Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: The Spanish Influenza

The Spanish Influenza hit mining communities like Ramsaytown (above), Eleanora, Conifer, and Wishaw especially hard.


When the Spanish Influenza hit Jefferson County, schools became hospitals. Annabelle Osborne, Brookville, was eight in 1918. When interviewed she recalled, “They died so fast, they hauled them out like flies…they didn’t take time for funerals. They just dug a hole and put them in.”

Medical staffs and hospitals within the county were swamped with the sick.

Adrian Hospital, built in 1888 in Punxsutawney by Adrian Iselin for Adrian miners, had quickly become a general hospital. Its beds were kept full. Dr. John E. Grube had established a small hospital in Punxsutawney’s business district in 1908. It too was swamped.

The new Brookville Hospital was in the planning stages, however, Dr. Wayne Snyder operated a small hospital on Franklin Avenue where Doctors Lynch and Prusakowski practiced more recently. The Red Cross opened a free hospital there and the newspaper warned, “The only sure way of receiving a visit by a physician has been to lie in wait for him at his office door.” Nurses were at a premium.

“Virtually everyone who has escaped the disease or who has recovered has turned in to help where possible.” Dr. Matson fell ill as did undertaker H. Brady Craig, forcing the entire staff of the Reitz Furniture Company to devote its time to handling funerals.

Almost as soon as the epidemic was recognized in Pennsylvania, communities were ordered to close down places where people gathered, like theaters, saloons, schools, churches, and public meeting houses. This was done in Brookville. Even though supplies were needed in Europe, the Red Cross storeroom closed.

The pandemic ceased to exist officially in November of 1918 but local papers reported cases into the next year. Philadelphia was the American city with the highest death toll, and October turned out to be the deadliest month—195,000 Americans dead.

Recently scientists examined the lung tissue of a victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic. The genetic coding sequence bears a strong similarity to the coding sequence found in the current bird flu virus.

Is a preventative or cure waiting to be discovered? Probably. But until then communities have been advised to have an emergency plan in reserve. It makes sense, too, for individuals to follow the warnings for airborne disease prevention. If you develop coughs and sneezes, don’t mingle, cover your nose and mouth, and wash your hands often.

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