A continuation of Pemberly Farnsworth’s story:
This week’s story is a continuation of Pemberly Farnsworth’s story as it was excerpted from her book, “Distant Vision:” What really impressed young Philo Farnsworth about the sun’s 1918 total eclipse at Thomas, Idaho was that two scientists from each of the principle countries in Europe ignored their politics, in the name of science, and did a joint expedition to Sobral, Brazil. The English had built the world’s largest telescope there. World War One; was very real to Philo, for two of his half-brothers were fighting with the Allies in France. He thought if scientists could rise above the politics of warring nations to solve a scientific problem, they must be endowed with special qualities. He hoped he could someday become a scientist. That fall found the Farnsworth’s in Ucon, Idaho, a small town a few miles north of Thomas, where the older children entered school. When word came of the signing of the armistice, Philo, and his brother Carl climbed to the roof of the cow shed and rang cowbells until their arms ached. The joy occasioned by the return of the soldiers, however, was soon overshadowed by a devastating flu epidemic. Few communities in the nation were spared the plague. Entire families were stricken, with no one to care for them. The overloaded medical profession was at a loss. Nothing they tried had any effect on this new virus.
In desperation President Wilson issued a decree. All public gatherings, including schools, were suspended until further notice. Facemasks were to be worn whenever leaving home was an absolute necessity. Powdered sulfur was to be burned on hot wood or coal cook stoves as a fumigant, Lysol was to be added to the water for washing hands, and the list went on. Despite all these precautions, death, no respecter of persons, knocked on many doors. One of the flu victims was Philo’s dear half-sister Hortense.
Her husband brought their two little girls to their grandparents and left; leaving no forwarding address.
This “flu” epidemic killed 21 million people and affected the lives of a billion more, about half the world’s population at that time. Flu was more effective than the Maxim machine gun in stopping Germany’s final assault on France in World War One. Practically the entire Royal Navy was kept in port for twelve days and there were 10,000 cases including Commander-in-Chief His Majesty King George V. The crew of an American transport Otranto was flu ridden, and too weak to abandon ship after colliding with another vessel in the Atlantic; it sank taking 431 men with it. Aboard troopship Leviathan a young assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, took care of a 16-year-old boy, Walt Disney, who had lied about his age to join an ambulance crew and was later sent home to recover. The highest mortality was 12.5 million in India; the lowest was Napoleon’s last home on St. Helena, and a U.S. naval training station in San Francisco Bay where drinking fountains were sterilized hourly with blow torches.
My family in Jensen, Utah was going through this same ordeal. People were dying, but none would expose themselves to this contagious disease to lend a helping hand. Seeing the helpless suffering, my parents Bernard and Alice Gardner, became ministering angels. Mother made huge pots of nourishing soup and Daddy disregarding the chances he was taking, carried it to stricken homes and did what he could to relieve the people’s suffering. Upon returning home at night he always gargled with antiseptic and thoroughly washed his hands and clothes in strong Lysol water. Neither he nor any of his family was stricken, however, his beloved sister Elma, for whom I was named, was one of the many victims. To be continued.
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