Plus: Opera and nuclear testing |

By Lily Rothman
Assistant Managing Editor, Magazine

As of this week, COVID-19 has set a tragic record in the United States: The nation has now seen approximately 680,000 deaths due to the pandemic, surpassing the 675,000 killed by the 1918-1919 flu. That means COVID-19 is now the deadliest pandemic in all of recorded American history. Click here to read more.

Throughout the year and a half since the novel coronavirus first changed all of our lives, we have often looked to that crisis of a century ago for insight and information. And as we all continue to grapple with how COVID-19 is reshaping our world, there is no doubt that future generations will likewise look to today’s pandemic as a grim historical milestone.

In light of this week’s news, here’s a look back at some of that coverage.

How Does a Pandemic End? Here’s What We Can Learn From the 1918 Flu
By Olivia B. Waxman
Current scientific understanding is that only a vaccine will end this pandemic, but how we get there remains to be seen
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During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the White House Stayed Silent
By Melissa August
President Wilson never uttered a single public statement about the pandemic, which killed about 675,000 Americans
Read More »
Easing Public-Health Restrictions Too Early Can Cost Lives. Look What Happened in the 1918 Flu Pandemic
By Nancy Bristow
On Jan. 25, 1919, nearly 2,000 San Franciscans showed up at Dreamland Rink for a public meeting of the Anti-Mask League
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‘You Must Wash Properly.’ Newspaper Ads From the 1918 Flu Pandemic Show Some Things Never Change
By Suyin Haynes
Medicine has advanced, but the core messages from a century ago are similar to today
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The World Changed Its Approach to Health After the 1918 Flu. Will It After The COVID-19 Outbreak?
By Laura Spinney
After the 1918 flu pandemic, many countries changed their approach to public health and disease. Will we do the same after COVID-19?
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Today in 1946: Harvard

“Most Europeans and a good many Americans consider Harvard the No. 1 U.S. university. Just as many, and perhaps more, Americans think of it as an overripe berry patch full of arrogant and precious snobs. For every man who admires Harvard for producing an Emerson, a Holmes, a Henry Adams, a Henry James, a Franklin Roosevelt, there is at least another who agrees with the old gag: ‘You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much.’” (Sept. 23, 1946)

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Today in 1966: The Met Opera opens in Lincoln Center

“Never had a social event in New York exploded with such excitement. From Lady Bird Johnson and her guests, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, straight down the line through the Nelson Rockefellers, the Jacob Javitses, the Robert McNamaras, the Henry Fords, the John Drexels, the Alfred Vanderbilts, the William Fulbrights, the Kennedy brothers, and rafts of diplomats and fashion plates, the audience of 3,800 first-nighters provided a show-stopping spectacle of animated finery. The total weight in diamonds and emeralds alone could have sunk Cleopatra's barge, and the gold lame could have papered the Met walls. On the whole, the fashion was strictly haute, although here and there a kooky costume or two dazed the 3,000 or so beholders who checked over the operagoers as they arrived. The wife of Met Tenor Jess Thomas, for example, was decked out in a black dress that was drenched in 15 Ibs. of floorlength gold chains.” (Sept. 23, 1966)

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Today in 1991: Vanishing cultures

“One horrible day 1,600 years ago, the wisdom of many centuries went up in flames. The great library in Alexandria burned down, a catastrophe at the time and a symbol for all ages of the vulnerability of human knowledge. The tragedy forced scholars to grope to reconstruct a grand literature and science that once lay neatly cataloged in scrolls. Today, with little notice, more vast archives of knowledge and expertise are spilling into oblivion, leaving humanity in danger of losing its past and perhaps jeopardizing its future as well. Stored in the memories of elders, healers, midwives, farmers, fishermen and hunters in the estimated 15,000 cultures remaining on earth is an enormous trove of wisdom.” (Sept. 23, 1991)

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Light reading: For The New Yorker, Judith Thurman reviews new translations of Dante’s Purgatory, and assesses the classic work’s place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grand tour: Historian Hampton Sides shares an excerpt from his new book The Exotic, about the journey—and complicated legacy—of the first Pacific Islander to visit the United Kingdom, with Smithsonian magazine.

Manhattan project: At National Geographic, an in-depth read, by Lesley M.M. Blume, examining efforts to recognize people impacted by fallout from the 1945 “Trinity” nuclear test in New Mexico.

Sound check: Thirty years after the record’s release, the L.A. Times dives into an oral history of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ seminal alt-rock album Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

Thirst quenching: NPR’s Ari Shapiro has a fascinating interview with the author Guilio Boccaletti pegged to his new “biography” of water, with which Boccaletti says humanity has been “locked into this kind of Faustian bargain… for millennia.”

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