The 1918 “Flu” Pandemic in Richardson County False reports and quarantine in Falls City

By Nikki McKim

This article is the fourth in a series about the 1918 “flu” epidemic that killed millions worldwide. 

As the ‘flu’ swept through Southeast Nebraska and the rest of the country, numbers were reported locally and nationally. 

In November, it was reported that Falls City had over 400 cases of Influenza, a condition of the ‘flu.’ The Falls City News was quick to reprimand the person who erroneously sent that report out to the state media. 

Injurious Report. The report has been sent to some of the state papers that Falls City has 400 cases of Influenza. Why was this done? Undoubtedly no individual with the city’s good at heart would send out such a report. It has injured business and the report grew in telling. This paper has been in communication with city officials every day and has attempted to give their statement of facts that the public should not be needlessly alarmed. Still, these reports come from state papers sent out by Falls City correspondents have put Falls City in a very unfair light and has driven trade from town. Every line of business has suffered and why? Just because someone wanted to be sensational. There have been fewer deaths according to the number of cases than in other towns in the county or the rural districts. The health board city officials and physicians have simply done their duty in giving out accurate reports. They have now exaggerated; they have only attempted to safeguard the people. Why their reports should be misconstructed into unpleasant notoriety and injury for the town by calamity howlers are beyond human understanding. Falls City News, November 19, 1918

Weather not helping

The weather started to turn in mid-November, making the situation worse. Falls City papers reported on the situation: The bad weather of the latter part of the week did not improve the influenza conditions and the board of health decided not to take any chances. Consequently, the ban was not raised for school and other public places for another week. The situation is not alarming at this time, however. 

Alaskan Village nearly wiped out.

Nationally it was reported that in a small village in Alaska, during a five day period in November, the “flu” claimed the lives of 72 of its 80 adult residents. A mass grave was created on a hill beside the village. 

The mass grave was frozen and left untouched until 1951, where Swedish microbiologist, Johan Hultin a Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa, obtained permission to excavate the burial site. Hultin hoped to study the lung samples of those lost in 1918. Hultin was unsuccessful. At 72 years old, Hultin made the trip to Brevig Mission, Alaska again. This time he was able to retrieve positive 1918 virus genetic material to study. 

Influenza Decreasing?

On November 22, 1918, the Falls City News reported that Influenza was decreasing. 

A careful census of the city was made Thursday morning to ascertain the exact number of influenza cases in Falls City and their location. The board of health authorizes the statement that there are at this time, only 20 families affected and two new families were reported in three days. Two families were released Thursday morning. Every house where a case of Influenza prevails is quarantined and a sign placed in full view. Only the members of the household are permitted to go there. If the general public would only use a fraction of the care exercised by the board of health and physicians, it would be a short time until there would be no influenza. Reports to the effect that one time there were 400 cases in Falls City that are absolutely untrue. At the very worst, there were over 60 cases at one time as tabulated by the board of health from reports furnished by the physicians. While the indication is that the epidemic is on the decrease and is confined mostly to families where several have gone through it, it is still undecided when the ban will be lifted. There is a wide diversity of opinions among businessmen, ministers and the school board. At the same time, the physicians seem to feel that it is better to work for the safest side and keep people from congregating for a while. However, ample precaution is being taken and with proper assistance and care from the citizens, the ban could be raised in a short time. 

When all became one (Bostom Transcript)

In the recent epidemic in Tauton, the local hospital was so overcrowded that the public safety committee was obliged to seek an emergency hospital. The lower floor of the Trinitarian Congregational church, comprising of the church school and special plant, was turned over to them for this purpose. With its modern sanitary arrangements, it’s electric lighting. It’s well-equipped kitchen; it’s clean, well-ventilated rooms the school rooms became overnight an ideal hospital. The beautiful ladies’ parlor became still more attractive as a ward for the babies while the junior department and main rooms were filled with men and women. Leaders in the community, both men and women gladly served as orderlies and nurses, assisting the trained helpers, who were overburdened in the care of the sick. Catholic priests administered the last rites in the “orthodox” vestry. As the end came, a Catholic nurse placed the crucifix in the hand of the dying while the Protestant minister lit the tapers beside the bed. A local, meeting a well-known priest in the vestibule of the church said, “My son there are no different religions in these days,” was the reply of the priest as he passed his holy task.  

So the People may know. 

The Falls City News reported on November 26, 1918, that at a joint meeting of the school board and board of health, five members of the school board voted to open schools on the 25th of this month; one voted no. Whereupon, the board of health submitted the school board the following resolution. 

Update on Falls City cases reported statewide by the City Health Board on November 22, 1918

The board of health of this city in regular session after having had a survey made the health of this city by Mr. Groves, superintendent of the schools, find that we have 21 families of 57 cases of ‘flu.’ We are of the opinion that the ban should not be lifted at this time, however, if the school board of this city sees fit to open the schools after they have been fully advised by Mr. Groves who has a full list of all the cases in the city, we, the board of health, will not enter any objections thereto. 

W.S. Leyda, Dr. C.L. Hustead, John Moisman Jr. Samuel Marts, City Board of Health.

Rigid quarantine established in Falls City

A rigid quarantine has been established. Every house that has a single case of the flu has a place card on it. An effort to isolate the patient in the home so that the rest of the family will not come in contact with the disease. Help is being supplied where it is necessary so far as possible. Some of the conditions are beyond belief; in one home, we found six persons in one room all down with the disease, only two beds, four in one bed. In another place where the husband and father had such recently passed away, the poor distressed wife sat by the bed of the little boy as he tossed in agony, the mother herself not yet fit to be out of bed. Falls City Journal, November 26, 1919

Flu Situation Better

The report of Dr. Cady for Tuesday made to the Board of Health, shows a marked improvement. The number of critical cases steadily lessening, while new cases become fewer. The rigid quarantine that we are endeavoring to enforce is such that we want names and addresses of all parties that break the rules of quarantine so they might be put under surveillance. The parties that have had the disease are not permitted to leave the house until they are discharged by their physician, reported by the Falls City Journal on November 27, 1918

They also reported on the same day that five new cases of Influenza developed Sunday, while six cases were discharged as cured, a gain of one in our favor. There are now 55 cases confined to only 31 families making a material reduction for the week. These facts were made known to the board of health and school Board, and while both were well pleased with the showing, neither board was willing to assume responsibility for ordering schools opened. The school board was for opening the schools yesterday and favored it by a five to one vote, but when the board of health showed them, there was still 55 cases in town and offered to raise no objections if in spite of this fact the school board wanted to open the schools they declined to assume the responsibility. So there will be no school, no picture shows or church meetings before next week and possibly not then. 

Not a Strict Quarantine?

Last week a fellow with one pint of whiskey in his pocket and a number of pints in his stomach was picked up and landed in the cooler, where he developed a case of the flu. Now some particular people are kicking because the quarantine card with the warning to ‘keep out’ has not been placed on the building. Some folks are too particular, Falls City News.

The “Flu” at Tecumseh getting worse.

The “Flu” epidemic at Tecumseh is rapidly growing worse, according to the Chieftain. A second outbreak of the ‘flu’ has occurred in Hiawatha; according to the World, the disease is more widespread than before. The Morrill News reports that the epidemic is getting a new hold in that vicinity and if not headed off soon, would visit practically every home in that section. Reports from Humboldt, Stella, Shubert and towns to the north and west of us all report increased activity of the epidemic. 

Frank Simon evidently forgot to knock on wood when he was bragging about Rulo being flueless. We hear both Frank and Mrs. Simon are down with the disease following a trip to St. Joe. It would seem that Falls City alone of all the towns in this territory is able to report a decrease for the past two weeks. 

Continue Closing Order

Nebraska State Journal November 29 reported that the reports to the Richardson County Board of Health up to the night prior showed an increase of seventy-eight new cases of Influenza in this County Thursday, which is attributed to the rain and snow storm up to Tuesday evening the situation seemed favorable to removing the ban. Still, the sudden increase in new cases makes it seem prudent to continue the closing of schools and churches.

Next week we’ll take a look at how Falls City acted and sometimes reacted as the “flu” engulfed  Richardson County. 

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