Not to be morbid, but I’ve always been fascinated by the Bubonic plague, the Black Death, that wiped out a third of Europe in the mid-1300s. I’ve often wondered about my ancestors that survived. What happened? What hardships did they have to overcome? It was one of humanity’s greatest tests. Worldwide, anywhere from 75 to 200 million people died. It killed 30 to 60% of all who got the disease. Untreated pneumonic plague killed 100%. It took 200 years for the population to come back to where it was.

I’m not sure when this interest started. It may have been when I heard that the song I was singing in kindergarten was possibly a 600-year-old-plague ditty. We held hands as we recited, went around in a circle and then we all fell down.

Ring-a-round the rosie,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.

Was the “rosie” part of the rash from the plague or just a flower? People didn’t have much time to bury people during the plague. It was common to put them in a mass grave with a few flowers on top or possibly in a pocket to add a touch of humanity, and then burn them to ashes. Could this song have been passed from one child to another for 600 years? Adults aren’t sure of the origin of this story. Many historians think it impossible to come from that long ago. Could it have been from the London plague of 1665? Possibly, it’s only a couple hundred years old or less. Maybe from a Mother Goose rhyme book from 1883. When you think about the words of the song, it’s kind of creepy. It was obvious to me that we mimicked dying. And yet we teach our children the song and on it goes.

I asked my dear wife, if she thought she was dying when she “fell down.”

“No,” she said. “I thought the whole thing was stupid. It didn’t make any sense to me. I think it had something to do with the London Bridge burning.” Or the London plague of 1665!?!

So, I Googled “Ring-a-round the rosie.” On the comment section someone thought it was made up by a pedophile to lure children to their doom. Another person insisted it came from the Nazi death camps – which can’t be right because it’s way older than that. Nothing on the London Bridge burning. But nothing concrete about where that particular verse originated

And that’s the way it is with this coronavirus. Lots of information out there. Lots of misinformation too. Lots of home remedies to prevent the virus from killing you. Drink lemon juice. Take saunas. Breathe in hot air from a hair dryer. Drink water out of a copper cup. Gargle with salt water.

During the time of the plague, they didn’t know what was killing them or why. They understood when someone was contagious and coughing and to stay away. Doctors back then wore sort a bird beak outfit on their face. I’m not sure of the purpose but it seemed to act like a face mask. They didn’t know what bacteria or a virus was. They didn’t know that fleas and lice carried the disease.

We know so much more now. We even knew the virus was coming and where it came from. We knew it was contagious and was worse than the flu and that there was no vaccine. The elderly and the sick, especially smokers and people with respiratory problems, are more susceptible than healthy children. The plague was just the opposite. It went through children like a scythe. It took years to get around the globe, mostly by ship. This coronavirus took mere hours. A few airplane flights and it was everywhere.

I read the book “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” by Barbara Tuchman. Lots on the Black Death. I remember one section where the English were afflicted by the plague. The Scots were very unneighborly and were delighted that the English were suffering and dying. They gathered up their forces for an invasion when the sticky fingers of plague started plucking them off one by one.

We are all in this together. We need to be neighborly. We must fight this virus as a world, not just a country. Not separately state by state, city by city. We need to cooperate with each other. Each one of us has a responsibility to the others around us. Right now, we have different states and our own country and other countries, bidding against each other for PPEs (personal protection equipment) for our medical workers. The price is almost 10 times what it should be. This is nuts. It’s the job of the government to organize response and protect the people. If that’s not the government’s job, what is its job?

I saw a video of how you could make your own face mask from a bra. And get this. You get two for the price of one. I need to go talk to my wife again.

Don Urbanus is a Burson business owner. Contact him at


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