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Hello Fellow History Buffs,

Welcome to the April edition of The Throwback, your monthly hit of entertaining and informative history tales that will make you say, “Wait! What?” If you are receiving this e-mail, you have signed up on my website or at one of my lectures or author events. 

First of all, I hope this e-mail finds you and your family healthy and as well as can be in this public health and economic crisis. 

We are living through historic times. That’s for sure. 

I think it’s important to remember, though, that although the times may be historic, they aren’t altogether unprecedented. 

We tend to think of globalization as a recent trend, but centuries ago diseases and viruses also spread around the world. The bubonic plague that killed 60% of Europeans in the 1300s originated in China and swept westward along trading routes to the Middle East. The arrival of Europeans to the North American continent brought contagions that decimated Native American populations. 

I think the closest parallel to the current coronavirus pandemic, however, is the influenza pandemic that swept the globe in 1918. It killed as many as 50 million people around the world and approximately 650,000 in the United States. As I wrote in this piece for, nearly 200,000 Americans died in October 1918 alone. It was America’s deadliest month ever.

Life in many towns and cities came to a standstill in October 1918 as municipalities shuttered public gathering places such as schools, churches, theaters and saloons. In Philadelphia, however, Public Health Director Wilmer Krusen ignored pleas from doctors and refused to cancel a parade to promote the sale of government war bonds that was attended by 200,000 people. It was a deadly decision. Over 11,000 Philadelphia residents, many of them infected at the parade, died in October 1918, including 759 on the worst day of the outbreak.

It’s so critical for us to learn our history not just so we avoid the mistakes of the past, but to give us some comfort in difficult situations just like the one in which we now find ourselves. 

The stay-at-home orders now in place in much of the United States are an attempt to avoid a repeat of Philadelphia’s experience in October 1918. 

I think we can take comfort in that. 

Although a pandemic shut down daily life in October 1918, the economy bounced back to produce the Roaring Twenties. 

I think we can take comfort in that. 

When America has confronted hardships before, it has risen to the occasion.

I think we can take comfort in that. 

May the past be our guide to a brighter future.
WHAT I’M READING: Last month marked the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, one of the seminal events in the lead-up to the American Revolution. What I’ve always found fascinating about the Boston Massacre is that the five colonists killed were far from universally thought of as martyrs in Boston—even a century later. Hard to believe today but erection of a memorial to the victims on Boston Common in 1888 was opposed by "old-line Bostonians who considered the victims to be nothing more than rabble-rousers,” according to Michael Quinlin’s Irish Boston. Another fascinating thread is the subject of the new book John Adams Under Fire by ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams and co-author David Fisher. The book details the legal defense of Captain Thomas Preston and the eight British soldiers on trial for manslaughter by none other than the second President of the United States, John Adams. Risking his family’s livelihood, Adams agreed to take the case in spite of his patriot leanings and managed to win not guilty verdicts for all but two of his clients. If you’d like to learn more about the story, here is a Q&A I did with Abrams
WHAT I’M WATCHING: Well, with no sports on TV, my viewing habits have been thrown for a loop. Lots of flipping around channels, and last week I stumbled upon Spike Lee’s biopic of Malcolm X featuring Denzel Washington in a tour de force performance. Re-watching the movie led me to a new six-part series on Netflix, Who Killed Malcolm X? The series raises serious questions about whether two of the three men convicted of the assassination were innocent men, and it has led the Manhattan district attorney to consider reopening the case. Very interesting look at the civil rights battles of the 1960s, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X’s break with the organization in the months before his murder. 
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO: Another effect of our self-isolating reality has been an increase in my hiking through the woods, and I’ve taken numerous podcasts along as companions. One of them is Two Writers Slinging Yang, hosted by author and former Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman. If you are at all interested in the craft of writing, it’s a great listen. And if you aren’t a writer, it’s still a very interesting behind the scenes conversation with writers ranging from Susan Orelan to New York Times obituary writer Richard Sandomir. I had the pleasure of joining Jeff last week to discuss my book Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan and the challenges of writing about a subject who’s been dead for more than a century. Click here to take a listen.
The economic shutdown due to the coronavirus has impacted most sectors, and the publishing industry has hardly been immune. For businesses operating on small margins and struggling to compete with to begin with, the shutdown has inflicted deep blows on independent bookstores. My local bookstore, the Andover Bookstore, has been in continuous operation since the James Madison administration, making it the oldest continuously operating indie bookstore in the country. Its survival, however, is in extreme jeopardy, and its owner has launched a GoFundMe drive to help it make it through this uncertainty. Here’s a link if you’d like to contribute. James Patterson has also launched a Save Indie Bookstores campaign, which is seeking donations. And if you find yourself with more time to read in the coming weeks, please consider making a purchase from your local independent bookstore. Every little bit helps.
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Keep reading! 

Christopher Klein
Copyright © 2020 Christopher Klein, All rights reserved.

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