York Town Square

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York’s Spanish flu epidemic of 1918: ‘It remains one of the darkest periods for White Rose residents’

York Hospital treated its Spanish flu patients at the York Fairgrounds in the fall of 1918. The fair was canceled that year. Background posts: Well-known doctor, York, Pa.’s Edmund Meisenhelder, beat back flu and West Side Sanitarium, later West Side Osteopathic and later Memorial Hospital born in The Avenues in York and Looking for a local history research project?

Susan Lilly, SusanLilly@weavingroom.com, lives in Portland, Ore., but she’s interested in information from York, Pa., on how it weathered the deadly Spanish flu epidemic.
In old family letters, she discovered that her grandmother lost five close friends, including a cousin.
She’s looking for first-person memories, family stories,
or copies of any letters that folks would be willing to share.
She wrote: … .

Did any stories come down through
your family? Who lived, who died, and how did everyone cope? I want to
know if memories of such great loss are passed down through the
generations. I am also interested in hearing about any pre-modern
medical practices, which may have been in use at that time, such as the
use of herbal remedies.

Susan’s address: 3733 SE 35th Place, Portland, OR 97202.
We’ll put up several posts in the future on this pandemic’s impact on York. In fact, Sunday’s York Daily Record editorial gave a glimpse.
For now, here’s one from York Daily Record/Sunday News columnist Jim Hubley (3/6/08) himself a flu victim:

One of the most memorable events in the history of York has brought several phone calls from readers questioning if we are in for another similar unpleasant development.
In short: “Is there going to be another flu epidemic?”
The calls came from local persons who have been reading York newspapers or hearing television and radio reports of expanding flu activities in and around our city and county. Many of those same callers, interested in our city’s history, obviously have been thinking about the York flu disaster in 1918-19.
It remains one of the darkest periods for White Rose residents. Those still alive could not forget. They recalled that in four months the lives of more than 300 citizens were sacrificed to the flu from among the more than 6,500 residents who became ill from the disease.
If there was a census survey of living survivors of the flu from the years of 1918-19, the numbers would produce a comparative small group, many in their 80s and 90s.
The majority of them undoubtedly would have been children of pre-school age, children, who escaped what their elders went through, although catching pneumonia.
I became very close to one of those preschoolers and remain close to that lucky kid who had the flu but escaped with this life during the horrible days of the great York epidemic.
I see him every day. All I have to do is to look into a mirror.
Yes, myself.
That is the reason I selected the subject of the flu to write about now that the flu once more in York appears in the media, radio and television.
I recall much through the years since New Year’s Eve of the year 1918 and have kept close to developments each time there is a flu threat.
I can’t remember all the happenings which developed on Christmas day of 1918 when at the age of 3 I became a flu patient. However, events that followed were pounded into me by relatives and friends during the many years after the York flu epidemic had passed. In time, those who talked with me and recalled their own experiences slowly faded away.
To be honest, the ranks of living flu epidemic victims have been thinned almost to complete extinction. Naturally, I think that with a lump in my throat.
From this point I would like to pass along some bits about the York flu epidemic of 1918-1919.
First off, in mid-July of that year of 1918 Yorkers, as were all Americans, were trying and praying to end World War I.
At the same time, the nation of Spain, a non-war neutral, was being infested with a large number of flu cases.
A short time later, military men from the fighting nations were being killed not by bullets but by the flu. Near the end of the month the flu had spread to our country, particularly on the Eastern seaboard. York was an exception, virtually unconcerned, until the military camp at Gettysburg lost many men to the flu.
By October, the York City Council took notice and on the first day of the month announced that all flu cases must be reported each day.
Yorkers responded and shocked the town. There were 123 cases reported. A day later, from Gettysburg, Camp Colt had 73 cases of flu and averaged one death for each of the 24 hours.
On the third day of October, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acted with a ruling closing down amusement places, theaters, saloons, drinking clubs and even fairs.
Included was York’s great fair, which was ready to open. It has been the only time in the fair’s history that it was not in operation.
Later on, as the flu invaded York with a devastating effect, the fairgrounds were filled with 150 beds in tents to treat flu patients. The epidemic waned, but failed to slow down until later in 1919.
The point, I hope, of all this is do not take the flu too lightly. It has been with us for thousands of years.
Just check with the world’s first honored physician, Hippocrates, who lived in 460-377 B.C., and still gives oaths to young physicians.

Other York Town Square posts drawing from Jim Hubley or his work:
‘We would ‘hex’ them if they ignored us’
Giving news, sports junkies their fix
Bury’s burgers: ‘That was it — no slaw, no relish, no pickles’.
‘That’s a stupid question;’ Brooksie played second base.
Butch Wynegar ranks bright among York’s sports stars.
York County, Pa.’s Cameron Mitchell agonized over career choice
Playland plays nostalgic note for York countians
Photo courtesy York County Heritage Trust