by James Rada, Jr.
The Pandemic to End All Pandemics — Part 2
Few people saw Spanish Flu as a threat at first. Although more people than usual got sick in the spring of 1918, they recovered for the most part.
That was the first wave. The second wave hit in the fall of 1918.
The Second Wave
Spanish Flu hit Frederick County on September 26, 1918, when the Frederick News reported 50 flu cases in the county. The following day, 10 more cases were reported. The first death from flu in the county, George Cronise of Buckeystown, occurred on September 29.
By October 2, more than 100 cases were reported in Buckeystown alone.
At this early stage, Thurmont, Emmitsburg, Urbana, New Market, and Buckeystown were the hardest-hit areas, according to Dr. T. Clyde Routson, the county health officer. He was against closing schools at first because the children would play and mingle with friends, and the result would be the same. He also said that it would be unfair to communities not affected to have their children deprived of education.
One Frederick Post headline on October 7 was “Physicians Believe That Epidemic Has Been Checked.” This was far from the truth. The flu had taken hold in all areas of the county. During the month of October, a flu story could be found on the front page of the Frederick Post every day it was published except for two days. Most of those headlines announced how many had died the previous day.
Pennsylvania enacted the strictest quarantine the state had ever seen, closing virtually every public meeting place. The Gettysburg Times announced on October 4 that Acting State Health Commissioner B. F. Royer ordered closed every moving picture house, every theater, every saloon, and every place of public amusement, including pool rooms and dance halls. The sick weren’t allowed to have visitors unless they were so desperately ill that they weren’t expected to live. And any visitors had to wear a gauze mask. All funerals had to be private. The Chambersburg Public Opinion called this “the most drastic quarantine order ever given in Pennsylvania.”
At this point, 60,000 people in the Philadelphia area were already sick with the flu. Camp Colt in Gettysburg had 21 deaths on October 2, bringing the total deaths there to 62. Yet, it wasn’t big news. Suddenly, with the issuance of the quarantine order, headlines were everywhere.
With Pennsylvania setting the example, Frederick County started talking about quarantines on October 7. It was too late. That day, 25 people in the county died from the flu, including Francis Dotterer in Catoctin Furnace, Mary Smith, Fleet Gall, and Lulu Smith in Thurmont.
Frederick County remained open, but then Maryland took actions similar to Pennsylvania, closing public meeting places on October 8. Camp Meade, which had been flu-free a few weeks earlier, had 277 deaths, more than 5 percent of its population. Three Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg and three from Baltimore had been at Camp Meade since October 3, trying to fight the disease. The sisters reported back two days after arriving that there had been 100 deaths in one day and 30 deaths on their first night at Camp Meade.
Since the Crimean War the previous century, whenever there was a public health crisis, whether in peace or war, the Daughters had been called on to help. Around this time, the Daughters of Charity received telegraph and phone messages from sisters across the country, asking for their help.
Also, the first Daughter of Charity died from the flu around this time after being sick only four days. St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg reported that nearly all of the teachers were sick, and 31 of the students had the flu.
Suddenly, the flu began repeatedly appearing on the front page of the newspapers, although not the lead story, generally. WWI was winding down, and so the last battles and then the truce talks were the big stories of the day, supposedly.
On October 8, Maryland issued a statewide ban that closed theaters, movies, schools, dance halls, and other public places. It was very similar to Pennsylvania’s quarantine.
Some people complained about the quarantine because they had developed their own remedy. Since alcohol was used to kill germs on the skin, they had increased their intake to kill the germs inside them. One newspaper pointed out that “while whiskey is a good medicine for a person ill with the disease and in fact may then be needed as a heart stimulant, it really lowers the resistance of the system of a person who is not infected and makes him still more susceptible.”
A Deadly October
By the middle of October, the Daughters of Charity had sent everyone they could spare from the Central House in Emmitsburg out to serve in the missions. However, sisters at the Central House were also suffering from the flu.
The first student at St. Joseph’s College died from the flu on October 18. It was the first pupil death since 1872. The following day, another student died. The following day, a sister serving at Soldier’s Home in Washington died, and another sister in Emmitsburg died the following day. It looks like four sisters eventually died from the flu, although there may have been more. Certainly, more were given the Last Rites.
The county fairs in both Frederick and Washington counties wound up being canceled that year, reluctantly. The directors argued that the fresh air would do people good. However, in the end, they must have realized that attendance would be down because people were sick, and many healthy people would be afraid to be part of a crowd for fear of catching the flu.
It was only the second time that the Great Frederick Fair had been canceled. The only time previously that the fair had been canceled was when a little spat called the Civil War happened.
Churches decided to prevent parishioners from being within close proximity to each other.
Also, volunteer nurses were being sent throughout the county to visit the homes where entire families were down with the flu. They would care for these families in their homes.
The B&O Railroad brought in its emergency hospital to help people in Brunswick, which apparently was one of the harder hit areas of the county. An emergency hospital run by the Red Cross was also set up at Montevue.
Things would still get worse.
Picture shows passengers and employees were required to wear face masks to ride on public transportation in many cities during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed 100 million people worldwide.