The Spanish influenza was history’s deadliest pandemic. Worldwide estimates of death range from a low of 17 million to as many as 100 million but was probably between 20 million and 50 million. A quarter of the United States population was infected, and more than 500,000 Americans died. Colorado, with a population of less than a million, had 50,000 incidents of infection and nearly 8,000 deaths, 1,500 of them in Denver. The city closed churches and restaurants, and forbid public gatherings, including church services and funerals. Residents were told to stop shaking hands and kissing.
Remedies ranged from a variety of purgatives and powders to carrying an acorn in the left-side vest pocket. The Rocky Mountain News advised people to cut out meat and vote Republican. Policemen stopped arresting undesirables for fear of spreading the flu in the jails, and in Salida, a well-known madam shuttered her brothel so the prostitutes could nurse the sick.
Although it was called the Spanish influenza because of its deadly effect in Spain, it may actually have been started in Fort Riley, Kansas, and was spread by soldiers during World War I. Unlike the COVID-19 virus, where the greatest number of victims were among the elderly, the Spanish Flu attacked young people in the prime of life.
I wrote the first draft of Little Souls several years ago, then put it aside because there was little interest then in the Spanish Flu. But with the onset of COVID-19, the book became timely. The randomness of that hundred-year-old pandemic, the grief, the disruption of lives became all too familiar in 2020 as Americans faced a terrifying new infection. We began to relate to the century-old scourge.
BY SANDRA DALLAS
Lutie, an artist in the advertising department of a downtown Denver store, comes home to discover her sister, Helen, standing over a dead man, a knife in her hand. The dead man is the abusive father of a little girl the sisters took in after her mother died of the flu. The sisters have no idea of how to dispose of the body until Lutie suggests they leave it on the street for the death wagon. But the police aren’t fooled and soon come asking questions.
Meanwhile, Lutie also worries about her fiancé ”over there”. His mother, it turns out, harbors a secret of her own and helps the sisters as the danger deepens, from the murder investigation and the flu. Set against a background of an epidemic that feels all too familiar, Little Souls is a compelling tale of sisterhood and of the sacrifices people make to protect those they love most.
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