservation laws at the time, which apparently preserved the mansion but didn’t apply to the historic coach house, even though it was part of the same property. As a result, the school destroyed it, and then went on to file an “economic hardship claim” that same year for a different property, stating that “keeping the structure [viable] would cause economic hardship” for the school.2 It’s very likely, then, that they are planning a similar fate for more nearby historic properties. According to a discussion in a local Chicago history Facebook group, its likely that they’ll wait to do so until the historic designation expires in 2053, then move to bulldoze it after it’s fallen into disrepair. While I hope they turn these homes into school buildings rather than parking lots, it seems unlikely.

Al’s place doesn’t have a leg to stand on in that regard, however. The 1989, Capone’s Prairie Avenue home was up for consideration by the National Register of Historic Places, after being roundly rejected by Illinois’ historic site boards. The move was loudly protested by the Italian-American community across the nation. They were “fed up with being associated with Capone,” found Al’s conduct shameful, and did not want to experience the “guilt by association” that the potential certification of his home could bring to their ethnic group in the city and beyond.3 In response to the outrage, the bid flopped, and Al’s former home went back into private hands.4

Regardless of the building’s history, I hope they decide to do something worthwhile with it, rather than just bring out the bulldozer. Chicago’s historic buildings have enough challenges to deal with as it is, and while Al’s place isn’t an official landmark, it’s still an important part of the city’s history. It would be a real shame to see it go.

~*~


  1. DRELL, ADRIENNE. “Coach House Torn Down Despite Mayor’s Order,” Chicago Sun-Times, March 08, 1996: 4, accessed April 14, 2019, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB42294DA76059D?p=NewsBank.
  2. BEY, LEE. “School presses fight to demolish mansion,” Chicago Sun-Times, June 13, 1996: 12, accessed April 14, 2019, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB422AAE0685A64?p=NewsBank.
  3. Kamin, Blair. “Capone House Landmark Status Fought.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current),Apr 14, 1989. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1015808219?accountid=3688.
  4. Helmer, Bill. “Consider Capone Part of Chicago.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current),Aug 12, 1989. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1018709267?accountid=3688.
Posted in Al Capone | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Ghosts, Gangsters, and Widows: An Interview With Sherilyn Decter, Author of INNOCENCE LOST, Book One of The Bootlegger Chronicles

Innocence

     Hello Dear Readers! Today I’m very excited to bring you something new and different: an interview with author Sherilyn Decter!

    Decter’s marketing team over at MC Book Tours reached out to me to join her book tour, and I happily accepted. Her new novel, INNOCENCE LOST, which is the first book in The Bootlegger Chronicles,  just went on sale this month on Amazon. What’s it about, you ask? Well here’s the official summary of INNOCENCE LOST, which sounds like a ton of fun for anyone who likes mysteries, ghosts, gangsters, strong female protagonists, and the 1920s:

Innocence Lost 3D

In a city of bootleggers and crime, one woman must rely on a long-dead lawman to hunt down justice…

          Philadelphia, 1924. Maggie Barnes doesn’t have much left. After the death of her husband, she finds herself all alone to care for her young son and look after their rundown house. As if that weren’t bad enough, Prohibition has turned her neighborhood into a bootlegger’s playground. To keep the shoddy roof over their heads, she has no choice but to take on boarders with criminal ties…

          When her son’s friend disappears, Maggie suspects the worst. And local politicians and police don’t seem to have any interest in an investigation. With a child’s life on the line, Maggie takes the case and risks angering the enemy living right under her nose…

          Maggie’s one advantage may be her oldest tenant: the ghost of a Victorian-era cop. With his help, can she find justice in a lawless city?

          Innocence Lost is the first novel in the Bootleggers’ Chronicles, a series of historical fiction tales. If you like headstrong heroines, Prohibition-era criminal underworlds, and a touch of the paranormal, then you’ll love Sherilyn Decter’s gripping tale.

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I’m also happy to note that INNOCENCE LOST is the first in a five book series, so there will be a lot more of Maggie to come—and even Al Capone makes an appearance. While I don’t usually review fiction on this blog, given the content of Decter’s novel, I thought you all might enjoy learning more about her research process and her interest in history—plus gangsters, of course! 😉

So, let’s get this interview started!

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1)    What inspired you to set your novel during the Roaring Twenties?

      America was fundamentally transformed in those ten years. There was so much change going on—social, fashion, economic, transportation, communication, technological innovation. There’s energy in change—and energy is heat.

     I am fascinated by the changing role of women. You can see that surging independence in the clothes they wore, their venturing into unfamiliar territory like classrooms and offices. And getting the vote—huge!

      I’m also fascinated by the 1920s entrepreneurs—the bootleggers and gangsters. Mostly men from the wrong side of the tracks, limited formal education and yet they set up international distribution networks, managed fairly sophisticated vertical integration between manufacturing (moonshine) through distribution and sales. Usually facilitated by verbal contracts and enforced with the threat of violence. There were agreed upon sales territories, especially after the Atlantic City Conference in 1929 when the modern “Mob” was born.

      Finally, coming out of the Great War was a certain recklessness—live for today—inspired by the carnage on the battlefields. Whether it was the work of painters, writers, or musicians; creativity in the 1920s tended to have a fatalism and extreme innovation that makes it hard to look away.

      In terms of personal inspiration, I was sitting in a jazz bar listening to an old Billie Holliday song when I decided to actually try and write a book. This was a seminal moment for me. I was at a crossroads in my life and needed to start a new chapter—turns out literally. The music set the scene, and I started to think about those smoky speakeasies, glamorous flappers and dangerous gangsters in the 1920s. Before you know it, I was hooked. Many writers find a coffee shop that inspires them to write. For me, it was sitting in that jazz club every Sunday afternoon, sketching out ideas and chatting with curious patrons. And I mean, who doesn’t love a good gangster story?

2)    I love that there’s a supernatural element to your book, especially since it’s set during a decade which saw a massive resurgence in Spiritualism and interest in the occult. What made you decide to bring a ghost into your main character’s life, and what inspired his character?

    The main character in the Bootleggers’ Chronicles series is Maggie Barnes, a woman of her time who takes on the challenge of seeking justice for the murder of a young boy. In those days, women had very limited opportunities to acquire the skill set of an investigator, so she needed a mentor. It could have been a relative or a friendly cop. But I’ve always enjoyed reading paranormal, so I decided it would be a ghost.

    Many of the characters in my novels were real people—blending the factual characters with fictional characters and staying true to history. My ghost, Frank Geyer, was indeed a real Philadelphia police detective. He was famous for tracking down one of America’s first serial killers, H. H. Holmes. Netflix and Hulu are bringing The Devil in the White City with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s the story of H. H. Holmes and Frank Geyer. Through research, I discovered Frank, which then set the books in Philadelphia. More research dug up the villain, Mickey Duffy, King of the Bootleggers in Philadelphia, his wife Edith and nemesis Colonel Smedley Butler of the Philly police, business partners and fellow gangsters Boo-Boo Hoff and Max Hassel, and then I filled in the rest of the characters around them.

     The spiritualism that arose from the trauma of World War I certainly influenced Frank’s character, although it takes a lot of convincing (which were great scenes to write) for Maggie to accept that he is indeed a ghost. His purpose for remaining in Philadelphia where the books are set drives the narrative of all five Bootlegger books and is the dramatic conclusion to the series.

3)    What research advice do you have for other fiction writers focusing on the 1920s, and are there any historical resources that you’d recommend?

      Thank goodness for the internet. I used newspaper and police archives extensively. I also read many—many—many reference books from the times and the area. Some great non-fiction books were always close at hand, including Bootleggers and Beer Barons of the Prohibition Era, Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940, and the transcripts of Philadelphia’s Grand Jury Investigation in August 1928 into bootlegging, racketeers, and police corruption.

      Because so many of the characters were actual people, I read lots of biographies and Wikipedia entries. J.D. Crighton’s books on Frank Geyer and H. H. Holmes were invaluable.

      Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods so I took great care in choosing which neighborhood Maggie would live in, and the descriptions of the streets and markets in the city. I wanted it to feel like the city was one of the characters. A couple of book clubs in Philadelphia were very helpful in beta reading the books to ensure that they sounded like someone who understood the city wrote them.

        I also reached out to various institutions and historical societies in Philadelphia who were extremely helpful in helping to answer specific questions I had. For example, Drexel University gave me copies of the business class brochures and other information for 1926 when Maggie goes back to school to become an accountant, as well as wonderful alumni photographs.

4)    This one’s just for fun: who’s your favorite historical underworld figure from Philadelphia, and why?

        It would have to be the villain of the Bootlegger series, Philadelphia’s King of the Bootleggers, Mickey Duffy. Mickey is a fascinating character and reading about him from contemporaneous newspaper stories and magazine articles helped fill in the background I needed. He was one of those self-made entrepreneurs I mentioned earlier. He understood that Prohibition regulated the supply but not the demand for liquor and stepped up to meet the need. He married a very feisty gal, established some ‘flexible’ business partnerships with other gangsters, corrupt politicians and law enforcement, and had a desperate yearning to be accepted into Philadelphia’s established business community. Like many of his colleagues, he was gunned down by rival gangsters. The streets of Philadelphia were lined with thousands of mourners during the funeral procession.

mickey duffy head

Bootlegger “King” Mickey Duffy. Photo Source: Temple University Library Digital Exhibits

         As a side note—and given the title and theme of your blog—Al Capone is a lurking character throughout the series and a business partner of Mickey’s. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is a significant part of the plot in the fourth book in the series, Watch Your Back, which will be released in May 2019.

And there you have it, folks: gangsters, bootleggers, Victorian ghosts, and young women coming into their own during the tumultuous Roaring Twenties…what more could you possibly want? I’m gonna go order my copy right now! 🙂

~*~

~* EXTRA! EXTRA! *~

Want to learn more about Sherilyn and The Bootlegger Chronicles? Then you’re in luck! This post is part of a large virtual book tour for Sherilyn’s new book—and it’s a tour that my friend, Jazzfeathers, is also participating in! 😀

Decter gave Sara a a fascinating interview about her novels and research, and Sara posted an excerpt from INNOCENCE LOST on her blog The Old Shelter as well, in case you’d like to take a peek!

If you’re interested in learning more about INNOCENCE LOST and the upcoming books in Decter’s series, you can check out Decter’s author website, which features some fun history tidbits as well as information about The Bootlegger Chronicles.

If you’d like to see other posts in this virtual this book tour, you can visit MC Book Tours for the full list of participants. Happy reading, folks! 😀

Innocence Lost Banner

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If you’d like to purchase INNOCENCE LOST, it is available to buy on Amazon.

The second book in the series, TASTING THE APPLE, is available to pre-order now as well.  

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There’s one other exciting thing I almost forgot to include, too, folks—Sherilyn is giving away FREE BOOKS! 😀

Author Sherilyn Decter is giving away two autographed paperback copies of INNOCENCE LOST. Each of the books comes with a couple of sheets of flapper paper dolls! Just click HERE to be entered into the Rafflecopter contest. Best of luck to you!

paperdoll FB post (8)

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Facebook Profile

Sherilyn Decter is enthralled with the flashing flappers and dangerous bootleggers from the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition. Through meticulous research, that lawless era is brought to life. Living in a century-old house, maybe the creaking pipes whisper stories in her ear.
To get the inside skinny on the Bootlegger’s Chronicles, you can reach Sherilyn at the following links:
WEBSITE          FACEBOOK      PINTEREST
Posted in author interview, blog tour, book reviews, bootlegging, guest post, interview, writing advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s Back, Folks! Al Capone’s House is Back on the Market, and Just in Time for Valentine’s Day <3

al capones house 2019

Capone’s old Chicago haunt, 7244 S. Prairie Avenue

Al Capone’s home is back on the market, and just in time for Valentine’s Day! So go buy it for your sweetie…or inflict it on your worst enemy. 😉

~*~

It’s baaaaack, folks! 😀 Al Capone’s house, which his extended family occupied from 1923 through 1931, is on the market again as of February 8th, for the low, low asking price of $109,900! This is a big change from back when I wrote about this in 2016, when the previous owner couldn’t get anyone to take a look at the place, and again later that year, when it was listed for $179,900.

Since then, it’s gone into foreclosure, and now it’s back on the market—but it’s looking a little different now. Check out these cool new pics of the interior:

al capone house 1

This interior shot seems to show a few sets of iron bars still on the windows, ones which Al had installed to help protect his family from his adversaries. Photo Source: Chicago Curbed

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al capone house 2

Another interior shot, with some odd paneling painting. Photo Source: Chicago Curbed

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al capone 5

This is a pretty cute little retro bathroom. Photo Source: Realtor.com listing

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al capone house 3

That is one small old school kitchen, very 1950s. Love the old cabinets, though! Photo Source: Chicago Curbed

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al capone house 4

A shot of the basement, which just might have a door that leads to a secret tunnel! 😀 Photo Source: Chicago Curbed

While it definitely needs some love, Al’s former home could be a really interesting buy for anyone with an interest in Chicago history (plus it’d make a really cool Air BnB listing, just saying 😉 ).

And unlike in 2016, it looks like this time the realtors aren’t shying away from those underworld connections. Here is one of the new listing write-ups from Realtor.com, which promotes the Al Capone connection rather than hiding it like the last few times around:

“This building is unique in many ways!! Truly a piece of Chicago history, this is one of the first homes Al Capone purchased in Chicago, not to mention it is also located on a wide 68 foot lot and features a very spacious layout in each unit! The building boasts character and charm throughout, hardwood floors in the entire building, tons of wood trim, wood molding, each unit offers large octagon style living rooms, full basement, rare all brick garage- This home is the multi unit you want to buy! Live in one unit, rent the other out, rent them both out and collect passive income, either way this is a win win for any buyer! the location is phenomenal as well, sandwiched between Skyway & Dan Ryan, walk to Red Line, close to Deneen Elementary and in the hear of sought after Park Manor! This is your chance to own Chicago history, do not let is escape you!”—Realtor.com listing for 7244 Prairie Ave.

Interestingly, one new thing I learned about the property this time around is that there’s supposedly a secret tunnel that connects the home’s basement and the garage, presumably so Al could get to his car without having to risk possible machine gun fire…and the realtors claim it’s probably true, though if the tunnel exists it’s been filled in with rubble by now. It seems there’s a door in the basement that has no key, and is locked, so….maybe? Who knows! 🙂

~*~

If you’re interested in buying Al’s old home, you can find the full listing here at Realtor.com. Otherwise you can contact Ryan Smith, the Re/Max agent who represents the property, directly at his office website.

~*~

What about you, Dear Readers? Would you want to live in Al’s old home, and why or why not? Please share in the Comments below!

Posted in Al Capone | Tagged , , | 1 Comment