Bret and Amber Tueller
# Déjà Vu
A look back at the Spanish Flu of 1918
BY AMBER TUELLER
Barracks hospital in Ft. Collins in 1918
PHOTO COURTESY OF O.J. WATROUS, NATIONAL ARCHIVES
In the wake of our current worldwide pandemic, we are all reeling and adjusting to each new curve that is thrown our way. With changes to jobs, finances, schools, shopping, public places, social life, and much more, it’s a whole new world. At such a time, it is interesting and educational to take a look back at the last pandemic and how people were affected.
Until early in the spring of this year, this scene from a century ago seemed like something only from history. The historic widespread pandemic, which began in the spring of 1918, in a Kansas army camp, quickly spread across the United States and Europe as American troops were sent to fight in World War I. According to history.com, Spain did not have wartime restrictions on the press, unlike many countries that were involved in the war. Spanish journalists were some of the few reporting on the rising epidemic, and thus, the disease became known as the “Spanish flu.” Over two years, 500 million people, nearly a third of the world’s population, was infected.
The Denver Health blog outlined the previous pandemic in our area of the world. A mutated strain of the virus began in Europe in late August and troops traveling the globe spread it around. The disease had been growing in Denver in September, October, and November of 1918. On November 11, 1918, also known as Armistice Day, Coloradans joined the world in celebrating the end of the war. Celebrations and gatherings brought swarms of people onto the streets. Even in the cold weather, citizens donned coats and hats and packed 16th Street Mall.
Some opposed restrictions on gatherings and decided to ignore them. A few days later many were in bed with terrible colds, and many died from this deadly disease. The Denver Post published a headline, "All Flu Records Smashed in Denver in Last 24 Hours," on November 27, 1918, stating that the flu had claimed more lives in Denver than all the Coloradans that had been killed in the war. Douglas County Library archives reported "at least one family wiped out in the Cherry Valley area."
Self-quarantining, social distancing, and masks were mandated. Wide spread shutdowns were imposed on many businesses. Some school classes were held outside and churches did not gather. The second wave of cases, which often took lives within 24 hours, forced people to take the restrictions more seriously. Many of the same policies that have been put in place in our day are what eventually helped to slow down the spread of the Spanish flu.