by Kimberly Lerch | Published: June 15, 2020
In March 1918, what was later known to be the “first wave” of the Spanish influenza in the United States began quietly in Kansas as small outbreaks of a flu-like illness. At Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, approximately 100 soldiers suddenly fell ill from the flu. Within a week’s time, the number had risen to over 400 cases at that location alone. In early April, less than 270 miles away, 18 severe cases and three deaths occurred from the flu in Haskell, Kansas. Most of the outbreaks occurred in cramped military training camps. In May, the United States sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers from those same camps to Europe to fight in World War One. The second wave of the Spanish influenza occurred between September and November of 1918 and afflicted not only soldiers, but spread into the civilian population. This second wave was “highly fatal, and responsible for most of the deaths attributed to the pandemic.”
October of 1918, the first week. Let’s listen in for the next few days to find out what the people of Champaign County, Illinois were doing, feeling, and hearing from their leaders. Was it so different from our current pandemic response?
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.
Tuesday, October 1 and Wednesday, October 2 – Maybe It Won’t Happen Here
There was not one word written about the Spanish influenza, henceforth “the flu.” Either there were no local cases, any cases that may have existed here were not recognized as this particular type of flu, or they were aware of cases and chose not to report on them. They had no tests for this flu; it was recognized when a number of cases occurred suddenly in an area with the flu’s symptoms, which included sudden onset of extreme flu symptoms, high fever, usually followed by a deadly pneumonia.
Thursday, October 3 – Influenza Touches Danville Family from Afar
Earl Snyder, the son of Danville’s Frank Snyder and grandson of F.M. Snyder, died in Mount Morris, Illinois (in Ogle County, a county in northern Illinois, west of Chicago) of the flu. His family brought his body back to Danville. He left behind his wife and one child.
Friday, October 4 – Urbana Boy Dies in Army Camp: Was it the ‘the Flu?’
Ollie H. Kyte, of Urbana, died at New York’s Camp Ontario. He had pneumonia, but no mention of the flu is made. He had been suffering from pneumonia (on and off) for about a month. Probably not the flu—the Spanish flu takes you quickly, right?
“Fighting the disease thru every known agency federal and local authorities now feel the spread of the epidemic is being checked.” October 4, 1918—United Press
In an article entitled, “Pneumonia in Army Camps Shows Increase,” soldiers were said to be sick with the flu at epidemic levels in three camps: Sherman, Ohio; Taylor, Kentucky; and Jackson, South Carolina. The flu was showing up in Army camps and big cities. As of this date, there were 175,000 cases of this flu in the United States. Army camps accounted for 105,000 of them, with a death rate of 3.7% (one in every 27). Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois had 1,850 new cases recently reported. Boston had a death rate of 6.4%, calculated from 30,000 cases with 1,912 deaths. Despite all of this, United Press reported that “federal and local authorities now feel the spread of the epidemic is being checked.”
Saturday, October 5 — It Is Here
56 airmen stationed at Chanute Field in Rantoul (located just 15 miles north of Urbana) were reported sick with the flu; two have died from it.
Mrs. Ekke Flessner from rural Flatville (an unincorporated town near Rantoul) died, leaving behind her flu-infected husband and two children, one of which also has the flu.
Military drills were suspended at the University of Illinois. Leaders were concerned the epidemic may spread among the men.
“There is no imminent danger of the epidemic here, but the university is taking no chances.” October 5, 1918—from an order by Dean T.A. Clark, Chairman of the S.A.T.C. Committee
University district church services continued; there was a rumor circulating that they were going to close.
At the Webber Street Church of Christ, Reverend Guy L. Zerby had Bible school at 9:30 a.m., worship at 10:30 a.m., the Mission band at 2:00 p.m., a regular board meeting at 6:30 p.m., and an evangelistic meeting at 7:30 p.m. That must have been a very busy day for Reverend Zerby, meeting with so many people face-to-face.
In addition to stopping military drills on campus, all meetings and social functions over the weekend were forbidden upon an order delivered from Dean T.A. Clark, chairman of the S.A.T.C. (Student Army Training Corps) committee. “There is no imminent danger of the epidemic here, but the university is taking no chances,” stated Dean Clark.
Sunday, October 6
There were no Sunday issues of the Daily Urbana Courier.
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 “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/pandemic-timeline-1918.htm. Accessed 6/12/2020.
 “Influenza is Fatal to Earl Snyder,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 3, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181003.2.8&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.
 “Ollie H. Kyte Dies in Camp,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 4, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181004.2.4&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.
 “Pneumonia in Army Camps Shows Increase,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 4, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181004.2.39&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.
 “One Victim of Every 27 Dies,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 4, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181004.2.6&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN———.
 “Influenza Kills Three in County,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 5, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181005.2.5&e=04-10-1918-04-10-1918–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-%22camp+grant%22——–.
 “Will Hold Services as Usual,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 5, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181005.2.6&srpos=1&e=05-10-1918-05-10-1918–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-%22University+district%22——–.
 “Churches,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 5, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181005.2.29&srpos=1&e=05-10-1918-05-10-1918–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-zerby——–.
 “Suspend Drill to Guard Against Epidemic,” Urbana Daily Courier, October 5, 1918, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=TUC19181005.2.4&srpos=1&e=05-10-1918-05-10-1918–en-20-TUC-1–img-txIN-%22imminent+danger%22——–.