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Another look back at influenza


The flu was identified as “Spanish” because it was written about more frequently in that nation’s newspapers. The press was freer there than in the U.S. and in most countries on the European continent.   

A more important reason was that flu in Spain first took thousands of lives, many within a very short time span. 

In March 1918, a soldier whose base was Camp Funston in central Kansas was diagnosed with the influenza strain now popularly known as Spanish.   

  • Aug. 1, 1918Wallace T. Oakes passed away at his home at Lacey’s Spring. Mr. Oakes was 62.  He is survived by his wife, Lue. Mr. Oakes’ family was originally from the Midwest, his father, John Oakes, having been born in Illinois. Wallace was born in Michigan and moved with his family to Alabama after the Civil War. He will be laid to rest in the Hough Cemetery. 
  • Sept. 23, 1918According to an Associated Press report published in Alabama’s daily newspapers, there are 4,500 cases of Spanish influenza at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago, and there have been in excess of a hundred deaths since Sept. 9. Commandant William A. Moffett said rumors of the ravages of the malady have exaggerated its severity.  Reports to his office identified only about a thousand cases, which warranted the men’s transfer to the training station’s hospital. Also, Commandant Moffett noted that it had not been necessary to close the station to visitors. Finally, the number of cases was decreasing by 10 percent each day. (These observations were later shown to be extremely inaccurate.) 

Many of the older readers of the Enquirer will remember the savings bond drives that were held during the years of World War II and which continued during the Cold War and Vietnam periods.  During the World War I years, these drives to get citizens to, in effect, loan money to the government by purchasing what were then called liberty bonds were widely used.  A huge parade to promote their sale was held in Philadelphia Sept. 28, 1918. While its goal was highly commendable, the parade’s large attendance drastically increased the number of Spanish flu cases. When it was at its worst, the new flu killed 759 Philadelphians in one day alone. 

  • Oct. 3, 1918—Walter Cochran, the brother of Cullman County tax collector Lee Cochran and a member of one of north Alabama’s most prominent families, died at his home in Decatur early this morning of pneumonia following an attack of influenza. 
  • Oct. 5, 1918—According to news reports, Camp Grant in Illinois, where many men with Alabama roots are undergoing infantry training, has been especially hard hit by Spanish influenza. Every day since the first of the month, the total number of men lost to this virulent flu strain has been in double figures. (The high on this date was later given as 100. When aggregate numbers were available, it was found that more than 1,000 men had succumbed to the flu. Their commanding officer took his own life.) 
  • Oct. 7, 1918—Erik W. Johnson, a soldier in training at Camp Sevier, died at that place of influenza today.  He was 32 and had been married only two months ago in a Birmingham ceremony.  He is survived by his parents, James and Nancy Johnson, and a brother, James Jr. 
  • Oct. 10, 1918—Since church assemblies were not permitted while the Spanish flu pandemic was raging, some ministers printed parts of the sermons they were unable to deliver from the pulpit and had boys in the church-sponsored Scout troop distribute them to members’ homes.  Members were urged to study particular Bible passages and to “Pray that God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble, may be with us and keep us from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence.”