Ed Susman

Pandemic Influenza Storybook

Storyteller: Ed Susman

Location: New York

I was 12 years old and what I remember the most about the 1957 Pandemic Flu was delivering newspapers in Saratoga Springs, New York. I had begun delivering newspapers in the spring of 1957, shortly after my 12th birthday and had inherited a large route of over 120 homes in one of the less–affluent sections of town. My weekly profit sometimes was as great as $7. The Saratogian was generally a small newspaper, so the 120 papers was not a great struggle to carry. About the middle of September, I remember the head of the delivery team at the newspaper coming to me and asking me to deliver for another boy who had become ill. His route was much smaller, so my total was around 200 newspapers. Shortly after that, I was handed a third route and then a fourth. It was a little tough carrying over 300 papers, but I was earning nearly $20 a week. All I knew was that the other guys had gotten sick with the flu. No one made much of a deal about it and I never heard anyone say anything about the great danger of mortality.

Illustration of stack of newspapers

Anyway, I went along carrying the papers for four other paperboys for maybe a week or 10 days, and then one day, as I was delivering my routes, I distinctly recall feeling very warm in one of the tenement houses where I had a number of customers. I walked out on the back porch, and I literally felt as if I had been hit by a moving wall. My knees buckled and I fell back against the wall of the building. I truly do not remember how I finished the route. I know I did, however, because my parents kept answering the phone from irate customers saying their paper was placed in the wrong mailbox or they didn′t receive it at all.

The entire rest of the week is almost completely erased from my memory. I can barely remember snippets of conversation between my parents about how sick I was and how I wasn′t going to be able to deliver my route or any of the others. I just simply stayed in bed. I believe for most of the time I just slept. And then it was over and I returned to delivering papers. I remember picking up one other boy′s route for a few days, but soon it was back to my old route again, making $7 a week.

As far as I can recall, neither of my two sisters (ages 16 and 9) got ill, nor did my parents.

As events turned out, I have become a health and science reporter for various publications and at one time wrote stories about the 1918 pandemic and the emergence of new pandemics for United Press International and other news outlets.