Flu season in Denver is bad -- but nothing like it was in 1918

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Suffering from the flu? As soon as you can hold a book or tablet without your hand shaking, find a copy of Katherine Ann Porter's "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," and remember this: It could be much, much worse.

And in Denver in 1918, it was.

Porter was a 28-year-old reporter for the Rocky Mountain News when the influenza pandemic circled the globe at the end of World War One. Porter almost died, and spent months in a Denver hospital.

She left the newspaper business soon after, but continued to write essays and stories and published her only novel, Ship of Fools, in 1962. But she made her reputation with the book of short stories she published in 1939. It included "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," in which she resurrected her harrowing bout with the flu -- and the impact the epidemic had on the world.

The title comes from Revelations 6:1-8. "There the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were respectively: Conquest on a white horse; War on a red horse; Famine on a black horse; and Death mounted on a pale horse."

The plotline sounds like a Nicholas Sparks book, but the language is haunting. Miranda, a reporter for a Denver newspaper, gets the flu, is nursed by Adam, the young Army officer she loves, and finally recovers, only to discover that Adam, who has returned to his unit, has died from the same virus -- taken by the pale rider. The last line spills over with irony: "Now there would be time for everything."

When you read this story -- which captures the Denver of a century ago -- you'll need a box of Kleenex. And not just for your own flu.

For more on the power of literature, read our current cover story: "The lifers book club: Of mice and men, hopes and regrets in the Limon prison."

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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