The flu pandemic of 1918 began during World War I and was the “greatest medical holocaust in history” and killed between fifty and one hundred million people worldwide. The following story was adapted by the late Susan Howard Boice from the Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society.
Influenza made its appearance in Ipswich in September of 1918. The disease spread rapidly in the thickly populated areas of town, chiefly among the foreign born. The Board of Health ordered the closing of all schools, churches, opera houses, clubs, bowling alleys, billiard saloons, coffee houses and all places of amusement. The public library was also ordered to close its doors – for the disease had struck! The town was worried, for no one knew if they would come down with this terrible disease.
On Oct. 11, 1918, 470 of the mill workers were sick, and only 30 employees came to work at Burke’s Manufacturing Company. On Sunday, Oct. 6, the Cable Hospital had more than 30 patients suffering from pneumonia, which followed the influenza. The state authorities took over the hospital that Oct. 6, and erected 50 tents, each large enough for two patients. The 15th Infantry was put to the task. They worked hard all day pitching the tents, installing electric wires and establishing their own camp. The local carpenters were requisitioned and lumber was brought in from Canney’s lumber yard.
By Monday, a structure 180 feet long, well-built and conveniently arranged, was completed along with an administration building. A military guard was established and admission was allowed only to those who held passes from headquarters. The fresh-air treatment in the tents and in the open air was beneficial to the patients. The severest pneumonia cases showed improvement and there were fewer deaths.
It was estimated that there were at least 1,500 cases of the flu in Ipswich during the height of this disease. Finally in the middle of October, the Board of Health lifted its ban and the schools opened later in the month.
The hospital camp was referred to as Camp Mason, courtesy of Herbert W. Mason, president of the Benjamin Stickney Cable Corp., and was discontinued on Oct. 18, 1918. The schools opened on October 21.
By the end of the pandemic, one in every four people in the US had caught the Spanish Flu and the average life expectancy had been shortened by 12 years!
August 27, 1918: the first case in Massachusetts is reported. Three days later, 60 people are ill.
September 20: At Cable Memorial Hospital, visitors are not admitted until further notice.
September 27: Mrs. Calvin Holmes, 21 year-old, dies of the Influenza.
September 29: “In this eventful week, estimates are more than 700 cases in Ipswich, and all public resorts are closed by the authorities. The Ipswich Mills are short-handed due to absenteeism. The public schools are closed down. Miss Maude Schofield is home from her teaching assignment since the Brookline Schools are closed as well. Mrs. Reuben Andrews of Liberty Street, 48 years of age, related to the Hills family, dies of pneumonia and her funeral is served by the same Reverend William J. Kelly who served Mrs. Calvin Holmes. Walter Dodge of East Street, merchant marine on the steamship Gavin Austin, is confined in his home. Julian Smith of Meeting House Green has it too. Miss Louise Grant of Water Street has it but is improving. James J. Merrill of High Street is not improving. Dr. McGinley of Central Street, has the disease.
The flu is rampant; three Influenza deaths have been confirmed, then Albin Benedix of Manning Street dies, that makes four and counting. Churches, fraternities, and other gatherings are discontinued by the Board of Health.”
October 1: The National Guard sets up at Cable Hospital.
October 4: Martha Stewart of the Coburn Home has volunteered to supervise volunteer school teachers who will act as nurses. From Saltonstall Street to Steep Bank, the Polish section of town, the Influenza is now rampant, as it has been in the Greek section of town. Most area residents are non-English speakers. At least two Polish immigrants and two Greek immigrants die this week. Doctors and druggists are working 24 hour days. Mrs. George A. Schofield returns home after several weeks at Cable. But all is not well. Five year-old Mary Rose Gallant, a French girl of Mt. Pleasant Street succumbs, as does five year-old Frank Comeau, Jr. of North Main Street. Harry E. Ward, also of North Main Street, dies at 31 years of age. Mrs. Helen Byron of County Street is confined. Charles S. Garette of Fruit Street has taken ill. All the Churches decide to cancel Sunday services. The town Library is asked to close. Reverend Guy E. Margeson of the Immanuel Bapist Church is taken ill to Cable. This week, there were 470 workers absent from the Ipswich Mills.
October 11: Lodges, clubs, bowling alleys, billiard rooms, pool halls, coffee rooms, and soda fountains are shut down. Right here in RiverCity. Funerals must be private, for family members only, and in many areas they are restricted to 15 minutes duration. A news writer prescribes that treatment outdoors is much preferred, ergo the tents at Cable. Volunteers are knitting blue wool sweaters and now there is a call for gray outing flannel ‘Johnnies’ . Thirty patients are at the hospital with pneumonia, where, and from which, the young French girl had died. Good news: Mrs. William Garrette of South Main Street is much improved, as is Dorothy Hall of Market Street. Mrs. Kyes of 26 High Street is coordinating an effort to make 100 comforters for the Red Cross.
On the other hand, while Mrs. Helen Byron has improved, the clerks in her store have caught the flu: Miss Bertha Duguay of Topsfield Road and Miss Rosa Marcourelle of Mt. Pleasant Avenue. Miss Annie Arkin of Mt. Pleasant Street has died. Miss Margaret Player, 12 years old of High Street, has been taken to Hospital as has Miss Laura Chaput. The former Principal of the Junior High School, Ralph W. Wescott, is critically ill, at Camp Upton. The Chief of Police, John F. Dupray, takes a fifteen day leave of absence for reasons unstated. Miss Stella Goldsmith of Rowley, a top graduate of the Manning High School when she was only 15 years of age, has died at age 17. Miss Cleola Davis of Ward Street, Miss Marjorie Morris of High Street, and A. Warner of County Street are ill. Several daughters of Nova Scotia have succumbed: Mrs. Frank Scahill, 34, of Central Street, nee Emma Wright, and Mrs. Christina Jones, mother of Mrs. Fred L. Grant, at age 70. Starvors Poulos of 106 5th Avenue died.
The Ipswich Grange cancels its annual meeting, as do other organizations. The Chronicle reports that the epidemic has slowed troop shipments to Europe as well as re-supply of troops already deployed. In New York City the Board of Health has changed the hours of offices, stores, and theaters to thin out the number of passengers on public transportation at the same time. A third front page story notes that “the state of public mind in Ipswich has been disturbed”
October 18: The headlines declare “Influenza on the Wane,” This week there are “only” 174 new cases, and only five new cases are admitted to Camp Mason. The Board of Health gives its approval for public organizations to resume their normal operations. The schools re-open.
Mrs. Sarah Nichols of Green Street dies. Mrs. Chrisola Skraka of High Street, born in Greece, 21 years of age, who immigrated to the United State of America in 1917, and her infant daughter of eight months both die. Her services were held in the funeral home of Ralph K. Whittier, on Summer Street. Also, the paper tells us the sad fact that “a Polish man whose name was not learned” has died. Six year-old Welsford Sheppard of Manning Street dies, and his father is seriously ill. A woman from Rowley, Mrs. Elsie Carey [Green] Collins, wife of Dr. Collins, a 30 year-old, a 1906 graduate of Manning High School, a teacher in the Ipswich Public Schools, passes away.
October 25: Miss Maude Schofield has fully recovered, as has Dr. McGinley, and Camp Mason closes.
November: Funeral services were held for Ralph LaCount of Poplar Street, 28 years old,, who had worked for ‘The Shoe’ in Beverly. Only a few hours after his funeral, Mrs. LaCount dies. Mr. and Mrs. LaCount had no children or survivors. Roberta Myrtle Brisbee has just died in Ipswich, and her father, Walter C. Brisbee has passed away at Camp Devens.
November 11, 1918, at 5:45 AM, the Ipswich Fire Station blasts the fire horn 10 times in succession, rousing the populace and signaling the good news that the Armistice has been signed. The celebration begins. Churches throughout the town pick up the message and all the bells are ringing. The day is filled with tears of happiness, parades, a bonfire on Market Street, marching bands, and people embracing. The Spanish Flu virus takes full advantage of the closely packed crowds, rekindles itself and spreads again.