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Cosmology 1918


In 1918, as war was raging in Europe, another war was raging on the home front to curb a deadly epidemic of the Spanish Flu. A milder, less aggressive form of flu had occurred the year before, taking a number of lives, but the Spanish Flu was a particularly deadly mutation that took over 1,300 lives in North Dakota and millions of lives worldwide.

The less aggressive, 1917 strain lingered throughout the spring and summer of 1918, but it combined with a new strain in the early part of October of that year. Beginning in New Rockford, the new strain spread through the state within days, with over 6,000 cases reported by the middle of the month.

On this date, the Harvey Herald mockingly stated that the “cause of the pestiferous influenza has been solved by a local townsman.” William Lamb of Harvey claimed that the entire trouble is to be laid at the door of the planet Jupiter. Mr. Lamb explained that the planet was at its zenith, and that clouds of space dust, disturbed by the planet’s position, had circulated through space bringing, what the Herald termed, a space bug to Earth.

But as much as he was ridiculed in the newspaper, which inferred he was a crackpot, he was not alone in believing in the theory that space dust was partly responsible for the epidemics that had swept the earth over time. Many of the cosmologists and scientists of the early Twentieth Century were beginning to explain, through scientific evaluation, how life on Earth was relative to the principles of the universe that surrounds it – revelations embellished upon by Mr. Lamb.

But other cosmologists were quick to blame a more popular heavenly object for epidemics, one that had been considered a curse for centuries – Halley’s Comet. And by that theory, an even more probable cause was the comet, Encke, which had made recent sojourns near Earth in 1908 and 1914, and was at its nearest distance from the sun in 1918, which made it relatively closer to earth.

The study of the cosmic relationship to Earth had been around for over five thousand years, but in the early 1900s the study of such things as atoms, solar winds and solar flares, using more modern instruments, was fanning the imaginations of disciples like Mr. Lamb.

So, as we near the flu season, you may want to be like Mr. Lamb and keep your eyes on the heavens, but don’t forget your flu shot.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Harvey Herald November 1, 1918