Looking Back

The flu, 100 years ago

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 2/19/20

Fifty to 100 million dead. Many were young adults. 

That was the Spanish flu, now known as the H1N1 flu, which raged worldwide between 1918 and 1920. The CDC estimates that one-third of the …

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Looking Back

The flu, 100 years ago

Posted

Fifty to 100 million dead. Many were young adults. 

That was the Spanish flu, now known as the H1N1 flu, which raged worldwide between 1918 and 1920. The CDC estimates that one-third of the world’s population became infected with the virus.

Statistics on the flu in Sullivan County are hard to come by; before 1933, only certain regions had to report them to the government. We weren’t one of them.

That leaves us with newspapers. Digitized vintage newspapers often list a cause of death in obituaries (because wouldn’t you want to know?) but without a sense of how many flu deaths were common here before 1918, it’s hard to figure out how much worse things got. 

We do know this: city-dwellers who were lucky enough to have a second home here, or could stay in a boardinghouse, sent family to the country for safety. But people reportedly did die here during the epidemic: three nuns in Obernburg, a young man in Hortonville, a young student at St. Joseph’s Seminary—probably more.

Surviving didn’t guarantee health. Take Laura Smith, a Liberty child who, according to the March 19, 1920 Sullivan County Republican, recovered from the flu only to become ill five weeks later with the sleepy sickness. That was the illness made famous in Oliver Sacks’ “Awakenings.” If anyone knows what happened to Laura, please get in touch.

Thanks to Sullivan County Historian John Conway, Ruth Huggler from the Basket Historical Society (BHS) for Laura’s story and to Shaun Sensiba from the BHS for copies of the Sullivan County Record.

Death toll information came from www.bit.ly/deathtoll-source.



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