By Nikki McKim
This article is the third in a series about the 1918 “flu” epidemic that killed millions worldwide.
The ‘flu’ was working its way into Richardson County and was about to spread through each local town like wildfire.
In 1918 every local newspaper gave names of County residents who they heard had the “flu.” The Falls City News reported on October 22, 1918, that Victor McNeely, who lived on Chase Street in Falls City, was suffering from influenza. They also reported that Miss Clara Wies had been ill, but slowly improving.
The Falls City News also reported that “In order to do business in Omaha, the employees of banks are required to wear influenza masks. These masks are made of gauze. At Alliance, all businesses are closed as well as residences where six or more persons reside. Home Guards patrol streets and allow no two to stop and talk, all due to the flu epidemic.”
On October 22, 1918, an article in the Falls City News said at a meeting of the Board of Health, and several Physicians decided to close the public schools, convent, churches, clubs, and picture shows indefinitely.
“The city has been most fortunate so far in having no fatalities in the city. Although several deaths have occurred in the county, all public places have been closed, and it is now up to the parents of children to keep them off the streets and to families where influenza prevails to prevent people from coming to their homes. The houses in some cases have been placarded “influenza,” but the members of the family will be permitted their liberty. There has been no quarantine. How long the band will hold is uncertain. It is hoped by preventing the congregation of people; it will prevent the spread of the disease. This is a good big step in the right direction, but one more is necessary. Quarantine houses where cases exist and enforce it, then keep children at home instead of on the street. It is no time to take drastic measures after the fatalities begin. Prevention is far earlier than cure.”
Statewide quarantine rules were soon issued for homes that were affected by the flu. Residents of the home were to stay in the home until the quarantine was lifted. Any necessary supplies would be brought to the house and left outside the door. Soiled clothes would be sent to the laundry if they were placed in a paper-covered package.
Influenza? Call your doctor
On October 25, 1918, the Falls City News reports indicated that the ‘flu’ was on the rise, but with few local fatalities. Within 24 hours, twenty-four new cases were reported in the city and forty-four in Richardson County. The paper said that the “flu” was not spreading more rapidly due to the rigid rule of physicians who “in every way try to enforce their instructions. The whole trouble is with the people themselves. They persist in using home remedies that are in direct opposition to what is required for the treatment of the disease, and they are thoroughly infected before a physician is called. Again people are taking up fake stuff guaranteed to prevent influenza. There is no such remedy. Do not endanger your own lives and the community by taking up with such things. Call your physician in time. It is better to call him once unneeded than to wait and spread the disease. The Government has published a few simple precautions which physicians are endorsing, such as keeping the bowels open, drinking plenty of water, and adding half a teaspoon of common baking soda to a glass of water two or three times a day. Eat plenty of onions every day, keeping windows open, and the person exceedingly clean. These precautions are within reach of every individual. Consult your physician, let fake remedies alone, stay at home if it is in your household, do not go where there is a case. In this way, you can help stamp it out.”
October 29, 1918, Falls City News: “In the wake of the terrible epidemic passing through the county corner comes sad news and sorry to many homes, often where least expected. In the past few days, the blow has fallen in several homes in our city, death taking tribute among some of our most prominent families. The heartaches are many, and there is a general sadness among our people. We would comfort the sorrowing while we feel the call may come soon to our own. Anxiety and sympathy go hand in hand, and the friend you comforted yesterday may share your sorrow today.”
Dormitory used for isolation Hospital
The housekeeper for Rev. Father J. J. Hoffman was said to have influenza. She was moved to the dormitory of Sacred Heart convent where the Sisters of the school took charge of the case. It was decided to use the two dormitories as an isolation hospital where the Sisters would take charge of any cases sent to them.
“There has been a number of cases in the city without nurses to care for them. These dormitories are light and can be well aired and an ideal place. The sisters are always ready to give relief in any and all cases, which is part of their religion.” The Falls City News October 31, 1918.
Nebraska’s statewide “flu” ban on public gatherings was lifted on November 1.
Operators have flu
On November 4, 1918, the Falls City Journal reported that the telephone office was seven operators short due to sickness, probably influenza, in most cases. “From seven a.m to 8 a.m., two girls were trying their best to handle both long-distance and local, but many calls were unanswered. By 8:30 a full forge was gotten together, but the operators now working will have to work from twelve to sixteen hours a day to take the place of those ill. The company wishes to ask its patrons to use the telephone only for important calls and cut out all visiting over the lines.”
Influenza thought not to be increasing.
The Falls City News reported on November 5, 1918, that influenza raged through the town and country but didn’t seem to be increasing.
“Up to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, the last official report, there were eleven new cases against fifteen previously with one death. In the county, twenty-four cases and one death (out of this city) were reported against thirty-one Friday. Some new homes have developed the epidemic, and hereafter the exact number of new localities will be reported along with the cases where it has been in families for several days. Up to noon today, Monday, nine deaths have occurred in this town. Some cases are still critical, and some of the long-standing are improving.”
The ban not lifted in Falls City
At a meeting of the City Board of Health held in the council rooms, it was decided unwise to lift the ban in Falls City, as there were six new cases of the flu reported for Falls City and 22 or the county. No public gatherings were allowed, nor the churches or schools will be allowed to open the first of the week as was thought would be the case. Falls City Journal, November 8, 1918.
Drafted to Fight the Flu
Dr. E.R. Hays had offered his service to Uncle Sam earlier in 1918 but had never been called until November. Upon his arrival was drafted to fight the flu, the Government Health Service.
“He was not given much time to arrange business matters here, as he left today where it will be his duty to organize the physicians of the county and also the red cross to fight the disease which has a big hold on Holt County having 125 deaths in the past four weeks.” November 8, 1918, Falls City Journal.
Next week: State papers receive false information and report Falls City has 400 cases of influenza; cases don’t hit 400, but they’re on the rise.