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From “Quick!! Do Something to Appease the Gods” to Masks and Social Distancing: The Evolution of Pandemic Response
By: Riley Wentzler & Felicia Barber
As we sit working from home, going out only for essentials and even then wearing masks, it is interesting to realize that this was not always the way to respond to a pandemic. Below is the journey of how we got here to this response.
Ancient Greece circa 800 BC- The Great Plague
It is in Homer’s The Iliad in 800 BC that we see the earliest recorded instance of pandemic response (https://www.governing.com/context/The-Plague-Years-A-Brief-History-and-Lessons-Learned.html). The Iliad is fiction, but it’s loosely based on true events. For instance, the Trojan War which it describes did actually occur, even though the explanation for its causes and aftermath given in The Iliad are pure myth. It therefore stands to reason that the plague discussed in The Iliad actually occurred too. The legend says that a Trojan commander by the name of Agamemnon stole the daughter of a priest in the Temple of Apollo as a spoil of war, and so in a fit of rage Apollo unleashed a great plague upon the Trojan People. They then responded by praying to Apollo for relief. But Apollo refused to end the plague until the daughter of his priest had been returned to him (https://www.governing.com/context/The-Plague-Years-A-Brief-History-and-Lessons-Learned.html ). What this story shows is that the Ancient Greeks considered pandemics, then referred to as plagues, to be a sign of the wrath of one or more of the Olympian Gods. Therefore the only proper response was to pray to whichever god it was for mercy, or give him some type of offering to appease him.
Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever Pandemic 1793
The city of Philadelphia in the 1600s and 1700s had passed this understanding of illness but not by much. 1783 was a year of jubilation. America was free at last; the British would no longer control our destiny!! We had defeated General Lord Charles Cornwallis, General Johnny Burgoyne, and the other servants of the tyrant King George III by sheer intelligence and skill with a musket. In 1790, the good times were in full swing and the population of the city boomed to a record 50,000 (https://www.governing.com/context/The-Plague-Years-A-Brief-History-and-Lessons-Learned.html). However these good times were not to last, because Yellow Fever hit the city in 1793.Unsurprisingly, the citizens of Philadelphia attempted to fight Yellow Fever the same way they had defeated the British Army ten years before. The people took to the streets with muskets and fired these muskets into the air, literally attempting to shoot the virus! This obviously did not work, and, tragically, 10% of all Philadelphians perished due to Yellow Fever (https://www.governing.com/context/The-Plague-Years-A-Brief-History-and-Lessons-Learned.html).
The 1800s Cholera
The 1800s was the age of the traveling apothecary. When cholera hit, charlatans showed up by the score with their homemade remedies which they claimed were cure-alls. Common ailments were treated using methods that were ineffective at best and drastically harmful at worst. Fever was treated with Martin & Whiteley’s National Tonic for Fever & Ague, a cough was treated with heroin, and body aches were treated with snake oil. For more details, see our previous article. (https://greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/6728/When-The-Cure-was-Worse-than-the-Disease).
Minnesota Spanish Influenza 1918
In the last week of September 1918, Spanish Influenza hit Saint Paul Minnesota and Minneapolis Minnesota. Much like the coronavirus was initially only found in people who had traveled to China, initially Spanish Influenza was found only among soldiers returning from World War I (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1997248/). Not much was known about influenza and the hospitals in the area were not prepared to handle the outbreak. After a month, civilian cases outnumbered cases among enlisted men. After much debate about the proper course of action between the Public Health Commissioner of Saint Paul, Dr. Simon, and the Public Health Commissioner of Minneapolis, Dr. Guilford, all public places were eventually closed down and everyone was required to wear masks made of gauze (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1997248/).
This is where our current pandemic response plan comes from. In conclusion, our pandemic response has evolved with time. This evolution has seen a gradual shift from a religious response to a scientific one.
Previous Slices of History Include:
1. Greenburgh’s BROTHERLY LOVE, RELIEF AND TRUTH: A History of The Freemasons in Greenburgh (9/12/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5658/BROTHERLY-LOVE-RELIEF-AND-TRUTH--in-Greenburgh
2. Greenburgh and The Arts (9/22/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5665/Greenburgh-AND-The--ARTS
3. A Final Resting Place for “Man’s Best Friend”: The Peaceable Kingdom (9/29/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5653/A-Final-Resting-Place--for-Mans-Best-Friend
4. Greenburgh’s Hall of Heroes: Ferncliff Cemetery Where Memories Live Forever (10/12/18)https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5667/Greenburgh-Hall-of-Heroes
5. Greenburgh at The Great American Crossroads: Greenburgh’s Civil War Story(10/19/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5666/Greenburgh-at-The-Great-American-Crossroad
6. A Different Kind of Rebel: Greenburgh’s Contributions to the Underground Railroad (10/27/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5680/A-Different-Kind-of-of-Rebel--Greenburghs-contributions-to-The-Underground-Railroad
7. "The Disappearing Railroad Blues" in Greenburgh: The Fate of the Putnam Railroad Line and the old Putnam Trail (11/6/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5675/The-Disappearing-Railroad-Blues-in-Greenburgh
8. A Thousand Words Which You Never Knew: The Forgotten Story of the Seal of Greenburgh (11/17/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5651/A--Thousand-Words-Which-You-Never-Knew-The-Forgotten-Story-of-The-Seal-of-Greenburgh
9. How a Flat Tire led to a Happy Escape: The Story of Carvel in Greenburgh (12/11/18) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5670/How-a-Flat-Tire-led-to-a-Happy-Escape
10. The Guardians of History: Greenburgh’s Historical Societies (1/6/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5676/The-Guardians-of--History
11. A Small House, an Important Meeting, a Huge Victory: The Story of the Odell House (1/12/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5654/A-Small-House--an-Important-Meeting--A-Huge-Victory
12. The Intersection of Banking, Ballet, and School: Greenburgh’s Warburg Estate (Updated) (10/22/19)
13. Lost History: The Tragedy of Malkasten (1/26/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5673/Lost-History--The-Tragedy-of-Malkasten
14. A Beautiful View for the Perfect Event: The Belvedere Estate (2/9/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5652/A-Beautiful-View-for-The-Perfect-Event--Belvedere-Estate
15. The Power of Wealth and Humility: A Reflection on Two Highly Influential African Americans (2/18/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5679/Wealth-and-Humility
16. Greenburgh Under the Hollywood Lights: The TV shows and movies Filmed in Greenburgh Part I (2/23/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5668/Greenburgh-under-Hollywood-Lights-Part-I
17. Oh, The Places Your Mail has Gone: A History of The Hartsdale Post Office (3/9/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5674/Oh-The-Places-Your-Mail-has-Gone
18. From Insurance to Symphonies: The Home of Charles Ives (3/16/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5664/From-Insurance-to-Symphonies--The-Home-of-Charles-Ives
19. Greenburgh Under the Hollywood Lights: The TV shows and Movies Filmed in Greenburgh Part II (3/29/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5669/Greenburgh-Under-the-Hollywood-Lights-The-TV-shows-and-movies-Filmed-in-Greenburgh-Part-II
20. From Chasing Rabbits to Setting Records: The Amazing Story of Larry James (4/7/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5661/From-Chasing-Rabbits-to-Setting-Records
21. From Fixing Cars to building Infrastructure: How Massaro Park Got its name (4/13/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5663/From-Fixing-Cars-to-Building-Infrastructure-How--Massaro-Park-Got-Its-Name
22. There is no church here, but “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated” this ground: The Story of The Little White Church Cemetery (4/27/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5678/There-is-no-church-here-but-the-brave-men-living-and-dead-who-struggled-here-have-consecrated-this-ground
23. Irvington in Chains and our Process A History of Slavery in Irvington and A look at how Slices of History are made (and our interview with historian Robert Marchant) (5/11/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5671/Irvington-in-Chains
24. From Farmland to Shopping District: The Rise of Central Avenue (5/25/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5662/From-Farmland-to-Shopping-District-The-Rise-of-Central-Avenue
25. Like a long lost friend”: The story of how summer recreation has evolved in Greenburgh (6/7/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5672/like-a-long-lost-friend
26. Abandon Ship!!! The Story of United Nuclear Corporation and their Short-lived Elmsford Facility (6/28/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5656/Abandon-Ship
27. Beyond Heritage Versus Hate Toward Hope and Reconciliation: The story of Mount Hope Cemetery and its Confederate Monument (7/13/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5657/Beyond-Heritage-Versus-Hate-Toward-Hope-and-Reconciliation---The-story-of-Mount-Hope-Cemetery-and-its-Confederate-Monument
28. Hidden History: The Story of Fairview Fairgrounds Part I (7/27/19) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5660/fairgrounds
29. Entertainers for Justice (8/3/2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5659/Entertainers-for-Justice
30. A Tale of Two Towns: Greenburgh, NY, and Muncy, PA (8/23/ 2019) https://www.greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/5655/A-Tale-of-Two-Towns--Greenburgh-NY-and-Muncy-PA
31. When Greenburgh Went “East Bound and Down”: Greenburgh During Prohibition (10/6/2019)
32. From Mopping The Floor of One Institution to Managing Three at Once: The Amazing Story of Former Westchester County Commissioner of Public Welfare Ruth Taylor (12/12/19)
33. Greenburgh Gets its “Sun Daze on” Under the Watchful Eyes of the Boys in Blue (1/9/2020)
34. Making Martin Luther King Jr’s Dream Come Alive the Success Story of the Parkway Homes/ Parkway Gardens Community: (1/18/2020) https://greenburghny.com/DocumentCenter/View/6377/Making-Martin-Luther-King-Jrs-Dream-Come-Alive-the-Success-Story-of-the-Parkway-Homes-Parkway-Gardens-Community
35. Formed By Adversity, Held Together by Faith: The History of the Parkway Homes/Parkway Gardens Community (2/27/2020)
36. From an Apple Orchard to The Olympics: The Saint Andrew’s Golf Club (3/8/2020)
37. Ashes “Ashes, Ashes!!We all Fall Down”(3/23/2020)
38. A Leading Medical Institution at The Border of Greenburgh: The Story of New York Medical College (4 /4 /2020)
39. When the Cure was Worse than the Disease: A Look back on When The Medical Profession Wasn’t so Reliable: ( 4/18/2020)
About the Authors:
We are both Assistant Town Historians at Greenburgh Town Hall and we are engaged to be married and are currently looking for permanent employment.
I was born and raised in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania. In high school, I took every honors course available including four years of Spanish. I received A’s in all of them. I graduated third in my class of 146 students. This brought me to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Once there, I continued my trend of academic excellence. I graduated summa cum laude in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and a Master’s in Communication Studies, with a G.P.A of 3.94. It was also there that I met my lovely fiancée, Felicia Barber. My Master’s in Communication has promoted public speaking, teamwork, and customer service. My Political Science degree has developed my research skills using computer-based tools and provided me with experience using the Microsoft Office products. My minor in Spanish has facilitated my bilingual capabilities. During my internship at Greenburgh, I created the petition for the State Roads project using website tools. My diverse education and areas of interest have provided me with a wide range of skills. I look forward to finding a career opportunity in business or government. To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to help me find employment, you can contact me at email@example.com
I was born in New York City and raised in Hartsdale, New York. I graduated from Ardsley High School. I recently earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. It was here that I met my fiancé, Riley Wentzler. As a result of my academic excellence, I won a scholarship every year. I learned and applied many graphic design skills to projects during my summer internships and at school. I am proficient in using Adobe graphic design applications including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. For my Identity/branding course at Edinboro, I created logos to appear on the tee-shirts of Physical Education majors. For a veteran’s upcoming event, I used a typeface to focus the reader to the soldier in the poster. For the State Roads Legislative Campaign project, I created the embedded graphic-photo that accompanied the petition I am looking for a job to utilize my skills as a Graphic Designer in an agency, print shop, company or government To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about my artwork or to help me find employment you can contact me at email@example.com.
Jenkinson, C. (2020, April 15). The Plague Years: A Brief History and Lessons Learned. Retrieved from Governing: The Future of States and Localities: https://www.governing.com/context/The-Plague-Years-A-Brief-History-and-Lessons-Learned.html
Ott, M. S. (2007, Decemeber (NOT GIVEN)). Lessons Learned from the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Retrieved from National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1997248/