Photo Friday: Pandemic, 1918

This year’s pandemic has brought up for many people the history of the last time the world suffered devastating numbers of deaths from a contagious disease that spread around the world. That was, of course, the 1918 flu pandemic. I grew up on stories of the 1918 flu. My great grandparents in my father’s paternal line, Italian immigrants Francesco and Maria Petrini, both died of influenza on October 9 of that year. They left behind five children, including my grandfather, who had to drop out of school to support his younger sisters. He was 11. While the current pandemic has destroyed lives and upended families, I am struck by the cruelty of that 1918 virus and of a society that provided so little help for the surviving family members.

These are my great grandparents, Francesco Petrini, and Maria Tini Petrini, who died on the same day during the flu pandemic of 1918. He was five days past his 44th birthday; she was about 37 (we don’t know her exact date of birth, only the year). The flu that year was unusual in that it didn’t take just the very young and the very old, as virulent flu strains often do. It cut down adults who were young and middle-aged.

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