When President Wilson and the White House sheep caught the ‘Spanish flu’

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The 1918 pandemic hit the president and his environment, which then consisted of animals with which funds were raised

In the White House of 1918, who first fell ill with the misnamed Spanish Flu was President Woodrow Wilson’s personal secretary; He was followed by the eldest daughter of the president. They got sick members of the Secret Service. Not even a few inhabitants were saved who today do not occupy the presidential residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and who at that time roamed freely through the grass in the backyard, with the function of collecting donations to alleviate the effects of the war: sheep. The sheep saved their lives, were transferred to a veterinary hospital and from there they jumped into the history books.

The Big Flu of more than 100 years ago killed more than 675,000 Americans and more than 50 million people around the world. World War I was nearing the end and President Wilson never made a public statement about it. It was time to join forces, for patriotism and, as on other occasions, the first casualty was the truth.

Since the founding of the United States, no other epidemic has been as deadly as the 1918 virus, whose peak of devastation coincided with the last death throes of the Great War. It was April 1919 when Wilson traveled to the Paris Peace Conference to establish the terms of the end of the conflict. Shortly after arriving in Europe, Wilson fell ill, so brutal were his symptoms that his personal physician, Cary Grayson, even speculated that he had been poisoned.

Fever, violent coughing spells, sweats … symptoms that left the Democratic president barely breathing while he had to face the signing of the end of the Great War. Such was his poor health, that it was raised whether the president could move forward, since even sitting on the bed was an impossible effort for Wilson.

His team did their best to keep the president’s diagnosis a secret and the American leader was reported to have a cold, perhaps due to the cold and rainy bad weather in Paris.

As Scott Berg writes in his biography of Wilson, a man who was predictable in his actions, the president suddenly became erratic and paranoid. Wilson believed that he lived surrounded by spies. He was delusional due to fever. He accused his assistants of moving the furniture in his room.

The talks to restore peace to a Europe devastated by the conflict – to which the deadly flu was added – were maintained and Wilson had to rely on his closest collaborators until he could resume his place at the negotiating table. According to journalist Michael S. Rosenwald in the newspaper The Washington PostWilson was so battered by the disease that he ended up accepting French requests that a few weeks earlier he had considered non-negotiable. The president eventually recovered but suffered a stroke a few months later. He died in 1924.

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