You would think that shipwrecks and pandemics are unrelated but history shows the worst of the two tend to happen coincidentally. If the current Corona Pandemic is similar to the last pandemic we are in for some substantial tragedies here in the United States.

The Great Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 began in the spring of that year. The number of deaths from the flu spiked in early June but settled down in mid July. By September the numbers had been low for the summer and most thought the health disaster was about to be over. Unfortunately the numbers began to spike in mid-September and rose exponentially. The spike lasted into early December. When all was said and done, 25% of the U S population had suffered through the Spanish Flu and 675,000 had died. Worldwide it is estimated that 50 to 100 million people died. In Alaska complete native settlements were wiped out. The number of shipwreck and shipwreck deaths spiked at the exact same time as the Spanish Flu Pandemic.

The peak of the Spanish Flu Pandemic was October of 1918. October 24, 1918 was the worst transportation accident in Alaska History. That is the day the Princess Sophia piled up on Vanderbilt Reef and within 40 hours all of the more than 343 persons on board were lost. The Spanish Flu may have played a part in some way in this and many other disasters that happened during the peak periods of the epidemic. The following are disasters that happened in the United States coincidental with the last pandemic which happened in 1918:

  • June 22, 1918 a circus train wrecked in Hammond Indiana killing 86 and injuring 127. It was the largest train wreck in U S History at that time.
  • July 9, 1918 two passenger trains collided in Nashville, Tennessee killing 101 and injuring 171 people. It became the largest train wreck in U S History.
  • October 6, 1918 The HMS Otranto troop ship was rammed by another troopship killing 470 mainly U S Troops and officers. (Outside of the U.S. but significant)
  • October 10, 1918 the Cloquet, Minnesota wildfire began and killed more than 450 and injured 52,000 people. It was the deadliest wildfire in U S History at that time.
  • October 25, 1918 SS Princess Sophia sank in Alaska with all 343+ on board. It is the worst and deadliest shipwreck in Alaska history.
  • November 1, 1918 the Malbone Street subway wreck occurred killing between 93-102 and injuring approximately 250 persons. A subway train derailed on a sharp corner precipitating one of the deadliest train wrecks in U.S. and New York City History.

All of these disasters happened during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. There were many others worldwide. I believe that these terrible events are an indirect consequence of so many people being sick at the same time. It is a danger that is not a “one on one” effect but more like a “million on a million” effect. These circumstances are extremely rare. Are we going to see transportation tragedies play out as a result of the Corona Virus Pandemic similar to those that occurred during the Spanish Flu Pandemic. I pray we are not. Even if it doesn’t happen, this is a good opportunity for everyone to learn the new “Pandemic Drills” just in case we really do get one that has the ability to effect a large percentage of the population at the same time.

FYI, my interest in pandemics and their consequences has been life long. I was named Warren Edward Good at birth after my Great Uncle Warren Edward Good of U S Army Company C Ninth Mounted Engineers. He died of Spanish Flu October 6, 1918 at Fort Bliss Base Hospital in Texas during the peak of the Spanish Flu Pandemic.