Letters to the Editor: Striking similarities in tragic tales from the 1918 flu pandemic

People wait in line in San Francisco to get flu masks during the 1918 influenza pandemic.
(California State Library)

To the editor: There are many similarities between Times reporter and editor Mitchell Landsberg’s recounting of his late grandfather Max’s experience following the 1918 pandemic, and the history of my family.

My grandfather, also named Max, was suddenly struck down by the first wave of the flu pandemic in Pittsburgh in 1918. He had emigrated from Ukraine to escape antisemitism and lived in Pittsburgh with his pregnant wife and four young children. His death at 42 threw his family into poverty.

Thankfully, the family not only survived, but also went on to prosper.


Tragically, history has repeated itself despite all of the medical advances over the past 103 years. As with the 1918 flu, this pandemic has caused hardship to so many families and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Thank you for this thoughtful piece, which was most significant for my family.

Barry P. King, Beverly Hills


To the editor: Landsberg’s piece on the 1918 pandemic’s impact on his grandparents brought back memories of the flu’s effect on mine.

Like Landsberg, my maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who spoke English with a Yiddish accent. My grandfather who owned a small paint store died in the pandemic, leaving my grandmother a widow with three young children.

Grandma had no education and very little money. There was no government assistance at that time. Since she did not want to become dependent on relatives or a husband for support, she decided that her best option was to convert the paint store into an ice cream and candy shop, where she eked out a meager living.


When I asked my mother about her birth father, she didn’t remember anything except that she teethed on his pocket watch, leaving tiny imprints. I have that watch, which I treasure and wear frequently. It also brings back haunting memories.

Bunny Landis, Oceanside


To the editor: Thank you, Mr. Landsberg, for sharing your family history with the 1918 flu pandemic.

One thing rang really true: Secrets don’t stay secret forever. They eventually become uncovered, usually because of the death of a loved one.

Landsberg’s story was touching and relatable to this 61-year-old African American woman who has experienced family revelations from my maternal grandfather’s life. This points up another truth: We are all tied together in the humanity exhibited in our lives.

Lynette Kelsey, Riverside