Allentown mayor blames Bethlehem Steel for quarantine over “so-called influenza”

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Spanish Flu logo

For perspective on our current coronavirus 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).

So we are going almost day-by-day from the arrival of the Spanish Flu in the U.S. on September 13, 1918, marking local awareness of and local events related to the Flu as seen by a reader of the Morning Call.***

On October 5 the Call reported that, pursuant to an order by state health authorities, the Allentown City Council — acting as a Board of Health — voted to close “all public places of amusement and saloons” in tandem with Bethlehem and Easton.

Flu 42

A vote much to the chagrin of the Allentown Mayor, who was “strong in his denunciation of the order, calling it the work of the Bethlehem Steel Company officials” — apparently referring to the Steel’s desire to insure a proper and steady work force for its war effort responsibilities.

In his denunciation of the action, the Mayor stated “that Bethlehem was filthy and dirty, and that a wagon load of refuse could be secured from three blocks of the highways and that the streets were covered with thick layers of dust, the worst breeder of disease.”

One wishes we had access to the Bethlehem papers for rebuttals to that one!

It’s also curious that the A-town mayor focuses on city dirt as the breeder of the disease (and apparently implying that Allentown streets are not in such condition). He is closer here in his denunciation of the quality of public transportation to the common wisdom about conditions favoring the disease:

Flu 45

Basically, however, it appears that the A-town mayor was a kind of pandemic denier, attributing this “so-called influenza” to nothing more than a widespread bout of the common cold caused by people not heating their homes properly.

What!? Just the day before the Call had reported 14,000 new (!) cases in army camps!

Flu 46

The shut-down order, concluded the Mayor in the classic style of exaggerated political oratory, is “Prussianism, and just what we are fighting for ‘over there’ now and was the work of autocrats and not in reason.”

O, my.

But Bethlehem was not without its craziness as the shut-down tightened.


*** The Call newspaper article indicated that there were five daily newspapers in Allentown at the time. What riches! Who knew?

Leave a Reply