This excerpt has been adapted from 1918 Pandemic: Reconstructing How the Flu Raged Then Flattened in Gloucester, Massachusetts when 183 Died in 6 weeks, HERE by Catherine Ryan. Mini posts like this one highlight select weeks during the outbreak as serialized quick reads about this Gloucester history.
DRAFT REGISTRATION DAY & FIRST PUBLISHED STORY OF A GLOUCESTER FLU OUTBREAK
10 Days after Labor Day weekend. 5 Days after a public Community Sing rally at City Hall. Couple of days after reported flu deaths and cases of infection.
There was a massive turnout on draft registration day, September 12, 1918. “Cape Ann Awake to Registration: Over 1500 Had Respond to Country’s Call Before 11’ O’clock This Forenoon” was the headline, and after all the registrants were counted,
“The Total registration in the entire country is expected to pass the estimated 13,000,000 mark. Massachusetts has contributed 472,000, it is estimated and Boston has listed 102,867. Total registrations here yesterday were 3024 including 321 at Rockport and Pigeon Cove and 145 received by mail. Today 14 more have come in, making the grand total 3038…”52Gloucester Daily Times, 9/12/1918
Enlisted immigrants comprised nearly 20% of the US Army during WWI. The draft in Gloucester indicates a comparable percentage of declared and non-declared registrations on September 12th. Volunteers helped with in-person interpretation and written translation in multiple languages, especially Italian and Portuguese.
A second, smaller headline was startling: “Post Office Hit By Grip Malady: Eight Carriers and Two Clerks Victims of Prevailing Distemper,” 54 the first article reporting a flu outbreak in Gloucester, published 10 days after Labor Day, a week after the community sing, and two days after Letter Carrier Sherman T. Walen’s failing health was listed in the East Gloucester column. [A little over a week after Registration day, William Francis Murray, the Postmaster in Boston, died from the flu on September 21, 1918.]
Post Office Hit by Grip Malady: Eight Carriers and Two Clerks Victims of Prevailing DistemperFront page Gloucester Daily Times 9/12/1918
The Gloucester Post Office is certainly having its difficulties these days during the prevailing distemper of the new distemper the Spanish influenza (illegible) taken down with severe attacks, one (illegible) there is some difficulty in these times of scarcity of men in finding substitutes. However Postmaster Smith is managing affairs (illegible) by the employee will on their feet things are going along very well. The carriers stricken are Harry Dagle, Sherman T. Walen, Freeman Hodson, (illegible), Reginald (illegible) Chester Andrews, Samuel Curtis and clerks John Drohan and Willis Wheeler. Sherman Walen is reported very ill and Oliver Nelson and Chester Andrews have quite recovered.
Inside the community pages, two enlisted Ehler brothers are mentioned in the East Gloucester column, and a brother-in-law visiting on leave; a third brother had visited from Camp Devens over Labor Day. With so many ill neighbors, the column required a sub-heading: “Spanish Influenza Prevalent Here” and included the first obituary to mention Spanish Influenza as the cause of death. Bertram Goodwin of 16 Highland Street fell sick September 5th and was dead within a week, among the first victims of the flu in Gloucester and the first to be public.
“Mrs. Carrie Hamsdell of Winchester is the guest of Mrs. Nellie M. Parsons of Highland street. Mrs. Parsons has just returned from a visit (illegible) the guest of Mrs. Jewell , of Boston, in Stratham, N.H. The Ladies’ Aid of the Methodist Episcopal church will hold a business meeting in the vestry this evening. Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Mason of Fall River, spent the week end with Mrs. Mason’s mother, Mrs. James Ehler of 51 Mt. Pleasant avenue. Mr. Mason is stationed as first class cook in naval service at Newport and he was here on two days leave of absence. Mr. and Mrs. Victor D. Ehler and family the former who is stationed at Bumpkin Island and Walter A. Ehler who is stationed at Camp Devens were (…illegible…).
Spanish Influenza Prevalent Here
The prevailing distemper of grip and Spanish influenza is felt much in this ward. Harry Dagle of the U.S. Mail Force is ill at home on Highland Place. Sherman T. Walen also of the U.S. Mail Force is very ill at his home on Rocky Neck. Freeman Hodson, a native of this place and letter carrier in the Mt. Pleasant Avenue lower district route of ward one, is confined to his home on Essex Avenue. Stanton and Eleanor Farrell, both children of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Farrell of East Main Street are ill with the malady. Agnes Ryan, the young daughter of Mrs. Alice Ryan is confined to her home on East Main Street. Fletcher Wonson, the young son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank P. Wonson has been ill for several days. Chester Brigham of Haskell Street, agent for the Metropolitan Insurance Company, was out yesterday, after a severe attack of the grip. Ida Gerring, the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Gerring of Avon Court is a late victim of the distemper. Mrs. Joseph T. Moulton was stricken on Tuesday, at her home on Highland Street. Miss Blanch Gilbert of East Main Street was stricken Tuesday and Dr. Arthur S. Torrey took to his bed today with the same trouble that has stricken a large number of his patients.
Sudden Death of Bertram R. Goodwin Bertram R. Goodwin a well-known citizen of this ward, died at his home on Highland Street yesterday morning resulting from the effects of the prevailing disease, grip or Spanish influenza, which is broadcast at this time. The deceased was taken ill last Thursday…seven years ago he married Miss Della E. Frost of this ward. The funeral will be strictly private, owing to illness in the family.”57Gloucester Daily Times, East Gloucester column, Sept. 12
On September 13th a tiny notice was released nationally, prompted by complaints from colleges. The War Department cancelled football for “colleges and universities with Students’ Army Training Corps,” surely a preventative flu measure based on so many military outbreaks, but not stated directly.
Letter Carrier Samuel Curtis died Saturday, September 14th, at his parents’ home, two of his siblings still sick. That same day, the first guidelines from the U.S. Surgeon General were published nationally, very likely ready to go, but held back until after the draft registration.
Message from the U.S. Surgeon General to physicians
“Because the pandemic of influenza occurred more than 25 years ago, physicians who began to practice medicine since 1892 have not had personal experience in handling a situation now spreading through considerable part of the foreign world, and already appearing to some extent, in the United States. For that reason Dr. Blue is issuing a special bulletin for all medical men who send for it. In order to reach physicians of the country without a day’s delay, however, Dr. Blue has provided for transmission through the Associated Press the following summary of methods for control of the disease:
Methods of Control
Infectious Agent – The bacillus influence of pfeefifer [sic]. (Illegible) secretions from the nose, throat and respiratory passages or (illegible)
Incubation period: one to four days, generally two.
Mode of transmission – by direct contact or indirect contact through use of handkerchief, common towels, cups, mess gear, or other objects contaminated with fresh secretions. (illegible)
Period of communicability as long as the person harbors the causative organism in the respiration tract.
Method of control
(A) The infected individual and his environment.
“Recognition of the disease- By clinical manifestations and bacteriological findings.
Isolation- Bed isolation of infected individuals during the course of the disease. Screens between beds are to be recommended.
Immunization- Vaccines are used with only partial success.
Quarantine- None; impracticable.
Concurrent disinfection- The discharges from the mouth, throat, nose (illegible)causative organism is short-lived outside of the host.– End of U.S. Surgeon General Notification, published in the Gloucester Daily Times 9/14/1918
(B)General measure- The attend of the case should wear a gauze mask. During epidemics persons should avoid crowded assemblages, street cars and the like. Education as regards the danger of promiscuous coughing and pitting. Patients, because of the tendency to the development of broncho-pneumonia should be treated in well ventilated, warm rooms. The present outbreak of influenza may be controlled more or less extent only by intelligent action on the part of the public. “There is no such thing as an effective quarantine in the case of pandemic influenza,” Dr. Blue adds, “but precautionary measures may be taken and should be taken. Thus far we have little information as to the susceptibility of children, but it is fair to assume this type of Influenza might spread through a school as easily and rapidly as measles for example.”
By Monday three more deaths were reported and at least 300 cases of flu in town.
A second letter carrier, Sherman T. Walen, succumbed.
Not surprisingly, 600 students and 10 teachers skipped school, maybe sick or helping at home, or too scared to attend. Before the next school bell rang, Mayor Stoddart issued the first flu proclamation closing schools and banning all indoor gatherings. (The exemptions? Bars and churches were the last to close, and only after guidelines and state mandates.) The school board had to scramble and assemble to vote for closure as the action preceded procedure. Addison Gilbert Hospital was closed to visitors to prevent contagion. A Red Cross Emergency relief hospital was readied for patients, installed within the Spanish War Memorial Hall of the police station.
This strong roll-out happened within the first five or six days of Gloucester’s outbreak!
Clearly, city officials and various movers and shakers must have already sprang into action based on how fast they moved. Gloucester had the courage and foresight to get out ahead of the epidemic as much as possible, and far too much experience with the enormous sense of urgency and resolve required to handle a crisis after so many thousands of fishermen lost at sea. (From 1900 – 1918 nearly 800 Gloucester fishermen died at sea. A single February storm in 1879 claimed 143.) The devastating influenza deaths that would climb to 183 in the next few weeks added to a legacy of loss and coping.
Next installment- Gloucester fights back
- Full article- 1918 Pandemic: Reconstructing How the Flu Raged Then Flattened in Gloucester, Massachusetts when 183 Died in 6 weeks
- Excerpt part 1- Labor Day crowds before the first flu death: Gloucester during the 1918 Pandemic Part 1
- Excerpt part 2 Fierce contagion fast deaths Boston Navy Yards and Fort Devens: Gloucester during the flu Pandemic 1918 part 2
- Excerpt part 3 East Gloucester art exhibit and funeral announcement on the eve of WWI Draft Registration: Gloucester during the 1918 Pandemic Part 3
- Excerpt part 4 above
- Flu Masks / Face Masks instructions Gloucester 1918 1918 Directions for sewing face masks and the Mask Factory in #GloucesterMA | plus DIY lost sock mask 2020 – Good Morning Gloucester