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Peggy Keener: History is as history does

I have tried my darnedest to avoid mentioning COVID in any of my columns. Tried, that is, until now when my resolve faded upon receiving two very interesting documents.

One illustrates how COVID is stacking up so far against past American calamities, both military and medical. In 1968, on the bloodiest day of the Vietnam War, 246 U.S. soldiers died in combat. In 2019, the opioid epidemic claimed 137 lives per day while auto accidents took 106. COVID, by contrast, is killing close to 1,000 Americans everyday. That comes close to the daily death toll of Union forces during the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most heinous episodes of the Civil War.

COVID has the dubious distinction of being on track to becoming the third leading cause of death in America. Only heart disease and cancer are greater. COVID’s casualties are nearly six times greater than automobile accidents and gun violence combined. And if things continue on this course, COVID will kill ten times more than the flu kills in an average season.

Sorry to be Debby Downer here, but let’s face it. We need to wear our masks! As we’ve repeatedly heard, they genuinely do work. Actually, there are days when I’m glad to have my face covered. I also don’t mind staying home. Truth is, I’ve come to rather like my seclusion.

Shrouded with our masks, we now see blanks where faces used to be. Furthermore, it’s become a game to recognize folks in the aisles of HyVee. Who knew that one day hair styles and body shapes would have such import? Makes one shudder, huh? Best to do a mirror check before going shopping—and do as Mom always told you …. comb your hair and hold in your stomach.

I’ve also given myself a free pass on dusting. For some of us it’s now possible to finger paint “COVID made me NOT do it!” in the powdery film covering our dining room tables—unused for dining since March.

Admittedly, this is not the first time we Minnesotans have been challenged. In the fall of 1918, a dreaded influenza struck. It was first called the Spanish Flu, but later referred to as simply “the flu.” Then, as now, the epidemic swept across our nation. The death toll in Minnesota was 4,943, a number larger than the birthrate of 4,072. It was sobering to realize we were no longer replacing ourselves.

The flu took a dreadful toll on our soldiers. Strangely it seldom attacked the very young and the very aged, but rather struck down those in most perfect health—indeed, the very finest specimens of our military manhood. Tragically, many of the gold stars mounted in the windows of Mower County homes were not due to a loved one falling in combat, but rather to losing a battle with the flu.

Despite prohibiting all public meetings, cases in Mower County were estimated at 8,000, with deaths exceeding 100. Who was to blame? The government, in the grip of paranoia, declared that enemy aliens might well be distributing disease germs. Not only humans were being affected, but mysterious ailments were also found in hogs, cattle and sheep. Turned out, however, that they were dying of natural causes. (Whoops!)

Then three women were arrested for selling germ infected soap. This also turned out false with their only real offense being that of peddling without a license. (Whatever!)

Not to be left out, an alarmed Hormel had its own fear of Hun reprisals. One such event involved a car load of commercial fertilizer that was shipped to an Iowa farm where someone discovered “ground glass” in its composition. At once a fervent cry went up that the Huns were trying to destroy the great hog herds of Iowa. Hormel abruptly dispatched a representative where he found the shiny particles to not be glass, but rather bone. (Never mind!)

Still, the dis-loyalists were not deterred. They attempted to cripple the railroads in order to prevent troop movements. In one night alone there was a huge explosion in Iowa where three round houses of the Chicago Great Western Railroad were destroyed.

The next morning a timely discovery was made. A displaced switch had saved a train wreck at the Chicago Great Western bridge in Austin. Up in arms over the near mishap, an order was issued to “shoot first and investigate afterwards”.

Unrest continued in Austin when two questionable carloads of coal had to be meticulously picked over. Turned out the coal was mixed with a vast quantity of railroad torpedoes. (What’s a railroad torpedo?) Later, again in Austin, two barrels of blasting powder were found in the loaded hoppers of coal cars consigned to the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway. (Times were rough.)

There were also dissenters with pro-German sentiments. It goes without saying that such ne’er-do-wells fired up the ire of proud Americans. Sheriff Nicholsen and Chief of Police Wengert arrested several men right here in Austin. Their punishment? A good common sense talking to as they were shown the folly of their ways. Then they were made to kiss the flag and sent out to serve America.

How reasonable people were then. There were no heated demonstrations nor were buildings burned down in protest. It seems that now folks are so busy trying to change our world that they are unable to see just how dangerous their very actions are making our world!