Since the 1500s, hundreds of thousands
of inhabitants in this region have been struck down by widespread
epidemics of the "Speckled Monster" (smallpox), "Bronze
John" (yellow fever), the "Blue Killer" (influenza),
and other diseases. In 1918-1919, an outbreak of influenza occurred
on a global scale, qualifying it as a true pandemic. North
Carolina, including the campus of the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, experienced the tragic, lethal effects of that "flu"
THE "BLUE KILLER" HITS THE UNIVERSITY, 1918
Portrait of University President Edward Graham, his
obituary, and a photograph of campus between Old East and New West
buildings, October 1918.
influenza pandemic struck Chapel Hill in the fall of 1918. Overflowing
with patients, the University's small infirmary simply could not cope
with the hundreds of students, faculty, and town residents who contracted
the deadly virus. Among those who died of the disease was Edward Kidder
Graham. Following his death on October 26, 1918, Dean Marvin H. Stacy
became the University acting president; but he, too, later died of
influenza and pneumonia.
Before the advent of modern vaccines, the flu was
generally far more deadly than it is today. In the 1840s, during a
series of epidemics, North Carolina newspapers published the following
standard treatment for the disease:
Immediately after the chill take 20 to 30 grains
of Hippo (a puke) with 8 to 10 grains of calomel (to clear the liver)
and work off the puke with snake-root tea; when pain is violent
in the breast, throat, or head apply a blister of plaster of mustard,
flour, or vinegar to the painted part.
Select image to enlarge
SMALLPOX: "SUCH A DESTRUCTION AMONGST THEM"
A New Voyage to Carolina by John Lawson (London,
Surveyor John Lawson explored much of this region
during the late 1600s and early 1700s, and he observed firsthand
smallpox's grim toll on native peoples. The following is an extract
from his 1709 publication A New Voyage to Carolina:
. . . [smallpox] destroy'd whole Towns, without
leaving one Indian alive in the village...The Small-Pox and Rum
have made such a Destruction amongst them, that, on good grounds,
I do believe, there is not the sixth Savage living within two hundred
Miles of all our Settlements, as there were fifty Years ago.
Commenting further about the natives' vulnerability
to smallpox, Lawson assigns specific blame to this "Plague,"
giving evidence that in his own day there was a general awareness
of the disease's origins. "Most certainly," he writes, "it
had never visited America, before the Discovery thereof by the Christians."
It is understandable why our ancestors often panicked when hearing
reports or rumors of smallpox outbreaks. The virus passed easily
through person-to-person contacts and the sharing of contaminated
clothing, bedding, and utensils. Once infected, a person first experienced
muscle aches and vomiting, followed by a high fever and chills.
Next, red spots formed on the tongue and along the lining of the
mouth, throat, and nose. A skin rash then appeared on the patient's
upper chest, rapidly spreading to the face, torso, limbs, and at
times leeching into the eyes. As the rash intensified, large pus-filled
blisters of pustules formed. The more virulent strain of smallpox,
Variola major, would riddle the body's entire surface with
these hard pustules.
Image from Centers for Disease Control
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
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