The Grip: The 1918 Pandemic and a City Under Siege

Shawn Driscoll, a doctoral research fellow at UMASS Lowell, recently reached out to our store to sell his book (co-authored/edited with Linda Hixon, Christian Farren, and Theodore Racicot) about the 1918 Pandemic and its effects in our very own Worcester, MA. There was something surreal about being sold a book about a pandemic in Worcester in 1918 by a man in a mask while in the midst of another in 2020. The book, The Grip: The 1918 Pandemic and a City Under Siege, was a was no hastily assembled project to react to COVID-19, Shawn assured me, but a book that had been in the works since 2018, the 100th anniversary of the pandemic. In addition to the lead authors and editorial team, the writers also engaged the help of 20 of Worcester’s finest young and budding historians to help assemble profiles of those lost to the pandemic.

Some day, perhaps in 2120, there will be a a study of the pandemic in Worcester. What sorts of things will they write about? A key indicator may lie in the sources and information presented here. Along with the profiles of those that passed in Worcester, The Grip features chapters on the response of local government, the depiction of the pandemic by the media, the formation of volunteer groups who attempted to stymie the worst of the flu, how cemeteries coped with the influx of deceased, and how the disease wiped out many communities, notably poor and minority localities.

The release in the midst of 2020 obviously forced the authors to compare the research they conducted for the 1918 pandemic with the response of city, state, and federal officials today. The T&G recently conducted a sit-down with the authors and it is apparent that they do not believe we learned much from the first encounter. (Give that article a read here.) In a press release, Hixon says:

“A project like this, remembering the victims of a medical disaster, is important at any time in history.  But I believe it is most important now because we have forgotten the lessons of the past.  We have forgotten that human lives are more important than economic gain.  We have forgotten to keep our neighbors safe by wearing masks and keeping our distance. We have forgotten to protect the vulnerable by keeping public gatherings to a minimum.  Worcester’s powers-that-be took similar steps in 1918, but not without a fight and not until it was too late, and more people died than was necessary.  And restrictions were ended too soon, leading to even more deaths.  Worcester was not alone – this happened in most cities and towns across the country during that pandemic 100 years ago, and more people died.  The fact that we have forgotten those lessons is to our shame.  More will die because we have forgotten our past.”

We have multiple copies of The Grip available at Root and Press. Please visit us in store or reach out via email if you would like a copy.

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