[The following takes place in Philadelphia during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.]
Pepper and Martin convinced the Brill Company, which made streetcars, to build thousands of simple boxes for coffins, and they gathered students from embalming schools and morticians from as far as 150 miles away. More coffins came by rail, guarded by men with guns.
And graves were dug. First the families of the dead picked up shovels and dug into the earth, faces streaked with sweat and tears and grit. For gravediggers would not work. The city’s official annual report notes that “undertakers found it impossible to hire persons willing to handle the bodies, owing to the decomposed nature of the same.”
When Anna Lavin’s aunt died, “They took her to the cemetery. My father took me and the boy, who also had the flu, and he was wrapped – my father carried him – wrapped in a blanket to the cemetery to say the prayer for the dead… The families had to dig their own graves. That was the terrible thing.”
Barry, John M. “The Tolling of the Bell.” The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. Penguin Books, 2009. 326-27. Print.