Gloucester outhouses in American paintings – Artists Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, Mabel Dwight and more (Excerpt 1)

Per reader request, over the next few days I’ll be reposting mini chapter excerpts — primarily illustrations– from a longer read about the evolution of outhouses and public utilities specific to Gloucester, Massachusetts, Privy to Privy History, on Good Morning Gloucester June 6, 2021.

Gloucester Outhouses in American Paintings’ copied below is “Excerpt 1” (stay tuned for some more Cape Ann Museum additions); Excerpt 2 will focus on early 20th century photographs; future excerpts might highlight some of the history mentions such as the bathroom fixtures at the Crane estate; and so on.

Catherine Ryan, Aug. 2021


EDWARD HOPPER – gloucester outhouses

Edward Hopper included outhouses in numerous Gloucester vistas. Hopper depicted buildings and worked with watercolor and gouache long before his renowned first sell out show of Gloucester images in the 1920s.


Illustrations: Reminder- You can pinch and zoom to enlarge (and select “full size” image if that option shows) 



Whitney Museum estimates circa 1903

The Whitney Museum of American Art has the largest collection of Edward Hopper art. This small watercolor study the museum dates circa 1900 contains germs of his later work. There is an elusive building, or nestled buildings, front and center. Strong shadows are emphasized. Is the shed attached or not? An entrance, a ticket booth, an outhouse? Is that a circus tent flag squiggle? The pencil line beyond the vertical street light (or railroad signal) might be a train track. Further right, there’s a red dab. Perhaps another structure. The window with yellow has a barn vibe. I did think about the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Katherine Ross looks down from a hay loft to catch the ‘Paul Newman riding a bike for the Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ show.


early Stuart Davis – Gloucester outhouses


Gloucester Outhouses in American Art

Selection of Gloucester scenes with outhouses by various artists: Dennis Miller Bunker; Charles Burchfield; James Jeffrey Grant; Emil Gruppe; Max Kuehne; William Lester Stevens; Paul Bough Travis; and Louise Woodroofe. Stay tuned for more.



1938 NYC – Masterful Mabel Dwight 


Leave it to Mabel Dwight for a humorous and original take, Backyard, 1938 WPA/FAP lithograph.

Below – New York City images (collection, NYPL) for comparison of the flip view. More photographs featured in Excerpt 2.


Privy to privy history: Digging outhouses! GMG reader asks what did people on Cape Ann do back in the day? p.s. Art was flush with it #GloucesterMA

A GMG reader describes area residents as “those on Cape Ann”*, compliments Joey and Good Morning Gloucester, and asks about outhouses:

“Hello Joe, nice to meet ya. I have a Cape Ann question that is a bit strange. When I was younger I used to go on digs to find old bottles on Cape Ann. Recently I saw an article that said in the days of outhouses people would throw their bottles down the hole in their outhouses. I began thinking where on my parents’ property an outhouse might have been located. Then it occurred to me: there isn’t anyplace on my parents’ property that you won’t hit ledge one or two feet down. So what did those on Cape Ann* do about digging outhouses back in the day? I said it was a strange question. All the best,

Bob Condon Jr., February 2021

Thank you for the great conversation topic, Bob. When did your parents live here and can you relay the neighborhood? The address could help describe the specific conditions at that property. Here you go!


Outhouses were in use well into the 20th century locally. They were also referred to as: “necessaries”, privies, toilets, loos, thrones, backyard “escapes”, reading rooms, sheds, crappers, fly factories and the office. Newspaper and pages ripped from mail order catalogues worked as toilet paper. Usually they had no window, heat or light. Some were designed with access doors below seat level to clear out the contents.

Which of the following were factored into the history of local outhouse architecture?

The answer is ALL. Water and waste management are the heart of Gloucester’s city planning.

The variable terrain of Cape Ann impacted outhouse design. If one was a farmer or owned enough land with suitable soil, they might opt for a basic “dig, bury & move” or “slide & fill” solution, rotating the outhouse footprint after it filled –faster with a bigger family– like a handheld number slide puzzle.

When digging a deep enough pit latrine was not an option, or the property was solely ledge, mucking out with rake and spreading ashes (later lime) was necessary. Waste and refuse was portable. Compost could be used for backyard gardens. Whether collected from a vault hatch, pail & sawdust, custom cabinet drawer, bucket & lid sanitary ware, or chamber pot, it did not matter. Filth, euphemistically “night soil”, could be dropped off or conveyed (eventually with a license only, and off season dates) to designated collection sites near and far, sold, or even stolen (as late as 1915 – see below!). Those who could afford to hired help or contracted with a subscription company. Municipalities like Gloucester had line items in the budget for waste collection, incineration and plumbing inspectors: These were thriving businesses.

Prior to sanitary reform in Gloucester and all of Cape Ann, the surrounding streams, marsh and ocean were availed as unmitigated dumps. The natural topography of Gloucester — all that water! all those hills! – – was considered an enviable benefit for city infrastructure and street plans, and likely delayed the city’s modern sewer system. (When public water carriage lines were introduced they could flow downhill into the harbor from densely populated areas or directed into the sea anywhere along the coast, whether for public or private owners. Out of sight. Out of mind.) Dilution was the solution.

Efforts to improve municipal services– to manage public and private waste to keep it out of the water table– were increased. Separate water and sewer lines would be regulated; eventually outhouses were a thing of the past and (quality) food scrap or compost value from home garbage was reduced to nil. You have to skip ahead a full century to find the Gloucester Harbor Clean Harbor swim milestone.

Below is a chronology illustrated with famous vs. local American outhouses, and a **selection** of Gloucester’s sewer and sanitation milestones. I’ve written a fair amount about Gloucester art and public works so a few links are provided for those as well.

You have to love Public Works.

1700s– 1800s

Those who were more prosperous had better privies and hired help for cleaning and carting. Everyone used a combination of chamber pot and outdoor toilet combo.

Outhouses for the well heeled – George Washington Mount Vernon

The octagonal outhouse at the George Washington Mount Vernon estate is an example of a high end family bathroom of its time. The custom fancy shape and finished interior convey an air of refinement. The museum describes the wood paneled, “large drawers for ease of cleaning.” (I don’t know if there’s evidence of dig and move pits as well.)

The smaller middle seat was designed for children. Martha Washington, a widower, had four children from her first marriage; two died prior to their union. Their step-grandchildren, the President’s first family, were born in the 1770s. Having suffered the loss of two little ones, and both then caring for her youngest, Patsy, who suffered torrents of seizures until her death at 17 in 1773, health concerns may have informed the bathroom layout. This opulent design could handle a potty queue when nature called family members at the same time, and adults could accompany a child in need of assistance. The museum estimates that there were four on the property.

The Mt. Vernon residence was originally built in 1734 by Washington’s father. Expansions to the main building and outbuildings were completed in the 1750s and 1770s. A century later, the historic property was rescued by a women’s preservation group. A century again, the property’s historic designation status was awarded in 1960. The exterior photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston dates from circa 1894. The interior photograph is 2018.

photo caption: Mt. Vernon octagonal privy in vegetable garden, ca.1894, photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, Library of Congress collection
photo description: interior view of the octagonal “Necessary”, executive privy restored (original ca. 1770), George Washington mansion, Mt. Vernon – the small middle seat designed for children. photo 2018 by C. King

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)

Calvin Coolidge birthplace in Plymouth Notch, Vermont was a more modest farmhouse example.


Restored Western gold rush hotel outhouse

Vintage postcard, 1970s. Two story double decker hotel outhouse, Nevada City, MT, a restored gold rush town

Gloucester | Cape Ann

Still standing – luxury outhouse

Driving around Grant Circle, you might have thought as I once did that the free standing out building on the Cape Ann Museum Babson Alling property was a shed. The fancy roof and architectural details inside and out give this tony privy much character. Years ago, Pru Fish and Peggy Flavin confirmed their hunch as to its original use. (Naturally, after hearing about this hidden history from Prudence Fish, I’ve dubbed this highly visible Mt. Vernon of Gloucester outhouses, “Pru and Peggy’s Privy”.)

Still standing – Rustic models

Whether restored, repurposed or replicated I’m not certain, but there are structures in Rockport and Gloucester that approximate the rough and modest models.

1870 debate about Gloucester owning its own water plant

1879 – “Sewers are a Necessity for Gloucester!”

Chairman of the City’s Highways Committee.

“It seems to me strange and very unfortunate for the city, that, by a general vote in 1877, an Independent Board of Health as authorized by the State Legislature should have been discarded. Our want of public sewerage has, in the most densely populated parts of the city, filled the soil with excrementitious matters and, in many places, covered the surface with drainage from sinks and cesspools. Some of our localities are filled with stenches that make the idea of repasts anything but agreeable…the shortest road to reform in this department is ample public sewerage, but if this be found impracticable, I would recommend that both should use all authority invested in it to eradicate or mitigate existing evils.”

Mayor Joseph Garland (1880)
Mayor Franklin Dyer ( Civil War surgeon) died February 9, 1879

Word for the day: “Excrementitious”

1881 Gloucester Water Supply Co. contract

for fire services

1886-87 City sewerage options and well water analysis by harvard

“With the introduction of water into our city comes the perplexing problem of how to dispose of the waste. During the year 1887 the Committee on Highways have extended the main drain to Foster street at a cost of $5800. The public health demands that a system of sewerage be established and built and it can be no longer delayed without serious danger, particularly in those portion of our city in which there is not natural drainage. Our present drain or sewer should have an outlet, approved by the State Board of Health, and permits could then be granted to enter the same and an income derived from these rights, which would go far toward defraying the expense of construction.”

Mayor David Robinson, 1887

“The complaints from foul cesspools and imperfect drainage are increasing from year to year, and with the increased use of water, consequent upon a public water supply, such complaints must continue to increase until some method of sewage is devised. Offensive privy vaults, filthy cesspools and sink drains, stagnant water in cellars and upon the surface of the ground, and decaying vegetable and animal matter in yards and upon vacant lots, are a standing menace to the public health…The disposal of filth and sewage is one problem confronting the city. The connection between public cleanliness and the public heath cannot be too forcibly urged upon the attention of our people. Equally if not more important is the question of the quality of the water used for drinking and cooking purposes. indeed, one great danger, if not the principal danger arising from the privy and sink vaults with which our territory is so thickly strewn, is their contiguity to the wells which so many of our people depend upon for water for domestic uses. The danger is the greater from the fact that the water itself may convey no warning of the hidden germs of disease and death of which it may be the medium. It may be clear and colorless, agreeable to the taste and without objectionable odor, and yet be seriously polluted and dangerous to health.

“Realizing this, the board pursued a liberal policy in the way of obtaining a scientific analysis of the water from wells regarded by physicians and others as open to suspicion.  In a few cases parties desiring the analysis have paid a portion of the expense, but where there were reasons to believe that the water was dangerous, such payment has not been insisted upon. The analysis have all been made by Dr. Harrington, of the Chemical laboratory of the Harvard Medical School…”

Board of Health

Board of Health 1897 sent water samples to Harvard for testing

1888 – high end residential plumbing

Toilet design heyday hit during the Victorian age. Residential plumbing products were promoted in illustrated catalogues. (Kohler porcelain tubs were promoted as early as 1883.)

1889 Worcester built a model treatment plant

1892 Clean beaches, Burnham’s water lines & drains, and NIGHT SOIL

clean beaches

“Every person should have pride in keeping our beaches free from filth…We are especially favored in the matter of fine beaches, and during the summer our own people and visitors resort to them in large numbers for bathing and recreation…Nature has so wonderfully endowed our city in the way of beautiful scenery, that we should not spoil the effect by collections of material objectionable to the eye.”

Burnham’s Field was a vegetable garden, doctor’s pond on Mt. Vernon, and Harbor Swamp

The condition of the region on and bordering Burnham’s Field and Harbor Swamp became such in the summer, that an effort was made to secure better drainage by removing obstructions from the brook which courses through these fields, and which has in Doctor’s Pond, on Mount Vernon Hill. The Board of health personally superintended this work, and when finished, a notable improvement was manifest; …Old residents refer to the time when Burnham’s Field was under cultivation and produced vegetables of marvelous size and sweetness, but the owner died and the field went to waste. In those old days the proprietor personally drained his land by means of trenches and, in the summer time, his vegetables thrived because of the natural dampness of the soil. But the question of placing houses on the field at that time would have been a difficult problem, for the water then was present in sufficient quantity to make fair skating for the children. For building purposes this land could be filled in, but it would seem to be a farce to fill in land so high above the ocean and so near to it; yet each year sees new houses going up on the edges, and last year a tract of the swamp itself was built over, which last caused the immediate appearance of the Board of Health, who immediately ordered the lots filled up, as water had accumulated in the yards and cellars in a manner dangerous to health.

The fact is that this region is highly advantageous from central location for houses or factories, and if it could be drained would doubtless be immediately covered with buildings which would bring into the city taxes to a large amount. There is more water entering the field than in the old days, because the use of city water has added to the amount which formerly was there. If it is dangerous to have vaults full, then it must be so in this region, for water stands in the vaults full, then it must be so in this region, for water stands in the vaults here unless the land is built up above the field.

Various plans have been suggested to improve this region. The extension of the Washington street main drain into this field would be a good idea. It has been suggested that a drain could be built from Burnham’s field to the wharves, through Marchant street, which is a short distance. Other plans have been talked of, but it is sufficient for our purpose to urge the need of looking into the subject. It would be a great deal better to do something permanent than to appropriate money for temporary purposes in sums which would soon amount to more than the cost of a radical improvement.

Board of Health

Night Soil – Ward Two

“Another year has passed, and the question of the disposal of night soil is more serious than ever before. By hook or by crook the contents of the vaults have been disposed of; objections have been made by those near the places used as dumps, and a discontinuance of the practice in ordered in one or two instances. Where will our night soil and sink waste go next year? At present, a farm in Ward Two offers the only available chance; as last year, other places may be used until the objections become too numerous, but what would we do in case of cholera appearing near enough to frighten us? Would anybody want this material which would be suspicioned anywhere near them? There will be difficulty without the cholera, but with it we can only say that something would have to be done.”

There are four methods by which this material may be gotten rid of: The first by dumping on land; the second by dumping in the ocean by means of a scow; the third by cremating it by means of one of the well-known processes, as the Engle, the Simonin and others; the fourth by building a sewerage system.

As to these methods, the dumping on land accommodates many by the discomfort of others.

The scow system is very cheap, and could probably be rendered available here. The cremating process for night soil could hardly be given intelligent discussion just now, and cremation finds its largest use in the disposal of garbage. Sewerage would drain the central and thickly settled parts of our community and, of course, would do that well, and it is probably only a question of time, when sewerage will be introduced here.


The practice of throwing garbage on vacant lots and dumps still continues, but most of the swill is collected at the houses and fed to swine. Considerable material is of little value for this latter purpose, and this finds its way into the stove or to some vacant land. In view of the tendency to discuss the subject of cremating garbage, it seems wise, for all, to inquire how much garbage there is to be disposed of. If a crematory were established, it would by no means indicate that all table and cook-room waste, or even all provisions, fruit and grocery store waste, would be cremated, for then, as now, pigs would be kept in some out of the way places, as there is some profit in it, and it is not to be supposed that sentiment can soon rise to a point where prohibition of the feeding of swill to pigs, or the absolute prohibition of keeping pigs, will be ordered. This, then, leaves only a portion of the garbage of the city to be disposed of, and this could very conveniently be placed in a scow, which being absolutely tight and covered, would not cause an objectionable odor, even though it were mainly used for night soil. If a scow is of advantage for this purpose, then there is no place on the coast so favorably situated for using it as our city. Certainly the cheapness of the method and probable reduction in price per load for removing vault contents would commend it.

1892 Gloucester Board of Health – Murrow, Thurston and Dennen

Boston scenes by Leslie Jones, collection Boston Public Library [tug pulling garbage scow) 1956; and boats and garbage, no date (circa 1917-1934)]

1893 Ocean proximity deemed great for Sewer Plans. Also, Drain Burnham’s Field!

“There is no question in the minds of any of us, but that our city needs a system of sewerage. The proper disposal of sewage is one of the great questions of our age. Our city is favorably situated, being so near the ocean, for sewage disposal. It has already been surveyed for the introduction of some system, and the plans are on file and will be available whenever the action of, or financial condition of the city, will warrant such proceedings. My attention has been called to the necessity of draining Burnham’s Field and vicinity, as a sanitary measure. I would recommend that, if practical, the drain leading there from be cleared from obstruction and the natural outlet to the sea be utilized for that purpose.”

Mayor Benjamin Cook, 1893

1893 Disposal of Night Soil and Sink Waste. Burnham Field Development as one option proposed.

“The Board of Health is often obliged to order the discontinuance of dumping in certain places when too great a nuisance has been caused, while the owners of the land sometimes do the same for various reasons. It seemed in the spring as if there was no available place, and the Board appealed to the City Council, which appropriated two hundred dollars, to be used in relieving the difficulty (no pun intended). None of this money was expended for that purpose, as places were secured without the interference of the Board of health. There is a great deal of objection made to the dumping of night soil on land, and wherever it is done it generally annoys somebody. If sewerage is not soon adopted, the city must resort to some method less objectionable than the present method of disposing of night soil and sink waste…”Burnham’s Field and Harbor Swamp: It seems that there has been some disposition to investigate this region during the past year, on the part of the City Council. The presence of such a large tract of swamp land in the heart of a city must be a menace to health. Buildings are being put up all around it and even in it, and this fact must cause some attention to be given, as it increases the amount of filth which finds its way into it. Objection to acting on the score of the land being private property, would hardly seem to be altogether reasonable, as the benefit arising would be shared by the whole city. To deepen the “brook” which flows through it, or to continue the “main drain” into the district, while it would not probably be a complete system of drainage, would furnish an outlet which could be utilized by the abutters at some expense, for the purpose of draining their land. At present there are two ledges in the course of the “brook” which should be removed by the Boston & Maine Railroad Company or in some other way. The water in the swamp will not fall much below the level of these ledges. After their removal the “brook” might be deepened. The people of this region should have some way of relieving their premises from the natural fall of water and the volumes of “City water,” which must find its way into it from the surrounding houses. At present no sink or privy vault can be dug in this region.”

Charles H. Morrow, S.S. Thurston, and Wm. H. Dennen, BoH 1893

1895 residents vote to buy gloucester water supply but it’s not a done deal

$1,500,000 for “22 miles of cement lined pipes, pumping station, reservoirs and their property acquired for storage and distribution throughout the city.”

$1,500,000 for “22 miles of cement lined pipes, pumping station, reservoirs and their property acquired for storage and distribution throughout the city.”

“Percy Blake places the cost of the entire plant at not over $269, 977. He further states that the average length of satisfactory life of this kind of pipes is from 15 to 20 years, and that Somerville, Manchester NH, Fitchburg and Worcester and other places have for some time been replacing the same kind of pipe with cast iron…”

“We must undertake a system of sewerage, but a full consideration of the matter must be deferred until a settlement of the water question. We can, however, begin in a small way…

excerpts, Mayor Robinson

1895 Gloucester Ordinance – waste management

House drains, water closets, cesspools, and grease traps

An ordinance relative to the licensing of Plumbers and the Supervision of the Business of Plumbing”

  • House Drains. The portion of the house-drain which is outside of the building and more than four feet from the foundation walls shall be constructed of extra heavy cast iron pipe or of the best quality vitrified drain pipe; that portion of the house drain which is within four feet of the foundation walls, under the buildings or inside the walls, shall be constructed of iron pipe and shall have a fall of at least one-fourth of an inch to the foot; shall be securely fastened to the cellar wall or suspended from the floor in iron hangers; but when a portion is necessarily laid beneath the basement or cellar floor, that portion shall be construed of extra heavy cast iron pipe and shall be laid in a trench having brick or stone walls, of sufficient width and otherwise so arranged as to give free access to all joints.
  • The house drain shall have a hand hole for convenience in cleaning; if the trap be inside the cellar wall, the hand hole shall be on the house side of the trap (at discretion of Board of Health)…
  • When a water closet or other fixture is to be placed in a house, the house drain shall be changed to conform…
  • No cesspool shall be within twenty feet of any cellar wall except at discretion of the Board of Health
  • Suitable Grease Traps shall be constructed under sink of every hotel, eating house, restaurant or other public eating place so arranged as to be easily accessible and with suitable provision for its proper cleaning…


“That the regulations of governing plumbing are in the interest of public health, no better exemplification can be given than by calling your attention to the large number of jobs of plumbing and house drainage found defective by your inspector. Having examined some 200 houses where there had been contagious diseases, I found 90 percent without traps or ventilation, the gases from cesspools, escaping into the house, through the sink wastes, some houses with leaky waste pipes passing directly over cisterns, containing drinking water; and in one case all sewage matter deposited into a brick cesspool (formerly a rain water cistern), placed directly under dining room.  The water closets located in cellar directly under parlor without flush of water wand all deposits on ground with very imperfect ventilation. This was was in an outlying district. In my experience of some 35 years, I never saw a case in a more unsanitary condition…”

Plumbing Inspector for the City of Gloucester, 1895

Late 1890s – Thai delegates

From Gloucester archives – Thai delegates summer in Gloucester as early as the late 1890s. (Skip to 1916 and 1921 for more about Prince Mahidol , “Mr. Songkla”) – research by City Archives members

Gloucester – Victorian Age outhouses

Gloucester housing stock (and hotels) included luxury homes with bathrooms and water closets as well as modest solutions. Rough outhouses were common, too. Can you spot the outhouses downtown and in East Gloucester? (Reminder: you can pinch and zoom to enlarge and right click for descriptions. Some media offers option “increase file size”.)

Then (below the garden) | Now

1900 Board of Health is frustrated about the city’s sewer managment

“Sewerage is a much mooted question, which the Board of Health have tried to bring to the attention of the city council, but so far have been unsuccessful in calling their attention to a much wanted service to the city.”

Budget appropriations include two additional contractors:

  • J.A. Dennen, cleaning sewer
  • George A. Reed & Son, sewer gratings

“Dikes’ Meadow and Wallace Pond reservoirs are the only sources of supply now used…”

“Average daily use is 900,000 more than two reservoirs can supply…”

“New water plant necessary…there is water enough in West Gloucester. To supply the city a hundred years….go to Chebacco lakes and (Dikes , Wallace Lily Pond and pumping station become worthless, money thrown away)—a new pumping station at lakes (would be an)  arrangement satisfactory to town of Essex…”

“As far as purity of water all agree Haskell’s Pond stands first…” – Haskell dam to come.

1902 haskell dam construction

For a deep dive into Gloucester’s water utilities, read about Haskell Dam history here

1905 Board of health presses its case

“…menaced, by contagious diseases which threaten to become epidemic…resources at the command of this board, very largely inadequate, would be materially strengthened by a suitable building for the detention and isolation of contagious diseases*, such as diphtheria, scarletina and measles…

Very many nuisances have been investigated and abated during the year and the number has been augmented by the foul odors arising from catch basins along our principal streets. After thorough investigation by its Agent, it is the opinion of the Board of Health that such foul odors arise from the contents of sink and privy vaults which empty into said basins. This condition, deplorable indeed, is unavoidable so long as the present unsanitary condition, due to lack of sewerage, obtains.

And again the Board repeats its annual recommendation to the City Council to take immediate steps to remedy this condition and thus thwart the danger with the absence of a proper system of sewerage in a city approximating 28,000 inhabitants persistently presents…”

Board of Health, Gloucester, MA, 1905-

*see Gloucester’s 1918 Flu epidemic (resulting Braewood purchase)

The Mayor lobbies for dredging Annisquam and for more playgrounds for children.

1910 – a better year for the city’s waste management. Centennial dump plans

”Wherever a vacant lot is found, it is liable to be used by the neighborhood for a dumping ground for rubbish, tin cans and other unsightly objects and sometimes animal and vegetable refuse; the owners of these lots are often unable to prevent such use of the property. The Board of Health has paid especial attention to these places and a great improvement has been made. If Gloucester could establish a reputation for cleanliness, we believe it would be of great financial value to the city. The city dump on Centennial Avenue is available for all kinds of ashes and rubbish and is well cared for; in time this land will be available for public use, but large quantities of good filling material will be needed; however, satisfactory progress has been made and a large quantity of material has been already deposited.”- Board of Health

collection: c. ryan

Walter Cressy’s land on Bond’s Hill was taken for a new reservoir.

1911 Sewage outfall report

1911 Modern plumbing catalogue

1912 Richard T. Crane, Jr. builds a summer cottage in ipswich

(see 1925 – Crane Jr. expanded his family’s industrial frim, booming throughout the Gilded Age, into a global powerhouse by the 1920s. They manufactured ironworks, cooking stoves, bathroom fixtures product lines.)

1915 – water commissioners report- hotel & Summer resident impact (more bacon)

Gloucester population was estimated to be 24,478 in 1916 and to increase up to 36,000 in summer. The estimate of residents on the city’s pipe line, “including summer takers”, was 35,000 and water consumption 46.2 gallons per inhabitant (479,370,834 gallons total per day).

One city budget line item for 1916 that became obsolete was (extra) waste removal help.

  • Union Water meter company- waste stops (like bus stops)
  • Arthur G,. Osboro – oil and waste
  • Royal Mfg. Co. – waste
  • Lewis E. Tracy Co, – waste

“DUMPS: The practice of using the nearest vacant lot for the dumping of paper and filth continues; this is often done at night to prevent detection. People should place such materials in barrels or other receptacles and have them removed, as it would prevent a good deal of ill feeling in neighborhoods.

VAULTS (night soil): Neglect to clean out privy and sink vaults is a common cause of complaint. It is unfortunate that owners of them cannot enter suitable drains, but it not excusable to neglect them until they overflow or emit a foul odor, which vaults are apt to do in the summer months.

Summer residents increased concerns.

SWILL: “The large quantity of house waste in summer due to the influx of summer population at hotels and the relatively small quantity in winter creates trouble. If all swine could be slaughtered at the end of the vacation season, much trouble would be saved; but, as it is, swill is often not collected in the center of the city in summer and so numerous are the collectors in winter that complaints of swill stealing are frequent. The Board of Health has little power to correct these conditions, as only under a contract system can the collection of house waste be controllable.”


As of 1916, Gloucester residents were still encouraged to fill the public dump on Centennial for a future playground. (A generation later, this repurposed transformation would receive national recognition as a WPA project. See 1930s.) The City’s Plumbing inspector lobbied for a modern sewer. DPW was praised.

“The streets of the city have greatly improved in appearance and cleanliness and the chairman of the highway committee should be highly commended for the great interest he has displayed in street cleaning.”

Mayor John Stoddart reviewing 1916 and a shout out to DPW

Appropriations detail that the Union Water Meter company made waste stops and Arthur G,. Osboro oil and waste; Royal Mfg. Co. waste; Lewis E. Tracy Co, waste

1916 boston globe prince mahidol

Prince Mahidol of Siam enrolls at Harvard to study public health.

“The Prince, or “Mr. Songkia,” he prefers to be known in this country, has been staying at Gloucester for some weeks.”

read the article: “Brother of King Mahidol…” Boston Globe, September 1916

While studying in Cambridge he stayed in the house where “Robert Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, was living when the news of his father’s assassination was broken to him.” The Prince continued to spend his breaks and summers in Gloucester (Bass Rocks) which inspired his public health thesis.

1917 Art studios

Scattered throughout Cape Ann, converted outbuildings for art studios likely included outhouses.

“One day we were motoring through Gloucester and, always interested in art, were going from studio to studio to see what the artists were doing and to purchase some pictures for our home on Chebacco Island. We found many of the artists tucked away in dark little lofts, old outhouses, chicken coops, stables, tiny rooms, poorly-lighted and unattractive makeshift places such as one might find in an old-time fishing village–little spaces that had been discarded by the fishermen. We were inconvenienced by the difficulty of seeing the pictures and thought others might be. We felt in this active summer colony there might be many like ourselves who would welcome an opportunity to see what the artists were doing. Here was our chance — beautiful pictures, a leisure public anxious to see them. We would provide the place.’ ” 

Emmeline Atwood quote, 1917 Boston Herald article by Gustav Kobbe – about Atwood’s Gallery on the Moors published on the occasion of its 2nd annual season

1916+ Outhouses in early Stuart Davis


US Public Health Service illustration example

US Public Health Service- 1919 view of a single seated sanitary privy (rough bucket & lid ware)

1919 City Sewerage Plan

“The most important matter that this city faces in the immediate future is the question of sewerage. The action of one of the leading fishing firms of the city, who own a large part of the business water front, in notifying all persons who have had the privilege of the use of their docks for sewerage, that such privileges will cease within five years, will undoubtedly be followed by similar action by the owners of every other dock in the city. This action was to be expected, and the wonder is that it has not been taken before. But such action brings to a head the question of what Gloucester and its inhabitants who have had such privileges so long, will do, and that question can only be answered by saying that Gloucester will now have to do something that it can no longer delay. Five years will quickly pass, and before that time something tangible will have to happen. It is a big question, the question that involves the expenditure of a large amount of money, and requires far-sighted action.”

Mayor Brown

1920 Sewerage Question is a matter of public heatlh

“We must meet this sewerage question this year. I recommend that an entrance fee of $1 per front foot on all property on the line of any public sewer be collected and used for the extension of sewerage, or for the payment of the interest on a sewer loan. This should give us perhaps $15,000 for this purpose this year. But no sewerage plan which does not provide for the cleaning of the dead water of our inner harbor should be considered. This is a growing menace to our health, and to our future as as summer resort, for in July and August our inner harbor is filthy. I am glad to say that one of our summer residents, a man of great wealth and knowledge, has written me a fine letter of congratulations on my election and offered his assistance in working out a plan without much cost to the city. I have great hopes of something good from this. ”


1921 – Sanitary Survey of the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts

“Sanitary Survey of the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts”, 1921 by M. Songkla | Prince Mahidol

He concluded the city’s sewer management and all those outhouses very much still in use were the primary source of disease, not summer residents and tourists.

See Sarah Dunlap’s research, Gloucester Archives, to learn more about Prince Mahidol.

“He himself went to many schools to survey their heating, food, health and toilet facilities, — he went to the Lane, Sawyer, Collins, Western Avenue (Parsons) schools and the High School at the time (the brick building just across the street), and he went to the Haskell Reservoir in West Gloucester. He also brought in his personal knowledge from staying in East Gloucester hotels and the Sherman and Way cottages in East Gloucester…

“He had photographs of the sewer outfalls into the ocean, including one from the Bass Rocks Hotels that flowed into the ocean just below the Sherman and Way cottages, where the Siamese legation often stayed. In downtown, outfalls were at docks in the inner harbor. And he not only described the existing system and numerous problems in public health, but he had recommendations for solutions to each problem.”

Sarah Dunlap on Mahidol’s thesis, 2016

See also Harvard, T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Preserving Thai History the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation, Harvard Medical School. Celebrating the legacy of His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol of Songkla: a century of progress in public health and medicine in Thailand, 2016.

And “Celebrating Thailand Father of Public Health and Modern Medicine”

1924 East Gloucester residents PUSH FOR sluiceway at smith cove – THE FISHING INDUSTRY IS DEAD


The Municipal Council was well filled last night by persons from the East Gloucester section interested in the hearing relative to the petition of John L. Lorie and others that a tide runway be cut from Smith’s Cove at Rocky Neck, connecting with the outer harbor at Wonson’s Cove. Mr. Lowrie, in advocacy of the project said that the matter was one which had agitated the people of the locality for many years. they thought if the proposed cut were made it would cleanse the stagnant waters and materially clean up the waters which had become polluted by fish offal and sewage. Since the fish business had left the locality the place had become a Summer colony and something should be done to remedy the situation. In response to his request about a dozen people arose who favored the proposition. Carle T. Tucker, Nathan McLeod, Capt. David F. Mehlman, assistant city marshal, and others, property owners on the other side, opposed the plan. Mr. Tucker said that in the event of such a sluiceway being constructed the sewage and offal would run into the outer harbor and be deposited on the rocks where the summer residents congregate and spoil the place for bathing purposes. It was the only beach in the locality and should be preserved in a cleanly condition. Capt. Mehlman said he had rowed to and fro on the place through the harbor on his way to the Police Station for 40 years and thought he had a a knowledge of conditions. He strongly opposed the proposition which would convert the only white sand beach in the locality used for bathing into a muck deposit. Deputy collector of Customs Albert H. McKenazie, a property owner in the locality, Mr. Brown, whose wife owns a tea house, and Nathan McLeod, owner of a summer hotel, opposed the proposition. A letter was received from George O. Stacy strongly condemning the plan and stating that if it were undertaken he would oppose it by litigation…”

Boston Globe, 1924

1925 Sewer not fish “Odor drives summer residents away” – bill for state funding

Dr. Kelly Blames Gloucester sewage.

“It is the odor caused by poor sewerage, not the odor of fish that drives summer residents from Gloucester,” said Dr. Eugene R. Kelley, State Commissioner of Public Health (For more about Kelley see 1918 Flu Pandemic), before the Legislative Committee on Public Health, appearing for his department relative to the question of the disposal of the sewage of Gloucester. “This is purely a local matter and a matter which must be attended to immediately,” he added. Dr. Kelley said that Gloucester had the worst waterfront conditions of any city or town in the Commonwealth. “Gloucester is a great food center advertises cleanliness,” he said. “how can Gloucester continue such advertising with sanitary conditions as they are?” N.N. Goodnough, chief engineer of the State Department of Public Health, said that tests had been made of the currents and tides about Gloucester Harbor and conditions were found to be satisfactory. He added that he felt this was an immediate necessity and would cost about $331,000. Alden Roberts, official representative of Gloucester; Carl Philips, President of the Gloucester Chamber of Commerce; William J. McGinnis, ex-Mayor; Alderman Smith and Representative John Thomas also spoke in favor of the bill. There was no opposition.”

1925 Crane estate – plumbing magnate Richard T. Crane, Jr. builds a new Castle Hill mansion.

Richard Crane (1832-1912) was born in New Jersey and working at the age of 10 to support his family after his father died. In his twenties, he made his way to an uncle in Chicago and set up a small contracting outfit. His younger brother joined him and they cofounded Crane Bros. They manufactured plumbing fittings, expanding the product line and reincorporating as they grew into a major American company. The estate and business was passed to Richard’s heirs, the two sons, Charles and Richard, who fought over the helm. The Trustees attempted to settle the matter by voting the eldest to lead, Charles, who agreed. Richard did not. The litigation that ensued was not drawn out. Within a couple of years, the younger brother bought the older one out.

Richard Crane, Jr., took the company global. Florence Higinbotham and Richard Jr. were married in 1904. (Her father cofounded Marshall Field & Co.) Legend “blames” Florence for the stunning Crane estate we see today, designed by architect David Adler. Florence, so the story goes, loathed the presumably equally stunning 60 room Italianate style of the first mansion. Her husband promised to rebuild it for her if she felt the same way in 10 years. Conveniently for the global leader in convenience designs, she did. The new one featured Crane’s modern bathroom and systems designs.

Crane Estate completed 1928. photograph: Catherine Ryan, 2016

1920s-1926 City’s Modern Sanitation system construction Completed

1927 Stacy Boulevard pumping station

1928 – sewer concerns bubble up related to controvertial cottage Development on Eastern Point

Eastern Point: Smith Cottage Sewer Plan Menace to Health | Complaint by Archbishop Against Site Near St. Peter’s Chapel

GLOUCESTER, March 29- The controversy that arose last Fall between the Eastern Point Summer colony and Arthur W. and Herbert E. Smith who seek to build 45 small cottages on their property at Eastern Point came up today before Starr Parsons of Lynn, appointed by the court as master. This case, fought out in the Municipal Council last Fall, involving personages of prominence, attracted widespread notice. The bill of complaint was filed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston against the Smith brothers to prevent the building of the camps and to cause the removal of a tea house, dance hall and roadside stand already erected under a permit from the Municipal Council. Dist. Atty. Fred H. Tarr and Henry V. Cunningham of Boston were the lead counsel assembled for the objectors and Carlton H. Parsons and Dist. Atty. William G. Clark Jr. appeared for the Smith brothers.

The morning was spent in an inspection of the premises at Eastern Point. The first witness of the afternoon was Arthur W. Smith, who testified as to the general construction of the camps and especially the method of sewage disposal, either by septic tanks or cesspools.

Prof. George E. Russell of MIT testified that the terrain at Eastern Point is rocky and ledgy, covered with pulverized and rotten granite with a slight topping of humus, and that neither septic tanks nor any forms of underground sewage disposal were feasible by nature of the soil but would create a menace to health.

A regular water-flushed sewerage system to the sea would be prohibitive in cost, from $10,000-$100,000.

Prof. M.P. Harwood of MIT corroborated Prof. Russell’s testimony.

The proposed site of the cottages is Farrington Ave near St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Chapel (St. Anthony’s) built by Mrs. Margaret E. Farrell of Albany, one of the wealthiest owners of show places at Eastern Point.”

Boston Globe March 1928
1930 Alice M. Curtis chapel photo printed archivally from original 5 x 7 film negative

Margaret Ruth Brady Farrell (1872–1944) was not in Gloucester in 1928, in case you’re wondering why her philanthropy and voice were missing. Margaret married James Charles Farrell. Their primary residence was Albany. Her famous financier father, Anthony N. Brady, was born in France to Irish parents, “practically penniless”. At the time of his death in 1913 the magnate had amassed a great fortune estimated to be worth 100 million, “one of the few men in New York State whose fortune was discovered to have been much greater than the estimates made of his riches when he was alive.” Their philanthropy in Gloucester may have been greater but tragedy kept them away. Although the estate was split equally, some of her siblings fought bitterly and long. Margaret likely had no energy or inclination for objections, nor held the reins. The year before her father died, four of their family died in a train wreck, burned alive. Her sister. Her sister-in-law. Two aunts. Her husband died in 1918.

1931 Babson Reservoir and Sanctuary

There are examples of land preservation, but featuring a watershed in 1931? Isn’t it wonderful!

1930s New Deal Sewer work

By 1938, W.P.A. workers (Massachusetts) laid close to 200 miles of new water mains and even more miles of new sewers. They built 15 new sewage disposal plants, thousands of manholes and culverts, tens of thousands of roadside ditches & culverts, and miles of curbing.

1933 crane (plumbing) company – a sponsor and featured at Chicago World’s Fair

excerpt from the official guide book to “A Century of Progress International Exposition in 1934, the World’s Fair at Chicago” The guide book

“contains the fullest and most accurate information possible for the purpose of directing our visitors how to find everything in the Exposition and how to make use of the Exposition’s facilities for their comfort and convenience.

“Crane Co. Station 134 had its own pavilion Display of bathroom fixtures and plumbing, also the “World’s Largest Shower”—Crane Co. Station. Home and Industrial Arts Group.

“A 45-FOOT SHOWER bath is a refreshing attraction. The shower is a giant reproduction of the company’s shower bath equipment. At the base of the tower is seen, in contrast, a bathroom used in 1893. Here, also, is seen a modern, de luxe bathroom. Display of antique and historical plumbing fixtures includes a “chaise longue” French bath tub of 100 years ago, a French lavatory 150 years old, a bath tub shaped like a hat that was in vogue in this country after the war between the states, and a bath tub of the type used by Queen Victoria in England.”

“Home and Industrial Arts Group. The NEW possibilities of the ideal small house are demonstrated at the Exposition in the Home and Industrial Arts section , by a group of completely finished, furnished and equipped homes, ready to live in. The new methods of building with new materials and with prefabricated units for rapidity and economy of construction are shown.”

1933-34 “Century of Progress” Chicago World’s Fair


Selection of Gloucester scenes with outhouses by various artists: Dennis Miller Bunker; Charles Burchfield; Stuart Davis; James Jeffrey Grant; Emil Gruppe; Edward Hopper; Max Kuehne; William Lester Stevens; Paul Bough Travis; Louise Woodroofe.

Artists and photographers cropped outhouses out.

Let me know if there’s a favorite you’d like to add. Once you notice them, you’ll find more.

Reminder: You can pinch and zoom to enlarge (and select “full size” image if that option shows)

EDWARD HOPPER – gloucester outhouses

Edward Hopper included outhouses in numerous Gloucester vistas. Hopper depicted buildings and worked with watercolor and gouache long before his renowned first sell out show of Gloucester images in the 1920s.

The Whitney Museum of American Art has the largest collection of Edward Hopper art. This small watercolor study the museum dates circa 1900 contains germs of his later work. There is an elusive building, or nestled buildings, front and center. Strong shadows are emphasized. Is the shed attached or not? An entrance, a ticket booth, an outhouse? Is that a circus tent flag squiggle? The pencil line beyond the vertical street light (or railroad signal) might be a train track. Further right, there’s a red dab. Perhaps another structure. The window with yellow has a barn vibe. I did think about the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Katherine Ross looks down from a hay loft to catch the Paul Newman riding a bike for the Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head show.

Whitney Museum estimates circa 1903

1930 – 1941 American outhouses – cross county photos

photographs outhouses across America – Library of Congress

  • Cincinnati row houses with backyard outhouses, 1930s
  • privy plant pre cast base, Missouri, by Lee Russell, 1938
  • Placing concrete in form for privy slab, MN, by Shipman, 1941, Library of Congress (collection FSA Office of War Info)
  • South family’s shaker style privy, Harvard, Worcester County, MA 1930s
  • General Israel Putnam Privy, Brooklyn, CT after storm
  • Arlington, MA, Walker Evans 1930s
  • Privy Monterey, Delaware, circa 847
  • Washington DC “slum” privy, Carl Mydans, 1935
  • “old six hole privy, Wiggins Tavern”, Northampton, MA, Lee Russell, 1939

photographs Indoor bathrooms residential and public – New York Public Library

Cincinnati backyard outhouses

1938 NYC – Masterful Mabel Dwight


Leave it to Mabel Dwight for a humorous and original take, Backyard, 1938 WPA/FAP lithograph. Outhouses were shared; doors were left open. Rear window… (last pun!)

1942 Boston

1942- photo: Leslie Jones, BPL collection

1963 North Shore Sewage a threat to beaches

Boston Globe North Shore News- “Town Sewage Problems Pose Threat to Beaches” by Anthony Romano –

“Is pollution posing a threat to the recreational facilities of the North Shore’s coastal communities? Local officials from Marblehead to Gloucester thinks so–as evidenced by the closing of beaches at various times during the past few years because of sewage carried shoreward by winds and tides. The possible corrective solution rests with the Legislature which has been asked for an appropriation of $15,000 to investigate and study the pollution problems in the affected harbors and tributaries. There is considerable anxiety among North Shore officials who point out that conditions will worsen with each passing year because of the increasing influx of industries and new residents.”


Litter and parties – Read  Crackdown at the quarries 

1980 Gloucester Clean Harbor Swim

The Federal government sued Gloucester for dumping raw sewage. Before it was celebrate Gloucester Harbor it was clean it. Read more about the gains 1970s and 1980s.

1981-1984 New sewerage treatment plant construction

Dedicated to George P. Riley

2019 – Bacon grease, “flushable” wipes and fatbergs – NOT Gloucester

In 2019, Mike Hale, Director of Public Works, explained that this diaper wipe fatberg issue was not a crisis here as it was in the municipalities featured in the viral London video.

During the pandemic, stories increased about sewers clogged by even more wipes, protective wear and disposable masks. Again that was not overly remarkable here.

bacon grease poured into can not drain ©c ryan.jpg

My grandparents never wanted a dishwasher. They collected the food scraps (all the wet garbage) by the sink until they tossed it outdoors in the backyard garbage pail. A metal bin was inlaid underground roughly in line with a flagstone path. The heavy cover was raised with firm stomp on a foot pedal, a novel chore for us because our home did not have one. I don’t remember it smelling, but it was just the two of them. The garbage collectors took care of pick ups from there. My husband’s grandparents raised pigs, so it was direct deposit there.

2021 Water pollution Control

Author Note related to original question from GMG reader

*What’s in a name? I’m perplexed about a convivial nickname for “those on Cape Ann” myself. Cape Anners, Cape Ann-ites, other capers? Nope. Nope. Nope. I’m told Cape Cod natives may say “islanders”, though I’ve never heard that from my relations there. Maybe it’s Massachusetts? Massachusetts-ite is so awkward. Bay Stater- a marketing stretch too far. Bostonian works!

1918 Flu Pandemic: Reconstructing how the influenza epidemic raged then flattened in Gloucester Massachusetts when 183 died in 6 weeks


The 1918 Pandemic is widely known under the misnomer “Spanish Influenza”. Experts continue to analyze and study the origin and timing of this highly contagious, lethal and mysterious scourge. Most agree it wasn’t Spain nor limited to 1918, but rather spread in successive waves from early cases late in 1917 through recurrent epidemic in 1920. The month of October 1918 was the deadliest.

The disease is also known as the “forgotten pandemic” because it was eclipsed in real-time and in the history books by the Great War. To attempt to capture the magnitude of the loss, nutshell summaries repeat how tens of millions were killed by flu, more than by battle in World War I (WWI).  Since the prevailing contenders for the original hot-zones for the disease were in or nearby military installations, perhaps there’s a case to be made for tallying civilian flu deaths together with any WWI datasets for a full impact of the casualties of WWI.

To this day, the precise number of cases of infection (morbidity) and deaths (mortality) caused by the 1918 Flu Pandemic are confounding and wildly disparate.  A vast gulf of divergent research estimates from 17.4 million to as many as 100 million people1 died worldwide from this horrific epidemic; more than 700,000 died in the United States; and more than 260,0002 died in Spain.

When the Influenza of 1918 raged in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the death toll surged to 183* during six weeks in September and October.3

There was a perfect storm of transmissibility.

Until there wasn’t.

Gloucester ran a tight-ship.

*183 reflects the minimum deaths peak pandemic and published as of Oct. 26, 1918. A final tally would take into account pre and post pandemic.

Author note March 2020: Readers can search for surname, property, and addresses within the post to skip around for any relevant family info. Double click or pinch & zoom pictures to enlarge. The sources and inspiration (listed at the end) for this article were gathered from multiple books, journals, newspapers, rare old maps, local histories, photographs, background knowledge and family history.  I confess to a certain deliberate favoritism & primary sources related to the arts. I am grateful for the great archives and open content. Voices from the past may interest descendants, and give us perspective and hope during Covid-19. With so many worthy of honor, especially those who sacrificed to keep Gloucester safe, and those who suffered and died, I thought it valuable to make Gloucester’s part in this history accessible to all. So I curated a resource and visual gallery to put Gloucester’s 1918 Pandemic history on line. The Gloucester Daily Times daily chronicle which I transcribed intentionally are exhaustive & inspiring, and no part since 1918 had been previously published, or its full pages and article reproductions searchable on line. Other newspapers are fully accessible including big (New York Times) and small (Manchester Cricket).

chapter 1 BEFORE LABOR DAY 1918

Crests of various flu waves circulated the globe during World War 1. Killer flu strains in France and England in 19174 were portents of the pandemic to come.  So too were milder variants that conversely spread like wildfire, through Allied forces and civilian populations, here and abroad. Since the former advents were isolated and the latter were mild– and all studied in depth– the documentation did not attract medical concern or public notice. Because of its rapid recovery and light side effects, the milder form was known as “three day fever” and “five day plague” when it reached Shanghai May 1918 and “swept over the country like a tidal wave”5. Contemporaneous reports are all over the global map: Camp Funston, Kansas, in February 19186; New York City Feb-April7; Camp Sevier South Carolina, China, and the Japanese navy in March; the Ford auto plant early April; Chaumont & Baccarat in May; the Royal Navy in France that spring and “Flanders fever” in the German trenches; Shanghai May-June; and more military establishments that spring and summer. Others pitched “German influenza,”  insisting the disease originated in the German trenches before touring the world, crediting the French for coining the eponymous title after noting its severity in Spain.

 Images of global spread – multiple sources 8

Setting aside conflicting prepandemic timelines and propaganda, consensus builds around what happens next.

In August 1918, naval and army establishments in Massachusetts sent the flu on a trajectory across the country.


Forget hand washing and physical distancing: Challenging hygiene conditions are breeding grounds for lethal diseases for any nation at war. Clean water a luxury. 

For a generation before WWI, infectious diseases like cholera, plague, dysentery, TB, smallpox, measles, and the flu were the dire norm.  At the time and perhaps still, the Russian flu (1889-1892+) was considered the deadly disease bellwether, more disastrous than the 1918 Pandemic, lasting years past-pandemic and imparting after affect blows most severe. Accordingly, great steps were taken to minimize danger in order to preserve the health of the troops.

National WWI Museum and Memorial 9

Sometimes WWI field sanitation included serviceable latrines, portable tubs, and cleaning stations like the one in the American Red Cross (ARC) photo op.10  

Troops were rotated back and forth to divisional bath houses for rest and relief from the line; and before re-entry back in the United States.

Library of Congress 11

Mobile bath disinfecting equipment, laundry machines, irons and delousing rinses were brought to the troops in the field or camps, and bases at home.  Sterilizing wagons were deployed in New York to assist public health efforts to vanquish the flu.

The barbershop station was the last stop before returning to the U.S.

cleanliness is next to battlefields- block of images from multiple repositories12

Preventative measures weren’t enough. Virulent diseases are formidable foes.



Densely populated bases and transports weren’t ideal sanitary environments. The Navy yards in Boston and vicinity were among America’s busiest for transportation of troops and supplies during World War I.

Boston Navy Yard a decade later:

Vintage WWI embarkation and return photographs give a better idea of the scale of the operation of war: vessels are teeming with enlisted men squeezed shoulder to shoulder, potential carriers.

Library of Congress 14

Library of Congress 15

In August of 1918, Navy sailors shoreside were hospitalized in Boston with a flu so contagious that dozens at a time were admitted, and 1200 died by early October. The following brief account about the Boston outbreak was written in 1920 by Warren T. Vaughan, Preventative Medicine and Hygiene Department of the Harvard Medical School. His book, Influenza: An Epidemiological Study, was published by the American Journal of Hygiene in 1921. This Pandemic 1918 essential read includes Vaughan’s research investigating an outbreak at Camp Sevier in South Carolina, and a massive civilian census–thanks to a grant from Met Life– in Boston following the 1919 wave. (Vaughan was a physician at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital when he was drafted May 29, 1917; he advanced to lieutenant colonel.)

Autumn Spread in the United States 1918

By the first of July, 1918, convalescent cases of influenza began to appear among members of the crews of transports and other vessels arriving in Boston from European parts. The number of such cases on each ship was usually not more than four or five, but Woodward records that in one or two instances between twenty and twenty-five individuals were sick on incoming vessels. None of these were seriously ill, none were sent to the hospital, and none died. The disease in this class of persons did not become severe until late August. Woodward has found on inquiry among practicing physicians that typical cases of influenza were seen with notable frequency in private practice in the vicinity of Boston during the month of August, and that they had developed no serious complications, the only after effect being the marked prostration. These mild preliminary cases failed to attract attention; first, because of their relative scarcity, and second because of their benign character. Public attention was first directed to the influenza in Boston by the apparently sudden appearance during the week ending August 28th of about fifty cases at the Naval station at Commonwealth Pier. Within the next two weeks over 2000 cases had occurred in the Naval forces of the First Naval district. One week later there was a similar sudden outbreak in the Aviation School and among the Naval Radio men at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The first death in Boston was reported on September 8th. The peak of daily incidence in Boston occurred around the first of October. In the week ending October 5th a total of 1,214 deaths from influenza and pneumonia was reported, while by the third week of October this total had fallen to less than 600, and for the week ending November 9th was down to 47…On or about December 1st the incidence again rose and continued increasing daily, to reach its peak in a severe recrudescence around December 31…”, and “A sudden and very significant increase was reported during the third week in August in the number of cases of pneumonia occurring in the army cantonment at Camp Devens, seeming to justify the statement that an influenza epidemic may have started among the soldiers there even before it appeared in the naval force…” 16

Warren T. Vaughan

Sea of men (LOC) the author’s grandfather served on this ship; medical staff, Commonwealth pier (LOC); Naval training camp, MS (Naval Mus.) 17 


fort devens

Besides the naval bases in Boston, Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, was another military epicenter with fierce contagion and fast deaths; an estimated 15,000 men were infected by the flu and more than 800 died. Fort Devens was one of the country’s largest WW1 military bases, serving tens of thousands of soldiers in transition. According to the War Department research in 1926, “Accommodations were provided for only 36,000 men, but this figure often was exceeded, more especially in August and September 1918 when the strength was approximately 45,000 and 48,000 respectively.” Fort Devens housed the prisoners of war, also.

The base looks nearly a metropolis in vintage photographs. A selection of interior (clean!) and exterior shots were taken before the storm of flu. 18

‘Barracks at Camp Devens, Boys on Hillside Writing Letters, Ayer, Mass.’ the  Keystone View Company stereograph card, includes a write up about the barracks verso:

Barracks at Camp Devens, Ayer, Mass. Camp Devens, near Ayer, Massachusetts, was one of those national army camps that had a miraculous and mushroom growth during the summer of 1917, when everything had to be done with a rush to train our boys for the great combat overseas. In ten weeks time, 5000 men, on a weekly payroll of $100,000, built 1,400 buildings, laid 20 miles of road, 400 miles of electric wiring, 60 miles of heating pipes, and installed 2200 shower baths. All of this work was accomplished in time for the cantonement [sic] to receive 40,000 men early in September, 1917, when the first selective draft men were impressed into service, a service which the patriotism of most led them to embrace willingly and without a murmur. The camp was a veritable city, and a well built one for its purposes. It had a post office, telegraph and telephone service, police station, guard house, fire department and hospital, all directed and manned by service men. The auditorium seated 3000 men, and the base hospital treated at times as many as 800 men in a single day. Bare and uninviting as the camp was to men accustomed to the comforts, and in many instances the luxuries of home, it provided an unusual degree of comfort to men in training for military service. The laundries and central power plant with its great furnaces are installed in the buildings with high chimneys which we see in the distance. The soldiers in the foreground were using a leisure hour to write home, for in the intervals of training it was to home that their thought turned, and at home parents and sweethearts always eagerly awaited letters.

As with the navy images, photographs of separate divisions illustrate the density at these camps and impossibility of social distancing in some environments.

Library of Congress19

Portraits of divisions as thick as forests help to illustrate the shattering descriptions expressed by front line responders confronting so many felled by flu. Camp physician, Roy Grist, related “boys laid out in long rows, ” 20  and Dr. Victor C. Vaughan recounted bodies “stacked like cord wood” in his autobiography published in 1926.

…In the memory chambers of my brain there hang many pictures. Some are the joy of my life, too sacred and too personal to describe to any save my most intimate friends. But there are also ghastly ones which I would tear down and destroy were I able to do so, but this is beyond my power…While I am engaged in describing the horrors of my memory picture gallery I might as well say something of the others, and then I will promise never to touch this gruesome subject again…The fourth canvas is quite as large as the others. I see hundreds of young, stalwart men in the uniform of their country coming into the wards of the hospital in groups of ten or more. They are placed on the cots until every bed is full and yet others crowd in. The faces soon wear a bluish cast; a distressing cough brings up the blood stained sputum. In the morning the dead bodies are stacked about the morgue like cord wood. This picture was painted on my memory cells at the division hospital, Camp Devens, 1918, when the deadly influenza demonstrated the inferiority of human inventions in the destruction of human life.” 21

Victor C. Vaughan

Library of Congress panoramas 22

As Dean of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and director of the Surgeon General’s Office of Communicable Disease, Vaughan was sent to Camp Devens as part of the federal government’s elite assessment team.  Carol R. Byerly who wrote a book about the pandemic in 2005, The Fever of War, added in a 2010 journal article how, “Camp Devens physicians performing autopsies described influenza pathology as unique, characterized by “the intense congestion and hemorrhage” of the lungs. But as Vaughan and [John Hopkins pathologist William Henry] Welch investigated Camp Devens, the virus kept moving. Before any travel ban could be imposed, a contingent of replacement troops departed Devens for Camp Upton, Long Island, the Army’s debarkation point for France, and took influenza with them.” 23 It’s no wonder Vaughan didn’t dwell on this savage disease.

Another Vaughan, Dr. Warren T. Vaughan– who wrote in 1920 about the Boston outbreak in the Navy mentioned above– was “one of a board of officers appointed to investigate” a milder advent that “had broken out among troops stationed” in the army base at Camp Sevier, South Carolina. He explained how difficult pandemics were to predict.

Sudden onset regimental infirmary…careful bacteriologic examination was made at that time and predominating organisms were found to be a gram negative coccus resembling micrococcus catarrhalis, and a non-hemolytic streptococcus. They were uncomplicated the time none of us dreamed of any possible connection with a severe epidemic to occur later (at that wave bacilli weren’t present)…”

Block of medical images, various collections 24

W.T. Vaughan felt not a single community in which there were reported cases reached tallying anywhere near the total of actual cases.   And so he rolled up his sleeves. “Toward the end of January 1920 when recurrent epidemic as at its height in Boston,” Vaughn writes, “The author undertook with the aid of 13 trained social service workers and one physician graduate from the Harvard school of public health to make sickness census of 10,000 individuals,”  in person, in six districts.

His statements from 1920 echo in today’s news:

On determining first cases of infection

“There is evidence –the collection of which has not been completed– pointing to the existence of cases of the disease in various centers, probably widely distributed, weeks before they were definitely recognized as influenza…”25 – Warren T. Vaughan, 1920

On healthy carriers

“Yes it does exist.”26 – Warren T. Vaughan, 1920

On crowd gatherings

“Yet another phenomenon which would lead us to conclude that human intercourse is the most potent factor in the transmission of influenza is the fact that there is frequently a high increase in the influenza rate following crowd gatherings. Parkes observed long ago that person in overcrowded habitations, particularly in some epidemic, suffered especially, and several instances are on record of a large school or barracks being first attacked and the disease prevailing there for some days, before it became prevalent in the towns around…In discussing the recrudescence of influenza in Boston in November and December, Woodward remarks as follows: “Whether or not it may be more than a succession of coincidences it is certainly of interest to note that the November outbreak of influenza showed itself three days after the Peace Day celebration on November 12th, when the streets, eating places and public conveyances were jammed with crowds; that the December epidemic began to manifest itself after the Thanksgiving holiday…and that reported cases mounted rapidly during the period of Christmas shopping…” 27 – Warren T. Vaughan, 1920

By way of summary
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is w.t.-vaughan-1920.jpg

Looking for signposts | on the manner of the flu’s spread

Vaughan looked to the past as he researched the present:

He quoted 1847 influenza research by Thomas Watson that resonates poignantly:

although the general descent of the malady is, as I have said, very sudden and diffused, scattered cases of it, like the first droppings of a thunder shower, have usually been remembered as having preceded it.” Thomas Watson on Influenza, 1847 29

Local enlisted lads wrote about the infamous flu in letters home to Gloucester, Mass., and other Cape Ann towns before Labor Day, although they weren’t read or published until after the disease exploded in Gloucester. Private John J. Smith wrote his mother, Mrs. Charles W. Smith of 5 Center Court, a long letter dated September 1, 1918. At one point he puts it plainly: “I feel better over here than I did in Camp Devens and sure have got that same good old appetite…”30 The letter appeared in the Gloucester Daily Times on the last day of September, included as part of the series, “Our Boys Write Bright Letters Home.”

Lt. J. Irving Baker from Manchester-by-the-sea wrote his mother, “Somewhere from France, July 23, 1918.” about how he was, “getting along fine now, you can tell by this paper. I went down the street myself and bought it. I have been moved into another building where I have a room with another officer. It is fine. From the window I can see hills and trees. It is a summer resort in the foothills of the Alps. There is a mineral spring here in which I hope to have a bath before I leave.” He broke off before mailing, and added an update July 31 from an Army base hospital in Allery, France, where he was sent to convalesce. 

We just arrived at the convalescent camp and are pretty tired, did not get much chance to sleep on the train. This is a small place called Allery [sic] about 180 miles northeast of Flermont. It looks a good deal like an army cantonment with wooden barracks, partitioned into rooms, tow in a room. The town is only a station, cafe and a few houses…You know I lost nearly all my things when I came to the hospital, I am managing to get a kit together after a fashion. …They raise many geese in this section of France…Aug. 5. I am feeling fine now, only short of breath when I go up stairs or exert myself–as I’m pretty tired just now.”

The letter was published in the Manchester Cricket on September 21, 1918 within a column devoted to “Letters From Our Boys at the Front”.

Allery [sic] photo, WWI Centennial Commission31 

Another soldier from Manchester, Private Wade Revere Brooks, joined the Marines. In a detailed letter from South Carolina, he described multiple quarantines at basic training camp(s) that began for him immediately upon arrival, back in June 1918, and with each new skills rotation until deployment.  His undated letter was featured in the Manchester Cricket on October 26, 1918, long after the crest of the pandemic. From the contents it seems to have been written in September. He signs off:

After coming off the range we were held for the influenza quarantine, and we are now awaiting for shipment to Virginia where we get our overseas training, which consists of gas attack drills, hand grenade throwing and more trench work. I hope we will move soon. There are six thousand trained troops waiting for the quarantine for Flu to be lifted. Well I have told you as much as I can think of just now, so I will close hoping this will interest you some. I am sincerely yours, Pvt. Wade Revere Brooks, Company 332, Battalion O, United States Marine Corps, Paris Island, South Carolina. 32

Acting Mess Sergeant Frank A. McDonald sent a postcard from the hospital at Camp Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina, conveyed in the Gloucester Daily Times October 22, 1918 , “Many Local Boys Had the Influenza”:

He is in the base hospital recovering from a three weeks’ serious illness of influenza. He states that Herman Amero* (illegible) is recovering after four weeks siege of pneumonia, Herbert Joyce and Robert Smith, Gloucester boys at the same camp, are also on the mending hand. The other Gloucester boys are all well, he [Frank A. McDonald] says.”

Social distancing is absent in the post office at Camp Jackson when this photograph was taken that September. Camp Jackson utilized tents for its flu management.

(Nat. Mus. of Health & Med., 1918) Camp Jackson, SC33

War news produced by the military stressed the strength in numbers of America’s fighting forces as with this 1917 photograph “Embarked for France”.

National Archives

or this ‘We won’t stop coming till it’s over Over There’ image published on the front page of the Tribune Graphic  September 8, 1918.

This photograph, taken aboard one of the first American transports sailing for France has just been released by the censor. At the time Germany was still loudly boasting that we couldn’t get an army over there in time to make any difference. To-day she is singing another tune.”

Library of Congress 34

Besides arriving sick, more than 12,000 enlisted died from the flu pandemic on the troop transports heading to France before they landed.35 Men in the September 1918 photograph could very well have been among the afflicted.

When the flu was mentioned in Stars and Stripes, the newspaper written by American servicemen for soldiers, it was late news and downplayed. This article, “Hot Coffee Checks Flu at St. Nazaire: Colonel, Cooks, and K.P’s Steam Germs Out of Newcomers”, published December 13, 1918, claimed that coffee, climate and command vanquished the deadly epidemic.

It was hot coffee—thousands of gallons of it –that ended the deadly influenza epidemic in the dark autumn days when that disease was working ravages among American troops en route to France.”

If the extent of flu deaths within the military that spring and summer were understood, the government’s fall conscription push for 15 million registrations may have been impossible. Who among us would knowingly support a draft for our sons and fathers, our brothers and friends, with such a lethal disease out of control at training camps and ships bound for France?

The records do appear to indicate that federal guidelines were mostly held back until after the September 12th national draft registration day (and the preceding parades and rallies that encouraged registration).  By that date, officials including public health and infectious disease experts within the military knew key facts: that the death rate was higher in barracks and cantonments than tent camps; that quarantines were necessary at training camps; that geography was more important than cramped quarters; that healthy carriers exist; and that nurses and non commissioned suffered more than officers and privates. Gloucester would welcome and benefit from this military expertise.

Enlisted men who succumbed during training or transport, died from pneumonia or flu “in the line of duty. ”37 Still, death in battle was mourned more openly than death by disease, tamping down stories and comparisons about the flu.  Efforts to reduce transmission at a time of heightened engagement in WW1 — whether communication was instantaneous (telegraph) or not; word of mouth or not; censored or not– were next to impossible by Labor Day.

The flu’s arrival in Gloucester was more or less timed with Boston’s.


World War I guaranteed that the end of summer of 1918 wasn’t carefree and innocent. Dramatic photographs about World War 1 were published nationally. This photograph, a “remarkable view of a battle scene on the Marne in which lines of French infantrymen are crawling forward into action behind a French tank”, was printed on the cover of a photogravure insert of the Sunday New York Times.38

This collage layout39 conveyed the sheer scale of the Labor Day parade in New York City, and support for our nation at war.


The traditional Labor Day weekend in Gloucester, Massachusetts, was a big one with residents and visitors traveling to-and-fro thanks to its long established destination reputation. Families hosted guests from in state and out of state. Pleasure boats and fishing boats set out and returned. Art fans were encouraged to Rocky Neck studios and the Gallery on the Moors exhibition before their summer season exhibitions closed.

Despite a one-day traffic study banning cars that Sunday, to compel gas rationing, Stage Fort Park was packed:

A large crowd participated in the picnic at Stage Fort Park yesterday, under the auspices of the Wainola Temperance Society and Waino Band. Two fine concerts were given by the band under the direction of Charles A. Glover. There were several tents for the sale of ice cream, tonic and lunches. Two baseball games attracted a large throng in the morning and afternoon…”40

On the pages of the Gloucester Daily Times and Cape Ann Advertiser  and the Manchester Cricket, two local newspapers established in 1888, cultural events, casualty lists, and letters from enlisted men were published –unavoidably and disconcertingly –on the same page at times. Public notices and benefits in support of the war were broadcast over the long weekend, like this striking appeal for fruit stones for gas masks:

Every peach stone counts: Patriotic barrel at board of trade will receive your contribution “The Board of trade peach stone campaign is meeting with wonderful success and the patriotic sugar barrel which has been placed in front of the rooms of Main street is rapidly being filled with the precious stones. Not only save the peach stones, but plum stones, olive pits, nutshells of all kinds except peanuts because they all make the best charcoal for making the gas masks our soldiers in France wear…One hundred peach stones makes enough charcoal for one mask and peaches are right in the height of their season. Get busy now and bring them…”41

The Gloucester Daily Times (GDT) regularly published submissions from the community on one or two inside pages, too. The individual joys & sorrows, boasts, and whereabouts were sorted by town and neighborhood with subheadings Rockport, Pigeon Cove, and Manchester; and in Gloucester, West Gloucester, Riverdale, Annisquam, Lanesville, Magnolia, and East Gloucester.  The columns are chatty and informal, a bit Facebook meets Page Six depending upon the neighborhood. 

Downtown, or specifically the Fort and Portuguese Hill, did not have a section.

Because the general public was not informed about the severity of flu deaths in the military that  spring and summer, and even the experts missed possible tell tale signs, the busy destination season continued into September, as did the dreadful war.

The comings and goings over Labor Day were detailed within a September 3rd East Gloucester column.  Residents hosting summer guests, including young men on furlough, were quite possibly literal harbingers of doom or vectors. Visitors on Mt. Pleasant returned to Worcester and Watertown, and back to Somerville from Chapel Street.

Joseph Ehler of the U.S. navy transport service is spending a brief furlough with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Ehler of  Mt. Pleasant Avenue. Walter Peterson of Camp Devens, Ayer, spent the holiday weekend on 8 Davis Street with his mother, Nina. Mrs. Charles E. Locke and family returned to Worcester from Mt. Pleasant. Miss Suzanne Parsons of Mt. Pleasant back from a visit in the South to resume duties at Watertown High School…Mr. and Mrs. Fred Benson and little daughter Elizabeth of Somerville were the weekend and holiday guests of Mrs. Benson’s parents, Lewis Rowe on Chapel Street.42

The East Gloucester column published on September 4th reveals a few more threads of what’s to come. East Gloucester would be hit particularly bad.

…Walter Fenn, the artist, is improving gradually from his illness and at present he is at Rocky Neck.” (At the Chapel Street church school) “a full attendance is requested as business of importance is to come up for consideration and plans for the year made…There remains one more day to view the exhibition of paintings and sculpture at the Gallery-on-the-Moors…Members of the Chapel Street Baptist Sunday School will gather (for the end) of the summer season…” 43 

The first day of school commenced Wednesday, September 4, 1918. Headlines from the paper pronounced a hopeful beginning, “Teachers and Pupils Enter on Work of the Year with Vigor”.  That evening the city hosted a huge public event, “Community Sing at City Hall”.

Community Sing Filled City Hall: Voices Raised High in Patriotic Song
The Community Sing at City hall…combined with the addresses by Dr. M. M. Graham, district service manager of the United States Shipping Board and Corporal Fran A.H. Street, a returned soldier who was twice wounded and later gassed while serving with the Canadian forces, attracted an audience which filled City Hall. Patriotic music was sung, opening with the “Star Spangled Banner,” following which a proclamation was read by
President Antoine Silva of the municipal council, representing the city, after which the vast audience joined in singing “Speed Our Republic”…Among those on the platform was Private Joseph Merchant, who has recently returned from “over there” on a furlough after being wounded. The meeting closed with the singing of “America.”44

This special event revved up attention for the draft registration two weeks away. Under the Selective Service Act, all men ages 18 through 45 would be required to register on September 12, 1918, the third and final registration for WWI. 45  Local volunteer committees handled registration for this mandatory conscription and dispensed draft cards and exemption rulings. Booster efforts like the Community Sing in Gloucester were successful. About 13% of Gloucester’s total population would show up at the polls to register.46

Two days later, the first article about a lethal flu in Massachusetts  was published in the Gloucester Daily Times on September 6, 1918 with the state surgeon general’s warning. There was no mention of the disease striking Fort Devens, or any other camp or military branch. The spread of the virulent flu was aptly described as a “pandemic”.  Though small and buried on the inside pages of the GDT, it was printed– ahead of other papers—,  “Lookout Now, Old Mr. Grip is Around”. 47

Old Mr. Grip was already here.


The funeral announcement  for young mother Mrs. Margaret E. Miller of Bass Avenue (see maps)48 who died September 9th, 1918, “after an illness of only a week”, was one of the first published flu deaths in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Miller’s funeral was held at home, which was common, at her in-laws on Traverse Street in East Gloucester. She left behind a husband and their three month old daughter.  The first civilian flu death reported in Boston was just one day earlier. Quincy came 6 days later. Worcester ten.

As the first major American offensives in France were underway, the Massachusetts battle of the flu turned into a public health crisis.

On September 11, 1918 hundreds of cases of flu in the general public were reported in Boston and dozens in Quincy. The previous day, visitors from Everett and Quincy (where the flu flared early as well) were visiting East Gloucester; the church event advertised earlier in the week assembled a crowd of 140 people; and another resident on Rocky Neck was sick, Letter Carrier Sherman T. Walen. 49

Were the Gloucester residents among the carriers or those exposed to the virus?

Mrs. John Brainerd Wilson has been entertaining her sister, Miss Hildreth of Everett, who is supervisor in the public schools of that city. Mrs. Fred Pierson and Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop C. Sherman and child, all of Quincy, are spending a week at 62 Mt. Pleasant avenue. Letter Carrier Sherman T. Walen is indisposed at his home on Rocky Neck…The Ladies’ Society of the Chapel Street Church will hold a basket picnic in West Gloucester tomorrow…The Chapel Street Baptist church school gathered on Sunday noon, for the first time after the summer adjournment…There were 140 members of the school present…”50

The School Committee convened, voting to uphold the marriage bar for female teachers, unless the husband was deployed. Duncan Wright of Annisquam was brought to Court by the Board of Health for “collecting swill without permit”. Sometime that week the Schooners Natalie Hammond and Athlete left Gloucester Harbor. And on the front page of the paper September 11, 1918 a reminder about Registration at all the voting places was the headline:

All Flags to Fly and Bands to Play tomorrowFrom 7 o’clock tomorrow morning until 8 o’clock tomorrow evening the voting places in this city and Rockport will be open for the enrollment of those coming within the new draft every man between the ages of 18 to 45 years both inclusive not already registered must register tomorrow for the Selective Service Draft.”51

“Tomorrow our streets will be thronged with men,” the Governor’s proclamation urging liquor stores to close began, “The day should be devoted entirely to such activities as will best expedited the enrollment of such a large number of men as are required by the National Government to enroll for military service.”  Gloucester encouraged a corps of volunteers, registrars and interpreters for those unable to speak English.

Though undoubtedly effective in generating support for the war and community, the local notices, meetings and events predate the coming calamity. With hindsight they make for a wincing read.  Unlike the general population in those days, contemporary readers know how each of these gatherings, little or small, ordinary or special, might spread the deadly contagion and end.


Burn the peach stone barrel! 

Avoid committee meetings!

Steer clear of the crowds—especially singing ones!

Stay home! 


10 Days after Labor Day weekend . 5 Days after the Community Sing rally.

There was a massive turnout on draft 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…”52

Enlisted immigrants comprised nearly 20% of the US Army during WW1. 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.

(Lib. of Congress) Vice President Thomas R. Marshall draws draft number 53

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.]

The Gloucester post office was located at the corner of Main & Pleasant Streets in 1918 (photo ©c ryan)55

Post Office staff City Directory, 1917. Annotated with red arrows to indicate flu cases in 1918. 56

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.”57 

Gloucester 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

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

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.

(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.”

– End of U.S. Surgeon General Notification, published in the Gloucester Daily Times 9/14/1918

Gloucester Fights Back

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 in just five weeks added to a legacy of loss and coping.  

On September 23 Boston reported 23 deaths from Influenza; Gloucester 11.

At the post office where the disease surged, nine staff still struggled and cases in East Gloucester surged. A few vessels returned with sick crew. Sawyer Free Public library closed on the 24th. Physicians and nurses from other towns arrived to help. There were so many new cases in Gloucester they enlarged the new Red Cross emergency hospital at the police station (and would again). Still, more hospital beds were necessary. The State Armory on Prospect Street seemed the ideal site to ready, however the State refused the request. Alderman (City Councilor) Poole headed to Boston with Osborne Knowles, Christian Saunders and John Radcliffe, representatives from Gloucester’s Board of Health and Public Safety, to negotiate with state and federal officials in person.

“That the authorities were fully cognizant of conditions in Gloucester was evident from the statement of Mr. Long, who said that Revere; Quincy and Gloucester were the most infected of any in the state. Mr. Long offered the committee every assistance and relief that could be given to handle the situation…In the opinion of state officials and leading physicians the out-door method of treating the disease is the most effective and successful. So interested were the officials in the local situation that the surgeon-general’s department yesterday afternoon notified Capt. Carleton H. Parsons, senior officer of the local state guard units; instructing him to present to the local authorities the offer of the state to send to Gloucester a military hospital unit to cope with the situation.”

Lieut. John A. Radcliffe, State Guard, resident, and veteran Gloucester Daily Times (GDT) reporter of nearly 20 years & volunteer on the Board of Health for 15 prior to the pandemic

The state discussions prompted additional protective measures, informed by the best doctors in the armed services. There were more cases in Massachusetts by then than all the other states combined. Influenza cases at Camp Devens had already climbed to 11,000. The Gloucester contingent left the Boston conference armed with a state of the art plan for a crisis team to be deployed in Gloucester, a military unit of doctors, nurses and multiple local State Guard companies. It would be the first one established for care of civilians and a model to follow. All necessary presentations and votes were sorted by nightfall.

“The adjutant general’s department in Boston was immediately communicated with, and arrangements made to send tents, physicians, nurses’ field kitchen, military equipment and supplies to this city.”

John Radcliffe, Gloucester Daily Times

Meanwhile, another floor was added to the Red Cross Emergency Hospital, State Guard called out, and police instructed to enforce any Board of Health recommendations such as the anti-spitting rule and fruit stand closures. Various strict fumigation requirements were put into immediate effect and there would be no crowding on street cars. Without calling it a quarantine, mighty efforts to effectively shut Gloucester down ensued. The City banned outdoor gatherings now, too. A women’s suffragist meeting and Liberty Loan rallies were among the first cancellations. “Gloucester calls her people to rise promptly to the emergency!” urged the op Ed.

Statewide the precise number of infected cases was a guess at best. (It would be a week before reporting deaths was required by law, ten days after Gloucester so ordered.) In local war news at this time, Gloucester advocates were seeking reimbursement from the federal government for vessels sunk by submarine– while pressing for flu support. Massachusetts established an Emergency Public Health Committee on September 25, 1918. Their first order of business was to ban all public gatherings especially in light of the upcoming liberty loan rallies and parades. It was suggested that the Federal Government was likely to take charge in Massachusetts as a war measure. The State Board of Health published treatment guidelines the next day because of the scarcity of physicians and nurses, and push back after bans and restrictions, which Henry Endicott defended mightily:

“…There are undoubtedly towns and cities in the Commonwealth from which the influenza has not been reported, but of course we must face the fact that the chances are very much in favor of the spread of the disease. I urge such communities to assume their part of the common responsibility, and to act as if they were already in the midst of the epidemic.

The doctors and nurses of Massachusetts who are devoting themselves to the care of the sick in this emergency are all heroes and heroines, and many of them have paid the penalty. Not one of them, as far as I am aware, has shirked in any way; they have overworked; they are without sleep—yet, still they go on. Massachusetts can never repay its debt to this noble band of men and women. We are using every effort, both through the government and outside the State to get additional help for these people… (Regarding) Cancellation of the Liberty loan meetings… It will never be said of Massachusetts that she was so immersed in her own private troubles that she for one moment failed to heed the Nation’s call to practical service. Massachusetts must and will do her part.”

Henry B. Endicott, Chairman Massachusetts Emergency Public Health Committee, established Sept. 25, 1918

Dr. Kelley, Massachusetts Commissioner of Health and a member of the state’s Emergency Public Health Committee, reached out to U.S. Surgeon General Blue. The Federal government lent army and navy doctors to take over doctor assignments. Kelley appointed a nursing Commission and assigned Miss Billings from his department as chairman. They hired 100 nurses to serve in case of emergency in the Massachusetts State Guard. “These nurses were given the rank and pay of Lieutenant. It is believed that this is the first time such rank and pay have been given to women in the United States…” 59 The state deployed fifteen to Gloucester plus about 10 more registered nurses. The federal government released a detailed “Influenza” circular September 26. By then forty percent of Gloucester’s telephone company were absent “on account of sickness either of themselves or relatives whose care is devolving upon them.” The Gloucester Manufacturing Company “closed their plant indefinitely” and the Ipswich mills announced a shut down. There were 49 deaths in the city, up from 11 three days prior, among them Laura Silva, Alderman Silva’s sister, who died that morning from “pneumonia following an attack of the prevailing influenza.” Acting Governor Coolidge appealed to the President, select neighboring states, and the Mayor of Toronto for physicians and nurses:

“Massachusetts urgently in need of additional doctors and nurses to check growing epidemic of influenza. Our doctors and nurses are being thoroughly mobilized and worked to the limit. Many cases can receive no attention whatever. Hospitals are full, but arrangements can be made for outside facilities. Earnestly solicit your influence in obtaining for us this needed assistance in any way you can.”

Governor urgent telegrams disseminated 9/26/1918 (published in GDT 9/27/1918)

With no time to spare, the State Military Unit was installed on the grounds of Addison Gilbert Hospital Friday September 27, 1918, and completed before the sun was down Saturday.

“In a remarkably short space of time the tents were up and the unit well established, so that this afternoon it will be ready for patients. There are 100 tents for patients, each waterproof, provided with board floor, cot and other essentials for the proper care of the sick…The field hospital is a wonderful institution and shows in a large measure what the State Guard can be depended upon to bring about. Day and night the men have worked to put the hospital in shape and to look out for the sick ones. It is simply remarkable the way the many details have been arranged to establish such a wonderful institution well worthy of the name. Electric lights, water, sewerage and floors in the tents have all been put in, chiefly through the efforts of the fine types of men that compose the State Guard.”

John Radcliffe, GDT

Another 100 tents for the state guard, plus any necessary for administration and operations, were erected. Over on Main Street, the Red Cross established a children’s hospital in the Girl’s Club over Gloucester National Bank. Anticipating great need, the public safety committee announced an Emergency Fundraising drive for the Local Red Cross administered by Cape Ann Savings Bank. The Mayor and all but one Alderman were struck by flu—all those meetings! — and still that Monday they brought forth more precautions, seizing any and all educational opportunities and community measures possible to halt the spread. Public funerals were banned and soda fountains closed, though the latter was rescinded in one day. Detailed flu mask (face masks) instructions were published as part of optimum patient care and prevention.

Mayor Stoddart urged fresh air and ventilation.

“Every house whether a case of disease has existed or not, should be thoroughly aired during the day…Clean up the back yards, dumps and filthy places. If your neighbor will not act, consult the Board of Health or its emergency agents and prompt action will be taken. Let everyone co-operate and assist our health officials in the excellent work they are doing.”

Mayor Stoddardt, September 30, 1918

The deadline for the Draft Registration questionnaire was postponed until influenza was over. One bright note that bleak weekend, ten nurses arrived from Ontario, Canada, and five from the state thanks to the commonwealth’s plea and Gloucester’s hustle. Unlike other locations during the Pandemic 1918, folks rushed here to help rather than away.

On October 1 the City implored women to volunteer in the fight against the flu. Major A. N. Thomson, an esteemed infectious disease specialist, was detailed from the US Army Medical Corps to command the entire camp. The Major was empowered by the Federal authorities to take over facilities and property should they fail to be turned over, which never happened. Mayor Thomson’s excellent communication skills were evident his first day: daily briefings and public health notices commenced and a Civilian Relief Committee was established. Some restrictions were specific to Gloucester such as the mandatory fumigation of any vessels coming or going, the need for heaters for the State Guard and the curious ban on milk dealers, at the time believed to be a vector in this city. The general boil order may have covered it sufficiently; political savvy can be added to Major Thomson’s talents.

On October 2 the state issued its first Official influenza Bulletin

Doctors at Tufts University announced vaccine research and gave the city supplies and face masks. The Governor added to a growing insistence to bring teachers back to help since schools were closed. Deaths and infections continued rising in Gloucester. The Red Cross Emergency Hospital was open 24 hours a day until physicians would be able to resume nightly calls; the base was closed to all but patients and caregivers. Despite fumigation and social distancing protocols, 33 men from the street railway (trolley) were afflicted.

On October 3, 1918, after the community sing that first week of September, after registering for the draft on September 12, after advocating on behalf of the citizens of Gloucester, after traveling to Boston, Alderman Poole died from the flu.

These public servants were aware of the dangers of viral infection –if not the extent of this particular lethal disease– yet they met in person with great exigency, to keep people safe. They looked to science as they wanted to deliver model guidelines of care. As the death toll climbed they worked hard to determine how to halt its spread and prevent transmission.

The flu battle continued. The city spread lime on “bad spots and catch basins” throughout the city. Major Thomson estimated 800 cases of infection, a marked decrease. Local businesses donated food and treats to the base camp. The Red Cross measured the State Guard for winter uniforms and shoes. At the three week mark since the first deaths were reported, Gloucester recorded 137 deaths by flu. Dr. Manning was brought from France where he had charge of a children’s hospital, helpful with so many children sick, or having lost a parent, maybe two. Major Thomson declared that the teamwork in Gloucester “was certainly most remarkable, the like of which he had never before experienced and congratulated the city upon its good fortune.”

Bars were closed October 8. The death list fell to 3.

There are at present 10 patients in camp whose condition is normal, these being children who are being kept in camp under the supervision of the hospital staff until such time as proper home conditions are found for them. The number of patients sick is 32, those dangerously ill 3, and those seriously ill 2. During 24 hour period from yesterday noon there were three deaths. A noticeable feature in connection with the hospital camp is the very small percentage of sickness that has occurred among the soldiers.

Major Thomson October 8, 1918

Dr. Street joined Thomson’s medical team. He was the first to volunteer in Massachusetts to fight the flu and the last to leave Gloucester’s emergency. He had been practicing in China for 20 years. After Gloucester, he was sent to France.

Conditions were improving .

Not only the state, but the nation as well has its eyes on Gloucester at the present time. The first open air camp was established at Corey Hill, Boston, for the merchant marine, but the one in this city is the first for the civilian population and is far ahead of even the one at Corey Hill, so Col. Brooks, surgeon general, has stated. The wonderful success of the out-door treatment, the wonderful organization of the local unit and its many details is being set up as a model for other communities to follow.

John Radcliffe writing for the GDT, October 8, 1918

Plans turned to social work and after care. There were 121 patients at the hospital camp on October 10. Thanks to Dr. Manning,

This morning the big convalescent tent was completed and fitted with chairs, settees, tables, a graphophone and literature. Here the patients who have reached the convalescent stage will go each day, until they are in proper health to return to their homes. The graphophone was kindly donated by the Y.M.C.A. who have extended many other courtesies and valuable assistance in the present emergency.

John Radcliffe

The Mayor encouraged substantial philanthropy: Elizabeth Sherman (Mrs. Henry Souther) “offered the Red Cross the free use of (one of the) Souther residence(s in Gloucester), on Brightside avenue, Bass Rocks, as a children’s nursery for the care of the children now under treatment at the State Emergency Hospital Post and who on account of sickness or other conditions at their homes cannot go to their homes upon being discharged from the hospital.” [She was the daughter of Judge Edgar J. Sherman who built the iconic home perched on Bass rocks and nicknamed the gilded birdcage and Judge Sherman Cottage. Souther developed Bass Rocks and Sherman was a Trustee.]

Anticipating the closure of the camp and emulating its success, excitement built for a permanent out-door hospital to handle communicable diseases, and for pivoting efforts to support the Home Service Committee of the Local Red Cross:

“Only those who have been in close touch with the local conditions can have any idea of the extent of the suffering, or of the conditions that exist in many homes on account of the inroads of the epidemic. Whole families have been stricken and that means that the earning power of these families have been shattered. In many families it will be weeks before the members of the families who work will be (illegible) back bills to be paid, homes to be cleaned up, the sick made strong even after the over-worked doctor has ceased his visits. And in many homes where death has entered, sometimes both father and mother have been taken, leaving children who must be looked after and cared for for a long time, and where the father has been taken the mother and the children without the father’s care for a long time.”

John Radcliffe, GDT October 11, 1918

On October 15th, Dr. Manning and some of the nurses were reassigned. The Trustees of Addison Gilbert Hospital were willing to grant the Board of Health and hence the City use of it land for such an out-door hospital, and voted that way just in case. In the end the city opted to purchase the Braewood property, the former estate of Maria H. Bray. (Bray operated a popular summer inn from her home; Louisa May Alcott was one famous guest.) For convalescents not yet ready to go home and any lodging necessary for nurses, the site was ideal. St. John’s stepped up to provide shelter for convalescents that were homeless. Major Thomson’s last day at the base was October 16, the first day no deaths were reported. The State Guard started to breakdown the State Emergency Hospital Post. On October 18th the city council voted to continue the ban on public gatherings until October 22, 1918, and the school committee voted to re-open October 23. A resolution of appreciation of all who helped in the epidemic was passed October 24th. The State Emergency Hospital Post officially closed October 25, 1918. The total number of infections on closing day was 70 cases. Despite harrowing weeks at war and battling the flu, Gloucester surpassed its fundraising allotment for liberty bonds AND an emergency health fund.

Gloucester’s destination reputation, proximity to Boston, fishing industry, people & cultures, and their patriotic hearts– evident in strong showings at the community sing Sept. 5 and draft registration Sept.12– heightened gatherings and travel into and out of the city, especially at the end of the summer and the first weeks in September. Enlisted on leave came home. People traveled for art. Sadly, the timing was a tragic storm of transmissibility.

City, state, and federal leaders’ decisive response to establish temporary emergency facilities to address a broad range of needs, and to recruit personnel were stunning.  An extensive operation was set into motion right out the gate, beginning with crucial partnerships with organizations like the Gloucester District Nursing Association, Salvation Army, and district Red Cross, as well as priming boards and committees, and a doctor and nurse network. The bold decision that both the “new” Armory on Prospect Street and Addison Gilbert Hospital would remain non-contaminant institutions in full operation was a masterstroke that allowed for maximum state and federal support not to mention the best in public health care. The government could send crisis teams straight away and did. Gloucester benefited from the latest military research, and top doctors serving in the U.S. armed forces. Major Thomson, the army major dispatched to lead Gloucester’s Flu Battle from the State Emergency Hospital Post was a nationally recognized epidemiologist. Expertise, speed and collaboration were possible thanks to an indefatigable army of citizen volunteers, and great hiring. 


Although hit at the same time as Boston, the severe flu outbreak in Gloucester, Massachusetts, is relatively unknown.  With a population just under 25,000 in 1917, Gloucester was perhaps too small to be on the radar of significant research study, notwithstanding its steep death rate, outstanding communication, bold decisions and impressive teamwork among local, state and federal officials. The city of Gloucester was struck early by the pandemic and should rightly be remembered for its sacrifices, resolve and model response.

Catherine Ryan, March 20, 2020


Here is the impressive list of key properties* of significance modified throughout the 1918 Pandemic flu battle in Gloucester. (*author note: search for surname, property, and addresses within the post to see skip around for any relevant info. Double click pictures to enlarge)

  • City Hall including DPW and sanitation
  • Police Station – site for Red Cross Emergency Hospital for the afflicted which expanded three times: the Spanish Veteran’s Hall; then the Old Army; and the district court offices
  • New armory – National guard HQ
  • State Emergency Hospital Post, out-doors, on the grounds of Addison Gilbert Hospital for the afflicted added. Both hospitals were FULL.
  • Red Cross Nursery for families of front line workers and orphans in the Girl’s Club over the Gloucester National Bank and Children’s hospital
  • Gloucester District Nursing Assoc.
  • Red Cross HQ and Public Health Dispensary
  • Emergency Food and needs pantry
  • Souther estate at Brightside on Bass Rocks  for children convalescents, and orphans
  • Braewood – convalescence for those not well enough to go home (across from Pauline’s gifts)
  • Fundraising for Red Cross and support Cape Ann Savings Bank
  • Tibbet’s block – Emergency committees, Liberty Bond drive and Draft Registration
  • Gloucester Daily Times corner of Pleasant and Center- David Cox in the photograph
  • Post Office

FAST FACTS – Population

  • Gloucester, Mass. population in 1917:  24,478  (2020 hovering 30,000) *183 flu deaths at peak pandemic
    • Essex County population in 1917: 436,477 and in 1920: 482,156
  • Worcester, Mass. population in 1915: 162,267  *est. population was 180,000 and 1294 flu deaths all waves (pre, peak, and post epidemic) in 1918
    • Worcester County population in 1920: 455,135
  • Quincy, Mass. population in 1917: ___ *flu deaths at peak pandemic 150
  • Norfolk county population in 1920: 219,081
  • Massachusetts population in 1915:  3,693,310 and in 1920: 3,852,356
  • United States population in 1917: 103,208,000
  • World population in 1917: 1.8 billion
  •  Mortality and Morbidity (cases) counts remain speculative. US Deaths from flu: 675,000 – 800,000

Regarding 183* deaths in Gloucester, Mass.:  The estimates of morbidity and mortality in Gloucester are not final or definitive as they encapsulate solely published stats at its apex. For the time being, the 2020 Covid-19 closures limit access to research. Final numbers will increase and are estimated to be more than 250. Follow-up will expand window from 1917-spring 1920, especially August and November 1918, to verify death records and tracing, etc., also delving into nuanced themes I’ve developed and curated here. Though the Fort was targeted for clean up, East Gloucester was the epicenter. The timeline of the flu impact on the fishing industry does not precede the Gloucester epidemic. Commonplace examples of prejudice sting: draft categories; status of women; and class.

“Spanish Influenza” in the Gloucester news accounts was also known as: grip, grippe, malady, prevailing affliction, pestilence, prevailing distemper, dread influenza, Grip Malady, flu, new distemper, ‘three day fever’, and malady.

The State Emergency Hospital Post installed on the grounds of Addison Gilbert Hospital was also known as: a military hospital camp, field hospital, state hospital, hospital camp, state military hospital, tent emergency hospital, out door hospital, and portable hospital.

No surprise here: Thacher Island is spelled Thacher and Thatcher.

What happened? Was it super spreader carriers or locations? How many patient zeros? Margaret Miller, Bertram Goodwin, and five Walen family members — each from East Gloucester– were among the first Gloucester deaths, followed by many more in East Gloucester. The Post Office was a ground zeros locale. All those war letters and stamps a red herring it seems.  Other post offices were not devastated like Gloucester. Vaughan (1921) guides the lay person past dead ends.  “Still another fallacy in the comparison of incidence in institutions and the like is proven by the work done by Jordan, Reed and Fink, who found that in the various Chicago telephone exchanges the attack rate varied from five per cent to twenty-seven per cent, although the working conditions were approximately the same.” Enlisted men on leave traveled back and forth to training camps and naval bases. Gloucester was a destination for visitors from in and out of state, including artists and art enthusiasts.

I was inspired to help connect local history and remember the victims and families impacted by this savage flu. The medical and military personnel, public officials and volunteers who performed heroically during this pandemic have not been memorialized in Gloucester.  Councilor Poole lost his life; Councilor Silva lost his sister. What happened to Radcliffe and Drs. Thomson, Street and Manning? Gloucester could recognize the grand scale of the Lost Generation as a double tragedy – WW1 and the 1918 PandemicThere are scarce memorials worldwide.

For my grandfather whom I adored, who lived to 101, a WWI veteran residing in Southie at the time; and his brother Arthur, whom he cherished, and died in the 1918 Pandemic while enlisted.

WHO’S WHO 1918 – Gloucester Flu fighters

Look to the front line helpers that faced down this dreaded virus: I hope the many, many local heroes of the 1918 Pandemic in Gloucester are remembered. Readers in 2020 will recognize surnames, many associated with the very same neighborhoods then as now, and connect descendants that continue to volunteer in the community. I suggest searching surnames and/or street addresses within this piece.

LOCAL who’s who

  • Mayor John A. Stoddart
  • Aldermen Antoine A. Silva, William F. Poole, Asa G. Andrews, Augustus Hubbard
  • Gloucester Board of Health Dr. Philip P. Moore, M.D., Chair, Osborne Knowles, Christian D. Saunders, John A. Radcliffe, Clerk. High School Faculty – Miss Mary Bennett asst. clerk, stepping up to help Radcliffe
  • Gloucester Board of Health Special Agents Simeon B. Hotchkiss, Fred W. Tibbets and Fred A. Shackelford (also Chair of Fuel Committee), and Senator Charles Brown
  • Gloucester Public Safety Committee, Chairman Thomas J. Carroll, John A. Stoddart, Mayor, Henry F. Brown, Secretary
  • City staff (incomplete list) Clerks- John J. Somes, John Drohan, Mrs. Mildred A. Hall, Allen F. Grant and Willis Wheeler; Board of Registrars- Addison P. Burnham
  • Physicians at the time Gloucester physicians listed in the 1917 City Directory: Silas H. Ayer; Parker Burnham; Hanford Carvell; Alton Choate; Horace Choate; Thomas Conant; SPF Cook; Mary D. Dakin; John Egan; Daniel J. Finegan; Albert Garland; Roy Garland; William Hale; Edward Hallett; Edward Hubbard; Avis Keith; James Knowles; Philip Moore; Scott W. Mooring; Charles H. Morrow; Albert F. Oakes; Percy C. Proctor; Charles M. Quimby; William Rowley; Ellwood Shields; Philip Shinn; Arthur W. Smith; Arthur Torrey; Harper E. Whitaker. Also: Major Sturgess [alt. Sturgis], of Salem, was sent to open up the State Guard unit before the emergency hospital post and worked with the city’s physicians; Mayor hired Dr. A.A. Haig of Essex and Dr. Ernest A. Dyer of Salem to work under direction of Dr. Philip Moore at Red Cross Emergency Hospital Sept. 21, 1918. **red indicates some infected while taking care of patients** Shinn received vaccine trial samples from Tufts study
  • Gloucester Registered nurses Gloucester nurses listed in the 1917 City Directory: Madge Brideson; Mary E. Buckley; Mary E. Butler; Rachel B. Coffin; Alice M. Collins; Louise Connor; Kate W. Cook; Betsey Curtis; Hester M. Dann; Christy Dart; Carrie Davis; Florence Dickinson; Mrs. Mary A. Dinnen; (Lydia) Florence Griffin; Emma Hanson; Katherine Macdonald; Gertrude Maddocks; Mrs. Alva Pennington; Sally Pew; Mary E. Powler; Ella P. Richardson; Mrs. Belle Robinson; Mrs. Ethel M. Sanborn; Eva Thurston; R. Fannie Thurston; Eva Wheeler; Mary A. Walters; Mrs. Mabel E. Wardrop; Esther B. Wonson; Mrs. Annie Woodbury; Gloucester District Nursing Association (Dir.,Florence Griffin)
  • Gloucester District Nursing Assoc. All nurses and organizations supplying volunteer nurses reported at the District Nursing Association each morning for instruction.<
  • Women of Gloucester volunteers as nurses’ aides and other duties are not named. A Mrs. Alfred W. Spurr is mentioned.
  • Addison Gilbert Hospital Miss Leach (Matron of AG) Miss Wylie (may be misspelling– Miss Wyles from state) Miss Brooks; and Fred A. Barker of the trustees
  • The Red Cross: Temporary Red Cross Emergency Hospital set up at the Police Station where it was expanded 3x (first in the Spanish Veteran’s Hall, then expanded into the “old Armory” and enlarged a 3rd time with the whole 2nd floor district court offices, “turned over to the Red Cross by Judge Sumner D. York for use for hospital purposes.”); Doctors beyond Gloucester jumped in to help until state hospital established; Dr. Carter of Haverhill, head of Essex County Chapter of Red Cross; Dr. Bullock retired physician; Others from Lawrence and Salem; Nursing – see local list above for registered nurses. Miss McCarthy of the Red Cross mentioned in paper; “In addition to the regular nurses, a large volunteer force is assisting in the work necessary for the carrying on of the hospital. Yesterday afternoon the rooms of the Girls’ club over the Gloucester National Bank were taken over by the Red Cross as a children’s section, after small children whose parents are sick are being cared for there. It is the intention of the Red Cross to establish a children’s hospital there. Big and small additional jobs (woolen socks, uniforms and shoes for all companies); 24 hour Face “Mask Factory”; social services; and RN Mrs. Raymond Calpin mentioned as point of contact at the state hospital.
  • Civilian Relief Committee big wheels volunteering working with the Military field hospital: Fred W. Tibbets (selected as Chairman), Walter C. King (selected as Sect.), Mayor Stoddart, Alderman Andrews, Hubbard and Silva, Daniel T. Babson (Cape Ann Savings Bank), Fred A. Shackelford, Rev. Albert A. Madsen, Miss McCarthy of the Red Cross, George W. Woodbury, Fred A. Barker and Miss Wylie from the hospital, George Frye Merrill, and Chaplain Bertram D. Bolvin of the State Guard.
  • State Guard Cmdr. Captain Carleton H. Parsons of Co. L; Lieut. Radcliffe in command Company L on account of illness of Capt. John J. Burke; Company K commanded by First Lieut. Charles T. Smith; Quartermaster-General, Lieut. Emery directed delivery of supplies; supply division commanded by Lieut. Cole of Salem (later replaced by Capt. Richmond) of the Supply Company 15th infantry, detailed by Col. Edward H. Eldredge; Command of the base Information Depot, Rev. Capt. Bertram D. Bolvin, chaplain of the 15th regiment. Thomas L. Devlin 1st Lieut. Company K. Local members of the state guard, “some 30 of Gloucester’s leading young business men…sacrificing their businesses and vocations…”, unnamed
  • Police department Early flu work included transporting patients to hospital and later enforcing Board of Health edicts added to scope. Police staff mentioned in newspaper (uncommon): Officers: Cronin and Harry Foster
  • Public Works (incomplete) [enforcing new City edicts- extra lime/cleaning]
  • Private philanthropists thanks to Mayor- estate of Mrs. Henry Souther was used for children including orphans; estate of Mrs. Maria H. Bray, 531 Essex Ave, formerly Braewood Property sold to John D.W. and Eliza Estabrook / realtor = Fred A. Shackelford, sect. Board of Health, negotiated sale to city during pandemic as convalescent home, later TB clinic. **author note: Articles mention that support from summer residents to battle the flu was lacking during this autumn wave. Despite crewmember deaths and illness aboard Sch. Natalie Hammond, and history of large philanthropy in Gloucester, I did not see John Hays Hammond family in this time frame, maybe later? Ditto A. Piatt Andrews and other Eastern point notables. Some were quite active in war efforts. Andrews busy cofounding the American Field service, for example.**
  • Small businesses extend courtesies to community and cause, and hospital and guardsmen: many their employees are the state guardsmen; Sponagle, barber at 68 Main Street, partnered with Red Cross to open an emergency food center and prep and later use as staging for dispensing clothing articles to those in need; M. L. Wetherell gave ice cream; Edward Hodgdon donated green corn; Samuel Curtis & Sons donated tomatoes; Dr. Elmer Babson gave corn; Rockport farm sent apples; Everett P. Wonson and Henry C. Brown supplied smoking material; George L. Browne, undertaker; William T. Morton of the Woolworth 5 and 10 cent store joined state guard collection of toys for tots
  • Bigger businesses: Daniel T. Babson, Cape Ann Savings Bank, Treasurer of the Home Service Red Cross Emergency; Gloucester National Bank Headquarters for Red Cross District Nursing Assoc. then childcare, and children’s hospital; Gorton-Pew Fisheries Company $1500 donation; $500 contributed by the Gloucester Electric Company; several unnamed $100 donations
  • Organizations: Y. M.C.A.; Girls Club (over Gloucester National Bank); Salvation Army (Adjutant and Mrs. Gunn)
  • Places of Worship: St. John’s parish on Middle Street was used for adult convalescents; Clergy Rev. Albert A. Madsen, Trinity Congregational Church; William J. Dwyer;
  • Teachers Miss Mary Bennett high school faculty filled in for Radcliffe
  • School Board Dr. Garland, Chair, Vice Chairman Jordan, Mr. Carroll, Mrs. Curtis, Miss Brooks, the Mayor, Mr. Patch (deployed in France), Mr MacInnis (state guard) and Mr. Phillips; Supt. Haines
  • Individuals: A. Manton Pattilo and Story & Shepherd gave use of vehicles for police ambulances; Arthur J. Grimes and William A. Bolger volunteered to drive nurses around to homes; Mrs. William Hooper (Alice Forbes Perkins) of Manchester major assistance
  • Boy scouts of America local chapter- 60 or more, unnamed
  • Groups including Fighting Fourth Liberty Loan Men’s committee, chairman Kilby W. Shute, and Tibbets; Fighting Fourth Liberty Loan Women’s committee, chairwoman Mrs. Preston O. Wass, and Mrs. Alan S. Rowe; other women’s clubs such as Riverdale Range and Girls Club Of Manchester and its Allied Associations;  Fuel Committee, Chairman Fred Shackelford
  • STATE who’s who helped in Gloucester

  • Governor W. McCall
  • Sect. to Governor Henry F. Long
  • Senator Charles D. Brown; Representative Lukin
  • Massachusetts State Surgeon General Col. William A. Brooks
  • State Commissioner of Health Dr. William C. Woodward (1918);
  • State Board of Health – Miss Wyles
  • Massachusetts Emergency Public Health Committee established. Sept 1918: Chairman Henry B. Endicott*, W. L. Putnam, Manager; Matthew Luce, Secretary, commissioners: Dr. William A. Brooks*, Miss. B. W. Billings, B. Preston Clark, Dr. E.R. Kelley*, George H. Lyman, Mrs. F.S. Mend, W. Rodman Peabody, James J. Phelan, A.C. Ratshesky*, Adj.-Gen. Jesse F. Stevens, John F. Stevens, Mrs. Nathaniel Thayer, Dr. William C. Woodward* *indicates someone that worked closely with Gloucester. Kelley was colleague friends with Major Thomson; their approach was in concert. Boon for Gloucester.
  • At request of Surgeon General Brooks, Commissioner Kelly appointed a Nursing Commission with Miss Billings of his dept. as chairman. “Patriotic response came from across country for service in afflicted sections. 100 nurses were given the rank and pay of Lieutenant. FIRST time such rank and pay have been given to women in the United States.” Because of shortage of doctors, nurses, and nurses assistants, Dr. Kelley reached out to US Surgeon General. Blue. The US government lent Navy doctor to take over the state’s doctor assignments. 
  • FIRST in country – State Appointed Emergency Hospital Post (for civilians) Crisis team in Gloucester (coordinating with local and state boards; civilian relief committee; Red Cross Emergency Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital; Gloucester District Nursing Assoc.; and social service agencies) includes many from Gloucester
    • COMMANDER Major A. (Alec) N. Thomson (misspelled initially Thompson), U.S.A. Medical Corps, Commander
    • Aide to Major Lieut. John A. Radcliffe, from Gloucester
    • Military unit of doctors including
      • Dr. John B. Manning, field hospital Superintendent (Harvard)
      • Dr. Lionel A. B. Street (lead Gloucester and helped in Manchester and Rockport) the first physician in the state to volunteer to fight the pandemic. Later Supt. after Thomson left before his Red Cross assignment overseas
      • Major Sturgis/Sturgess/Stugis,  prominent Salem physician, state guard, early help then assigned at Red Cross Emergency Hospital, then to The State hospital post at AGH 
      • Capt. John J. Egan of Gloucester
      • Lieut. Burbeck/Burbank of Salem
      • Lieut. Ratshesky (State Emergency Relief Committee)
      • Capt. George E.B. Strople of Co. M, Haskins Hospital, Rockport
      • Dr. Atwood
      • Dr. Gosman
      • Fourth year medical students did “fine work”
    • 15 nurses from the State Guard; Mrs. Raymond Calpin 
    • 5-15 nurses from the State Department of Health (one named: Mrs. Augusta Weeks who stayed through the end)
    • Red Cross R.N. Mrs. Raymond Calpin mentioned as point of contact at the state military hospital (not sure if she is local or state hire)
    • Out of state and International:  nurses, including 12 from South Hamilton, Ontario: C.E. Alward, Beatrice Dellimore, Nora (illegible), A.E. Lindrum, Martha Long- (illegible), Ruth Wilthum, Henrietta Patterson, Mrs. Harriette Willoughbey, Lillian Futa(illegible). Others serving from out of town are Vera Averill, Maine; M.E. Barker, Cushing Hospital, Boston; Esperie Cahors, Boston; Lieut. T.M. Develin, Boston; E.H. Hastings, Providence, R.I.; Dr. John Lehner of Boston; Dr. John O’Keefe of Leominster; Mrs. A.F. Weeks of Maine
    • Volunteer registered nurses
    • Civilian orderlies (unnamed)
    • 5 ambulance crews (reduced to three)
    • Nurses’ aides – 100 women in Gloucester volunteered | Mrs. Alfred W. Spurr volunteered at post
    • Executive Post Adjutant, in command of companies L, K, M and I state Guard Captain Carleton H. Parsons of Co. L
      • State Guardsmen – one hundred (30+ from Gloucester) a few named individually in news stories: Thomas L. Devlin 1st Lieut. Company K,;Sergeant Earl O. Philips and Corporal J. William Darcy with Company K
    • Cook – Frank H. Shute, a well-known Gloucester hotel proprietor and experienced steward head commissary, and Harold S. Maddocks — for patients, staff and 100+ state guard all living at the camp
    • Chaplain Bertram D. Bolvin, commonly termed “fighting parson”
    • Mayor Stoddart and George Frye Merrill a committee to confer with Major Thompson to see what assistance could be given the military hospital
    • Area Universities and colleges
  • FEDERAL who’s who helped in Gloucester

    • President Wilson – Gov. Coolidge direct appeal to the President
    • United States Public Health Service led by US Surgeon General Blue. Dr. Rupert Blue, a physician soldier, appointed by Taft, was the 4th Surgeon General. He served 1912-1920 – coordinated with state board and committees
    • United States Army physician and 22nd Surgeon General of the US Army (1914-18) William Gorgas
    •  Doctors serving in the United States armed forces


    Flu cases in Gloucester’s fishing industry came after the reported civilian and post office cases by a couple of weeks. Mandatory Fumigation was instituted September 28, 1918. Five deaths and many crewmen were stricken aboard the following schooners, steamers, and seine boats: Note: Where names published various spellings on different days I have included each spelling version. At a minimum, 19 children of fishing fleet suffered the loss of one parent.
    • Sch. Natalie Hammond, Capt. Charles Colson- 16 returned to port: 8 crew member infected, 3 died– William or Wallace Doucette of Lynn; Soren Bjerm or Bjerrum of Gloucester: and Augustus Thompson who left a widow and 5 kids—their 6th child, an infant, died a couple of weeks before
    • Sch. Polyanna or Pollyanna, Capt. John G. Stream, skipper and crew all sick
    • Sch. Laverns, Capt. Robert Wharton, turned back after getting as far as Provincetown with 11 sick
    • Sch. Edith Silveira, two sick
    • Steamer Killarney
    • Sch. Saladin (illegible)
    • Sch. Adeline, one of the “Portuguese fresh haddocking fleet”, 10 sick men, 1 hospitalized
    • Sch. Arthur James, Capt. John Seavey, another seining vessel returned with sick crew
    • Sch. Hjela J. Silva skipper and crewmembers ill
    • Sch. Henry L Marshall, skipper and crewmembers ill
    • Sch. Athlete, crew sick, from report 10/2/1918 crewmember Frank Dagle died – ship left several weeks back (week of Sept 9, same time as sch. Natalie Hammond)
    • Sch. ______ (Illegible) Crew so sick difficulty landing when arrived at Canadian Port
    • Sch. Harmony, Capt. George Hamor & cook seriously ill
    • Sch. Gov. Foss, Capt. Ernest Young (Not the crew. Captain returned to ill family: his sister in law died, brother and their kids sick at hospital; also his sister and brother-in-law)
    • Sch. Topsail Girl, crewmember Ansel Webber died; others sick
    • Sch. Marjie Turner, crew sick on 2nd trip out (all ok)
    Three captains’ wives died:
    • Vessel name_____, wife of Capt. Manuel P. Domingoes, Mrs. Marion B. (Brown) Domingoes died of flu; they had 8 children
    • Vessel name_____, wife of Capt. Avaro P. Quadros; they had two daughters
    • Vessel name_____, wife of Capt. Thomas J. Benham, Mrs. Ruth M. (Springham) Benham; three kids

    Anthony Cooney Fish Dealer at the Fort Passed Away at Rockport 10/2/1918
    Jimmy DeLouchery, Waterfront Authority, American Halibut Co. employee died 
    WW1 and fishing industry news of the day : Lufkin/city leaders seeking reimbursement for torpedoed ships (See Sept. 28, 1918, Gloucester Daily Times, below)


    The coverage of the pandemic in the Gloucester Daily Times was excellent, and deserving of rediscovery and recognition. If ever there was a posthumous award they’d be eligible.

    The Gloucester Daily Times and Cape Ann Advertiser (GDT) employed 7 beat reporters, all but one were men, and most resided in Gloucester: John D. Woodbury, J. Harold Russell (11 Summit), Roy L. Parsons (7 Trask), John A. Radcliffe (27 Mt. Vernon), Alexander G. Tupper (60 Mt. Pleasant Ave), William S. Webber, Jr.(5 Columbia), and Margaret A. Dwyer (4 Phillips Ave. Pigeon Cove, Rockport).  George H. Procter was the President and Associate Editor. Newburyport resident, Fred E. Smith, was the Managing Editor. Arthur L. Millett, the City Editor, lived downtown at 18 Mason Street. Representatives from the GDT joined former and active well-known newspaper men in establishing the Gloucester Press Club. Members included Walter Osborne, who owned and operated a hotel on Eastern Point Road in retirement, Wilmot A. Reed of the Associated Press, and James Pringle correspondent for the Boston Globe. Many of these writers served their community and country.

    Looking back through daily newspapers, customary gatherings whether happy (celebrations/Church functions/first day of school/art exhibits) or serious (funerals/public meetings/draft registration/art exhibits) help to pinpoint the track of the virus and its containment by the crisis team led by Major Thomson, a nationally acclaimed infectious disease specialist. There are no bylines so sorting who wrote each article is unlikely. Perhaps some families found drafts in their attics.

    Regardless, this busy fleet of writers delivered war news and essential pandemic coverage –fast facts and fast writing—that saved lives. Even at this time of war and battle all around, the journalists shared memorable small moments.  See October 4th 1918 for Some Good News when the state guards initiated a collection for toys for the Red Cross childcare and children’s hospital (with help from the local Woolworth’s) and the doctors daring house call on a stormy night to the Lightkeeper’s family on Thacher Island. Don’t miss the double page spread on October 11, 1918, a sweeping recap of the efforts to combat the epidemic. Every day is worth a read; even the one revision I came upon was smart: “Charles Tifft Far From Dead: Summer Resident Reported Influenza Victim Talks With Wife On Phone”. [A true “Finnegan’s Wake” (1864 ballad) moment for me: “Common Jesus do you think I’m dead?”] Daily crisis reports were a matter of life and death and all involved went to great lengths to ensure the counts were accurate.

    Emergency information and top expertise were broadcast in Gloucester in large part due to the specific talents of John Radcliffe. By the time of the pandemic, Lieutenant John A. Radcliffe was steeped in the city. He worked for the GDT for nearly 20 years, and had volunteered on the city’s Board of Health committee, acting as secretary, for 14 years, where his esteemed service was noticed at the State level. When the military hospital post was established he was a natural appointment. As a result, medical recommendations and decisions were gleaned from meetings first hand; and best practice notices were disseminated as fast as any in this digital age. His colleagues singled him out for credit.

    The paper published a wrenching quantity of personalized obituaries. The flu took one employee: Mrs. Chester H. Dennen, Ella L. (Putnam), a beloved proof reader at the Gloucester Daily Times, died September 25, 1918. She was the second in her family to succumb. Although she was on staff, there was no article or mention on the front page of the paper, just the obituary. Maybe she preferred it that way.




    Need to confirm death reports beyond *183 peak window

    NOTABLEs- flu cases and the arts

    President Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and General Pershing were infected. David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of England, the King of Spain, Gandhi, and the German Kaiser- all stricken. The youngest son of the King of Sweden died. Cultural notables including Georgia O’Keefe, Raymond Chandler, Lilian Gish, Mary Pickford, Groucho Marx, Walt Disney, Virginia Woolf, John dos Passos, and Kafka lived to see another day. Gustav Klimt’s death in Vienna in February 1918 may have been an early wave contender. Painter Egon Schiele died peak pandemic, October 1918, three days after his spouse, Edith, and their unborn child. His family portrait, unfinished, a deliberate and devastating memorial.

    Symbolic and perhaps apocryphal, the funeral procession for Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet and art influencer, wended and intensified amidst the jubilation of armistice celebrations.

    While a journalist in Denver, Katherine Anne Porter barely survived her peak pandemic case that October. Her niece and fiance did not (nor Denver’s Mayor). Like Munch, Porter had preexisting conditions, having spent two years prior in a Texas sanatorium recovering from bronchitis. She published her masterwork, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (first edition 1936)– three short novels together– amidst rising global tensions leading up to WWII. It’s the most well known work of art of the dual terrors. Great War, Great Flu.

    “But not the singer, not yet, said Miranda. “Death always leaves one singer to mourn.”

    Katherine Anne Porter –the singer — Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1936)

    William Randolph Hearst’s mother died April 1919. Edvard Munch surmounted his bout that spring. Having chronicled a lifetime impacted by disease, he turned to art and life for this horror, too. Self Portrait with Spanish Flu (seated on bed) oil over crayon fetched 1,688,000 GBP at Sotheby’s auction in 2006. [You can see the vertical self portrait, seated with flu at the National Gallery of Norway, and the after at the Munch Museum.]

    Expecting parents W.B Yeats and Georgie Hyde Lees nearly suffered the fate of the Schieles, had Lees not pulled through. Yeats wrote Second Coming (Second Birth) while she recuperated. Their daughter Anne was born in February 1919.


    Spouses, poet T.S. Eliot and writer Vivien/ Vivienne Haigh-Wood, were ill in 1919. Eliot drafted bits of the The Waste Land (1922) in 1918, a time of demons — war and flu and an unhappy marriage. Author Willa Cather suffered during a late Influenza wave as well. The influenza pandemic is mentioned in her Pulitzer prize winning book, One of Ours (1922). The fictionalized snippet is asterisked to acknowledge she took liberty with the menace’s timeline– no offense, nor ignorance: *The actual outbreak of influenza on transports carrying United States troops is here anticipated by several months.” Maybe not. See prepandemic outbreaks.

    That night the Virginian, who berthed under Victor Morse, had an alarming attack of nose-bleed, and by morning he was so weak that he had to be carried to the hospital. The doctor said they might as well face facts; a scourge of influenza had broken out on board, of a peculiarly bloody and malignant type.

    Willa Cather, One of Ours (1922)

    During the height of this public health catastrophe, companies sold elixirs and cures and plastered the papers with advertisements presented like news. They increased in frequency during Gloucester’s desperate days of September and October 1918. Less than a year later, Vick’s vapor rub was no match for the 1918 pandemic: The flu killed its inventor in August 1919.

    fake news

    The two brothers who co-founded the Dodge Bros. automobile manufacturing company contracted the flu in New York in 1919: John died at the Ritz hotel in January 1920, and Horace in December 1920 after a wicked year battling its complications. Poet John Crowe Ransom published “Sickness in Poems of God, 1919. I don’t know if he had the flu, but in two lines he managed to express the suffering that everyone must have felt from the war (mustard gas) and influenza. (Here Lies a Lady was published in Chills and Fever, 1924).

    And on this poisonous glare of dawns,

    The whole world crumples in disease

    John Crowe Ransom – lines from poem, Sickness (1919)

    There are classic depictions in which artists transformed their experiences touched by WWI and/or disease in real time including Walter Bayes, Lovis Corinth, Kathe Kollwitz, Amy Lowell, Paul Nash, C.R. Nevinson, August Sander, John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert, Edward Wadsworth and John Hall Wheelock.

    Some of the best art created in the midst of war and the “Spanish Influenza” pandemic came from syndicated artists like Clare Briggs, W.E. Hill, Winsor McKay and Walter Allman.

    Hill was commissioned for a few syndicated series with different publishers. There’s a “Spanish Influenza” single panel from Among Us Mortals. I thought of it immediately when friends mentioned passengers moving to one side of a NYC subway car if there was coughing in the last week of February during Covid-19.

    (You may have seen the optical trick illustration on the left, first published in 1915, without knowing W.. E. Hill’s name.)

    The political cartoons were at times stunningly direct, even international examples printed in the U.S. papers. “Slaughtered by Influenza: Here lies confidence in our military medical authorities.” was from Zurich.

    The generation fighting in WWI grew up captivated by Winsor McKay’s elaborate and glorious comic strip. In WWI , McKay created editorial cartoons for Hearst and Liberty Bonds. McKay’s son, Robert, an inspiration for Little Nemo in Slumberland, returned with war honors.

    Pestilence is more than included in this single panel 1918, it pops.

    A. Hyatt Mayor, esteemed curator with many connections to Gloucester, included McKay’s work in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1960s.

    Another artist, Walter R. Allman shines brightly, even more when you learn that, “The Doings of the Duffs, ” comic strip was a daily. He succeeded in depicting ideas about war and influenza together, a rare instance of pandemic in the art of its time. Enjoy five strips to get a sense of his brilliant art, humor and commentary all from 1918.

    Here’s Allman on the Draft Registration and Influenza Advice to open windows, “Speaking of Air and Questionnaires”:

    And two more inspired by the final Draft Registration for males age 18-46. These were a bit PSA.

    Here’s Allman on the timely Call to Woman to work or help, a side nod to the Red Cross, and an evergreen husband gag

    Here’s Allman with the mic drop “In Flew Enza” reference, a meme of its time (probably did more for public health message than any bulletin!)

    Look at the sweet arrow! “Tom Thought They all had Spanish Flu.”

    I don’t know if Allman had the flu personally but he did battle that punishing schedule. And he had a baby in 1917, so there’s his life as a dad in the mix. Sadly, he had some type of health issue or breakdown for months before dying in 1924. Others continued the Duffs strip for nearly a decade. (**Author note: Look again at the Federal guidelines related to Influenza methods of control September 26, 1918 and artists for whom interiority was an intrinsic source of inspiration like Munch, Woolf, and Porter. Severe mental health after affects were forewarned and expected: “Former epidemics have been characterized by marked mental depression.” Madness hung in the flu air– and suffering from shell shock and other effects from the war broadcast in newsreels. **)

    Families in 2020 can appreciate Clare Briggs October “Influenza” and Halloween panel from The Days of Real Sport. A great Briggs single panel can last a day.

    Works of art that predate the pandemic, created during– or inspired by– prior infamous pandemics, were used to illustrate 1918 Pandemic news stories. For example, a John Collier painting from 1902 was used to illustrate a syndicated article in October 1918 :

    “The English Artist [John] Collier’s Famous Picture of “The Plague [1902].” Such Epidemics Which Ravaged England and Almost All of Europe in the Seventeenth and Earlier Centuries Are Now Impossible, Modern Medical Science Having Devised Infallible Means of Coping with Them. The Influenza, Bad as It Is, Is a Slight Disorder Compared to Ancient Pestilences That Followed Wars.”

    [John Collier 1898 painting, Lady Godiva, about 5 ft’ x 6 ft’, Herbert Museum Coventry, UK]

    Not sure any matched Max Klinger – Plague (Pest), from the series Death, Part II (Vom Tode Zweiter Teil) etching from 1903

    And of course WWI posters by James Montgomery Flagg

    Across the pond

    The war illustrated album de luxe; the story of the great European war told by camera, pen and pencil – Vol. one alone features 1130 pictures and chapters by Arthur Conan Doyle and HG Wells. After thousands of pages Influenza warrants a meager 9 words on a single page, in the final volume, and only about General Marshall and the hardships of the Mesopotamia campaign:

    Influenza added materially to the handicap of other diseases.

    I will append this section with more local examples and inspiration at Cape Ann Museum when Covid-19 restrictions subside. The following poem, Autumn, translated from the French from Lamartine by Mary A. Witham, was published in the Gloucester Daily Times October 19, 1918.

    “the flower in dying gives out its last perfumes…”


    Listed at the end.

    The sources and inspiration for this article were gathered from multiple books, journals, newspapers, rare old maps, local histories, photographs, background knowledge and family history.  I confess to a certain deliberate favoritism & primary sources related to the arts. I am grateful for the great archives and open content. Voices from the past may interest descendants, and give us perspective and hope during Covid-19. With so many worthy of honor, especially those who sacrificed to keep Gloucester safe, and those who suffered and died, I thought it valuable to make Gloucester’s part in this history accessible to all. So I curated a resource and visual gallery to put Gloucester’s 1918 Pandemic history on line. The Gloucester Daily Times articles below which I transcribed intentionally are exhaustive & inspiring, and no part since 1918 had been previously published, or its full pages and article reproductions searchable on line. Other newspapers are fully accessible including big (New York Times) and small (Manchester Cricket).

    DAY BY DAY – Gloucester Daily Times

    Excerpts 9/1/1918-10/26/1918 related to the 1918 Flu Pandemic from the files of a Gloucester, Massachusetts, daily newspaper, Gloucester Daily Times, also known as “GDT” were transcribed by author, Catherine Ryan, from spooled reels, scanned by and from originals held at BP, accessed at Sawyer Free Library, and published for the first time since 1918 as first access to all. The selection includes full article reproductions. When various and sundry items not GDT are included on telling days, they’re so noted. The GDT did not publish a Sunday paper.

    If you have time for just one day, make it October 11, 1918

    **author note: Face masks 9flu masks) DIY sewing pattern instructions,  September 30, 1918**

    Continue to September 1918

    Continue reading “1918 Flu Pandemic: Reconstructing how the influenza epidemic raged then flattened in Gloucester Massachusetts when 183 died in 6 weeks”