Blog post by Randi Richardson
From January 1918 through December 1920, five hundred million people around the world were infected with the flu which resulted in the deaths of somewhere between three to five percent of the world’s population. Many of those who died were soldiers.
During the month of October, 1918, the number of soldiers who died each day at Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis was frequently in the double digits. By the end of October there were 3,266 flu-related deaths throughout the state.
The enrollment at Indiana University in the fall of 1918 was the largest to date—1,935 students. On October 10, 1918, there was already an outbreak of the flu on campus and the State Board of Health made a decision to close the university for ten days. All students not in the Student Army Training Corps were advised to go home. The peak of the epidemic at IU hit on October 16, with 174 cases of the flu. Consequently, the administration extended the closure of the university until November 4.
By October 18, plans were being made to open up the new high school building as an emergency hospital if it was found to be necessary, and members of the community were urged to exercise every possible precaution. It was recommended that every cold, no matter how slight, should be treated as influenza. Everyone sick with the flu should stay at home and strictly avoid crowds. Two or three times a day the nose and throat should be washed with a solution of salt water.
On October 21, 1918, the Bloomington Evening World reported that the flu situation at IU and the city was improving so much so that there were several empty beds at the emergency hospital in Assembly Hall on campus. However, the front page of the paper noted nine deaths within the county, four from the flu.
“Tommy B. Hays, a freshman and student at IU and son of Thomas Hays of Sanders, died at the emergency hospital on the campus Sunday of double pneumonia following Spanish influenza. He was 20 years old. He was graduated from the Smithville High School in 1916 and taught in the Harrodsburg School last year. He is survived by the parents, two brothers, Bruce and Glenn Hays, and sister, Mrs. Daniel Greene. Funeral was held at two o’clock this afternoon in charge of the Rev. J. C. Todd. Interment took place at Clear Creek.
“Mrs. Florence Charles, 30 years old and wife of Joseph Charles, died at 10:30 last night of Spanish influenza at her home on South Rogers Street. Her husband is a fireman on the Monon. Mrs. Charles had a severe attack of the disease and was believed to be recovering when her heart became weak and failed her. Besides the husband there are four children: Lucile, Frank, Thomas and Anna; also two brothers, Wilbur and John Wolfington. The family moved here eight years ago from West Baden. The body will be taken on the 10:15 Monon train tomorrow to Abbydell, Orange County, for interment.
“Mrs. Lillian Grey, 14 years old and wife of Ernest Grey, North Morton Street, died of Spanish influenza at 6:45 Saturday evening. Her husband, who formerly worked at the Greek Candy Store, is also bad sick with the disease. The couple was married last Christmas and lived with the groom’s parents. The mother, who came from Indianapolis today, stated that her daughter is now only 14 years old. The body was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery this afternoon.
“Troy, 18-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. James Sparks, South Madison Street, died of Spanish influenza at ten o’clock this morning. He was sick only ten days. The young man was formerly a messenger boy for the Western Union and worked there until he became ill. He is survived by his parents, four brothers and one sister. No arrangements have been made for the funeral.”
Since the beginning of the flu epidemic, according to the Bloomington Evening World on October 26, the emergency hospital on the university campus had received 251 patients. Of that number 154 were said to have been discharged and another 97 were still ill or convalescing.
On November 8, 1918, the Indiana Daily Student reported that the S. A. T. C. men were still under quarantine. They were not permitted to visit the business section of Bloomington or other cities on passes. Among the girls at the university, six were recently taken to Hospital No. 1, known as the university detention hospital situated in a five-acre field at the southern edge of the city.
Slowly but surely Monroe County recovered from the epidemic. Certainly there were many more lives lost to the flu and flu-related illness such as pneumonia, but the exact number of deaths from Monroe County, if that number was in fact reported, was not found during the course of research for this article. The flu epidemic is considered the deadliest disease outbreak in human history.