Illinois and the
1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic
Typed and Donated by ©Susan Cook
Headlines during the fall of 1918
consist of news regarding WW I. The nation was very patriotic, and many
of the pages of newspapers reflect this. Citizens banding together to
come to the aid of the country, the men and the families of the United
States of America. As you browse through each page, you find the sad
stories of mothers and wives losing their loved ones to the ravages of
war. As the months progress, you also follow the story of the Spanish
flu, making it's way from the back pages of the newspapers to take it's
place alongside the war, on the front page and in the annals of history.
The Spanish flu, also known as the "Spanish Lady," is said to have
originated in the United States at Fort Riley KS, the first of 107 cases
being reported on 11 March, 1918. The original source is said to have
been in Europe, most likely in Spain. As servicemen were shipped
overseas to Europe, they came in contact with the bug. When they began
to return home, the epidemic hit the East coast ports like wildfire. In
a short time, the flu made it's way to 46 states, killing more than
500,000 people by December 1918, and leaving 20 million seriously ill
citizens to fight the disease.
Illinois was directly in it's path. At Camp Grant, in Rockford,
Illinois, 115 soldiers died in a 24 hour period. The production of
coffins could not keep up with the number of deaths occurring each day,
in each city. Social clubs cancelled meetings until further notice;
town meetings and even political campaigns were put on hold. City
streets were hosed down each day. People venturing out into the cities
were required to wear a protective mask. Mass panic and mass
destruction of this nation's citizens was occurring throughout most
states in the union.
Chicago, 16 October, 1918
As reported in the East St. Louis Journal
City and State Health authorities were to meet here today to give
their final decision on the question of closing of churches, saloons,
cabarets, schools, pool rooms and ice cream parlors as a result of
An order closing theaters and movie picture houses went into effect
yesterday through-out Illinois.
During the last 24 hours, there were 317 deaths in Chicago alone, due to
the epidemic. There were 2,221 new cases reported in the city.
According to reports compiled by Dr. C. St. Clair Drake, State Health
Commissioner, the disease has affected 300,000 persons in the State of
...the flu was officially declared an epidemic in Illinois in October of
This particular article reappears quite often in the East St. Louis
Journal during the fall of 1918:
THE SPANISH FLU
Go to bed and stay quiet, take a laxative, eat plenty of nourishing
food, keep up your strength, nature is the "cure."
ALWAYS CALL A DOCTOR
No Occasion for panic
Spanish Influenza, which appeared in Spain in May, has all the
appearances of grip or la grippe, which has swept over the world in
numerous epidemics far back as history runs. Hippocrates refers to an
epidemic in 412 BC, which is regarded by many to have been influenza.
Every century has had its attacks. Beginning with 1831, this country
has had five epidemics, the last in 1889-90.
Grippe, or influenza, as it is now called, usually begins with a
chill followed by aching, feverishness and sometimes nausea and
dizziness, and a general feeling of weakness and depression. The
temperature is from 100 to 104, and the fever usually lasts from three
to five days. The germs attack the mucous membrane, or lining of the
air passages: nose, throat and bronchial tubes, there is usually a hard
cough, especially bad at night, oftentimes a sore throat or tonsillitis
and frequently all the appearances of a severe head cold.
Go to bed at the first symptoms, not only for your own sake, but to
avoid spreading the disease to others; take a purgative, eat plenty of
nourishing food, remain perfectly quiet and don't worry. Quinine,
aspirin or Dover's Powder, etc., may be administered by the physician's
directions to relieve the aching. But there is no cure for influenza,
the disease must run its course, but nature will throw off the attack if
only you keep up your strength. The chief danger lies in the
complications which may arise. Influenza so weakens the bodily
resistance that there is danger of pneumonia or bronchitis developing,
and sometimes inflammation of the middle ear (*note, my great
grandmother lost her hearing due to the flu during this time), or heart
affections. for these reasons, it is very important that the patient
remain in bed until his strength returns, stay in bed at least two days
or more after the fever has left you, or if you are over 50 or not
strong, stay in bed four days or more, according to the severity of the
In order to stimulate the lining of the air passages to throw off
the grip germs, to aid in loosening the phlegm and keeping the air
passages open, thus making the breathing easier, Vick's VapoRub will be
found effective (*my family still uses Vicks to this day!). Hot, wet
towels should be applied over the throat, chest and back between the
shoulder blades to open the pores. Then VapoRub should be rubbed in over
the parts until the skin is red, spread on thickly and covered with two
thicknesses of hot flannel cloths. Leave the clothing loose around the
neck as the heat of the body liberates the ingredients in the form of
vapors. These vapors, inhaled with each breath, carry the medication
directly to the parts affected. At the same time, VapoRub is absorbed
thru and stimulates the skin, attracting the blood to the surface, and
thus aids in relieving the congestion within.
How to avoid the disease
Evidence seems to prove that this is a germ disease, spread
principally by human contact, chiefly thru coughing, sneezing or
spitting (folks were fined in some cities for spitting in public). So
avoid persons having colds, which means avoiding crowds, common drinking
cups, roller towels, etc. Keep up your bodily strength by plenty of
exercise in the open air, and good food. Above all, keep free from
colds, as colds irritate the lining of the air passages and render them
much better breeding places for the germs.
Use Vick's VapoRub at the very first sign of a cold. For a head cold,
melt a little VapoRub in a spoon and inhale the vapors, or better still,
use VapoRub in a benzoin steam kettle. If this is not available, use
an ordinary tea-kettle. Fill half-full of boiling water, put in half a
teaspoon of VapoRub from time to time, keep the kettle just slowly
boiling and inhale the steam arising.
NOTE: Vick's VapoRub is the discovery of a North Carolina druggist, who
found how to combine, in salve form Menthol and Campher with such
volatile oils as Eucalyptus, Thyme, etc., so that when the salve is
applied to the body heat, the ingredients are liberated in the form of
TAKEN FROM THE HENRY NEWS REPUBLICAN, HENRY, IL
OCTOBER 17, 1918
Local News Items
Donated by Nancy Piper
Yesterday's daily papers say that
there are 300,000 cases of flu in Illinois. The closing of schools,
churches, fraternal societies, places of amusement and all other places
for public gatherings is general throughout the state.
THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC
(Special to Henry Republican)
Chicago, Oct. 15 -- The results of a
state wide survey by telegraph of every Illinois community of 1,000
population or over, given out here tonight by Dr. C. St. Clari Drake,
director of the state department of public health, show that 227 cities
and towns in Illinois have been hit by the epidemic of Spanish
influenza. The number of cases reported in these communities in 55,725
of which 17,943 are in Chicago, and 37,782 down state. There have been
2,264 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in Chicago and 491 in the down
state communities which have been reported.
Convinced that the epidemic had
reached proportions which required prompt and vigorous measures, teh
state department of health has ordered that all theaters, including
moving picture shows, all night schools, all lodges and all places of
public amusement, closed until the epidemic subsides. All public schools
which are lacking in adequate medical and nursing supervision were
included in the order.
"From the information we now have",
said Dr. Drake, "we believe that every community in Illinois will be
affected by influenza before the epidemic subsides. On the basis of the
reports which reached us today, we estimate that there are now more than
170,000 cases in the state outside of Chicago.
An analysis of the influenza
situation in Chicago today shows that the epidemic has not reached its
crest here. Fore the week ending September 28, there were 598 cases
reported in Chicago with 176 deaths. During the week ending October 7
there were 6,106 cases reported with 627 deaths. The week which ended
October 14 produced 11,239 cases and 1,461 deaths. The total number of
deaths from influenza and pneumonia in Chicago during the past three
weeks was 2,264 compared with an average of 156 for the same period
during the past five years.
Although the situation is bad in
many down state communities, it will get worse before it gets better,
according to members of the state influenza commission, which meets
daily. The town of Assumption in Christian county, with a population of
1,918 has reported 500 cases and has called for help. There are only
four doctors and one registered nurse in the town.
Greenup, with a population of 1,224,
reported 400 cases. Two doctors live in Greenup and both are ill with
influenza. Peoria reports 10,000 cases and Rockford 6,000. In Peoria two
emergency hospitals have been equipped, and in Rockford, medical help
has been loaned from Camp Grant, where the epidemic is rapidly being
brought under control.
More than 1,200 cases have been
reported in Kankakee. Cairo reports500. Marengo, with a population of
1,872, reported 496 and has asked for the help of outside doctors and
nurses. Nokomis, which has a population of 1,973 has reported over 600
cases with no hospital facilities available. Bloomington reports 1,200
cases with 11 deaths.
The state health department urges
extreme care in order to prevent, so far as possible, the needless
further spread of the contagion. All persons are warned to keep away
from crowds, to avoid the person who sneezes, coughs and spits without
covering the face with a cloth, and to consult a physician immediately
upon the first symptoms of what may seem to be an ordinary cold.
As the disease took it's toll,
national officials began to worry that tuberculosis would strike the
The DuQuoin Tribune, 1918
ADVICE TO "FLU CONVALESCENTS"
U. S. Health Service Issues Warning
"Increases in all Respiratory Diseases after the Influenza Epidemic
Probable. Spain and England report increase in Tuberculosis after
Washington, D. C.-(special)-According to a report made to the
United States public Health Service, the epidemic of influenza in spain
has already caused an increase in the prevalence and deaths from
pulmonary tuberculosis. A similar association between influenza and
tuberculosis was recently made by sir Arthur Newsholme, the chief
medical officer of the English public health service, in his analysis of
the tuberculosis death rate in England.
In order that the people of the United States may profit by the
experience of other countries Surgeon General Rupert BLUE of the United
States Public Health Service has just issued a warning emphasizing the
need of special precautions at the present time. "Experience seems to
indicate," says the Surgeon General, "that persons whose resistance has
been weakened by an attack of influenza are peculiarly susceptible to
tuberculosis. With millions of its people recently affected with
influenza this country now offers conditions favoring the spread of
As with anything else, there are those who choose to turn the profit
at another's expense. Taking advantage of the misery of others were fly
by night "snake oil salesmen" who offered the "cure" in a bottle. The
Surgeon General can be found warning citizens against unscrupulous
patent medicine fakers: "Above all do not trust in the misleading
statements of unscrupulous patent medicine fakers. there is no specific
medicine for the cure of tuberculosis. the money spent on such medicines
is thrown away; it should be spent instead for good food and decent
living." In other articles, citizens were warned about these medicine
fakers when it came to the "cure for the flu" as well. The Government
did receive numerous "home remedy" suggestions, such as:
"Take two or three large, ripe but fresh red peppers of the hot variety,
chop fine, put them in an open stew pan with plenty of water to cook
them. Set on the stove and boil nicely for an hour or more, or two
hours would be better, keeping enough water to prevent their burning or
getting dry. Have outside windows and doors closed, or mostly so, the
object being to permit the vapor to permeate all the air of the living
apartments that the patient may inhale this impregnated air as strongly
as he can take of it for the time stated above. This will cause a
looseness of the cold and a coughing and sneezing. Either it kills the
germs of the disease or causes the system to throw it off. In some
cases a second treatment might be needed."
"Almost a sure cure is inhaling smoke from wood or wet or damp straw or
hay that will not burn very fast but make a good smoke and inhale for 10
minutes or so, and a few treatments will cure it. It is said the flu
starts in the nasal cavities and not in the throat as some think but
finally reaches the throat organs. Burn oak, hickory, ash wood, also
corn cobs, anything that will make good smoke and it will kill the
A Georgia physician sent his advice...he had avoided yellow fever this
"I believe when the system is thoroughly saturated with the sulphur, as
suggested, it will prevent the germs of any disease from attacking the
system. there is no doubt the sulphur will penetrate the system
readily,for when one takes sulphur in the system and has a silver dollar
in his pocket, it will be turned black, caused by the sulphuretted
hydrogen. Try it and see. Now it would be very little trouble to have
the boys in the camps carry out this suggestion and thus break up the
disease which is causing so much suffering and a great many deaths."
"To ease the patient, saturate a small piece of clean white cloth or
cotton with alcohol, adding three drops of chloroform and place between
the patient's teeth, letting him inhale the fumes of the alcohol and
And, presented in the E. St. Louis Journal in 1918:
Members of the Illinois influenza pneumonia commission last night
were roused to high enthusiasm by authoritative reports of startling
cures of apparently dying persons.
The treatment has been used successfully in a long series of cases at
the naval hospital at Chelsea, outside Boston, and first hand
information based on interviews with the physicians who originated and
used the method was brought to the commission by Dr. Herman N. BUNDESEN,
who was sent east by Health Commissioner John Dill ROBERTSON.
Serum is Injected
In a word, the treatment consists of the injection of a serum
extracted from the blood of persons who have recovered from the
influenza-pneumonia. And the commission discussed the possibility of
obtaining supply for use in extreme cases by volunteers from the ranks
of the jackies at Great Lakes and the soldiers of Camp Grant, probably
20,000 of whom have passed through the disease.
Supply is limited
The commission emphasized that by no means will it be possible to
produce a supply of serum sufficient to treat every person affected by
the epidemic or even a large percentage of them. But the members did
see in the discovery a chance to save many human lives.
They also wanted it made plain to the public that the serum is
absolutely a different article from the vaccine which is to be
manufactured under the commission's direction after this method of Dr.
E. C. ROSENOW of the Mayo foundation. That vaccine is a preventive and
is administered to persons who are well. The serum is a cure and is
administered to sick persons.
Of course, no cure was found. So many families were lost to this virus
in such a short time. There were those who could not afford to bury
their dead. Many times, officials would find bodies stored in homes.
Due to the quick spreading of the disease, many family members would be
found dead in their homes, sometimes with one sick child remaining and
living among the bodies. One man, Peter MARRAZO of Chicago, lost his
mind and slit the throats of his wife and four children. He told
officials "I'll cure them my own way!"