Fake Fitzgerald or Real Telegram from 1918

The last couple of weeks this has been going around. Like a lot of people, I was hoping it was real.

I thought it was real not because I know Fitzgerald, but because I know Hemingway. But it wasn’t real. It was from McSweeney’s.

According to Esquire, we all wanted this to be real because we’re all looking for reassurance that we can survive this crisis. I’m a historian, so in addition to being embarrassed because I was tricked, I wanted to then find real documents that could accomplish the same thing.

Here’s what I found:

Western Union Telegram signed [Hon.] Edward Rainey, [San Francisco Mayor’s Office], to Hon. Harvey Neilson, Santa Barbara, California Mayor’s Office.

1918 October 31.

“If you have not already taken such steps strongly urge universal wearing of masks to prevent or check influenza epidemic. Cases here rose steadily from two hundred per day October Six to over two thousand October Twenty-fifth. On Twentieth, some our people wore masks, on Twenty-first on recommendation Health Board, Mayor [James] Rolph issued proclamation calling for everybody wearing masks. Nearly whole population complied. Red Cross backed with advertising and two days later supervisors passed ordinance requiring wearing by all persons. Practically whole population in masks. By Twenty-third, five days after first masks appeared or three days after use became general new cases dropped approximately fifty percent. Deaths at peak 194, yesterday only 103, many of these having been sick for some days. New cases decreasing daily. Health authorities say San Francisco probably get through with far less distress and death than Eastern cities which started with about our figures but keep on going up while ours went down. All agree masks largely responsible. Sending this for your information because I have seen the whole terrible effect of epidemic here, because masks have saved untold suffering and many deaths, and because Santa Barbara my old home city. Portland, Seattle following San Francisco lead.”

Source: Online Archive of California, UCLA Special Collections
Collection of personal narratives, manuscripts and ephemera about the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, 1917-1923


So. Wear your masks, Californians, and know that it will end.

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