Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1918 Spanish Influenza

In 1918, the nation was at war and people were on the move. So too was a mysterious and lethal illness that first appeared in the spring in Fort Funston, Kansas and then traveled with soldiers going to Europe. There the virus mutated into a more deadly form before returning to the United States in the late summer of 1918, carried by men returning from the battlefields. 
At first the virus targeted military camps on the East Coast, but rapidly spread to civilians and to inland cities and rural areas. By the time influenza was reported in Denver in September, it had already killed over 1000 people in Boston and 100 in Chicago.
Denver's manager of health, Dr. William H. Sharpley, hoped to avoid a panic and gave newspapers rules for combatting the disease..."breathe deeply when the air is pure" and to remember the three C's: "clean mouth, clean heart and clean clothes." As the epidemic progressed, Denver's Board of Health ordered all schools, churches, and theaters to close and indoor gatherings banned. Dairys and grocers stopped delivering to homes. 
In Globeville, it seemed that every family had at least one member who was ill. Steve Machuga remembered two of the men who were boarding in their home. “John Stasienko and John Pastor both worked at the Globe Smelter and shared a room at our house. Stasienko got the flu in the morning and died that night and Pastor died the next week.” Records from St. Joseph Polish Church show a burial nearly every day, and sometimes two or three a day from September 1918 to the spring of 1919. Parishioner Tony Mandich lamented that he had served as a pallbearer eighteen times in four months. 
Gradually, the occurrences of the flu subsided. Like the rest of the nation, Globeville lost fewer of its citizens in the World War than to the Spanish Influenza.* 

Globeville's two casualties in World War I were John Wysowatcky and Martin Clement. Numbers of people lost to the flu have not been compiled, but could be surmised from church burial records. 
Statistics on the epidemic are not entirely reliable, but it is estimated that between September 1918 and June 1919, the lethal virus known as "Spanish Influenza" and its complications, particularly pneumonia, killed nearly 1,500 Denverites.

**The 1918 influenza outbreak: An unforgettable legacy by By Stephen J. Leonard, The Denver Post, May 5, 2009

Photo of Joseph Chintala's headstone, one of many graves at Riverside Cemetery with a story to tell. Photo by Mary Lou Egan