I’m talking about the terrible Spanish flu virus of 1918 and the scary carnaval that followed in nineteen, nineteen, one thousand nine hundred and nineteen in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The city of Rio de Janeiro was the most affected by the flu, responsible for at least fifteen thousand deaths, probably much more. It is not known exactly how many people died in Brazil. The reports and studies show a wide range, with a minimum of thirty-five thousand deaths to a maximum of three hundred thousand!
We must regret any life lost, but the death toll in Rio de Janeiro, especially given the current experience of Covid-19, does not seem so bad compared to the urban population of approximately seven hundred thousand at the time.
The flu, called killer flu, was devastating and created a fear of death never seen in Rio’s population.
It started slow. In September nineteen eighteen, only few people died, but soon it spread and most of the deaths occurred within October and December, a very short period of time.
At first people mourned the dead, but at the peak of the pandemic, bodies were abandoned on the streets some still alive, hopeless. There were no gravediggers, they died of the flu. The police even hunted men to serve as gravediggers. They say the gravediggers ended up killing the half-dead who arrived at the cemetery. More than 65% of the population had to stay in bed, some were hospitalized. They say that the Holy House of Mercy was called the Devil’s House, because whoever entered there did not leave alive and that the House served a midnight tea to the flu patients to quickly end the agony.
As ready as the flu started it was gone. Early in the following year the flu subsided and in January there were almost no cases.
That’s when Carnaval arrived!
The cariocas, as Rio’s inhabitants are called, who just a few months earlier thought the world was going to end, were reborn and vented this feeling with the preparations in January and the carnaval in March nineteen nineteen.
It was total freedom, the best and scariest carnaval of all time.
At that time there were no samba schools in Rio. The people celebrated in the streets, in groups, some floats. The midnight tea float became famous.
The revelers called to the street, pulled from the windows the residents of the houses to participate, even invaded houses to bring to the street the most reticent.
Carnaval crush was not restricted to hugs and kisses. There are records of more than 2,000 deflowering complaints only in the central police station of Rio. Considering that this type of crime is usually not reported and the cases in which there was consent, imagine how was the party of our grandparents and great-grandparents!
Nine months later, the children of the carnaval of the virus began to arrive!
Popular Carnaval Songs of 1919
No sadness can
Endure so much joy
Who didn’t die of The Spanish (Flu)
Who was able to escape her
Shouldn’t think twice
Come and laugh
Come and play
Midnight gong will hit
My mother-in-law is sick
I’m going to take her to the hospital
Which will give her a nice hot tea