Memorial / Obituary / Personal History
Contributor: Dan Clark Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Four children of George Ekins (1853-1915) and Maria Melvina Mezenen (1859-1926) died from the flu epidemic during the winter of 1918/1919. The names of the four children are:
George Warren (1881-1919) at age 38
Harriet Pearl Ekins (1884-1919) at age 35
Ernest Leo Ekins (1886-1919) at age 33
Abel John Ekins (1897-1918) at age 21
Two articles from the Deseret News about the flu are next.
FLU EPIDEMIC HIT UTAH HARD IN 1918, 1919
Deseret News article by Twila Van Leer, Staff Writer, Published March 28, 1995
The headline: "Many towns are closed by order of health board; Theaters, churches and all public gatherings under ban for present; Spanish influenza rapidly spreading." - Deseret News, Oct. 10, 1918.
World War I was ending, but another scourge, influenza, stood in the wings as if waiting specifically to stymy the world's search for long-awaited peace. Spanish influenza, so called because 8 million people in that country suffered its ravages, was spreading its tentacles into most of the nations of the globe.
In September 1918, with the Allies nearing victory over the Central Powers, the virus spread to China, Africa, Brazil and the South Pacific, infecting millions.
Soldiers returning from the front brought it to the U.S. Midwest. Then from Boston, Philadelphia and New York, the disease spread until all of the country, including Utah, was in the grip of the worst pandemic since the Black Death (bubonic plague) of the 1400s. Over the next year, a fifth of the world's population suffered. More than 21 million died, including 675,000 Americans - 10 times as many as died in the world war.
More than half of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe succumbed to the virus and not to enemy action. Tens of thousands of military deaths resulted from a virus so small that 30 million could fit on the head of a pin.
In Salt Lake City, LDS faithful were gathered for regular semiannual conference meetings when the first signs of the outbreak were reported on Oct. 3. Within four weeks, more than 1,500 cases had been documented, with 117 deaths, and the numbers continued to grow, spreading from the urban centers to virtually every community in the state.
Health officials marshaled their forces for the battle. In Ogden, with both local hospitals full, the LDS 3rd Ward amusement hall became a temporary care center. Myrtle Swainston, a recent graduate of LDS Hospital School of Nursing in Salt Lake City, took charge. Her salary and the costs of the emergency hospital were shared by the American Red Cross, Ogden City and Weber County.
Miss Swainston had her work cut out for her. The day after her arrival, Ogden had 40 new cases. With a few hospital beds from Fort Douglas and donated sheets, blankets and other items, she coped. Over the course of the outbreak, several hospitals expanded or set up services in public buildings, including churches. The Judge Memorial Hospital in Salt Lake City, which had been closed a short time earlier, reopened to make room for the ill.
Not all health officials were agreed as to how the epidemic should be handled. The state health department order to close all public places was "absolutely ridiculous and absurd. Such an action can be merely due to hysteria" for a disease no more threatening than the measles, said Salt Lake Health Director Samuel G. Paul.
But by the time the flu had run its course, thousands of Utahns were dead - about 4 percent of all those who contracted the disease. Utah was third, behind Colorado and Pennsylvania, in the rate of deaths.
Twila Peck, now 89, recalls the outbreak in the Tintic Mining District. Her father was stricken and her mother nursed him back to health. Other family members escaped, but she remembers looking through a neighbor's window to see a young mother with her infant, both "laid out" in the living room awaiting burial.
"We had to play by ourselves, and if we went anywhere, we wore masks," Peck said.
As it became apparent the epidemic was going to leave no Utah community untouched, local officials set down stringent rules. Stricken homes had to display large quarantine signs.
Gauze masks, provided by the health department, were to be worn in the sick room and when in public. Streetcar conductors were instructed to limit the number of riders. Stores couldn't hold sales, and funeral services were limited to a half hour, later reduced to 15 minutes, and no more than three vehicles could accompany the hearse to a burial place.
LDS Church President Joseph Fielding Smith died in November 1918, and his funeral also was restricted to a handful of family members.
As conditions worsened, the rules were more vigorously enforced. A barber who refused to wear a mask was fined $10. Police arrested the proprietor of a soft drink establishment at 547 W. 200 South, along with seven card-playing customers. A farewell party for one Salt Laker was raided, and all 16 present would have been nabbed if five had not bolted out a back door. The city put on 100 extra officers to enforce the flu rules.
A local newspaper reporter commented on the eerie sense of desertion on downtown Salt Lake streets. Along eight blocks of Main Street he spotted one human wearing a mask - a guard checking business doors - and two black cats.
But the ban on public assemblies was hard to enforce when news of the Nov. 11 armistice ending the war was announced. People "went mad" in the streets of Utah's communities, restrictions or no. Health officials tried to cancel parades, but city officials insisted. Influenza cases were on the decline anyway, they argued.
After the "happy chaos" of Armistice Day, flu took hold again, and the dispensations that had been allowed as the disease declined were replaced with even tougher guidelines.
The nursing shortage was so acute that the Red Cross asked local businesses to allow employees to have a day off if they would volunteer at hospitals during the night.
Whiskey, considered one of the more effective remedies, was hard to come by. The states were then in the process of ratifying the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, outlawing alcohol. Liquor was contraband. But some officials released whiskey to medical personnel for use as medicine.
One Ogden man who went to court inebriated tried to convince the judge he was only trying to fend off the "influenzy." But the judge decided the dosage was overlarge and sentenced the man to a $50 fine or 30 days in jail.
Liquor aside, the usual treatment was bed rest in a cool room, plenty of liquids and hot packs to break up chest congestion. Vicks VapoRub was in such demand across the country that it became hard to find. Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root was offered as a curative for the kidneys after an attack of "the grip," and Eatonic could help millions suffering the aftereffects of flu by removing acidity and poisons, its makers advertised.
Panguitch, the last Utah town to be struck, held out until a returning soldier brought the virus home with him and shared it with others at a homecoming party. Even the small community of Escalante reported 200 cases at one point.
In Blanding, the local store owner was stricken and his family made the key available to needy shoppers, who promised to take only what they needed and pay for it when he was up and about again. Everywhere, church members and community groups all rallied to help one another through the height of the epidemic.
Ogden and Park City tried to confine the disease by requiring that anyone entering their towns have a certificate signed by a doctor assuring that they showed no sign of flu. Railroads were warned not to accept passengers who had no such certificate, and masks were to be worn by those who were allowed in.
State health director T.B. Beatty huffed off to Ogden to plead for a more rational approach, but after a meeting with government and health officials he returned to Salt Lake with nothing accomplished.
The epidemic played hob with the 1918 fall elections as would-be officials were stymied by their inability to meet with voters. Many simply quit campaigning.
Particularly hard hit were Indian reservations. An estimated 2,000 Navajo Indians in southern Utah and northern Arizona died, and 62 deaths were recorded on the Uintah Reservation, including Ute Chief Atchee. In the four-corner states, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, 3,293 American Indians died. Their natural outdoor lives that exposed them to the elements, along with failure to understand health precautions, contributed to the rate.
A solar eclipse earlier that summer was blamed by many Indians, who saw it as an omen of a challenging time to come. Some white people, on the other hand, tended to blame the epidemic on the "smoke and fumes" generated by the war.
Christmas 1918 gave the epidemic a fresh start as groups gathered to celebrate the holiday. In Salt Lake City, 106 new cases were reported, with 46 in Ogden.
In January, the return of the 145th Light Field Artillery Regiment, composed primarily of Utah boys, was another temptation for people to gather. The regiment had seen no action, although it had been in France. Its only casualties were 14 flu-related deaths.
But Utahns were caught up in the post-war fever and despite discouragement from health officials, they again lined streets in Ogden, Logan and Salt Lake City to greet the returning warriors. A new outbreak of the flu followed within a few days.
In the spring of 1919, the epidemic began to wind down, although there was another, less lethal, surge of the disease that winter. From September 1918 to June 1919, Utah registered 2,343 deaths from flu. In 1919, the state had the second highest death rate from the disease in the country, with 180.2 deaths per 100,000 population. The only state that exceeded that rate was South Carolina with 189.3.
Next article Pandemics: 1918
Deseret News article by Geoffrey Fattah Published: February 27, 2005
Jesse Boulton, 93, of Woods Cross remembers the winter of 1918 as a season of sorrow.
As a 7-year-old growing up in Granger, Wyo., she didn't know why day after day, week after week, people in her town were dying.
"There was a family across the tracks. They buried two children, I believe, just small babies," Boulton said.
Her mother kept her and her siblings home and away from their friends. When she was older, she learned that she had lived through one of the greatest disease pandemics in modern history.
The year of 1918 was filled with both tragedy and celebration. World War I saw the introduction of chemical warfare and aerial bombardment. But what proved to be even more deadly for soldiers was influenza, which swept through Europe. Although Americans were relieved to see the troops come home, those soldiers brought the deadly disease with them. And when Utahns joined the world on Nov. 11 in celebrating the end of "the war to end all wars," the community activities renewed a flu outbreak that previously had been somewhat controlled.
Dubbed the "Spanish flu" by some, this worldwide flu pandemic during the winter of 1918-1919 was blamed for more than 500,000 deaths in the United States and an estimated 20 million to 50 million deaths worldwide — all in a matter of months.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the Spanish flu caused the highest known number of flu deaths in modern history. The two next largest flu outbreaks don't even come close. The "Asian flu" of 1957-58 caused an estimated 70,000 deaths in the United States while the "Hong Kong flu" in 1968-69 caused an estimated 34,000 deaths.
Unlike flu outbreaks before, or since, half the people who died of the Spanish flu during the 1918 outbreak were in their prime.
Cases were first reported in Boston and Bombay on the same day, but as fast as the Spanish flu had spread, it then disappeared just as mysteriously.
But in those few months communities in Utah and all over the world were profoundly changed: They faced quarantines, masks, fear and death.
Utah health statistics estimate that the flu killed one of every 25 Utahns who were infected. The late historian Leonard Arrington put the scope of the pandemic into perspective in his history of the influenza outbreak in Utah, published in the Utah Historical Quarterly.
"Approximately a fifth of the world population endured the fever and aches of influenza," Arrington wrote, calling the event "the worst humanity has undergone since the Black Death (bubonic plague) of the fourteenth century."
Today, those who can recall the flu of 1918 are few. Many are in their mid-90s or over 100.
"I remember it was terrible. We couldn't have school, church or anything," said 91-year-old Margaret Callister, who spent her childhood in Panguitch and now lives in Delta. "Dead people were all around us, three or four to a family."
Callister remembers her mother tying lumps of herbs around the necks of her brothers and sisters in an effort to keep them healthy. She does remember that her family was one of the lucky ones. Even with several of her brothers extremely sick, none of them died.
According to health officials of the time, some of the first cases of the flu in Utah were manifested among soldiers at Fort Douglas in early October.
By Oct. 10, hundreds of cases were reported in Salt Lake City and Ogden, and health officials took action, prohibiting public and private gatherings "not held in the open air," said the Deseret Evening News of Oct. 10.
From church meetings and funerals to private parties and political gatherings, any social event was ordered canceled or restricted. The Deseret Evening News reported that many political party officials were frustrated, wondering how they were going to nominate political candidates if they couldn't hold caucuses. Even the funeral for LDS Church President Joseph Fielding Smith, who died Nov. 19, was restricted to a small number of family members.
Streets became near empty. Laws were passed, requiring anyone walking in public to wear a gauze mask. Spitting on the sidewalk could get you fined, or worse, jailed.
Police and health officials worked to enforce laws. People sweeping sidewalks had to water it down first to prevent dust. Soda fountains were ordered to use individual drinking cups, and workers at Utah Copper Company were advised by health officials to avoid communal drinking cups.
By Oct. 14, reported flu cases in Salt Lake City were 400. One day later, on Oct. 15, cases jumped to 691, with 17 deaths reported within 24 hours. Accounts of fatal cases showed that some people were dead within four days after the onset of symptoms.
At the same time, 65 Utah towns reported outbreaks.
On Oct. 16, news from Washington, D.C., reached Utah: Infections were spreading nationwide and across the globe. With schools closed, teachers were called to volunteer as nurses to care for the growing ranks of the sick. Calls for donated sheets and linens went out. Closed schools became overload places for hospitals. Companies that employed women with nursing experience released them with full pay, and anyone owning an automobile was asked to drive nurses to rural locations.
Red Cross volunteers also went into action. The Deseret Evening News reported one group of Red Cross workers finding a mother and three children grouped in their home, all sick. The mother was so sick she couldn't care for her children, and one child was found lying on the kitchen floor.
"What alarmed everyone was that most of the deaths were young mothers and fathers, the most robust segment of the population," Arrington wrote.
Beatty urged calm among communities that encountered tragic situations.
"Beatty says there is no need for such extremes of alarm as are instanced in a case in Heber city, where a father having died of influenza, a family of nine young children was left without proper attention and attendance; nor for a similar case from Clarkston, where a fatherless family of four was left without proper care," said the Deseret Evening News on Oct. 12.
Although Utah went "dry" in August 1917, health officials allowed doctors to administer "spirits," which were thought to help prevent the disease. Some took this the wrong way, as newspapers reported a few people were brought before judges for public intoxication.
By early November health officials began to see a reduction in reported infections. But then the war officially ended on Nov. 11, and hundreds took to the streets in Salt Lake City and elsewhere to celebrate. Arrington noted that Salt Lake City Police Chief Parley White decided it was futile to keep the crowds from celebrating.
The outcome was predictable. Several hundred new cases were reported in Ogden and Salt Lake City between Nov. 13 and Nov. 16.
The rural toll
In rural places like southern Idaho, the flu was also taking its toll.
"I remember the epidemic of that time," said 103-year-old Russell Clark. "I saw the mortality rate around 50 percent. . . . There was a feeling of depression and sadness because neighbors, you see, were passing away."
Growing up just outside Paris, Idaho, Clark said he remembers when his younger brother fell ill with a high fever.
"He was getting worse instead of better. So at midnight I called my parents out on the ranch," Clark said, noting he and his brother were boarding in town to attend school. "They got their best team of horses and sleigh."
Clark recalls his mother, who was a local nurse and midwife, saved his brother's life by refusing to take him to the hospital.
Having spent many years as a surgeon himself, Clark said looking back, he saw his mother's wisdom.
"They didn't die of influenza per se. It was pneumonia because of a lack of nursing care to keep the patients rotated, and my mother was aware of that."
There were horrifying accounts of patients drowning in their own fluids, even brain swelling brought on by the virus. But Clark said his mother stood vigil, rotating his brother in his bed. "He didn't come down with pneumonia, and he made an uneventful recovery in two weeks," he said.
By December, Ogden city was under quarantine. Nobody was allowed in or out of the city limits without a note from a physician. Salt Lake City was under similar restrictions; however, with the pressure of the Christmas shopping season growing, tensions between the two cities grew. News accounts reported Ogden officials accusing the Salt Lake Board of Health of bending to merchants when it loosened travel restrictions during the holidays.
By the start of the new year in 1919, there were an estimated 72,573 reported cases in Utah, with 2,607 deaths. Between 1919 and 1920, there were 19,226 cases and 308 deaths. In 1919 Utah had the second-highest death rate in the country from the pandemic, with 180.2 deaths per 100,000 population, Arrington wrote. Only South Carolina, with 189.3 deaths per 100,000, exceeded that rate.
For all the laws ordering people to wear masks and the partial lift on the alcohol ban, medical experts at the time did not know that the flu was caused by a virus, said Dr. Harry Gibbons, former director of the Salt Lake City/County Health Department. Gibbons, who has more than 40 years of public health experience, said the best thing health officials could have done was to limit public gatherings.
Yet it wasn't science that defeated the flu but, more likely, evolution. After that winter, cases of the virulent virus dropped around the world without any apparent explanation. Scientists who have revisited the pandemic now theorize that the virus simply mutated to a strain less deadly to humans.
Gibbons said that because they were dealing with a virus, society was about as vulnerable as back in the times of the Black Plague. Gibbons said preventing the spread of the flu is so simple, many people tend to overlook it. All it requires is a little soap and a hand towel.
"Hand-washing is one of the most critical issues in any epidemic like this," Gibbons said. "The flu and common cold are spread more by handshaking than by sneezing and coughing."
Scientists have tried to learn from the 1918 outbreak. In 1999 U.S. Army researchers dug through the permafrost in Alaska to retrieve tissue samples from flu victims buried there. From this, scientists have managed to isolate genetic sequences of the virus, and have studied what made the flu of 1918 so deadly in an effort to prevent another tragedy of this proportion from happening again.