The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed well over 50 million people around the world.
The image above shows people playing baseball while wearing masks.
The crowd wear masks as well. And that reflects the most terrifying and devastating aspect of the 1918 pandemic in a way the other pictures don’t:
It killed anyone. Young, healthy adults—of the sort that play baseball—normally rarely care about the flu, but the 1918 outbreak was different. It killed anyone, and we still don’t really know why.
The photo also represents a sad futility when you learn that the masks didn’t protect people.
While cotton gauze may stop bacteria, viruses are much smaller. Yet pictures record large groups wearing them, from police in Seattle, to paperboys in Canada, to soldiers in France, right down to the general public.
Not one of them was protected in any way from one of the deadliest events in human history.
Image: Grant Avenue after the earthquake in San Francisco.
by Chris Frantz
At 5:12 a.m. on 18 April, 1906, the people of San Francisco were awakened by an earthquake that would devastate the city.
The main tremor, having a 7.7–7.9 magnitude, lasted about one minute and was the result of the rupturing of the northernmost 296 miles of the 800-mile San Andreas fault.
But when calculating destruction, the earthquake took second place to the great fire that followed.
The fire, lasting four days, most likely started with broken gas lines (and, in some cases, was helped along by people hoping to collect insurance for their property—they were covered for fire, but not earthquake).
With water mains broken, fighting the fires was almost impossible, and about 500 city blocks were destroyed.
The damages were estimated at about $400,000,000 in 1906 dollars, which would translate to about $8.2 billion today.
Uncertain Death Toll
In 1906 San Francisco was the ninth largest U.S. city with a population of 400,000, and over 225,000 were left homeless by the disaster. The death toll is uncertain.
City officials estimated the casualties at 700 but more modern calculations say about 3,000 lost their lives.
The lowballing city figures may have been a public relations ploy to downplay the disaster with an eye on rebuilding the city.
On 20 April, the U.S.S. Chicago rescued 20,000 victims, one of the largest sea evacuations in history, rivalling Dunkirk in World War II.
Martial law was not declared, but some 500 looters were shot by police and the military.
A lonely country cemetery in northern NSW is the site of one of Australia’s most unusual unsolved mysteries.
IN 1907, FOLLOWING a fatal attempt to stop a runaway train at Mullumbimby, a young rail worker, William Steenson was laid to rest in the North Lismore Pioneer Cemetery. The epitaph on his tomb paid tribute to his courage and valour. Soon after his death the cemetery ceased taking new burials and became overgrown.
Fast-forward to a clear night in 1978 when, following a clean-up of the graves, a local man noticed Steenson’s cross, carved from Balmoral red granite, glowing brightly.
After national newspapers splashed his astonishing account across their front pages, word of the strange phenomenon spread fast and within days the luminescent cross was attracting crowds of curious onlookers from all over Australia.
Soon teams of expert stonemasons, geologists and physicists descended on Lismore, trying to explain the phenomenon. Some claimed the glow was due to rare properties of the red granite. But the most popular explanation was that the well-polished cross was simply reflecting a nearby source of light, such as the Moon.
This theory was, however, promptly dismissed when the cross was observed glowing on moonless nights. Meanwhile, some men of faith claimed the glowing cross was a miracle and pilgrims flocked from far and wide to rub it for good luck.
Although the cross continued to inexplicably glow, interest eventually waned and Steenson’s gravesite returned to relative anonymity, until 1986 when, in the dead of night, the glowing cross vanished.
For the past 20 years ex-Lismore men Steven Fawcett and Jeremy Fenton, who both admit to being “transfixed by the cross” during their childhood, have run an unsuccessful national campaign to locate it.
“It’d be great to see the cross back on its pedestal where it belongs, not hidden in the back of someone’s garage, or covered in silt at the bottom of the river,” says Steven, who believes the cross was probably pilfered during a local treasure hunt.
“We’d also like to see it back so that further scientific studies can be undertaken,” Jeremy adds. “With today’s technology we may be able to explain its mysterious luminescent properties.”
One theory still bandied about by Lismore locals is that the glow may have been the result of ossified remnants of glow-worms embedded in the cross. But Dr David Yates, director of CSIRO’s Australian National Insect Collection, pours cold water on this.
“Granite is igneous rock, so doesn’t contain fossils or petrified remains,” he explains. “The site of the cemetery is also entirely the wrong microhabitat for living glow-worms.”
Could the cross have been a piece of red granite with rare glowing properties? Not according to Ian Williams, Professor Emeritus at the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University.
“While there are some minerals that fluoresce under UV light, they aren’t in red granite,” he says. “As a natural phenomenon, I think this is case unsolved.”
The Disastrous Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860.
Robert O’Hara Burke was born in Ireland in 1821. Because of the Victorian gold rush, there was a shortage of police and so he joined the Victorian police force.
William John Wills was born in England in 1834 and had come to Australia when he was eighteen. He was a surveyor, meteorologist and astronomer.
Wills would have made a much better leader than Burke, although he too, had no experience as an explorer.
Although the colony had grown, much of Australia was still undiscovered.
Also, a route for an overland telegraph line was needed and the Victorian government offered a prize for the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north.
Although Burke had no experience as an explorer or a bushman, he was chosen to lead the expedition together with a man called George Landells.
However, it was not long before Burke had an argument with Landells and replaced him with Wills. Their well-equipped expedition set off 1860.
Burke was afraid that he would be beaten by John Stuart to be the first to explore inland Australia, and so he set off on camel with his expedition. Meanwhile, unknown to Burke, John Stuart had turned back and so there was no need now for Burke to hurry or take risks.
Burke was very impatient and would not let the expedition slow down for any reason. In addition, he set off without his medical officer and 2 other important members of the expedition.
Unfortunately, there was no one in the group who was a good bushman. Burke was so impatient to reach the Gulf, that he left some of his party behind with supplies at Menindee and set off with a party of nine men.
Burke then decided to push on towards the Gulf, even though it meant travelling in the heat of a northern summer. He took with him, Wills, King and Grey. He left the rest of the party at the Cooper’s creek camp with orders that the party was to return to Menindee in three months if the explorers hadn’t returned by then.
After nearly two months the party reached the Gulf of Carpentaria, but were unable to see the waters of the Gulf because of the mangrove swamps.
Burke would not wait to rest, and after only one day set off on the return journey which was made worse by fierce storms which turned the ground to mud. There was also a lack of food.
Grey became ill and probably half mad when he stole food from their supplies. Burke was in a rage and gave him a severe thrashing from which he never recovered. Grey became ill and died of scurvy a week later.
In addition the party who were supposed to be waiting at Cooper’s Creek for Burke to return, had left that morning and the depot was deserted. Brahe had waited 4 months and only left then because his men were getting sick from scurvy.
Wills wanted to stay at Cooper’s Creek, feeling sure that help would arrive. Burke ignored his advice and decided to set off for a police station at Mt. Hopeless. As leader of the expedition, he ordered that they all go on.
Unfortunately, he did not leave a message at Cooper’s Creek, and when Brahe returned, he did not know that the party had been there. The camels were dying, there was no food and the water was all gone.
Both Burke and Wills were too weak by then to travel.
First Wills, and then Burke died.
For three months, friendly aboriginals cared for John King, who was the only survivor, until help arrived. He was rescued by a search party from Melbourne.
Although Burke and Wills died, they had proved that there was no inland sea and were the first to cross Australia from south to north, providing more valuable information on inland Australia.
The 4th of July 1838 was a dreadful day in Silkstone’s history. It was when 26 children between the ages of 7 and 17, working as ‘hurriers’ and ‘trappers’, were drowned after the dayhole through which they were attempting to escape from the Husker (or Huskar) Pit at Moorend was flooded.
This happened during a summer thunderstorm when a clap of thunder was mistaken for an explosion. Forty-four children were working below ground and, ignoring instructions to stay where they were, they decided that, if there had been an explosion, the dayhole was a quick and safe way out.
A dayhole is an old mine seam which has been dug out and the hole left. No one had thought to shut down this potentially dangerous old working. Rather, as it zigzagged its way down three-quarters of a mile to the coalface, it was used as an alternative route.
However, as the children neared the surface, a nearby ditch flooded and the water poured into the dayhole. Twenty-six children died, their mangled bodies thrown together. Later, the bodies were brought back into the village in carts.
Silkstone was devastated, and the accident shocked the country. A report was published in The Times, and the wider British public learned for the first time that women and children worked in the mines.
There was a public outcry, led by politician and reformer Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Lord Shaftesbury. He called for a Royal Commission inquiry into the working conditions of children and women in Britain’s mines.
Eventually, after the report had become a bestseller, the law was changed.
On Saturday 27 November 2004, as part of the Woodland Trust’s children’s tree-planting campaign, Tree For All, a tree was planted in Nabs Wood for each of the 26 children who died. The trees were planted by local children whose ages and genders matched those of the victims.
In time, the trees will form an avenue near the memorial by the entrance to Nabs Wood.
Alan Gallop, Children of the Dark: Life and Death Underground in Victoria’s England (Sutton Publishing, 2003)