The History of the 1918 Spanish Flu (and COVID-19) in Humboldt County (OLLI Class Oct. 1)

September 20, 2020
historic photo of three people during the 1918 influenza pandemic

On October 1, I will be teaching this class through Humboldt State University’s OLLI program (see more about OLLI below).

Class Description: Learn about the 1918 Spanish flu in Humboldt County, how it developed, the strategies undertaken to stop the epidemic, and the community impact. Then see how similar strategies, including masking, social distancing, non-essential business closures and more, are being employed against COVID-19 today.

Date/Time: Thurs., Oct. 1 • 2-4 p.m.

Offered Online – $20 • Class #: 43946


More about OLLI: At the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Humboldt State University (OLLI at HSU), everyone benefits from lifelong learning. Our mission is to create opportunities for academic engagement, civic involvement, personal growth and fun. By offering a myriad of classes and experiences for a vibrant community of learners aged 50 and better, OLLI delivers learning for a lifetime.

THE 1918 PANDEMIC: Schools, Churches, Masks and Quack Cures at the Height of the Deadly Flu Outbreak

July 26, 2020

Horlicks.InfluenzaMaltedMilk.HTS19181220.2.35.1-Humb. Times.1918

According to this ad in the Humboldt Times, Horlick’s Malted Milk Mix was the ideal food for the flu-stricken … and for their recuperation.




In the fall of 1918, as World War I was winding down, Humboldt County joined the rest of the country in the battle against the Spanish Flu, rallying medical personnel, isolating and treating cases in temporary hospitals and reporting the status of those afflicted — including names, health status and home address (perhaps so friends would stay away?). Throughout October, officials also began to encourage and then to mandate the use of “anti-influenza” masks, and on October 25 the county defense board closed non-essential businesses, including ice cream parlors and card rooms, mandated extended hours for drug stores, and required that hotels and restaurants “keep patrons and customers separated.” Saloons (apparently considered “essential”) were ordered to close from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. weekdays and all day on Sunday and officials asked households to order goods over the telephone and have them delivered whenever possible.

During the closures, organizations like the city library took the opportunity to “scrub” their facilities and conduct other cleaning otherwise “inconvenient to accomplish,” and at least one local newspaper took a light approach to the new mandates. An October 22 editorial acknowledged the efficacy of anti-flu masks, but described their use as “disconcerting,” as shoppers could no longer tell if “Ladies Who Wait On the Public” were smiling with them, at them, or not at all. Despite the discomfort, the writer insisted that masks were becoming popular and would be the “proper thing for street wear” before the end of the week.


Early in the epidemic, medical experts believed that Spanish Influenza was “not a children’s disease” and in mid-October the local boards of Health and Education followed the State Board of Health’s advice to keep schools open, reasoning that students were less likely to become infected there than “running free on the streets,” as long as teachers sent all ill children home immediately. Up until then, there had been no local flu-related fatalities and many doctors still minimized the dangers.

At this time, Eureka School Superintendent Albee also warned that closed schools meant lost revenue that would need to be made up through taxes later, pointing out that every child absent cost the city 40 cents a day.

Just days later, Eureka reported 187 high school pupils absent and 216 out in the grammar schools. At that time, Eureka’s officials went beyond State Board of Health’s recommendation to close only adult gathering spots and ordered schools shut as well. Other communities soon followed, and it was the right call. By the end of October and into November, the paper was regularly announcing the influenza-related deaths of children like 14-year-old Anna McLaren from Eureka, four-year-old Vesta Dudal from Arcata, “little four-year-old Irene Pitera” of Rio Dell and more.

These fatalities likely prompted officials to keep regular and Sunday schools closed in early November, even as case counts diminished and business districts reopened. The institutions would have struggled to open anyway, the newspaper pointed out, because so many teachers were ill with the flu.

As November progressed and communities continued to ease restrictions, local schools eventually followed suit, though notices of ill students and absences continued. On December 12, the country’s Surgeon General recommended that communities close schools “at the first sign of the reappearance of the epidemic,” noting that the disease apparently now tended to recur more frequently among school children and on December 13, when 60 of Arcata High’s 170 students were absent, the city’s Health Officer ordered the city’s high school, grammar school and schools in Blue Lake, which shared the district, closed until at least January 6. When the students returned on January 8, the city council ordered that all students wear gauze masks, expanding an initial city-wide order that only adults do so.

Cases counts and student attendance continued to fluctuate over the next few months and schools extended hours and sometimes hired extra teachers to make up for lost time and over the next few years schools closed periodically to protect local children. In February of 1920, Blue Like closed schools “owing to the influenza scare” and in March of 1922, Ferndale schools were closed “indefinitely” because of the flu.


As Spanish Influenza swept through the community, officials imposed strict measures against crowds and by mid-October, churches were asked to shut their doors. Even though congregations in Washington, D.C. were continuing to meet outdoors, local faith leaders were asked not to do the same.

In response, the local Ministerial Union encouraged families of all faiths to gather and pray together for the “needs of the world, the nation and the community.” They also suggested asked that this be done during the regular hour of church service to create “more united prayer, even though not in one place, certainly of one accord, and of one spirit.” The ministers asked their members to pray for the end of the flu, so that the epidemic might soon be over.

When congregants were allowed to gather toward the end of November, they wore masks. Over the next few years, the flu resurfaced periodically and in February of 1920, the Presbyterian Church in Blue Lake canceled services because of the flu. Instead, families were encouraged to focus on religious activity and supplies were delivered to the church’s Sunday school students so they could continue their studies.

Jail/Law Enforcement/ Legal Response

As the virus spread locally in the fall of 1918 and officials called for enforcement, local police officers found themselves at the forefront — and vulnerable. Many fell ill with the virus and by October 20, even Eureka’s chief of police was confined to his home with the flu. The County sheriff was called to “act as the family nurse” when his wife and children fell ill, Eureka’s city attorney suffered a “temporary breakdown” while attending patients and a local Judge and eight members of his family were stricken with the virus.

While frustrated by citizens who ignored the orders, Eureka officials were pleased with the revenue generated from fines imposed against violators. Within a span of one November weekend, 68 arrests of unmasked Eurekans celebrating the end of the war “enriched” the city’s coffers by $280.

In January, a resurgence of the illness again made masks mandatory and made it unlawful any two people to gather in public (inside or outside) without a mask. Violators could be fined up to $20 and sentenced to the county jail for “not less than five days nor more than 10,” but after prisoner Lewis A. Simon died of flu following his transfer from the Eureka jail to the county facility, the sheriff declared that the county facility closed to jail transfers for “fear of further infection.”


As election day approached in early November of 1918, the president of the State Board of Health announced that voting, even done in small election booths, was safe as long as masks were worn, but some residents remained unconvinced. That year, Blocksburg recorded the “smallest vote ever case in any important election, despite a bright and sunny election day and no recorded illness in the community.” The town of Orleans, on the other hand, recorded a “very full” turnout, with men working out of the area even coming home to cast their vote for constable. Unfortunately, the final election results were delayed when the county clerk fell ill with the flu.

Tribal response

On November 7, 1918, the community of Requa, within the Yurok tribal territory, set up a rigid quarantine “against Humboldt travelers” to prevent infection in that community. Anyone wanting to cross the Klamath River from the Humboldt side without a mask would be turned away and even those wearing a mask would not be allowed to stop in town. Requa’s business owners took the rule seriously, with it said that the proprietor of the Klamath Inn refused to receive anyone from the Humboldt side of the river and one night turned away a couple who had crossed the river in a small boat, compelling them to return to the Humboldt side and “make camp for the night.”

According to Matina Kilkenny in her story MISSING FACES: The impact of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 in Humboldt County, of the eleven Native Americans whose deaths are on record at the County Courthouse, five were from Table Bluff, two from Hoopa, one from Miranda, one from Orleans, one from Requa, and one was a laborer at Korbel. The actual death toll was likely much higher.

Recuperation.Humbt Times1918

… or would you be better off with Scott’s Emulsion?

Medical cures

At its onset, there was no cure for the flu, but newspapers carried many advertisements for products claiming to prevent and cure the disease. The “Famous Hyomei Inhaling Outfit” was heavily promoted in an article format that advised people to stay healthy, prevent infection and kill germs before they spread by using the system, which consisted of hyomei oil and a small inhaler, promising to deliver air “charged with an antiseptic, germ killing balsam that will absolutely destroy the germs of Influenza” (later analysis has shown “Hyomei” to contain eucalyptus oilalcohol and other ingredients).

S. Siljian, located in the First National Bank Building in downtown Eureka, offered a Light Bath that would “rid the body of poisons” and prevent “debility and disease.” According to the ad, also formatted like an article, radiant energy & heat from the light penetrated body tissue, treating the “grippe” (flu), nervousness, bronchial or lung trouble, indigestion, kidney and liver disorders. With treatment, the patient could also anticipate immediate relief from skin blemishes, headache, backaches, constipation and depression.

Medical professionals, on the other hand, offered more staid advice, which included avoiding public transportation, avoiding people that cough and sneeze (as well as covering one’s own coughs and sneezes); washing hands before meals, avoiding common cups and towels, crowds and sick people, and taking other steps to stay healthy. Those that fell ill were advised to go to bed and get treatment, eat nourishing foods, and take “medicine to open the bowels freely.” They were also instructed to stay home until a doctor gave the green light to go out again.

In December, the Navy Public Health Hospital released information on “experiments” focused on better understanding how the flu was spread. One hundred volunteers had “serum” (influenza germs) placed in their nostrils and throats and ingested the germs with food, but none appeared to get ill with the virus. Instead, the report said, the volunteers demonstrated “increased appetites and more vigorous health” as the only noticeable results of the experiment.

Unfortunately, as the epidemic raged on, experience showed that an attack of influenza offered no immunity to a second battle with the illness, but advertisements included quotes from “experts” like the Chief Medical Adviser at Swift Laboratory in Atlanta, who promised that S.S.S. (it is unclear what this stood for) restored “strength and vitality” after a bout of the flu, purifying the blood, “removing all disease germs” and building up the “entire system.”

Whiskey, on the other hand, was a recognized treatment but the federal prohibition against alcohol started on January 17, 1920, made it difficult for physicians to access. On Feb. 7, 1920, after a conference with State Prohibition Enforcement, it was announced that physicians could legally possess whiskey and “carry it on their persons and in their automobiles.” The federal government also established a dispensary in the city of Oakland (and likely elsewhere) so that physicians could obtain the liquor at $1.50 a gallon, which was much less than the standard $4 to $25 a quart.


While there would always be some resistance to masks and other measures designed to stop the spread of the flu, over time community sentiment shifted. After a story ran in the Humboldt Times about Alderpoint residents’ refusal to wear masks, the newspaper received an indignant reply emphatically stating that every man woman and child in Alderpoint wore a mask. “Alderpoint Is not lacking in its patriotism nor its cooperation with the officials in any way,” the letter concluded, and it was signed by over 25 residents.

According to Matina Kilkenny, on November 1, 1918 the Ferndale Enterprise declared in bold letters above the masthead: “Wear a gauze mask and thus show your true Humboldt spirit. The mask is not a sign of fear — it is a badge of honor that you are helping your city and county stamp out an epidemic. So wear one today.”

Over the next few years, communities also proved themselves ready to re-establish isolation hospitals, close schools and invoke other strategies at the first sign of a major infection. Over time, prevalence of the deadly Spanish flu diminished, but grief and memories of the people who lost their lives around the world and in Humboldt County remained much longer.


That America will never experience another influenza epidemic that will take a toll as heavy as 1918-1919 epidemic, was the opinion of many physicians gathered today for the meeting of the American Congress of Internal Medicine. The fight against the disease was not won alone by medical science, it was said, but through cooperation of the public.

— Blue Lake Advocate, 28 February 1920


Lynette Mullen writes about Humboldt County history at Lynette’s NorCal History Blog.


Epidemic like the Spanish Flu: Never Again (Prediction Feb 1920)

July 19, 2020


THE 1918 PANDEMIC: What Happened When the Flu Overwhelmed Humboldt’s Medical System?

July 19, 2020


Source; National Archives 




Do not call the doctors for information. They have just about all they can do without answering unnecessary questions as to whether you may take your child to the dentist; whether a certain out of town school will be closed; and whether the ice cream parlors are open. – The Humboldt Times, 22 October 1918


In July of 1918, two months after 19-year-old Imogene Lockwood started her nursing training at the Union Hospital in Eureka, she began a diary, realizing, she wrote, that the record would be invaluable “when age and ease have made my present view of life no longer possible.”

In early October of that year, Imogene was still learning how to balance classes, training and patient care when two Austrian travelers staying in Eureka fell ill with Spanish Flu and quickly infected their rooming house hosts. The next day five more cases were identified, and infection spread rapidly in Humboldt County from there.

By mid-October, local nurses and even students like Imogene were sick with the virus. The mayor of Eureka urged citizens to report suspected cases and local papers published guidance on how to avoid an “An Attack of Dread Influenza Germs.” Local physician Charles Falk did the same, warning that the flu was spread from person to person via “very small droplets” which could be spread by coughing or sneezing, forceful talking and more. Falk urged infected individuals to isolate and recommended that all nurses and attendants wear masks to protect themselves against the disease.

Despite the warnings, local case counts continued to rise, and area physicians grew frustrated, convinced area citizens were failing “to take the simple ordinary precautions necessary to avoid infection.” On October 19, the State Board of Health moved to close “all amusements” – including dances and movies – and local governments followed suit. Just the day before, Mrs. Ira Russ started building a list of individuals willing to help Humboldt’s patients. The list was a “precautionary measure,” Russ reassured prospective volunteers, and the workload would be light.

Instead, patients were transferred from outlying areas to Eureka’s hospital and the patient count quickly topped 100, taxing nurses and doctors. Officials moved to limit transfers and dedicate the Northern California Hospital exclusively for isolation of influenza cases, which would allow fewer nurses to care for more patients in one location. The arrangement stalled, however, when hospital owner Dr. Falk demanded $1,000 a month for use of the empty facility because of its “perfect condition.” Falk didn’t “care to have it filled with contagious disease” but would be willing to bend if the county could meet his price.

At this time, the local Red Cross Committee on influenza assembled a corps of nurses and emergency housekeepers for homebound patients and when the office in San Francisco issued a call for Home Defense nurses, local officials denied them, as all were “urgently needed here.” Organizers also asked “every woman” available to help support overworked nurses. In response, Miss Helen Kramer ran errands in “an auto” and Miss Dorothy Notley provided emergency housekeeping and cooking. Others served as able and volunteer coordinator Mrs. Russ vowed to “get assistance to every case possible which the doctors find in need.” When called upon, at least twenty-five volunteers showed up at the Red Cross office to make flu masks.

On October 20, Dr. N H. Bright, president of the State Board of Health’s predicted “waning” of the flu the same day Humboldt County announced its first flu-related fatality, and in the next few days more local nurses and doctors fell ill. The city of Eureka ordered those serving the public to wear masks and officials reached an agreement to lease Falk’s hospital. Health Officer Dr. Mercer also urged small towns, lumber camps, and other centers of population to follow Scotia and Samoa’s lead in establishing smaller, temporary flu hospitals in their communities to relieve the burden in Eureka.

The Red Cross drug store shut its doors because all employees were sick and local doctors received word that medicine from San Francisco would not be coming due to high demand. Dr. Mercer begged community members to stop congregating in the downtown districts.

As case counts grew, nurses like Imogene had to fight their own fear of the virus. On October 23 after falling ill, Imogene admitted that she was “almost a coward,” and contemplated giving up nursing so as to “not ever hear of germs again,” but she conquered her fear and went back to work, only to relapse just two days later. To her diary she confessed that she was “pretty frightened” and feared her mother and her brother might get sick. At that time, at least seven other nurses were also “down” with the flu.

To help address the nursing shortage, the Red Cross, with Mrs. Russ in still charge, worked quickly to get the Northern California Hospital up and running, outfitted with donated linens and furniture. Within days the facility had 23 cases and could accommodate more than 50. The kitchen was up and running and a number of women throughout town were preparing and donating food. The county librarian managed the hospital office, the requests for assistance were met with the “heartiest cooperation” and the women of Eureka were “finding more ways than those suggested” to be of assistance. When Anne Fenwick arrived from San Francisco to visit her parents, she spent a full day driving a car for Red Cross hospital managers, running errands and collecting supplies, and “was even prepared to move patients if necessary.”

By October 25, Eureka’s officials thought they glimpsed the end of the epidemic and attributed it to “the wearing of the masks and the splendid cooperation of the people in every way,” but the number of cases being treated at the Red Cross hospital continued to rise. The hospital stopped admitting visitors, but volunteers were still needed, and one thankful hospital committee member noted that there seemed “no limit to the response of the citizens” to help whenever difficulties arose.

On October 28, when “only 20 new cases” were reported for the day, Dr. Wing expressed hope that infections were decreasing, believing that anti-flu masks had cut “the sway of the malady short.” To support this belief, Wing pointed to reports from Mare Island, where nurses adopted masks early and with no other precautionary measures, not a single nurse fell ill.

Unfortunately, the number of cases continued to fluctuate. Fortuna established an emergency hospital at the Firemen’s Hall at Newberg and the Red Cross also took over a lodging house to care for patients in Arcata.

Fatalities continued, and doctors and nurses felt the strain as they fought their fears and cared for patients. On November 1, Imogene visited her mother but stayed on the porch, feeling like “some sort of pestilence.” Dr. Mercer, exhausted from “overwork” was forced to take time off and Miss Murial MacFarlan, who took over as Acting Health officer when Dr. Mercer fell ill, suffered what was believed to be a nervous breakdown “due to overwork.”


Union Labor Hospital (Humboldt State University Special Collections)

By the first of November, the Union Hospital was down ten nurses and Imogene, whose health improved, was thankful to volunteers who took over “everything but the actual nursing.” Local papers recognized the “valiant work” being done and many lives saved through the effort of local volunteers, though some, like J. F. “Buck” Buchanan, who was “on call wherever and whenever needed,” also fell ill.

By mid-November, the county was sadly losing nurses, but some, like Miss Neska Alexander, recovered and went back to work. Retired nurses were asked to “come forward as a matter of patriotism,” but younger women were discouraged from volunteering, in part because they were considered more vulnerable to the virus.

Physicians and officials implored the public to follow health recommendations, wear a mask and socially distance. If not, Dr. Mercer believed the disease would continue to spread and the “toll of death” would rise. Thankfully, many heeded the warning. On November 11, while Imogene Lockwood and others recognized the end of the war, their celebrating was “tame and hampered” due to grief over losing fellow nurses and their inability to see the “merry smiles behind a mask.”

Growing compliance with the mask ordinance was credited with a decline in cases in Eureka, but cases continued in outlying areas. Arcata was forced to repurpose the Women’s Club House into a Red Cross Hospital and officials toured the county to encourage adherence to safety measures. Eventually case counts started to fall throughout the county and by November 17, temporary “isolation” hospitals, like the one in Scotia, were able to close. The Red Cross hospital in Eureka shuttered its doors when the last patient was discharged on November 20. After fumigating the building with formaldehyde, which “not even the most hardy and tenacious bug known to science” could survive, it was turned back over the Dr. Falk.

Over the next few months, the flu resurfaced throughout the county, but it never again reached the extremes faced in October and November of 1918 when countless residents fell ill, and many died. Undoubtedly many more were saved thanks to the tireless efforts of health care workers and volunteers.

On Jan 1, 1919, with the trauma of the epidemic behind her, nursing student Imogene Lockwood wished her diary a “Happy new year!” She also resolved to study, put her profession first, guard her tongue and strive to be more cultured and refined. She and the other students faced extra work because of the time they lost caring for flu patients, but by 1922, Miss Imogene Lockwood and many of her classmates were registered nurses, caring for patients right where they had trained – at the Union Hospital in Eureka.


NEXT WEEK: The impact of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic on education, religious services, jails, and the business community.

The Spanish Flu Comes to Humboldt…

July 9, 2020


First published in the Lost Coast Outpost July 6, 2020


By the end of September 1918, as Spanish Influenza1 traveled quietly from east to west across the United States, Humboldt County residents started to hear about a new, especially particularly “energetic” and “swiftly spreading” germ that was ravaging communities across the country.

It was not a bad cold, officials warned, or even “la grippe,” a familiar form of the flu. Instead, this was a virulent and deadly virus. The US first case of Spanish Influenza, or “flu,” was identified in March of 1918 at a military base in Kansas — but even as the virus spread out of Kansas, first through the close quarters of army camps and prisons and then into American towns and cities, governments and media outlets in the US and abroad downplayed the danger as countries sought to keep spirits high and attention focused on the war.

On September 29, 1918, Edmund Wilson of Boston City Hospital, who had seen his community overrun with at least 10,000 cases, tried to warn the public of the “dreaded epidemic” and the Humboldt Times ran the story. His statement included symptoms to watch for, such as coughing, body pain, headaches and worse, included “simple” precautionary measures:

Keep away from infected persons. … Promiscuous spitting and coughing should be absolutely prohibited. Antiseptic-gauze masks should be worn by all attendants on a case. Public towels and drinking cups should be avoided and great care exercised in handling … all articles that have come in contact with the stricken.

Wilson concluded with a reminder that “only by loyal and intelligent co-operation of the general public can the epidemic of Spanish influenza be prevented from spreading throughout the country…” Unfortunately, still in the midst of war, America’s attention was elsewhere, and the virus spread unchecked. Just days after Wilson’s address, the Office of the Surgeon General reported 14,000 new influenza cases and hundreds of deaths.

The warnings were not heeded locally either. In July of 1918, Imogene Lockwood arrived in Humboldt County to train and work at the Union Labor Hospital in Eureka. Imogene noted in her diary that her first “Dr’s Lecture” on October 1, would be presented by Dr Wing, the City of Eureka’s Health Officer. Wing focused on pediatrics and obstetrics, Imogene wrote, without a mention of Spanish flu. Headlines in the Humboldt Times that day were all about the War, boasting of Bulgaria’s defeat and the anticipated Turkish surrender.

On October 2, the front page of the Humboldt Times did run a piece stating that the “Spanish Grippe” was spreading rapidly, but seemed to imply it was concentrated in Army camps. There was no local story and on October 3, Thompsons, a local merchant, advertised the “famous Beacon” blankets, and wool-filled comforters, without recognizing a potential new demand for their wares…

On October 4, the front page of the Humboldt Times featured excerpts of a National Health Service report citing an “alarming increase in the disease’s spread,” with over 120,000 flu and pneumonia cases and almost 2,500 deaths — but still there was no local coverage. Germany’s impending defeat grabbed the headlines instead, and on October 5, when the paper printed an Associated Press story about the “epidemic” and said the best way to combat the epidemic was to “prohibit public gatherings,” there was no local elaboration.

On October 6, 1918, the Humboldt Times did publish a national call for nurses, including those trained to be “merely assistants” asking them to prepare for deployment to areas of high infection. Within weeks, Humboldt County resident Mrs. Ira Russ was reassuring the young women on her list of volunteers that patient care would be “so light as to be well handled by a practical nurse.” Later, too many would lose their lives to the flu instead. October 8th’s paper was filled with news about the German’s surrender and the end of the war and included only a very short piece about a brigadier general who had lost his life to the Spanish Flu.

On Oct. 10, 1918, the Associated Press reported that Spanish Influenza had taken 7,432 American lives, infected 211,000 others and that another 25,083 suffered from pneumonia. California reported one thousand cases, though “only a few deaths.” Doctors in California, Nevada and Arizona, the story announced, had also been “mustered” to combat the Spanish Flu. The next day, a published statement from the Red Cross pleaded with Americans to uphold their “patriotic duty” and “Take Great Care To Prevent Spread On Pacific Coast,” warning that “the shortage of nurses and doctors is very serious… and an epidemic may spread so fast as to get entirely out of control.”

Spanish Flu Arrives in Humboldt County

On Saturday, October 12, 1918, the Humboldt Times announced the first identified cases of Spanish Influenza. The virus had arrived with two Austrian brothers, who had recently traveled north from San Francisco and then immediately infected their rooming house hosts, a man and wife “named Garbish.” Eureka City Health officer Dr. Lawrence Wing announced that “All but the woman are now in bed with the malady and are isolated.” Asked to elaborate, Wing said the sick would stay in their rooms — but he would not order a quarantine, “unless we are so instructed by the State Board of Health.”

Mayor George W. Cousins declared that if there were other cases by Monday, schools and public gathering places like churches and theaters, would close. But there were no cases identified that Monday and life continued as usual.

October 13 saw five new cases reported to the Board of Health, with area physicians reporting several more. A Eureka physician, Dr. Quinn, personally diagnosed five infections but declared the virus “not a quarantinable disease” and declined to give more specifics about the cases. This news was reported on page 6 of the Humboldt Times along with a warning the disease more often attacked young, strong, healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 40. The story included threats that if the virus continued to spread, officials might close “all places of public gatherings,” but that did not happen.

The Humboldt Times’ editor tackled the subject briefly on October 14, suggesting that the area’s citizens might well need to take precautionary measures “in time.” Above all, he declared “Do not let fear enter your mind. Exercise plenty, forget it and you will be less likely to become a victim.”

At least two local doctors assumed a similar attitude. Despite increasing fatalities across the country and rising local case numbers, on October 15, Dr. Quinn described the Spanish Flu as simply a more serious form of la grippe, or regular flu,  brought on by a changing climate. The city’s health officer, Dr. Wing, predicted zero fatalities “if patients take care of themselves” and the epidemic was handled competently.

Imogene Lockwood, the young nurse at Eureka’s Union Hospital, seemed similarly unconcerned when was despite admitting that she had never been ill in bed “a whole day since I could remember, ” she fell sick and was down the greater part of a week. After all, on October 15 the County had only 19 official cases of Spanish Influenza and none appeared serious.

At this time, officials considered and then declined to close the schools, which they considered safer and offered “better sanitary condition than many of the homes from which some of the children come.” Also like COVID-19, initially the Spanish Flu was not considered a “children’s disease” and therefore even less dangerous than the measles or chicken pox. Officials also thought that closing the schools would enable many children “to run the streets and visit the picture shows and libraries,” which might lead to greater spread of infection than more sedentary classroom activities.

Officials did acknowledge that “moving picture shows and like gatherings” were a different matter but would not stop them until the county saw a “tendency to a rapid spread of the disease.”

On October 16, the paper offered a list of suggestions to avoid the flu. These included avoiding crowds and covering coughs and sneezes. Number five in the list of ten was to “Keep your hands clean and keep them out of your mouth.” In this issue, local doctor Charles Falk also offered suggestions on how to stay healthy and warned that unlike measles, scarlet fever or small-pox, which offered immunity to another “attack,” a bout of the Spanish Flu did not appear to offer the same protection.

Like COVID-19 today, in 1918 the more populated areas were hit with the “flu” sooner, “owing apparently to the more crowded conditions in the large cities.” On October 17, as case counts continued to rise, San Francisco ordered “practically all” public gathering places in the city to close per the city Board of Health. Theaters, churches, public and private schools, public and private dances and gatherings, cabarets and more were ordered to shutter their doors. Humboldt County officials, despite 21 new cases reported in a single day (principally in the lumber camps) and a new county total of 30 (official) cases, still resisted this drastic measure. Lack of information regarding the threat may have played a role, especially in the smaller communities, for as late as October 19, “Uncle Sam’s Advice on the Flu” ran on page 6 of the Blue Lake Advocate, while news about a county supervisor’s session, a new electric light plant and a recent timber deal made the front page.

In Eureka, however, October 19 marked a turning point. When the State Board of Health ordered closure of all “public places of amusement” and the temporary end to public meetings, the county followed suit. And though the state stopped short of closing schools and churches, the local board of health declared that it did not “see the advisability of closing merely a few of the places of greatest danger and leaving others open” and closed local schools and churches as well. The absence of 187 pupils from the high school and 216 from the grammar school may have played a part.

Unfortunately, the virus continued to spread. October 20 saw 132 cases reported to the Eureka City Health Office and by October 24, the number had reached 500. Nine people had already lost their lives …

Next week:

Humboldt County’s efforts in 1918 to stop the spread of the deadly Spanish Flu, including masking up, social distancing, closing non-essential businesses and more.


1. Origin of “Spanish” influenza: There is no evidence the “Spanish flu” originated in Spain. During World War 1, Spain was one of the few European nations to remain neutral and had no reason to suppress news of the 1918 epidemic, which other countries feared might make them look weak or divert attention from the war. Because news of the virulent virus first broke from Spain, people erroneously assumed it originated there.