With the current events of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), did you know that Dayton has been through a similar scare before? The Flu Epidemic of 1918 was the Spanish Influenza, aka the “Grip,” which ran rampant among Daytonians. Despite many warnings (almost daily) about the spread of the flu, and tips to stay healthy, more and more Daytonians were getting sick.
Dayton Daily News article from September 23, 1918
- October 8th, 1918 – Dr. A. O. Peters, Dayton’s Health Commissioner, ordered the closing of all schools, theater, and the church.
- October 9th, 1918 – The use of communal drink fountains and any public places where people gather was banned.
- October 10th, 1918 – the State department ordered daily reporting of Influenza statistics, in hopes of monitoring and containing the outbreak.
- October 11th, 1918 – Ban lifted on saloons and taverns, with the stipulation that patrons buy prepackaged food, which would be consumed at home. Eating and drinking were not allowed in public, and any business not enforcing this would be shut down immediately.
The town was empty. People were discouraged from gathering in public places, with the exception of outdoor activities. Church services were held outdoors, as were sports like football, although football games were often cancelled because there were not enough people to play on each team. Prisoners who had committed minor offenses were released to prevent the spread of infection in the jail population, and all court cases were suspended.
Dayton Daily News article from October 23, 1918.
Dayton lived under restriction for weeks. Influenza funerals were restricted to immediate family only, and open caskets were only allowed if there was a glass shield provided.
By November, the ban on public places was partially lifted, adults were allowed to go back to public settings, but children 16 and under were restricted to their homes. Public places were to be kept well ventilated, and despite the winter air, doors and windows were propped open in all stores and businesses, in an attempt to keep air circulating.
When children were sent back to school in mid-November, the numbers on influenza rose drastically, forcing the ban on schools to return. Children under 14 were banned from all public places. There were no Santas in the department stores that year.
Dayton Daily News article from December 31, 1918.
By January 1, 1919, all public bans were lifted, and life had returned somewhat to normal. Dayton Health officials reported that in the 2 months, 572 deaths were attributed to the “grip,” and an estimated 1/3 of Dayton’s population had been affected.