Mar. 11, 2014
Walking Alone in Late Winter
How long the winter has lasted—like a Mahler
symphony, or an hour in the dentist's chair.
In the fields the grasses are matted
and gray, making me think of June, when hay
and vetch burgeon in the heat, and warm rain
swells the globed buds of the peony.
Ice on the pond breaks into huge planes. One
sticks like a barge gone awry at the neck
of the bridge....The reeds
and shrubby brush along the shore
gleam with ice that shatters when the breeze
moves them. From beyond the bog
the sound of water rushing over trees
felled by the zealous beavers,
who bring them crashing down.... Sometimes
it seems they do it just for fun.
Those days of anger and remorse
come back to me; you fidgeting with your ring,
sliding it off, then jabbing it on again.
The wind is keen coming over the ice;
it carries the sound of breaking glass.
And the sun, bright but not warm,
has gone behind the hill. Chill, or the fear
of chill, sends me hurrying home.
It's the birthday of media mogul (Keith) Rupert Murdoch, born on a farm outside of Melbourne, Australia (1931). His father was in the newspaper business, and by the time young Rupert was about 12, he had already made up his mind to carry on the family trade. When the elder Murdoch died unexpectedly in 1952, Rupert Murdoch found himself the owner of two of his father's Adelaide papers: The News and the Sunday Mail. Murdoch officially took up the reins when he was 21, after a brief apprenticeship in London. He wasted no time turning The News into a tabloid, trading in sex, scandal, and gossip. People were shocked and disapproving — but that didn't stop them from buying the paper in record numbers.
It was on this day in 1918 that the first cases of what would become the influenza pandemic were reported in the U.S. when 107 soldiers got sick at Fort Riley, Kansas.
It was the worst pandemic in world history. The flu that year killed only 2.5 percent of its victims, but more than a fifth of the world's entire population caught it, and so it's estimated that between 50 million and 100 million people died in just a few months.
Historians believe at least 500,000 people died in the United States alone. That's more than the number of Americans killed in combat in all the wars of the 20th century combined. Usually, the flu would have been most likely to kill babies and the elderly, but the flu of 1918 somehow targeted healthy people in their 20s and 30s. And it was an extremely virulent strain. In the worst cases, victims' skin would turn dark red, and their feet would turn black.
No one is sure exactly how many people died, because it wasn't even clear at the time what the disease was. World War I was currently under way, and there were rumors that German soldiers had sneaked into Boston Harbor and released some new kind of germ weapon. One of the strangest aspects of the pandemic in this country was that it was barely reported in the media. President Woodrow Wilson had passed laws to censor all kinds of news stories about the war, and newspaper editors were terrified of printing anything that might cause a scandal.
As the flu epidemic spread across the country in large cities, people were dying of the flu so rapidly that undertakers ran out of coffins, streetcars had to be used as hearses, and mass graves were dug. The newspapers barely commented on it. In the fall of 1918, doctors tried to get newspapers to warn people in Philadelphia against attending a parade. The newspapers refused. In the week after the parade, almost 5,000 Philadelphians died of the flu.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®
Host: Garrison Keillor
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Kathy Roach
Web Producer: Ben Miller