The video production “We Are All In This Together: Pandemic-Johnstown 1918” drew many parallels between the influenza pandemic and today’s COVID-19 situation.
The final episode of the four-part film premiered Thursday evening on the In This Together Cambria YouTube channel.
The program depicts the progression of the 1918 influenza pandemic through the eyes of a Cambria City housewife with six children.
Kathleen O’Creidy Wissenschaft is a fictional Irish immigrant who married a German immigrant named Maximillian.
Paul Douglas Newman, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, wrote the script as a one-woman show for Southmont resident Kate Davis, who is a familiar face in the local theater scene. Newman also directed the production.
The story begins in the family’s home as Kathleen is trying to get her husband off to work and children off to school. She checks the newspaper for information on what is now known as World War I because her oldest son, also named Maximillian, was serving in France.
But the paper has more news about the “Spanish Influenza,” with a warning from the Cambria Medical Society that the flu “may kill hundreds in Johnstown.”
Kathleen joins the American Red Cross Relief Committee’s efforts to distribute masks and encourage hand washing.
Through the ensuing episodes, Kathleen encounters quack cures, science doubters and ethnic bigotry related to the disease’s origination.
As she struggles to help spread awareness, fight rumors and provide help for neighbors, tragedy strikes the Wissenschaft household twice.
During the “After the Show” live panel discussion, Newman said he hopes viewers appreciate the parallels.
“I want people to see a connection between themselves and their own lives and our forebears,” Newman said, listing some of the similarities.
“I am hoping that that realization really hits home with some people in a way it might not have before,” he said. “Maybe to see voices from the past can be helpful to people to understand that they are not being hoodwinked. This thing is not a hoax. Neither was the Spanish flu in 1918. We have to listen to the science.”
The program was filmed in cooperation with Johnstown Area Heritage Association at the Wagner-Ritter House on Broad Street.
Although Davis called it a “dream set,” she admitted it was not the perfect sound stage. With constant traffic through the neighborhood, all of the dialog had to be re-dubbed in post-production.
Newman, Jill Deann Henning and Jason Bolinger produced the film. The Tribune-Democrat, Pitt-Johnstown and the Cambria County Library are credited as community partners.
All four episodes, along with the “After the Show” discussions are available on the In This Together Cambria YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-mdZR2_0soiwIfZQIMxzMg.