200 Plus

Spanish Flu’s Spread Unstoppable

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Sep 26, 2018

As the Spanish flu of 1918 began to spread through military bases like Camp Dix in New Jersey, it seemed only a matter of time until civilians began to fall ill. The U.S. Surgeon General gave the Associated Press an interview on Sept. 14, making an ominous prediction.

“The disease is characterized by a sudden onset. … People are stricken on the streets, while at work in factories, shipyards, offices, or elsewhere. First there is a chill, then fever, with temperature from 101 to 103, headache, backache, reddening and running of the eyes, pains and aches all over the body and general prostration. Persons so attacked should go to their homes at once, get to bed without delay and immediately call a physician.”

What could medical science do?

“Treatment under direction of the physician is simple, but important, consisting principally of rest in bed, fresh air, abundant food, with Dover’s powder for the relief of pain. Every case with fever should be regarded as serious, and kept in bed at least until temperature becomes normal. Convalescence requires careful management to avoid serious complications, such as bronchial pneumonia, which not unfrequently may have fatal termination.”

As people waited, their fears increased when an Army colonel announced, “‘It is quite possible that the epidemic was started by Huns sent ashore by boche (Germans) submarine commanders,’ he said. ‘We know that men have been ashore from German submarine boats, for they have been in New York and other places. It would be quite easy for one of these German agents to turn loose Spanish influenza germs in a theatre or some other place where large numbers of persons are assembled.’

“The Germans have started epidemics in Europe, and there is no reason why they should be particularly gentle in America.”

The Jersey Shore was especially uneasy since U-boats had been active off the coast all summer, but most people felt safe because they lived in a rural setting and the flu appeared to be attacking cities. As days passed, they watched the state’s urban areas, and by Sept. 27, the Trenton Times reported, “Spanish influenza is epidemic in additional territory adjacent to this city and many more cases are reported. … Additional cases are also reported at Camp Dix and Trenton is continuing to aid the sufferers there. … Included in the 112 cases of influenza at St. Michael’s orphanage are 62 which have been reported since yesterday. The three sisters reported critically ill at the institution yesterday, were said to be somewhat improved today. However, of the remaining sufferers, 35 are claimed to be in a critical condition.”

On the 30th, the Camden Courier announced, “Spanish influenza is spreading with alarming rapidly in Camden. Many deaths were recorded to-day and new cases are developing by the hundreds. … As soon as he received that information Dr. H.H. Davis, Chief Medical Examiner, held a conference with Superintendent Bryan and it was later announced that it might necessary to close the schools until the epidemic is over. Collingswood schools were ordered closed this morning.”

The numbers would quickly climb to 3,000 cases in Camden, while the Army revealed soldiers at Camp Dix were dying at a rate of three per hour. Meanwhile, Ocean County was torn between preparing for the crisis and ignoring it.

Two stories in the Tuckerton Beacon of Oct. 3 show the extremes.

“The Tuckerton radio station is under quarantine as a precaution against the new disease (Spanish Influenza), prevalent at the various camps and which is spreading at an alarming rate. There are no cases as yet, at the Radio but as there are several ill at Tuckerton and vicinity with this disease, they have taken this step.”

While at the same time, “To aid the Liberty Loan drive it has been arranged to have the War Exhibit train go through Ocean County on Tuesday, Oct. 8. The train will make stops at Tuckerton, Barnegat, Toms River and Lakewood. This war exhibit train consists of three cars – two flatcars, containing specimens of captured heavy artillery from the German army: and a baggage car with many other specimens of war relics captured from the German troops by our boys in France.”

At this time, people living in cities were being told to avoid crowds, yet “It is expected, judging from what has happened wherever these trains have gone, that all the people in the region round about will flock to the railroad stations to see these relics of the world’s grimmest and deadliest war.”

On Oct. 8, the train came to Ocean County, and two days later the Beacon told of its visit.

“The Liberty Loan and War Exhibit Train came in Ocean County Tuesday and arrived at the Tuckerton station at 6.30 P.M., where a crowd of several hundred shore folks had gathered for the occasion.

“The exhibit train consisted of two flat cars loaded with heavy artillery and a large baggage car of war relics and smaller arms, also a sleeper and dining car. … There were on the train eight marines, four speakers, an American officer from the trenches in France, Italian and French soldiers who have seen service at the front.

“The Tuckerton railroad station was beautifully decorated with American Flags and signal flags and came in for some favorable comment from the visitors.

“The train pulled out at 7:15 amid the cheers of the crowd and went up the shore where several stops were made at different towns.”

The same day the Beacon told of the train’s visit, a different paper carried the story that another visitor had arrived.


“Among those suffering from Influenza are Raymond Steven’s family, G. William Mathis’ family, Lawrence Allen’s family. … There are many other cases. Three persons have succumbed to this since Wednesday night. They are William D. Gray, private, of Wilmington, Kansas, stationed at the radio Station, member of the Marine Corps Reserve, Mrs. Hannah B. Driscoll, wife of Chester Driscoll, and Charles Allen, son Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Allen.”

On Oct. 11, too late to stop the visit of the train, the New Jersey Courier announced, “Owing to the epidemic of influenza, which seems to have all the North Atlantic states in its grasp, the State Board of Health on Monday last ordered all local boards to shut down the places where people congregate, such as churches, theatres, motion picture theatres, barrooms, soda fountains, lodge rooms, dance halls and pool rooms. This order was mandatory as to the above.”

And locally, “Practically all the schools in the county have been closed down. The epidemic has been worse in the south end of the county than anywhere else. New Egypt excepted. Schools have been closed in New Egypt, Lakewood, Point Pleasant, Island Heights, Barnegat, Manahawkin, West Creek, Tuckerton, and in many smaller places.”

Over the next three weeks, Ocean County would lose more people to the flu than she had given in all of America’s wars combined.

Next Week: Adrift.


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