200 Plus

Influenza Devastates Ocean County

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Oct 10, 2018

One hundred years later it’s hard to imagine the crisis that enveloped the United States in October 1918; while most disasters are local, the Spanish flu pandemic gripped the nation from coast to coast. While there were no accurate daily tabulations of the effects on the general public, the Army released numbers showing its toll on a group that should have been the nation’s healthiest.

 On Oct. 7, “The War Department authorizes the following statement from the office of the Surgeon General: Seventeen thousand three hundred and eighty-three new cases of influenza were reported from Army camps and posts during the 24 hours ended at noon Saturday. This is an increase of 4,408 over the preceding 24-hour period.”

Oct. 8, “The War Department authorizes the following statement from the office of the Surgeon General: For the 48-hour period ended at noon October 7, 23,706 new cases of influenza were reported, together with 4,352 new cases of pneumonia. For the same period 1,388 deaths were reported from all causes.”

At New Jersey’s Camp Dix, in three weeks there had been 9,027 cases leading to 680 deaths. These figures represent a group that had received the best medical treatment available. In rural areas like Ocean County, people didn’t have access to hospitals and had to prepare to take care of themselves. U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue on Oct. 14 issued instructions for them.

“Every person who feels sick and appears to be developing an attack of influenza should at once be put to bed in a well-ventilated room. If his bowels have moved regularly it is not necessary to give a physic; where a physic is needed a dose of castor oil or Rochelle salts should be given. The sick room should be cleared of all unnecessary furniture, bric-a-brac, and rugs. A washbasin, pitcher, and slop bowl, soap and towels should be at hand, preferably in the room or just outside the door.”

Special care should be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.

“Most of the patients cough up considerable mucus; in some there is much mucus discharged from the nose and throat. This material should not be collected in handkerchiefs, but rather on bits of old rags, or toilet paper, or on paper napkins. As soon as used these rags or papers should be placed in a bag kept beside the bed. Pocket handkerchiefs are out of place in the sick room, and should not be used by patients. The rags or papers in the paper bag should be burned.”

Blue concluded by saying, “The patients will not be hungry, and the diet should therefore be light. Milk, a soft-boiled egg, some toast or crackers, a bit of jelly or jam, stewed fruit, some cooked cereal like oatmeal, hominy, or rice – these will suffice in most cases. It is advisable to give the sick room a good airing several times a day.

“So much for the patient. It is equally important to consider the person who is caring for him. It is important to remember that the disease is spread by breathing germ-laden matter sprayed into the air by the patient in coughing or even in ordinary breathing. The attendant should therefore wear a gauze mask over the mouth and nose while she is in the sick room. … In closing and lest I be misunderstood, I wish to leave one word of caution: If in doubt, call the doctor.”

In Ocean County and across the state schools, had been closed along with churches, movie theaters and taverns. People donned their gauze masks and waited for the inevitable. On Oct. 17, the Tuckerton Beacon went to press.

“In Tuckerton, probably the hardest hit town in the county, there have been 164 cases reported to the Board of Health and nine deaths. … The situation in Tuckerton took on a serious turn last week when Dr. J.L. Lane, the only doctor here, was stricken with the disease. He made heroic efforts to get out and in doing so suffered a relapse. However, Dr. Herbert Willis, of Beach Haven, filled in the breach and bore the brunt of the burden for the past two weeks. He went day and night and often without meals.”

But many efforts were in vain.

“Three deaths in one family occurred last week when J. Lawrence Allen and his sons Charles, aged 17 and Forrest, aged 9, succumbed to the disease within four days. The father was 37 years of age. A widow, one son and daughter are left. The funeral services of the three were held Tuesday afternoon.”

Tuckerton was not alone.

“At Parkertown there were two deaths, Edwin C. Parker, the sixteen months old son of Township clerk and Mrs. Norris L. Parker. … Sarah E. Evans, passed away at her home in Staffordville. … Reuben H. Brown died at his home in Peahala, on Saturday. … Undertaker Job M. Smith has been kept at his wits’ ends as it has been a difficult proposition to get caskets.”

The next day’s Toms River New Jersey Courier recounted, “The village was shocked on Thursday morning (yesterday) to learn of the death during the night of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Conk, at their home on Dayton Avenue. Both died from pneumonia. They had recently built themselves a handsome home and were enjoying life there. During the summer and fall ‘Gill’ had been driving a truck at the Lakehurst Proving Grounds and contracted the influenza there. They leave one child, Henry a boy about ten years of age.”

The paper received a dispatch from Manahawkin.

‘Manahawkin is about getting over its siege with the influenza. Hardly a person in the past two weeks that has not been down with it, and you could not put your finger on a house in the village, so they say, without touching a case of it. Luckily for us, it was ... comparatively light from here. … On one day every employee at the Tuckerton railroad station was sick here, and there was nobody to open the station, till a man came up from Tuckerton on the train.”

Some would eventually be honored for their work with a street name.

“Dr. Joshua Hilliard did valiant service. In one day, he made 88 calls, and he was on the go as high as high as 21 hours out of the 24, not one day, but several days at a stretch. What Dr. Hilliard did, few could do, and still fewer would do. He not only had this neighborhood, but his practice goes way up the shore as far as Lanoka, and down the shore past New Gretna, as well as over on Long Beach. So 88 patients meant many miles of driving a car.”

And from Beach Haven, “Dr. Willis has been at Tuckerton much of the time, as the one doctor left in that town, Dr. J.L. Lane, was down with influenza. Our drug store has been closed and with influenza raging, we looked to be up against it. Some of the Red Cross workers phoned to Mrs. Crabbe at Toms River, asking her to get some remedies for them at the drugstores there. Mrs. Crabbe not only got the supplies, but at once motored down with them the same day and people here are feeling very grateful to her and to the organization in which she is such an efficient worker.”

A hundred years later, how would the United States react to the same type of crisis? I hope that question never needs to be answered.

Next Week: Light at the end of the tunnel.

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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