COLUMNIST MARILYN HAGERTY: GF and region fight back against 1918 flu

Fresh air and cleanliness were seen as a way to prevent the terrifying flu that was rampant in Grand Forks and all over the country in October 1918.

Fresh air and cleanliness were seen as a way to prevent the terrifying flu that was rampant in Grand Forks and all over the country in October 1918.

Worldwide, the 1918 flu is believed to have caused 50 million to 100 million deaths.

"Whatever aids in curing is to be commended," a Herald editorial concluded.

"If a way to provide immunity from the flu is found, that will be of great value. Meanwhile, the best protection of the population in general is to be found in close attention to the ordinary rules of health.

"Sensible living will not drive the disease germ from the air, but will aid the individual in resisting the encroachments. Hence, it is of prime importance when there is a disease of this character, that proper attention be given to food, sleep and exercise and attention to all of the other things that go with maintaining a strong and powerfully resistant constitution."


The flu hit hardest during October 1918, when all public meetings were closed down, and UND was closed.

The movies were closed. So were the pool halls. No public funerals could be held. It was not until November that the ban was lifted.

The Herald carried news items about the flu in every edition. So, on Oct. 5, 1918, there was a story about the discovery of an influenza serum. It was made from germs of the disease, but it was not claimed that it would be a cure.

The Red Cross was on hand to combat the malady in cooperation with the Public Health Service and the State Board of Health. On Oct. 9, 1918, all public meetings in Grand Forks were suspended until the influenza epidemic subsided. There was no call for panic, a Herald editorial said.

On Oct. 12, the epidemic was sweeping the country at a fast rate. Seventeen new cases of influenza were reported here. Influenza caused the death of John Fitzgerald, a well-known employee of R.B. Griffith Co.

Gas masks supplied by the Red Cross should be disinfected every 24 hours, the Herald reported.

On Oct. 16, 1918, 215 cases of flu were reported in Grand Forks. The convalescent ward at the university camp was filling up under the watchful eye of physicians. Every man in the camp was wearing a face mask provided by the Red Cross.

On Oct. 17, the city health officer, Dr. H. O'Keefe, said the epidemic was not ending. Lt. W.H. Witherstine, a former Grand Forks doctor at Mayo Clinic, sent some influenza vaccine to Grand Forks. It was said to be very valuable as well as scarce. In Rochester, Minn., home of the Mayo, weeks passed without a death from pneumonia that so often developed from the flu.


Even on Oct. 27, when the flu was said to have passed its crest, people were developing pneumonia. It was deemed unsafe to lift the ban on public meetings because of the flu.

On Oct. 31, O'Keefe said the doctors of the city still had their hands full treating influenza and pneumonia. No more vaccine had arrived here, and there was a great call for it all over the country.

Things began looking up in November 1918. On Nov. 2, no new deaths from pneumonia were reported here, but health officials could not make predictions when the ban on meetings would be lifted, the Herald reported.

Conditions at the university were improved. There were only five mild cases of pneumonia, 17 cases of influenza and 12 in the recuperation ward.

Pastors of local churches were reported to be "making no fuss over the matter or putting up any excuses. They responded from the beginning by following recommendations of the health board."

Some cases of influenza likely would linger over the winter, O'Keefe said.

Other news items:

** Lars Salmonson, an October 1918 victim of the flu, was 25 when he died and had been sick for only two days.


** Doctors are working night and day in Red Lake Falls, Minn., where there have been four deaths in the past week. Arabelle Kankel, 17, died at her home, where she had been taking care of her parents who were ill with influenza.

There was "delirium, joy in Grand Forks" when the armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1918, ending the Great War, the Herald reported.

The ban on public meetings that had been imposed Oct. 6 was lifted Nov. 13. But several new cases were reported after that.

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