Why St. Paddy Parades Got Cancelled

In the last week, many traditional gatherings have been canceled or postponed, and with strong historical justification. Not everyone knows about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1919 but there are many lessons there that could apply to today.

A major flu-related tragedy took place in Philadelphia in September of 1918. It was during the midst of World War One and over 200,000 people gathered in the city’s streets to observe a huge war bond rally and parade.

In spite of warnings from the city’s health officials Philadelphia’s largest parade ever went forward and the people purchase enormous amounts of bonds to help finance our nation’s war to end all wars.

Literally, within hours stories began spreading about dozens of people coming down with a strange and rapidly spreading illness. Within a week of the parade 45,000 Philadelphians had been infected and within six-weeks 12,000 of them were dead.

Before the Spanish Influenza epidemic had run its course it is estimated that as many as 50 million people in the world had perished, including 675,000 Americans.

So, when science and history advise you to “shelter in place” you may want to reflect on Philadelphia a century ago and pay a little heed.

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