As the nation mobilized for war in the spring of 1918, ailing Private Albert Gitchell reported to an army hospital in Kansas. He was diagnosed with the flu, a disease about which doctors knew little. Before the year was ou... more »t, America would be ravaged by a flu epidemic that killed 675,000 people--more than died in all the wars of this century combined--before disappearing as mysteriously as it began.« less
"I did relatively well in high school American history and yet I never heard of this national crisis. I guess World War I wasn't the only big deal of the 1910s. I am glad to see that the American Experience series not only covers great names, wars, and transportational feats, but also health concerns.
I recall that Charlie Chaplin's sweetheart died in a flu epidemic in Britain, but I didn't know the problem started in the United States. (If our revolution and our stock market crash can have global effects, I guess I should not be surprised.) It's easy to think of the bubonic plague as the world's only human international die-off. However, this film shows that it happened in the recent past too. This shows that savage diseases can be spread widely, unlike the localization of Ebola or SARS. I learned that the Titanic's sinking humbled early 20th-century modernists, but this flu outbreak must have been the same way. Nowadays, incurable diseases are usually associated with stigmatized groups. In contrast, this work clearly points to American soldiers, a well-respected group, as the cause of the spread.
This work proved the problem was cross-regional. This is not example of something on the East Coast being equated with all of America. The epidemic hit Philadelphia, but San Francisco, Nebraska, and the Dakotas as well. This work starts with interviewees waxing nostalgic about the pre-flu period. I thought it was offensive to think of a Jim Crow time as wonderful. However, this work compensates by interviewing an African-American witness to the crisis and a person recalling how a Native American group was affected.
In "Memoirs of a Geisha," one character says, "The interesting thing about wars is that you never know who will survive and who will not." This work revealed the same is true in epidemics. It was a bit anti-climactic how this crisis was resolved, but history doesn't usually have spectacular conclusions. After the bubonic plague, Europeans stopped killing cats and started killing mice. Because of AIDS, many are now practicing safer sex and cleaning drug needles. This documentary doesn't suggest that public health changed at all due to the flu. I'm surprised by that.
I usually don't care for scientific matters, but this work was informative and really has my wheels spinning."
Started my interest in pandemic influenza
A. Stagg | Virginia, USA | 07/05/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When this film was originally broadcast on PBS in 1998, I had not heard of the 1918 Spanish Influenza. I was shocked that I had never heard of the 1918 pandemic, given the impact it had on the 20th century. I've now read every book I coould find that chronicles the outbreak. Some of the historical facts in the film may be disputed in other histories, but it's a solid documentary and I highly recommend it. It is a rivoting film."
My Favorite PBS Documentary
Wendy | 02/13/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was my favorite American Experience documentary. I saw it years ago and never forgot it, so I bought it recently from Amazon to see if it still had the same effect on me. It did. A haunting and poignantportrait of our innocence in that era. The filmmakers paid great attention to detail and successfully captured the mood.This is such an engrossing film I had to give it five stars."
Influenza epidemic / tragedy
Busy mom | Knoxville, TN | 02/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a nurse, I was facinated by this incredible event that many of us have perhaps never heard about. It is interesting to me how far we have come both in medicine and nursing care, yet we still don't have all the answers. It was a well put together documentary with footage of the times as well as the interviews that gave a first hand look at how people were affected. One interviewee states, "In the middle of a crisis, you need to do something even if its wrong." This is useful for teaching both history and science and is appropriate for middle and high school students. Teachers will appreciate that it has a teacher guide in Adobe PDF format."
Austin Robertson | Idaho | 04/08/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just previewed this short film and was really taken back at how fascinating the story is behind the Spanish Influenza. I was never taught about it in school or college and I'm a history major, it truly is a forgotten and often overlooked topic. This movie would be great for showing students and is in parts a tear-jerker. Powerful images, poignant music, and a great overview of this influenza. It makes you think about if we are prepared should a new strain arise. Great movie!"