Five Weeks in October: Week Five

by Kimberly Lerch  |  Published: June 19, 2020

October of 1918, the fifth week.[1] Last week read like an endless list of friends, neighbors, and loved ones in the area dying from this damned flu. We (I say we because, after a month of reading about these folks, I feel I know them) are told that the worst hasn’t even been reached yet. We don’t want to read names anymore. We don’t want to hear numbers or predictions. We just want to hear when this will be over. We want to go back to work, to school, to be able to worship in public, to head to the ice cream parlor and enjoy a sundae with our family. Most of all we just want to stop being scared. We want the dying to end. We’re afraid to read the headlines but we can’t look away.

All of the information used below was drawn from the Urbana Daily Courier archived in the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. The Urbana Daily Courier was printed once every Monday through Saturday by the Urbana Courier Co. in Urbana, Illinois. It carried major international and national stories, but concentrated on local stories on local county and city governments, crime issues, farm news, sports, and some university news, right down to the ‘personals’— a section that would list by name who was currently sick, receiving visitors, et cetera.

When hopes are dashed, posts are abandoned, quackery surfaces, and conspiracy takes center stage.

Monday, October 28 – Can’t Even Trust the “Nuns”

Death List:[2]

  • Virgil Glenn (Urbana): Left behind wife and three children.
  • Mrs. Eleanor Margaret Menges (Urbana): 34, left behind husband and six children—Marguerite, Clara, Elizabeth, Emma, Arthur, and Nellie
  • Sarah Crawford (Urbana): 5-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Crawford.
  • Miss Ethel Webster (Rantoul): 2-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Webster.
  • Miss Jette Menenga (Flatville): 25-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Menenga.
  • Mrs. Gust (rural Champaign): left behind her husband, a tenant farmer.

Police found two women, a Miss Opal Gallagher of Weldon, Illinois, and Miss Anna Carver of El Paso, Illinois, at the Big Four passenger station in Urbana, wandering about, looking unwell.  The doctor the police brought in to examine them determined they both had the flu. They were taken by the police to the county hospital. The two claimed that they came to Urbana looking for work and caught the flu after arriving. Later, the girls admitted they were runaways and asked the police to please call their daddies.[3]

Miss Mable Ocheltree received a letter from her sister, Jesse, telling a very interesting story from Yuma, AZ. A couple of nuns wanted to rent a room in a rooming house, but only for a couple of hours. The landlady gave up her own bedroom since they only wanted a room for a short time. Well, the landlady became suspicious and peeked into the room…and found two men shaving! She got hold of the police immediately, and the two men dressed as nuns were arrested. They had numerous pills containing flu germs with them. God only knows the size of their operation.[4]

Things have now hit the conspiracy-theory level.


Tuesday, October 29 – Outbreak at the Penitentiary Fills Local Hoosegow

Miss Sallie McCormick Vaught, 36-year-old staff member at the University Library, died of influenza. She was a new employee in the Cataloging Department.[5]

Excepting the piece about Miss Vaught, only small blurbs listing the sick or recently deceased in Champaign County appear, peppered throughout the issue; they are not listed on the front page with details, as previously.

Thomas Sullivan, a convicted horse thief, was held in the county jail, rather than sent to the Chester penitentiary because of flu outbreak in the prison. Seven federal and seven county prisoners were held in the county jail as of this date; thus far, there had been no flu outbreak in the Champaign County pokey.[6]


Wednesday, October 30 – Opening Up, but Admit Closing Things Down Did Save Lives

Death List:[7]

  • Mrs. Theodore Schaudt (Urbana): 43, left behind her husband, a Big Four “roundhouse” man.
  • Harrison Dale (Dewey): 30, farmer; left behind a wife seriously ill with the flu, and two children (ages 4 and 14 months).
  • Mrs. George Penrod (St. Joseph): 28, left behind her husband, a C&EI railroader, and 2 sons, Owen and Paul.
  • Clarence Rice (St. Joseph): 19, a printer in Champaign.
  • Miss Ethel Green (St. Joseph): 22, was engaged to Robert Bullock, an aviator at Chanute Field.

The Methodist Church in St. Joseph was converted into an emergency hospital with 10 beds after the death of three town folks and two more recent cases there.[8]

The Food Administration increased the sugar rations to flu patients and their caregivers.[9]


“It is believed that closing the schools, theaters and churches has saved many lives and, further, that many more would have been saved had this action been taken sooner.” October 30, 1918—Urbana pastors


After consulting with Urbana’s Mayor Richards, the town’s pastors decided to hold weekly worship again. All worship services at Urbana churches had been closed voluntarily for the past two Sundays.[10]

Urbana doctors believed that the worst of the epidemic had passed in Champaign County. The number of cases was steady, but those cases weren’t as severe and were considered less likely to lead to pneumonia. The doctors did stress, however, the ongoing need of taking precautions to prevent further spread.[11]


“It is possible that the schools may open Monday, although it is too early to say so definitely.” October 30, 1918—unidentified person in article, “Expect Churches to Open Sunday”


Thursday, October 31 – Afraid to Think of What November Could Bring

Few people attended the War Fund Drive held at the university auditorium last night. Professor Erb, director of the School of Music, led a group sing of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (I thought group singing was banned  October 10.)

Dean Kinley introduced the speakers. Champaign and Vermilion counties, along with the University of Illinois, were expected to raise $200,000 in war funds. The committee charged with raising it hoped that citizens would actually exceed that amount.[12] Were so few there: because they were home sick, they feared of becoming sick by going out in public, or they had every penny squeezed out of them from the previous war fund drives?

Influenza killed 11,000 in Massachusetts in two months.[13]

In one week, the flu killed 1,263 in Paris, but it was reported that the number of deaths was decreasing.[14]

The Women’s Committee to the National Council of Defense gave 200 meals to flu victims in the area so far and sent visiting nurses to their homes, if needed.[15]

Dr. F.W. Linsemeyer, a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine, advertised that he could cure the flu with spinal adjustments.[16] This is the same doctor that, in a small article in this paper on October 18, described his two-week battle with the flu. I wonder who adjusted his spine when he was sick. I also wonder if his chiropractic cure takes two weeks to kick in. From reading all the obituaries and articles over the past month, it seemed that flu victims died within a week; a two-week cure was no cure at all.


Hill’s Cascara bromide Quinine
“It’s easier to prevent Spanish Influenza than it is to cure it.”
A standard cold remedy for 20 years
Take at the first sign of a shiver or a sneeze
Breaks up a cold in 24 hours, the grip in 3 days
Money back guarantee
October 31, 1918— advertisement on the back page of the newspaper


I could not help myself. I had to know what happened to Mrs. Guy D. (Nettie) Zerby and her 2-year-old son, Louis.

On November 25, 1918, there was a memorial service for the Reverend Guy L. Zerby and their 8-year-old daughter Thelma, both lost to the flu about a month before. The Webber Street Church of Christ was packed.[17]

A year later, Mrs. Zerby was mentioned in an article, reading scripture at a flag presentation ceremony at the Webber Street Church of Christ Sunday School.[18]

In the early 1930s, Louis/Lewis (spelling varied in the paper) appeared in numerous articles for his participation in the Urbana High School band; he played the B-flat clarinet. He was also the band’s librarian and vice president.[19] In 1932, he played in the all-state orchestra.[20] In 1934, he received first honors in a district music contest[21]; he also played in an ensemble that placed in a national music conference.[22] He accompanied other musicians on the piano and was even featured on WILL on July 5, 1935 from 5:15-5:30 on the air.[23] While a senior at Urbana High, he directed a musical program at Thornburn Junior High School.[24] I’ll bet Reverend Zerby would have been proud.

I also snuck a peek at the November 1 issue.

The schools were to remain closed. The State Board of Health forbade reopening; the orders were emphatic: KEEP THEM [the schools] CLOSED.[25]


“Keep the lid on tight.” November 1, 1918—Dr. C. St. Clair Drake to Urbana’s mayor regarding keeping the schools closed


At a certain point,
the patient became the victim.
At a certain point,
the ailment became the malady,
became the flu,
became the epidemic,
became the plague,
became the scourge.
At a certain point,
apathy became mild curiosity,
became concern,
became desperate hopefulness,
became anger,
became weary resignation.

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[1] For an overview of local events during the fouth week of October, see the previous post, “Five Weeks in October: Week Four.”

[2] “Invasion by Death Goes On,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 28, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[3] “Girls Found Ill at Depot,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 28, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[4] “Says Spies Had Influenza Germs,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 3, October 28, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[5] “Library Staff Member Dies,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 29, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[6] “Quarantine Keeps Tom Sullivan Out of the Stip,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 29, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[7] “Five More are Plague Victims,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 30, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[8] “Five More are Plague Victims,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 30, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[9] “”Flu” Patients to Get Extra Sugar Rations,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 30, 1918,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-sugar——–.

[10] “Expect to Open Churches Sunday,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 30, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[11] “Worst of Epidemic has Passed Urbana,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 30, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[12] “Audience was Lamentably Small,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 31, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.

[13] “Influenza Kills 11,000 in Massachusetts,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 5, October 31, 1918,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-Massachusetts+——–.

[14] “Influenza in Paris Kills 1,263 in Week,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 4, October 31, 1918,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-Paris——–.

[15] “Has Served 200 Meals to Influenza Victims,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 8, October 31, 1918,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-meals——–.

[16] “Spanish “Flu” is an Old Enemy by a New Name (advertisement)”, Urbana Daily Courier, p. 2, October 31, 1918,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-chiropractic——–.

[17] “Honor Memory of Dead Pastor,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 2, November 25, 1918,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-thelma——–.

[18] “Present Flag to Webber Street Sunday School,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, October 13, 1919,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby+flag——–.

[19] “Band Concert Announced by High School,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 3, December 13, 1933,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby+——–.

[20] “Local Schools to be Represented in All-State Orchestra,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 5, November 17, 1932,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby+——–.

[21] “Winners in Band Contest Get Awards,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 3, March 10, 1934,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby+——–.

[22] “Urbana High Takes Honors at Nat’l Music Conference,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 4, April 12, 1934,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby+——–.

[23] “Pick of the Air,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 2, July 5, 1935,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby+——–.

[24] “250 Attend Band Program,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 14, April 29, 1935,–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby+thornburn——–.

[25] “Schools Will Remain Closed,” Urbana Daily Courier, p. 1, November 1, 1918,——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.