With the COVID 19 pandemic upon us, many people are interested in the 1918 flu pandemic. Just like today, the Kutztown area was not immune to the pandemic, and the entire community took the necessary precautions as well as helped their neighbors in ways other than “social distancing.”
The 10 October 1918 issue of The Patriot reported that the influenza epidemic had not hit the Kutztown area, but the “town is under strict orders to obey the regulations set down by the State Department of Health.” The regulations included closing public places such as theaters and saloons, prohibiting unnecessary gatherings and visiting the sick, and mandating that funerals be private. Like today, the public were advised to stay at home. The sale of liquor was discouraged.
But next week, the 17 October front page had an article entitled “OVER 50 CASES OF INFLUENZA.” The Kutztown Board of Health, lead by U. B. Ketner, closed the public schools and barred Normal School (now Kutztown University) day students from traveling through town. Other regulations:
“Parents are requested to keep their children in the open air, but also keep them at home, as much as possible, preventing them from playing in crowds. Until further notice, all stores are to be closed every evening at 6 o'clock. Until further notice all soda fountains are to be closed. Until further notice, all restaurants and hotel lunchrooms are to be closed at 8 o'clock every evening, including Saturday evenings. All families having influenza or grippe are to be quarantined. Until further notice, no public sale or other public meeting is to be held in the borough. The Board of Health asks the people of Kutztown for their best co-operation in this matter in order to prevent the spread of influenza or grippe, and by so doing the threatened epidemic, can be averted.”
By the following week, 7 deaths and 110 cases of the flu had been reported. The lead story in the 31 October issue of The Patriot – TOWN OPENS A HOSPITAL – reported 52 new cases of the flu in Kutztown, causing the Town Hall to be converted into a hospital for flu patients. Two trained nurses, Mary Grim and Bertha Henry had help from Lona Hepner, Rosie Grim, Victoria Schwoyer, Annie Livingood, Anna Kline, Dorothy Deisher, Mrs. Charles Kuhns, Olive DeTurk, and Ella Ziegler. All churches were closed in Kutztown. Three more deaths reported.
The 7 November issue reported 12 patients in the hospital: 3 from Kutztown and 9 from surrounding areas. Since the hospital opened on 27 October, it served 17 patients with 3 deaths and 2 discharges.
The 14 November issue reported that the flu quarantine was lifted at the Normal School allowing it to resume its usual activities including day students and children at the model school. The Kutztown Emergency Hospital reported 18 patients in the hospital with 11 vacant beds.
The 21 November Patriot featured a small article declaring that the Kutztown Emergency Hospital would close as soon as the 12 remaining patients were well enough to be discharged. No news of the hospital was reported in the 28 November issue.
The lull in flu news was broken in the 5 December Patriot with an article entitled “FLU” FLARING UP and the subtitle “Was Supposed to Have Died Out, But Live Embers Were Still About – One Family of Eight Down – 24 in Hospital.”
On 12 December it was reported that the “hospital cases are improving.” Ten total patients were in the hospital.
“HOSPITAL NEEDS CASH” was the headline of one of the front-page stories on 19 December. Readers of The Patriot were encouraged to follow the example of J. P. S. Fenstermacher who donated $10. Herman’s Playhouse scheduled a benefit showing of a Charlie Chaplin film to raise funds for the hospital. Twelve patients were reported in the hospital.
The Patriot brought in 1919 with a report in its 2 January edition that a turkey dinner was served at the Kutztown Emergency Hospital. The turkey was donated by the executive board, lead by Burgess George C. Herman (president) and B. F. Druckenmiller (secretary).
The Berks County Emergency Committee’s tour of the Kutztown Emergency Hospital was reported in the 9 January edition. The Patriot article was subtitled, “County Emergency Committee Here to Inspect. Couldn’t Find Words Strong Enough in Praise – Everything Up to the Best.”
The 16 January issue of The Patriot featured a story entitled, “NO CLOSING AS YET,” with the subtitle, “Emergency Hospital Still Badly Needed – There are 12 Patients in Comfortable Beds Now and no Telling How many More the Morrow Will Bring.”
The 20 February issue of The Kutztown Patriot summarizes the history of the hospital. It reported: “Highest number of patients, 27 (which occurred several times); total number of patients, 113; capacity of beds, 27; inpatient deaths, 9; hospital opened, Oct. 26, 1918; closed, Feb. 15, 1919.”
The Kutztown community responded to the call for action in 1918. Let’s look to the people of 1918 for inspiration and do what we can to keep each other healthy and safe.
For a more detailed look at Kutztown during the 1918 flu epidemic, go to the Kutztown Area Historical Society’s webpage at www.kutztownhistory.org and/or “like” us on Facebook.
Craig Koller serves on the Board of Directors for the Kutztown Area Historical Society.