Great Grandma’s 1918 Flu letter mentioning Vicks VapoRub makes it into the News-Record

Greensboro News-Record recounts the history of Vicks VapoRub in the 1918 flu epidemic, and I and my great-grandmother get a mention. Vick’s VapoRub was invented in Greensboro, North Carolina.

A coupla years I came across a letter my Great Grandma Fannie wrote to her daughters Florence and Doris during the 1918 flu epidemic. I was captivated both by mentions of the flu (the letter was written during December, 1918) and tickled by the description of Vick’s VapoRub. You can read the whole thing here and see a page of the letter, and the clippings from the newspaper article, which I transcribed.

Last week, I was contacted by Donald W Patterson from the News-Record, and we spoke briefly about the Billings Gazette article and the letter and my thoughts. I told him more of what I knew, that Great Grandma Fannie wrote her daughters weekly. No, I didn’t know if there were more letters concerning the flu (the letters are not all in order, so there may be more). Yes, I thought the 1918 piece was a puff-piece for Vick’s, the kind of thing that’d make a corporate PR person very, very happy. Patterson, who’s based in Greensboro, where Vicks was founded, rebutted my 21st century media-savvy irony-filled perspective. For a person living in that day, witnessing so many dying of flu, and none of the miracle antibiotics nor miracle vaccines we have at our disposal nowadays, a newspaper would be glad to provide any news about anything that would effectively treat this out of control scourge.

Point taken, Mr. Patterson.

Ah, I’m a creature of the 20-aughts, and have seen many a glowing journalistic puff piece in my day. I’ve heard of too many timid journalistic organs that tiptoe around treatment of the local corporate giant (“We can’t write a piece against BigCo, they say. They’re too powerful to take on!”) Well, this was the series of events that put the name of Vick’s on the map. They weren’t the BigCo at that time. For all I know, they still aren’t. And I, in my PoMo irony-drenched perspective (and hyperbole?) didn’t grasp that.

My squeals of delight at the discovery that the habit of InterCapping goes much farther back than MicroSoft and TechnologyCompanies still stands. Proudly. The rest? A current day person reading old newspapers can stand to take her media savvy glee with grains of salt. Or dabs of salve.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 29, 2009 in • HistoryLetters in the Attic
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