In 1918, right in the middle of a strong conflict with Germany, America faced one of the worst flu seasons on record. While focused on the war in early spring, the infection found its way into a distracted country. While optimism championed for the impending end to the war, no one foresaw the devastation that would soon come. More than 50% of American soldiers who died in Europe during WW1 succumbed not to battle, but to the flu. At home, around 675,000 individuals suffered the same fate. Despite extensive hygiene efforts, the tightly packed military posts were fertile grounds for this sickness. Many soldiers who would return home would bring with them this unwelcome guest. Itasca county was also affected by this.
The Grand Rapids Herald review first mentions the flu in October of 1918. It mentions a soldier named William Coffin, who was noted as a possible source for this infection. The paper is written by Dr. H. E. Binet’s quick reaction. Dr. Binet opted to air on the side of caution, closing all churches, schools, and theaters for a week. Health officials of Itasca county put out a statement on how it is spread:
On October 23, 1918 the Herald Review reported the serious condition of Bovey. It says that there were over one hundred cases at the time, with several deaths. Interestingly, the Bovey Itasca Iron News did not write much at all on this flu in October of 1918. They seemed more interested in writing in the following month, when cases were slowing down. In November, the Bovey News headlines “How to Use Vicks Vaporub in Treating the Spanish Flu”. These generalized headlines made a sharp contrast to the Herald Review’s coverage. One possible reason for this discrepancy is that the Itasca Iron published an exceptionally large number of items related to the ongoing war in Europe. While the Herald did not report any cases on October 30th, the following week reported two deaths, and on the November 13 edition reported twelve more cases, and two deaths. This is despite the headline “Influenza on Wane in Town!”.
Whatever the source, the Spanish flu certainly has its place in mainstream history.