San Diego has Embraced Face Masks Before

Hundreds died during a flu pandemic a century ago

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Face masks. Gloves. Social Distancing. They were all over San Diego.

In 1918.

“We’re in a really interesting time now because history is happening now,” said Shelby Gordon.

That history is happening now and repeating itself.

“I think what we saw, is what we’re seeing now,” said Gordon, the marketing manager for the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.

The Center has an extensive archive containing 2.5 million photographs. Some of those pictures include images from 1918 during a flu pandemic. Several black and white pictures show San Diegans wearing masks. At the time, Gordon said San Diego had roughly 75,000 people, more than 5,000 of them got sick, and 366 died. Millions of people died around the world during the flu pandemic.

Photos: San Diego has Embraced Face Masks Before

“You can almost put some of them side-by-side to see what we’re seeing now,” Gordon said.

The San Diego History Center closed its doors alongside all the other museums in Balboa Park when the coronavirus pandemic took over California.

The pictures in their archives include a row of women wearing their masks; a group of men sitting in downtown San Diego; and some young men sitting on the San Diego High School campus. Some of the men are wearing masks. Others are not.

“It took them a little while to understand the scope,” Gordon said.

The San Diego History Center is documenting the coronavirus pandemic, too. It’s inviting San Diegans to submit their photographs, videos, and stories about COVID-19. The information will become a part of the Center’s permanent collection.

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