Feeling poorly? You might wish to defer these two American Experience documentaries until later.


In which we learn why the Silvercrest Sanatorium was built in the first place.

Silvercrest Sanatorium, a tuberculosis hospital in New Albany, Indiana, was later reused as a disabled children’s development center before closing in 2006. The property has since been restored as an elderly care facility.

It was tuberculosis.

The Forgotten Plague (2015) … American Experience

By the dawn of the 19th century, the deadliest killer in human history, tuberculosis, had killed one in seven of all the people who had ever lived. The disease struck America with a vengeance, ravaging communities and touching the lives of almost every family. The battle against the deadly bacteria had a profound and lasting impact on the country. It shaped medical and scientific pursuits, social habits, economic development, western expansion, and government policy. Yet both the disease and its impact are poorly understood: in the words of one writer, tuberculosis is our “forgotten plague.”

I originally read this account of the deadly influenza outbreak at the end of World War I in 2005 while laid up with pneumonia. This is not a course I recommend, although the book itself is a must read: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John Barry.

The documentary is old enough to include testimony from children who survived influenza.

Influenza 1918 (1998) … American Experience

In September of 1918, soldiers at an army base near Boston suddenly began to die. The cause of death was identified as influenza, but it was unlike any strain ever seen. As the killer virus spread across the country, hospitals overfilled, death carts roamed the streets and helpless city officials dug mass graves. It was the worst epidemic in American history, killing over 600,000 — until it disappeared as mysteriously as it had begun.