PALE HORSE, PALE RIDER

Like nearly every major city around the world, Denver faced the full force of the flu pandemic. During the First World War, military installations such as Lowry Field– situated less than a mile north of Fairmount Cemetery and since redeveloped as the neighborhood of Lowry–recruited many residents of the Front Range to fight abroad and defend the homeland. After the war, Colorado lost countless more souls to the flu. Katherine Anne Porter captures the tragedy of the era in her short story ‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider’ from 1939. Written twenty years after the events of 1918, Porter recounts a tale of heartache and grief as the narrator survives the death of her partner. Porter saw the combination of war and disease as somewhat apocalyptic, directly referencing the Biblical concept of the Four Horsemen. As the title suggests, the Pale Rider of Death allegorically takes him away while she lays delirious in a hospital bed. Not until her recovery from the disease does she notice the loss of her partner. In the story, she returns to a society caught between exuberance that war had ended and despair that widespread suffering had only just begun.

Less than a decade later, Albert Camus published La Peste (The Plague in English, or The Pestilence) in 1947. Much of this work depicts an alternate history in which the black plague returns to the modern city of Oran, Algeria. Camus was born and raised in Algeria, living through the 1918 pandemic as a child; and shortly before writing La Peste he suffered through a long bout of tuberculosis, all of which likely informed his perspective. La Peste holds remarkable similarities with the events following the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, as the shutdown of society led to a longing for human interaction once taken for granted as well as violent social unrest. Camus himself was a revolutionary who joined the French resistance against Nazi Germany during the Second World War, interjecting his own views on ethnic and economic disparities between people in much of his writing. Camus ultimately faced death likely by order of his enemies before disease could take the credit.