The world suffered through a flu pandemic 102 years ago.


“The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide – about one-third of the planet’s population – and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans,” writes history.com. “The 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia before swiftly spreading around the world. … Citizens were ordered to wear masks, schools, theaters and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues before the virus ended its deadly global march.”


Of course, the experience – and the news coverage of that experience – varied from community to community. The files of The Independence Examiner offer snapshots of what happened here.


Sept. 30, 1918, on page two, next to an editorial and beneath the daily Bible reading, was this headline the “INFLUENZA IS GRIP.” over this story:


“If you think you are going to have the Spanish flu or the French La Grippe, call a doctor and do what he says.”


“This is the first and final recommendation of the Government which is issuing bulletins to protect the people and take care of the disease which is becoming prevalent in many parts of the United States and has caused such havoc in the (military) training camps and has resulted in many deaths, The bulletin says.”


“According to current reports an epidemic of influenza has reached our shores from Europe …”


Three weeks later came “INFLUENZA SPREADING,” with a subheadline of “Nine Separate Cases Reported in Past Hours – Volunteer Help Has Been Suggested.”


The mayor takes action


On Oct. 22 came a proclamation from Independence Mayor Christian Ott. It read:


“While the epidemic of Spanish Influenza prevails, it shall be unlawful for any parties to stop and hold conversations on the street longer than is actually necessary.”


“Parties going to stores to make purchases must leave at once after purchases are made.”


“All persons caught spitting or hawking on the street will be arrested and fined.”


“All parties having no business on the business streets are requested to stay away.”


“All stores and other public places are ordered to be disinfected when swept.”


“Parents must keep their children on their own premises and not allow them to mix or play with others.”


“There shall be no public gatherings of any kind.”


“Any one caught on the streets whose family is under quarantine without the written consent of the Board of Health or City Physician will be arrested and locked up.”


“This proclamation will be enforced by the Police Department.”


In the first week of November, just as word was coming of the Armistice to end World War I, this headline was on page one: “SCHOOLS TOMORROW.”


“Public schools open tomorrow morning at the usual hour.”


“The schools have been closed exactly five weeks and had been running just four weeks when the closing order was made so tomorrow morning the second month of school work for the year will begin.”


Worse in the winter


In the first week of December 1918, the newspaper had a page one story that led with one incident and then gave a snapshot of the overall situation. It ran under the headline “PAID FINE OF $25.” (there were a lot of small, all-caps headlines in those days) and read:


“A man whose house was under quarantine and who went to the Missouri Pacific Station last night to take a train for Nevada, Mo., was arrested just as the train was about to start. It was learned that he was violating the quarantine regulations. This morning in police court he was fined $20 and costs, a total of $25.50, which he paid. Then an officer escorted the man back to his house, and he was given strict orders to remain there until the quarantine had been lifted.”


“Twenty-five new cases of influenza were reported in the city yesterday, a total of about 130 since noon on November 25,” the article said. The city’s population at the time was about 11,000.


“A ban on public gatherings again was imposed by the Independence Board of Health Monday afternoon,” the article went on to say. “It was on account of the growth of the epidemic of influenza, and it was for an indefinite time. It will last until conditions shall have improved sufficiently to warrant its removal.”


“The order affects the picture shows, the churches, the schools and all other gatherings of more than twenty persons. It went into effect immediately. As a result there will be no picture shows tonight and there can be no meetings at the churches Wednesday night.”


Then, that same week: “‘FLU’ IS SPREADING.”


“There were eighteen new cases reported at the police department this morning as influenza. … It was said in several cases that there were families which had not had a physician and were unable to get a physician. The physicians are working night and day. One physician had not been to his office for three days and got home at night at midnight or after.”


Later in the week: “TO TIGHTEN QUARANTINE.”


“Steps by which to tighten the influenza quarantine were taken at a meeting of the Board of Health this morning at the City Hall. Chief of Police N.A. Harris, secretary of the board, had expressed his opinion that the epidemic would not be stamped out by the use of the present methods.”


“It was decided first to have the new cards printed, substituting the word ‘Quarantined’ in large type as the most conspicuous feature of the cards. Under it will appear the words Contagious Disease; and then the citations from the city ordinances and the penalty for disregard of quarantine.”


“It was decided … to have a policeman go all over town and substitute the new cards for the old ones, explaining to the people under quarantine that the card means exactly what it says; that no special favors will be shown and that the laws will be enforced to the letter upon all persons violating them.”


Then that Saturday: “EXTEND QUARANTINE.”


“Unless influenza conditions improve very materially by Monday morning, the city Board of Health will take steps to quarantine territory outside the city limits for a distance of five miles in every direction.”


Then, in late December, “SCHOOLS OPEN MONDAY.”


“Monday morning December 30 the schools of Independence will open after an enforced vacation of 5 weeks. …”


“Almost an entire term has been lost since the schools opened in September. After four weeks work the schools were closed on account of influenza and remained closed for 5 weeks. They were reopened for 2 weeks and again closed 5 weeks ago.”


“Just how to make up the time lost and permit the pupils of the senior class to graduate is still something of a puzzle. There will be no more holidays. The time of closing probably will be extended several weeks into June. Courses will be intensified and class work arranged that the work of two terms will be put into one term. This will be easy for the pupils who are well up and who study and impossible for some others who may have been on the edge of failure anyhow.”


Not the only epidemic


Fifty years later the all-caps headlines had gone away, but the paper still had what newspapers call upstyle headlines, that is, every word capitalized. (Thankfully, those have mostly gone away in recent decades.)


So in December 1968, The Examiner (the “Independence” had been taken out of the name five years earlier) had this headline: “Area Hospitals Curtail Visiting Privileges.”


“An attempt to prevent an epidemic of the Hong Kong flu from breaking out in area hospitals was made last night when the Kansas City Hospital Association announced that hospital visiting privileges would be curtailed until the danger of Hong Kong flu subsides.”


“ … The action was taken following a report yesterday from the National Communicable Health Center in Atlanta, which stated the nation was in the midst of a flu epidemic.”`