Haunted by the Spanish influenza, a small Arizona town is concerned that the history does not repeat itself

Hantée par la grippe espagnole, une petite ville d’Arizona craint que l’histoire ne se répète

Bisbee | “Gone but not forgotten”, can we read on the tomb of Carl Axel Carlson, who died in 1918 of the Spanish flu.

It is his body, repatriated from the east coast of the United States, which had released the deadly virus in the region of Bisbee, at the time a prosperous mining town in Arizona.

A century later, the town trembles now before the pandemic Covid-19, which is a threat to its population of retirees and hippies, as well as its tourism industry.

The ” Spanish flu “arrived by train” with Carl Carlson, explains to the AFP, the local historian Mike Anderson.

The military had been returned to Bisbee to be buried there “two or three days after, he was killing already people,” says Mike Anderson by designating other graves dated 1918 located around hers.

In total, it is estimated that the influenza virus has made 180 victims to Bisbee, which included more than 25 000 inhabitants in 1910 according to the website of the city.

Today, the manna, mining (copper, silver, gold) from the turn of the century is nothing more than a distant memory for the city, nestled in the mountains near the mexican border.

It no longer shows that a population of 5 200 people living mainly of tourism, the visitors attracted by its picturesque buildings from the period in red brick and wood.

But the economy has been paralyzed for months by the pandemic Covid-19, which has already infected 57 people and one death in an elderly population and, therefore, vulnerable.

And the city is now faced with a dilemma: to order the containment to control the spread of this new virus and to protect its people, or continue to welcome tourists to avoid bankruptcy.

The first cases of coronavirus have been reported shortly after the arrival of number of tourists on the occasion of a long holiday weekend, end of may, ” says the mayor, David Smith.

“The bars were full. Some people don’t care completely,” he said.

Hugs banned

In the archives of newspapers, Mike Anderson was able to realize that in 1918, Bisbee had decreed the containment and even banned kissing to try to stop the progression of the Spanish flu, which claimed at least 50 million deaths in the world.

The mines, they have never closed. The First world War had boosted the demand and triple the price of copper, but many have paid with their lives for the lure of gain.

“The flu has not done in detail, it has killed teachers, doctors, miners,” says Mike Anderson.

The arrival of the Covid-19 in the city reminded Peter Bach, minor retirement, there is a story told by his grandmother. The Spanish influenza had killed her baby aged only a year and almost carried away her husband. When he has found his strengths, “he built a small coffin and buried his son in the garden,” says Mr. Bach.

Peter Bach today works as a guide in a copper mine, transformed into a tourist attraction, and there is no more than small groups of visitors in their cars because of the outbreak of coronavirus.

The bars of the city have been closed as a precaution and some shops will no longer receive that appointment.

This has not prevented the last weekend, many tourists come to Bisbee from Tucson or Phoenix, cities in Arizona are particularly affected by the Covid-19.

Sign of the times, in these visitors, the mask is now often part of the toolbox, in the same way as the boots and the cowboy hat, accessories very popular in the region.

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