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With masks over their faces, members of the American Red Cross remove a victim of the "Spanish flu" from a house in St. Louis in 1918.
Inside Story
St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo via Wikimedia Commons

For lessons on closed churches, look at 1918 flu pandemic


I thought I knew a little about my family’s history.

I’ve written about my grandfather Lloyd Lee Ross, whose World War II service earned him a Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart. Papa died in 2011 at age 93.

I’ve visited the rural West Tennessee cemetery where generations of my relatives — going all the way back to my great-great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Ross (1791-1842) — are buried.

But not until the COVID-19 crisis hit did I learn about the global influenza pandemic of 1918 — known colloquially as the Spanish flu — and my family’s connection to it.

I knew that Papa lost his father when he was a baby. It turns out that my great-grandfather William Charles Ross (1883-1918) died on Nov. 15, 1918, at age 35 from the flu pandemic. Papa, the youngest of William Charles’ five children, was nine days shy of eight months old.

I appreciate my Uncle Chuck educating me on these details from our family’s past.

Given my interest in religion, I am grateful, too, for the journalists digging through newspaper archives to report on how houses of worship responded to the 1918 pandemic, which killed nearly 700,000 in the U.S. and 50 million globally.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Peter Smith wrote a fascinating piece on the subject, as did the Birmingham News’ Greg Garrison.

Read the rest of the column.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].


“Weekend Plug-in,”  featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith, is produced in partnership with Religion Unplugged.

Filed under: 1918 Coronavirus COVID-19 Inside Story National Papa Ross Spanish flu Tennessee Top Stories Weekend Plug-In World War II

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