By Beverly Clinkingbeard
We’ll not forget the Spring of 2020. Everyone will have their own memories and tales to tell about a name we knew not only a few weeks ago, “Coronavirus/COVID-19.” It slipped into our world quickly showing us another challenge of global living and how immaterial is distance.
We’ve been there and done that – isolating ourselves, national and local lockdown – society as each has known it, coming to a screeching halt and just maybe life taking a different direction. The world and our locale, 102 years ago, experienced the flu. Early on it was called pneumonia or lagrippe. What would begin as a seeming cold would quickly become influenza and pneumonia would follow. It was an H1N1 influenza (that is today’s medical category and unknown in 1918) and dubbed “Spanish Flu.” Spain objected to the name, but Spain had a horrific number of deaths. Their army was called out to bury the dead. The flu was very contagious, many soldiers died in the line of duty, joining those they had been commanded to help.
Our nation was not only fighting a debilitating and deadly flu, but also WWI. That meant soldiers were living closely in barracks – a perfect incubator for the influenza germ. We were reminded then and now, weapons, power – military, political or social – was and is no match for an invisible germ capable of literally knocking down a world.
In the 1916-18 WWI war, Spain had remained neutral. Spain’s neighbor, France, had every able-bodied man on the front lines defending their country. Many from Spain went to France to work replacing their young men on the farm and factory jobs. Not realized at the time, China was suffering from a flu epidemic. Great Britain and Canada, desperate to replace their soldiers in the work place, brought 50,000 young men from China to Europe to build bunkers, roads and barriers in the war effort and replace workers on the farm and in the factory. The workers were transported in ‘standing room only conditions’ – and while they brought a willingness to work, the flu germ also traveled with them. An article in The Avalanche recruited farm workers for Canada. They gave a location in Kansas City for a job and transportation.
Imported workers, returning soldiers, and the stage was set for an epidemic to become a global pandemic. Though WWI deaths due to battlefield incidences were appallingly high, more soldiers died from influenza than military action. The virus continued to mutate and became more deadly as it progressed. The figures are an estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza, and the illness focused on young adults and children.
A basic that worked and evolved from the experience was ‘quarantine’/‘isolation.’ Considering our expertise in health care today and the ability to communicate in so many different ways and mediums, we are away and far ahead of our great-grandparents in dealing with an epidemic.
Then as now, schools closed, churches ceased services temporarily, funerals were poorly attended, theatres and opera houses were closed.
If people doubted the potency of the flu they only had to hear of their neighbors’ experiences. The germ hit hard in Blanchard, Iowa/Missouri. If in doubt, make a trip to the cemetery. Two small stones attest to the heartache a family experienced. One stone reads, “Joe 1914 – Sept. 23, 1918.” “Wm. Edmond 1916 – Sept. 3, 1918.” “D. Raymond 2.17 – Aug 28,1918.” (Wm. Edmond and D. Raymond are on the same stone.) They are buried beside their grandparents.
Westboro’s October news said, “The Spanish influenza has spread rapidly during the past week. The doctors reported 67 cases in Westboro and vicinity . . . the schools, picture show, etc., are closed indefinitely.” “A young man, popular in the community, Iowa Lefforge . . . died in his home after a brief illness of pneumonia following an attack of Spanish influenza.”
In Tarkio, the mayor issued a proclamation to close the, “. . . schools, churches, picture show and all other public gatherings for the week of October 12-19 inclusive.” At the end of November the ban was lifted, only to immediately descend again for another month. A particularly sad funeral was the burial of two little girls, seven and four respectively. They had died within a few hours of each other. Due to their mother being ill, an aunt was caring for them. A funeral for the little girls and their aunt said, “All three were laid to rest today.”
Perhaps Ray Schenck’s influenza story as shared by his granddaughter is nothing short of dramatic. He went to Kansas City to enlist in the Army, and while there he became ill with influenza. He was put into a ward (the Army erected large hospital tents filled with cots to care for the many ill soldiers), and so sick they thought him dead, and carried him to a “dead room” where there were many bodies awaiting re-location. His eyes fluttered open and someone realized he was very ill, but not dead! He was returned to the ward area for medical treatment. The rest of the story is, in time he regained his health, but was unable to continue serving in the U.S. Army. Thus, he opted to attend a mechanic school in Kansas City that the government offered to the young men. Still later, he returned to his home in Clarinda, married and had a family and became a farmer, businessman and pilot. He owned and operated the first sod airstrip in Iowa (1939). It is now Clarinda Airport – Schenck Field.
By comparison, our isolation today offers radio, television, smart phones, live stream programs, movies … curb service at restaurants, home schooling and working from the home via internet, and on and on. It is here that I/we can take an opportunity to salute the many folk who keep things rolling for everyone – observers of safety precautions, our health care providers, those who deliver and those stocking the shelves, you who have technical ability to make possible instant and continuous communication, you who faithfully pray – thank you! Every circumstance is different. There are hardship situations, but if “you” weren’t staying the course for us, how much more difficult it could and would be!
In 1918, only 1% of the homes had water and electricity inside the home. Caring for the sick would have been much different from today. Just maybe . . . toilet paper wasn’t in as big a demand as it apparently is today – ‘just sayin’.
Stay home, stay safe, stay in prayer. ’Til next time . . .