As many tens of thousands are perishing each year from the flu, and the new Coronavirus has emerged in regions around the world, here’s a film that looks back on one of the most tragic of all of history’s pandemics. We Heard the Bells: The Influenza of 1918 recalls the outbreak that swept the planet and eventually killed over 50 million people.
The most unique and haunting aspect of the film are the interviews with the survivors of the outbreak. These are the children of the tragedy, many of whom were made orphans during the height of its spread. They speak of the ill effects suffered by the stricken, including the high fever, complete loss of energy and occasional episodes of delirium. The bodies were piling up so quickly that many did not receive proper burials. Entire families were wiped out.
The influenza of 1918 was not like the strains of the flu we see today. Traditional seasonal flu is especially hazardous to the very young, elderly and the chronically diseased. The fatalities that resulted from the 1918 scourge did not discriminate based upon age. Younger men and women were considered high risk.
How did this virus become so virulent and claim so many lives across the age and gender spectrum? To a large extent, these answers remain elusive. But it’s obvious that the 1918 influenza constituted an unfamiliar strain to which few were immune.
Through the first-hand testimonies of the film’s interview subjects, we’re provided a series of unspeakably tragic anecdotes. In cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia, military parades and other gatherings successfully scattered the virus to countless more victims. Survivors remember waving to their healthy neighbors on one day, and witnessing their dead bodies being carried out of their houses on the next.
The film also features insights from medical researchers who continue to study the events of 1918, and use their collective knowledge to inform the steps we take to prevent and contain modern pandemics.
We Heard the Bells: The Influenza of 1918 is an informative and sobering portrait of one of the most horrific pandemics ever to seize the globe.
Film directed by: Lisa Laden