World War I bond drive: Spanish ‘Flu bug, no more than Hun, was not going to tarnish York’s perfect patriotic record’
The Fourth Liberty Loan drive during World War I was under way in York County and so was the Spanish flu, as this newspaper ad states. Background posts: Single shell killed two York countians in World War I and Well-known doctor, York, Pa.’s Edmund Meisenhelder, beat back flu and York’s Spanish flu epidemic of 1918: ‘It remains one of the darkest periods for White Rose residents’.
In the fall of 1918, leading York businessman Grier Hersh had a problem.
He faced a fourth Liberty Loan drive goal of $8.7 million. Those funds would be used to prosecute World War I.
He planned for church bells to ring a 7 p.m. each night to remind citizens of that goal. Military planes would drop “propaganda bombs” on the city.
“But all these well-laid plans came to naught,” Carl E. Hatch and Joseph Hicks wrote in “World War I: York, Pennsylvania’s Response.”
The Spanish flu hit York… .
Thus, began a month-long struggle in which the need for funds weighed against safeguarding the spread of the deadly virus.
The first case was reported on Oct. 1, the kickoff moment for Hersh’s campaign.
A month later, the city case load grew to 4,288.
There was a run on caskets.
“Everything was soon shut tight in the county. Churches and schools were closed. The York Fair called off. No more men from York County were drafted until further notice,” Hatch and Hicks wrote.
What was Hersh to do?
York had met its previous loan drive goals. The boys “over there” needed the support.
“The ‘flu bug,’ no more than the Hun, was not going to tarnish York’s perfect patriotic record,” the authors wrote.
Hersh changed plans, particularly abandoning the house-to-house canvassing that would foster the spread of the contagious Spanish flu. His solution might not have been much better in that regard. He set up a system where bonds could be purchased from a neighborhood chairman.
His committee then implemented some draconian measures.
Merchants and farmers who did not donate their share were boycotted.
Without Hersh’s knowledge, some of his loan drive members erected a “Yellow Streak Monument” in Centre Square bearing the names of Yorkers who had not purchased bonds.
By Nov. 7, York County had gone over the top.
No one will know how the interaction of residents and loan drive workers helped spread the disease and death.
But no one will ever know how the fabric of the community was held intact during a time when it unraveled elsewhere because residents were working for something larger than themselves.
The authors pointed to the sense of pride that “exhausted, even ill” York residents exhibited in successfully meeting the goal.
“Yorkers at home had been just as patriotic unto death as had their sons, husbands and fathers on the battlefields of France,” they wrote.