Kansas City exhibit looks at 1918 flu pandemic

Friday, May 1, 2009 | 10:53 a.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Just as the world watches a new influenza scare, an exhibit in Kansas City will look at a 1918 pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Part of the upcoming display at the new National Archives near Union Station deals with the Spanish flu pandemic that swept the world 91 years ago – and is widely believed to have originated in Kansas.


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"We were looking for one story that had an international impact that started here," said Lisa Royse of the National Archives. "The story, of course, couldn't help but be the 1918 flu."

An enormous photo of a sickroom at Fort Riley, Kan., shows rows of young men on cots during the 1918 pandemic, the deadliest ever to strike humans. Soldiers amassed for World War I training at the Kansas post were vulnerable to the flu.

The flu spread around the world and mutated, becoming more deadly. The pandemic killed more people than the "Black Death" bubonic plague of the 14th century.

The free exhibit – called "It's Big" – runs from the archives' grand opening on May 23 through Jan. 23. The facility was moved from its old Kansas City location.

The archives says the scheduling of the display – at a time when the world fears another flu pandemic – is coincidence. But Royse said it adds perspective. "After you read the stories about what happened in 1918, I think you take a few extra precautions," she said.

Another interesting twist – a Dickinson County, Kan., couple were among the nation's first confirmed swine flu cases.

The flu began appearing in Mexico and has since spread to 11 U.S. states.



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