“It will afford a grand opportunity for the dealers to work off their surplus of bandanas”

In so many ways, history repeats.

Downtown Sarasota in 1890.

1890. Plenty of parking.

In 1890, the house Alfred and Mary Bidwell built was not even ten years old. The Woods hadn’t even seen it, probably. Sarasota was a minor fishing village way south of Manatee.

But there was a pandemic in America.

It was called the Russian flu. But it wasn’t “just” a flu. It killed.

Initially, public health officials played down the dangers, arguing that the Russian influenza represented a particularly mild strain. Some officials denied that it had arrived at all and insisted that patients merely had the common cold or a more typical, seasonal flu.
The newspapers, too, treated the influenza as nothing to get worked up about. “It is not deadly, not even necessarily dangerous,” The Evening World in New York announced, “but it will afford a grand opportunity for the dealers to work off their surplus of bandanas.”

We were lucky 130 years ago. The pandemic died down in only a month or two. Of course, there was what was called the Spanish flu less than 30 years in the future.

Read more about the Russian flu on History.com.

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