Tuesday, January 9, 2018

In Flew Enza

Hand-drawn map of campusOn September 22, 1918, young Clifford Orr wrote home to his mother about the first weeks of his Freshman year at Dartmouth. In his four-page letter, he complains of the lack of a writing desk, invites her for a visit to watch the "Fresh-Soph" rush (a fairly brutal hazing ritual), and talks about how his math class is going to be "fierce!" He even includes a hand-drawn map of campus. It is a lovely letter from a clever, chatty son to his mother.

Orr mentions that some students are worried they might be coming down with the Spanish Influenza. The epidemic that started one-hundred years ago this March killed between fifty and one-hundred million people worldwide and was particularly devastating for people in their early twenties, so this was a serious matter. Orr appeared undaunted, unless he was using humor to hide his fear, or perhaps just trying to keep his mother from worrying. Making light of it, he scribbled out a little verse for his dear mother's enjoyment:
I had a little bird and his name was Enza,
I opened the cage and Influenza.
Verse quoted above
Orr actually became sick with the Spanish flu later that year, but survived. He went on to have a successful career as a writer for the New Yorker. His letters home are a treat. You can see them all by asking for MS-532, Box 1.

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