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See historical photos of how New York dealt with the flu epidemic of 1918

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

With all the talk about coronavirus, you've probably heard mention of the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic that infected 500 million people and killed 50 million around the world.

New York itself went through three waves of the Spanish Flu with about 33,000 people out of a 5.6 million population dying. You can read more about how it affected NYC at

But we have to remember that there are big differences between the two pandemics–namely, our huge advancements in medicine, which is helping us understand and react more quickly to coronavirus than we could to the Spanish Flu.

It is worth a look back in time to see how New Yorkers handled keeping their distance, so we pulled photos from the National Archives and the Library of Congress to show how they lived their lives. It wasn't unlike current times–most photos show people wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the flu.

influenza epidemic - cop

Photograph: National Archives

 A police officer wearing a mask as he directs traffic. 

influenza epidemic - sanitation

Photograph: National Archives

This sanitation worker said about wearing his mask, "Better ridiculous than dead."

influenza epidemic - women

Photograph: National Archives

 City conductorettes in their masks.

influenza epidemic - office

Photograph: National Archives

While not in NYC, here's a look inside Army Hospital Number 4 at Fort Porter, where the office force used masks at work. Here, they're working on dictation through the masks.

influenza epidemic - hospital

Photograph: National Archives

At the same hospital beds are reversed, alternately, so the breath of one patient was not directed toward the face of another.

influenza epidemic - red cross

Photograph: Library of Congress

Here, Red Cross workers at the New York County chapter at 82nd street and Amsterdam Ave., are turning out medical supplies and hospital equipment that was used by the city health department in its "war on influenza." 

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