The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 reportedly killed 20 to 40 million people worldwide in a year’s time. Also known as “La Grippe,” the pandemic was more devastating than the Bubonic Plague that spread the Black Death over mid-12th Century Europe.
The Spanish Flu pandemic was spread to the United States by soldiers returning from the European battlefields of World War I. The strain targeted the strong and killed more soldiers than bullets and bombshells.
The first cases in Maryland were reported in late September at then-Camp Meade. The sick soldiers were isolated, but the camp remained open to visitors, and soldiers were on leave to Baltimore where it spread rapidly through the city.
Kent County was not spared from the Spanish Flu’s impact
For the local community in the days prior to radio, the local weekly newspaper was the source of news. The Transcript was published weekly in Chestertown from 1862 to 1946. It covered the outbreak.
In the October 12, 1918 edition, the State Health Department announced broad based closures “On account of the persistency of the influenza epidemic now existing and affecting so many people and its tendency to spread.”
The closures included all schools and public meetings, as well as “all theatres, moving picture parlors, public assembly and dance halls.” For the first time in memory, all houses of worship were closed and Washington College students sent home.
The October 19 edition was dominated by the influenza news. The headline read: “Epidemic Still Takes Toll in Kent.” The story was truly grim.
“The epidemic has struck the country in spots and Kent seems to have been one of the hardest hit sections of the whole country, so many cases being fatal,” the paper reported. “The disease seems to be particularly epidemic among the most vigorous people, the elderly people seeming to have escaped in large measure, the ravages of the malady.”
The death notices were so numerous that the editor addressed mortality as “The Hand of Death.”
“In reference to our death columns in this issue will be seen the trail of death that has visited this county this week,” the paper reported.
At the head of the column titled “Deaths,” the editor expressed the human devastation.
“This has been a sad week in Kent county. The grim reaper has taken a fearful toll from the homes of our community and left many firesides desolate.”
The spread slowed by month’s end. The November 2 edition headline read: “Influenza Epidemic Subsiding in Kent,” the report continued. “The epidemic of influenza, which has taken such a fearful toll in Kent county and other parts of the country as well, is subsiding, and, in fact very few new cases are being reported in Kent county.”
The churches returned to Sunday services. At Christ Methodist, Reverend J.L. Ward advertised his sermon “Kept from The Paths of the Destroyer.”
Even as influenza raged that fall, life continued on in Kent County
On October 24, Miriam Warren Hubbard, daughter of fertilizer baron Wilbur W. Hubbard, married Lt. George M. Morris, U.S.A at the bride’s parents’ home, Wide Hall. For the convenience of the important guests traveling from Baltimore, Washington, and New York, Mr. Hubbard had arranged for a special train to carry guests from Wilmington to Chestertown. Mr. Hubbard had convinced the Delaware Railroad to construct a spur from High Street to his waterfront fertilizer operation. It was short ride to the event.
In that month, R.F. Parks, one of the largest dealers in merchandise and groceries on the Eastern Shore, sold out his stock for a good sum and looked towards retirement. Mr. Parks was the oldest merchant in Chestertown and had conducted businesses at the same place for 50 years.
The November 2 edition reported a fire at P.M. Brooks’ flour mill, now the site of the Royal Farm in Chestertown’s Uptown neighborhood. Also the County committee for Christmas parcels for the troops in Europe got their effort underway.
The Armistice that ended World War I was signed on November 11, 1918.
Joan Horsey contributed to this article.