Spanish Influenza Victims, Riverside Cemetery

Spokane: Another statistic of the 1918 influenza pandemic. In fact, Spokane's mortality rate was nearly three times the national average, 6%. The Spanish flu, as it was commonly called, first appeared in the community sometime between late September and early October. As with other communities, once the flu appeared it spread quickly, infecting a reported 16,985 and killing 1,045. Many of Spokane's flu victims were buried in the Park View section of Riverside Memorial Park.

One of the more reasonable theories of the flu's origin and its spread claims the flu epidemic began in the United States as it was transmitted from Camp Funston in Haskell County, Kansas through other military camps, then to port cities and into Europe during World War I. By 26 September, west coast military bases were infected, including Camp Lewis near Tacoma, Washington.

Spokane's Health Officer, Dr. J. B. Anderson wasn't too concerned at first and simply issued warnings about how to avoid spreading the flu: using handkerchiefs when sneezing and coughing away from other people. One newspaper article read: "To establish quarantine for influenza does not seem practicable and the state board of health urges every one afflicted with the disease to practice 'voluntary quarantine' and if they have anything like what we are in the habit of calling 'grippe' they should keep away from others." He also informed the public of what symptoms to look for, such as a high fever and body aches, and to treat such symptoms with bed rest, not eating, and limiting water intake. After the toll of victims increased, Anderson released more detailed warnings, a longer list of symptoms, and even provided details about the nature of the disease.

Public education was just the first line of defense. Flu bans were also implemented, making it unlawful to gather in public or private settings. The bans closed schools, churches, theatres, dance halls, and other indoor public gathering places. It was illegal to hold card games and other social functions in the home, and even large funerals were not allowed. Interestingly, public gatherings held outdoors were allowed because it was believed that fresh air kept the flu at bay.

In addition to flu bans, people were encouraged to wear gauze masks. This tactic proved to be unsuccessful, partly because they were worn improperly, but also because only the wealthy could afford to purchase them from the Red Cross. As with many other illnesses, strange remedies were suggested: taking laxatives and alcohol, inhaling turpentine fumes, using cinnamon oil, quinine, or a slew of other oils, ointments, and emulsions.


Influenza in Spokane, 1918-1919
Narrator: Julie Y. Russell Photo Credits: Keirsten E. Snover's M.A. Thesis, "The Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: The Spokane Experience." King County Website - Health Services website Spokane Newspapers,...
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