THESE MASKED MEN pose Dec. 8, 1918, in Shelby during the Spanish flu epidemic. Force yourself to sneeze night and morning, then breathe deeply.
That medical advice was dispensed 102 years ago when the Spanish flu epidemic killed half a million Americans, including between 60 and 75 in Buffalo County. Today, as COVID-19 batters the world, the parallels are striking.
Larry Hardesty, a Dawn Rotary member and retired dean of the library at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, wrote about the Spanish flu epidemic and other topics when the Rotary Club celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019. Today, with the COVID-19 pandemic, he reads those essays through new eyes.
One report said 2,807 Nebraskans had died as of Dec. 17, 1918, but many rural deaths likely went unreported. Some reports indicate that by the time the epidemic ended in 2019, 7,500 Nebraskans may have died of the disease, Hardesty wrote. One doctor estimated 3,000 cases in Buffalo County alone. Its population at the time was nearly 24,000; of those, 8,000 lived in Kearney.
Hardesty, a Nebraska native, has personal links to the disease. Spanish flu kept his grandmother bedfast for six weeks in fall 1918, and it changed her personality for the remaining 51 years of her life.
Frequency of deaths increased
Unlike COVID-19, which can be deadly for people over 65, Spanish flu took aim at people younger than 40. Death notices in local newspapers of the time bear that out.Victims included Frances Ellen Avery, 8, the oldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Avery of Ravenna, and William Myley Eaton, 16, of Pleasanton. “Dr. Randall was also ill, so a […]