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    "It is estimated that between 25 and 40 million people died from the influenza outbreak that began in 1918, took about 7 days to sweep across America, and three months to sweep around the world. World War 1, which had just ended, took 9 million lives; this epidemic would quadruple that." By Paul V. Hartman

    Children made up a jump-rope rhyme

    I had a little bird
    Its name was Enza
    I opened the window
    And in-flu-enza

    Michigan was not spared from this killer called the "Spanish Lady."

    The following articles appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle
    10 Oct 1918 Take Steps to Prevent Spread of Influenza (Grand Traverse County)
    10 Oct 1918 Custer Makes Good Progress in "Flu" Fight (Calhoun County)
    25 Oct 1918 One Death And Many Ill Cause School Closing (Wexford County)
    29 Nov 1918 Influenza Has a Serious Grip on 2 Townships (Leelanau County)
    16 Jan 1919 Schools Stay Closed Next Week (Grand Traverse County)

    Flu Links

    Traverse City Record-Eagle, Thursday, October 10, 1918


    Cases of Dread Disease are Found in Traverse City


    State Health Laws Give No Authority Except To Isolate Cases So It Is Up To Public To Prevent Epidemic

    While Traverse City has a few cases of Spanish influenza, and the state board of health does not consider the situation serious, it seems that something should be done by local health authorities to take every possible precaution against an epidemic, such ahas causes so many deaths and so much suffering in southern Michigan cities - Battle Creek and Jackson in particular.

    There are at least three cases in Traverse City, and some in rural districts adjoining the city.

    In one case on Seventeenth street no precaution has been taken, according to neighbors, to prevent spread of the disease. The father is ill with influenza and it is reported that the children though they have been ordered home from school are not confined to their home or their own premises.

    In their contention that Spanish influenza cannot be quarantined, physicians are complying with instructions from the State Board of Health. Nevertheless, Dr. R. N. Olin, secretary of the board, last night informed the editor of the Record-Eagle that all cases should be isolated. what he means by isolation is better understood by physicians than anyone else. Certainly it does not mean permitting children of afflicted families to run at large and expose a neighborhood.

    The state laws do not permit quarantine for Spanish influenza. The local health boards have authority, however, according to Dr. Olin, to enact any preventative measures necessary to curb a contagion, and in the case it would seem advisable for the local board to get busy.

    Traverse City Record-Eagle Thursday, October 10, 1918


    Latest Report Shows Five Hundred Fewer Cases in Hospital Sector


    This Brings Total Of Deaths Since September 28 to 120, a Favorable Figure Compared With Other Camps


    Camp Custer, Oct. 10 This camp made a gain of approximately 500 cases over the influenza epidemic yesterday, but the death toll increased two over the day previous with a list of 26 victims. This brings the total of deaths since September 28 to 120, a figure which looks very large but in reality is small compared to the deaths exacted by the contagion in other camps.

    The camp officers are considering themselves lucky thus far in the slow progress which the disease has made, but the truth is that it is much more than luck. It is the result of continued hard work on the part of the entire camp and the judgment which caused several new methods of isolation to be placed in effect. Lucy may have had something to do with the apparent checking of the disease, but the preatest percentage is the result of common sense and immediate action.

    During the 24-hour period preceding 7 o'clock this morning, 605 cases developed, and during the same hours, 1,084 were discharged from the hospital. This leaves 5,794 sick, from all causes, in the hospital sectors. Another ray of light in the darkness of the epidemic is the fact that the greater number of the new cases are very mild. The lowering of the nubmer of patients works one big improvement in that is gives the nurses and medical officers greater opportunity to give individual care to the sick.

    Traverse City Record-Eagle, Friday, October 25, 1918


    Serious Developments Necessitate Quarantine Near Wexford County Line


    Smith Brith, 14 Years Old Succumbs To Disease All Preceations Being Taken To Prevent Spread of Epidemic

    With one death of Spanish influenza and several cases already it existence, conditions have become so serious and the vicinity of Mesick, Glenngarry and Buckley, that schools of Buckley had ordered closed, public gatherings of all nature postponed and every precaution urged to further prevents spread of the contagien.

    The first victim is Smith Bright, age 14, a former Traverse City boy. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bright of Glengarryy. The family resided in Trevor City for some time, the father being employed by the Pere Marquette.

    The death of Smith Bright occurred Thursday. A younger brother is reported to be critically ill.

    Several cases have been reported in the vicinity and the disease around that section of Wexford county is assuming the proportions of an epidemic. Stringent measures are being taken to prevent its spread, the first of these being closing of schools. Buckley, Glengarry and Mesick all are reported to have a number of cases.

    Traverse City Record-Eagle Friday November 29, 1918


    Situation in Centreville and Solon is growing more critical hourly.


    Temporary Hospital Arranged at Cedar is Doing its Utmost to Take Care of the Victims

    Owing to the increased spread of influenza in Leelanau County, the health officers, through the advice of the doctors have taken steps to close public places and gatherings of every kind, including schools for two weeks. Tuesday the board of health of saw one townshipmet at Cedar, and after learning of the serious condition of the village of this vicinity, started an emergency hospital at Cedar, using the unoccupied Congregational church. A limited amount of hospital supplies with nurses were furnished by the state hospital at Traverse City.

    Members of the local Red Cross met that same afternoon and are taking an active part in the heroic Red Cross work, by making supplies, and arranging for the needs as conditions may require.

    Thirty-eight persons are reported ill. Many more cases have not been reported. Several cases have pneumonia have developed and some in a serious condition.

    Centreville has as many if not more and one death. Dr. Fralick is the attending physician.

    Joe Sbonek has pneumonia. A trained nurse is caring for him.

    Walter Popa and wife and children are ill and neighbors are caring for them.

    Elmer Billman has three cases in his home, his wife and children, Hildegard and Keith.

    Traverse City Record-Eagle, Thursday, January 16, 1919



    Stormy Session With Health Officials Results in Radical Divergence of Opinion

    Schools of Traverse City will remain closed next week. This was decided by the Board of Education as special meeting held this morning at the City Hall, after a rather heated argument in which members of the health department participated.

    Everett Whitney was an aggressive member of the Board of Education. He flayed the health department and insisted that the Board of Education would not consent to open the schools even though the city commission that otherwise lifted the ban. In this contention he was support is strongly by A. W. Bartak and certain members of the board.

    It is apparent that the Board of Education does not entirely agreed with the health department on the advisability of lifting the influenza ban. Yet the Board of Education does not greatly concern itself with this point. It's only official concern being the schools. And the decision to keep the schools closed was firm enough to reach beyond the realm of half-heartedness.

    If conditions continue to improve here it is believed the schools will be opened January 27. It may be stated, however, that if conditions are still alarming schools will continue closed until spring, if necessary, regardless of any action taken by the city commission or the health department with reference to the balance all the city.

    In announcing the schools will remain closed, the Board of Education wishes to make it plain that this is not because the situation has grown more serious. In fact, was out an exception, physicians claim that the conditions have improved 100 percent in the last few days. Mayor Swanton, whose practiced for volume can be favorably compared with that of any other physician in town, has not had a new case for four days, and other physicians report a like dying out of the disease. There is no question but that the "flu" has about spent itself here, and it is for this reason that the Board of Education poses to help stamp out completely by keeping the schools closed, they have been branded as the most prolific source of infection in the city.


  • #2

    When the flu ravaged the world

    By Vivian M. Baulch / The Detroit News

    By the spring of 1918 the terrible plague of war had enveloped the world, decimating a generation. But that same year an even more deadly plague swept across oceans, nearly eclipsing the monstrous toll inflicted on Medieval populations by the dreaded Black Plague. By the time it had run its course that terrible Autumn, nearly one billion people throughout the world had become infected and between 25 million and 50 million had died from an unusually virulent strain of influenza.

    While the war began in Europe in 1914, the United States did not become directly involved until April of 1917. That summer and early fall the U.S sent 1.5 million soldiers to Europe.

    A Red Cross unit at Detroit's Utley Library tries to cope with the flu at the height of the epidemic.

    No one knows exactly where or when the flu originated, but some traced it to an outbreak at Ft. Riley, Kans., in March of 1918 that sickened 500 soldiers and killed 48.

    Doctors were baffled by the raging fever, delirium and nose bleeds followed by bloody pneumonia. The faces of victims turned blue, and they spit up blood. Autopsies revealed that the lungs had turned blue. Doctors called the deaths pneumonia but knew it was different. They could offer no cure.

    With the vast movements of troops back and forth across the Atlantic, the flu took hold in the front-line trenches of Europe. The unsanitary conditions common to warfare helped the disease to flourish and it wasn't long before it crossed the ocean back to the U.S.

    By now known as the "Spanish Influenza," the disease entered the U.S. from Boston and spread quickly to Michigan, the Midwest, and across the entire country. More than 25 million -- nearly one-quarter of the the U.S. population at the time -- fell ill and 548,000 died.

    A New Jersey historian wrote: "A sailor, on a transport being tied up to a Boston dock that day, had symptoms of influenza. It infected New England like a forest fire. In Massachusetts alone it killed 15,000 civilians in four months, plus an unknown number of others whose deaths were erroneously classed as 'Pneumonia,' 'Encephalitis,' 'Meningitis' or other diseases. The epidemic struck both civilians and military. Some of the sailors on the first Boston shipment were transferred to Michigan and Illinois and became nuclei for the spread of influenza to the Midwest."

    Communities across the nation tried to cope with the epidemic. Here a Seattle trolley conductor bars a man not wearing a gauze mask from boarding the trolley.

    Within days the entire East Coast had begun daily death counts. By mid-October the death rate in Boston, New York and Philadelphia had risen over 700 percent. Philadelphians paraded in Liberty Loan drives for the war and infected each other; 11,000 died in October. The as yet unravaged areas quickly moved to ban public gatherings.

    The claim that the ourbreak had begun earlier that year in Kansas was only one theory. Others held that it originated in China, Russia, Spain and even a Georgia camp.

    Huge numbers of American troops in Europe were already ill. President Woodrow Wilson knew he needed to send replacements but, with the disease also sweeping the U.S. he feared he would be dooming fresh troops to the same fate. One infected soldier on a crowded troop ship would spread the flu to the others. Many would die before they even got to the war.

    Wilson sent the troops but afterward he remarked to an assistant, "I wonder if you have heard this limerick? 'I had a little bird and his name was Enza, I opened the window and in flew enza.'"

    Wilson himself contracted the disease, but he recovered.

    It wasn't only crowded troop ships that help spread the flu. Parades and other gatherings to send off the soldiers or to greet returning veterans also facilitated the spread of the disease. Rumors suggested that the Germans had created the disease in order to infect their enemies, but the flu also swept through the German population..

    By October 12, 1918, the flu had hit 250,907 American soldiers in camps accross the U.S. Eighty percent of the deaths of the U.S. armed forces personnel during World War I were attributed to influenza. By October 14, Michigan had 8,000 cases out of a population of 2.8 million, 1,059 in Detroit out of a population of 466,000.

    Michigan Governor Albert E. Sleeper proclaimed that "public gatherings of every description be discontinued."
    His statement:
    "So serious has the epidemic of Spanish influenza become in Michigan that drastic action may be necessary to prevent a further spread of the disease. Men employed in the war industries are incapacitated, with the result that work on Government material needed by the American soldiers in France is being impeded.

    The epidemic is seriously affecting the military establishment, and it is the patriotic duty of every citizen to cooperate with the military and civilian health officers to check the disease.

    I therefore request that after this date, (October 11), all conventions and public gatherings of every description be abandoned until such time as the State Board of Health considers that they may be held with safety. Convention delegates may easily carry the germs of trhe disease into a community where influenza in not prevalent at the present time.

    Unless this suggestion is voluntarily followed, it will be necessary for the Board of Health to order the closing of churches and theaters and arbitrarily to stop all public gatherings. I trust that the patriotic citizens of the state will give us their best cooperation in the matter."

    The next day 503 new cases were reported, double the number expected. The day after brought 775 new cases. The Board of Health banned all gatherings of crowds. Churches, schools and theaters were ordered closed.

    Panic fostered outlandish theories to explain the plague. One tied it to the Ft. Riley soldiers burning a huge pile of horse manure. Another theory claimed that it arose from poison gases used in the war that had combined with gases from decomposing bodies in the trenches. Others blamed gases from bomb explosions that soldiers inhaled. Others blamed pet distemper, airborne smoke and dust, and even dirty dishwater.

    Because doctors were unable to cure the flu, many victims shunned traditional medicine and turned to folk remedies.

    A funeral procession at Detroit's Fort Wayne for a victim of the fighting in Europe. More than 10 times as many Americans died from the flu as were killed in the fighting.

    Some tried gargling with bicarbonate of soda, boric acid and chlorinated soda. A few took sugar laced with turpentine or kerosene. Others truly believed that lying in a tub full of chopped onions would save them. Other aromatic remedies included wearing necklaces adorned with sacks of garlic poultices or camphor balls. Some burned sulfur or brown sugar to drive away the flu bugs.

    Panic-stricken citizens demanded laws against public sneezing, coughing or nose blowing. Gauze face masks were issued to soldiers and police, and many ordinary citizens adopted the precaution as well. Possibly, the most sensible precaution was frequent hand-washing.

    Newspapers published long lists of the dead. Many who survived contracted tuberculosis, heart diseases, and Bright's disease in their weakened states. Quarantine signs became common. Death wreaths and black bunting draped many homes. Black bunting over the doors and porches told that an older resident had passed away. Grey and white meant that younger family members had died. Passersby understood, but feared to approach to offer condolences. No one blamed them. Funerals became hurried affairs with few attendees.

    Coffins piled high near funeral homes often were stolen and used without formality. Bodies placed on porches for daily pickup recalled gruesome scenes from the Medieval Black Plague.

    Mild flu epidemics come and go every few years, some worse than others. Occasionally a virulent strain becomes pandemic, killing numbers of the elderly or other weaker members of society. The 1918 pandemic killed the young as well as the old and weak. All told, the disease claimed between 500,000 and 675,000 Americans, 10 times as many as were killed in the fighting. In Detroit, the disease raged through October and when it was finally done, 3,814 were dead.

    The plague ended as quickly as it had begun, and the panic faded in the exhiliration brought on by the end of the war November 11.

    At the height of the epidemic Red Cross workers were making daily rounds through the neighborhoods picking up the dead.

    (This story was compiled using clip and photo files from The Detroit News Library.)