August 17 – Happy Birthday Benny Pisano

This poster could be found everywhere during the 1918 epidemic of influenza that ravaged the World and Amsterdam too

The influenza epidemic that swept the World in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. According to information found in the National Archives, one fifth of the Earth’s population was attacked by this deadly virus which was nicknamed the Spanish Flu because reports had indicated the first cases appeared in German WWI Army troop encampments located in Spain. More than three times as many people lost their lives during this outbreak than were killed in World War I but yet, most history books don’t even mention it.

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was just 13-years old when the epidemic hit Amsterdam, NY in late September of 1918. The editions of the Recorder that appeared during this outbreak were packed with articles that described the flu’s spread and symptoms, advertisements claiming cures for and commercial protections from its deadly results and warnings from public health officials that none of the ads were to be believed. The hard truth was that there were no known vaccines or cures. If you caught it your body’s immune system either fought it successfully or you died. Benny Pisano’s mom, Margaret Furman Pisano and his younger brother lost their battle, leaving Benny, his dad Peter and younger sister Adeline to go on without them. A tragedy like that, especially early on in life could turn anyone into a hopeless pessimist, but not this guy…

You can read the rest of my story about Benny in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.

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