How the Spanish Flu in Nashville compared to COVID-19


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The headlines “All Nashville Fighting Epidemic,” “Death Rates Grow,” “City Hospital Full; 50 Calls Turned Down,” look similar to those of today with COVID-19. But these are actual headlines that flooded Nashville newspapers back in 1918.

It was a time in our country when nearly 675,000 people died from the Spanish Flu.

History professor and Davidson County historian Carole Bucy explains Nashvillians weren’t concerned, at first, as the virus seemed isolated in major cities.

“People weren’t really quite concerned about it and then came October it was like all of a sudden it is sheer panic her with these outbreaks,” said Bucy.

“If you read the newspaper accounts and the things to look for and things not to look for, it’s the same kind of things. It’s a persistent cough, a fever and droplets, and I thought the term droplets had just come around. But no, no, they were back there in 1918,” said Bucy.

It got to the point where area hospitals were overrun.

“The doctor who was in charge of the Nashville City Hospital reported that he had admitted 30 people with the flu and he had to turn 75 away because he didn’t have beds for those people,” said Bucy.

The death toll rose quickly, and just like we’re seeing now in places like New York City, makeshift morgues were set up.

“It was estimated that 1,300 people in Nashville died of the flu. This is when they used the basement of the YMCA to house the bodies,” said Bucy.

There were 267 people who also died at the Dupont Plant in Old Hickory. And while the Nashville mayor at the time was reluctant to close schools and public places, eventually he gave in.

“The isolating people really helped to quell the spreading of the disease,” Bucy explained.

And just like today’s pandemic, major celebrations were put on hold including the end of World War I.

“The war is about to end we are so busy dealing with the grieving caused by this flu epidemic, that sort of came out of nowhere, that people can’t get enthusiastic about it immediately about the war ending. It’s really the next year when the soldiers come home in 1919 that there’s great fanfare,” said Bucy.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.


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