The Spanish Flu comes to Bethlehem

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For perspective on our current coroniavirus situation, we are following the entrance of the 1918 Spanish Influenza, that paragon of pandemics, into the minds and bodies of Lehigh Valley residents who got their news through the Morning Call (the files of the Bethlehem Globe are closed to us at the moment).

In the period a few days before and after October 1, 1918, Bethlehem readers of the Morning Call could see the disease coming closer and closer to their homes.

On September 27 Allentonian James Kingston returned from Tennessee and the funeral of his nephew, “a specimen of good health, 27 years of age,” whose “sudden and unexpected death” while serving in the army at Camp Devens was a “severe shock” to the family.

But that was nobody’s immediate family and Camp Devens and Tennessee were far away.

On October 1 in Easton, “suspicion was aroused” that two people with no connection with the military died of the “dreaded Spanish Influenza,” 20-year-old Ulmont White and 55-year-old Seth Johnson.

But that was Easton and the cause of death unsure.

October 2 was the day uncertainty itself died in Allentown. On October 2 the Spanish Flu claimed John Levi Keiser, age 68, 118 Walnut St.; Harvey Diehl, age 29, 19 S. 12th St.; and Lewis Uhl, 320 N. 6th.

On September 13, the Spanish Flu arrived in the U.S.; on October 2 it arrived in Allentown.

The Flu was no longer a number; it had a name, an address, and a story.

It was real.

Keiser was the Lehigh Valley Railroad gatetender at the 3rd St. crossing, someone many people might have passed over the years. Diehl had the hard luck of catching the Flu literally waiting in line for his discharge from the very army on which the Flu was feasting like a bear at a honey pot.

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By October 4 the disease was certainly in Bethlehem, killing “a popular young resident,” 32-year-old Frank Lowery of 620 W. Broad St. (the address of the hairdresser next to the former Mayflower lunch across from Sim’s Market), a husband leaving a wife and two sons, a son himself tragically dying before his parents — perhaps the first Bethlehem resident known to succumb to the Flu.

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The Spanish Flu had come to Bethlehem.

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