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'Still doing nothing. I am almost desperate.' Journal details one Idahoan's experience through 1918 flu pandemic

Posted at 6:24 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 20:48:18-05

MAGIC VALLEY — Imagine coming across the journal of someone living more than 100 years ago and realizing they are going through the same thing you are.

That was what Riley Haun, a Univerity of Idaho student, experienced after stumbling across the journal of Esther Thomas, a student quarantined during the 1918 flu pandemic.

"When you think about someone from 1918, you don'tdon't think about being able to relate to them so much. You think about somebody in black and white pictures or your great-great-grandma. You don't think about a 22-year old that's just as depressed about being stuck in the house as you are," Haun said.

Haun came across the journal after working on a project about the 1918 flu pandemic. She says Esther made at least a one-lined entry every day. Some entries talked about a mask mandate, while others talked about having to quarantine after Esther contracted the flu.

"And it's something that I, as a college student today during this pandemic, can definitely relate to, and I know you see a lot of that on social media and everywhere else right now," Haun said.

Although Esther wrote about people complaining about a mask mandate, it was having to be away from her friends that bothered her the most. In one entry, she complained about not being able to wear the new clothes she had just bought.

"She writes about how she got the flu at one point, and it was a mild case, but she was stuck in bed, and the doctor told her you couldn't have any friends come to visit, and that's the thing she was most upset. Not that she was sick or that there were potential complications, but she's just mad because her friends can't come by," Huan said.

Esther started her journal entries after the University of Idaho gave journals as a way to preserve and document their experience through the 1918 flu pandemic.

The Idaho State Historical Society is currently working on a similar project, documenting Idahoan's experience throughout the pandemic.

"When we look back at this pandemic 100 years from now, we want to be able to tell the story of everyday people. Those stories will help complement any records that we collect from government agencies or any entities throughout the state so that it has a personal perspective," HannahLore Hein, State historian for the Idaho State Historical Society, said.

Haun said her personal goal is to do more research on Esther and her life after the pandemic.

"It was so cool to be able to read a diary from so long ago and be able to get so much of the same feeling that you get today when you read like your friend's Twitter post. It was all these short little burst of very strong feelings that I think translate really well to 2020 even though they were so long ago," Haun said.