Letters From Readers -- April 2007 American History Magazine | HistoryNet MENU

Letters From Readers — April 2007 American History Magazine

2/13/2007 • AH Issues

Fighting the Flu
My grandfather, Austin Charles, a farmhand-carpenter-handyman at Sheldon, Mo., died of the flu in December 1918 (“The Enemy Within,” December 2006). My grandmother said that on the day of the funeral, all four of their teenage sons were sick in bed (all recovered), but neither she nor my mother, who was 10 at the time, became ill. She went on to say that the flu seemed to affect mostly males, but I’m not sure if she meant that more males contracted the disease or that more males died from it. How did the flu affect men vs. women?

Vernon Hales
Merriam, Kan.

The editors reply: According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s mortality statistics for 1918, males overall died at a slightly higher rate than females during the flu epidemic. However, in certain age groups, the difference was much more dramatic: 37,403 males aged 30 to 34 died of the flu compared with 22,994 females. Among 35- to 39-year-olds, 26,030 males died compared with 14,261 females. Among the age groups least affected by the flu—4 and under and 75 and over—females died at a slightly higher rate.

“The Enemy Within” concerning the Spanish flu of 1918 was an interesting article. I do take exception with the editorial that preceded it, “Coming Home to Roost.” I don’t see any relationship between what was going on in the United States in 1918 and Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. In both cases, the government provided what it thought was the best response at the time. The conflicts in the Middle East and World War I are not similar. If you need to make a political statement about current U.S. policy, please label it as such.

Frederick Berner Sr.
Vanderpool, Texas

Saint Samuel?
While I’m happy that there seems to be a greater amount of history being published regarding the Revolution, it seems to be a growing trend among biographers to regard their subjects as the key to liberty itself. David McCullough seems to argue in John Adams that there would have been no independence declared without Adams. Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton appears to claim that Hamilton is responsible for our entire economic system. And now reviewer Chuck Leddy informs us that the man “who more than anyone else was responsible for American independence” was Samuel Adams (Samuel Adams: Father of the American Revolution, by Mark Puls, December 2006).

When a biographer or reviewer elevates his subject to such a degree, especially within the context of something as important as the American Revolution, he becomes more of a hagiographer than a biographer and does his readers a disservice in the process. There was no one person, no single event, battle, meeting or publication that gave us our country, our government and our liberties. One can lose sight of the forest for a single tree in making any such assertion, and history is about seeing the forest.

Patrick Sheridan
Lutherville, Md.

Mea Culpa
In the Almanac section of the December 2006 issue under “Return of the King” you state that “[Huey] Long was assassinated on the steps of the state capitol in Baton Rouge in 1935.”

You are right about the capitol, Baton Rouge and 1935, but incorrect about the steps. Governor Long was shot in a hall inside the capitol building. Oh, well, three out of four ain’t bad.

Bill Baxley
Birmingham, Ala.

In “De Grasse to the Rescue at Yorktown” (December 2006), author Robert Bee states that British Brig. Gen. O’Hara presented the sword of Cornwallis to General George Washington at Yorktown. In fact, when Washington learned that Cornwallis wouldn’t attend the surrender ceremony because he was “ill,” he said that “deputy should surrender to deputy” and nominated General Benjamin Lincoln to act for him. General Lincoln touched the sword in token acceptance of the British surrender.

Marion E. Elliott
Manteca, Calif.

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