In most American cities, influenza crept onto the scene like a cat burglar, attacking early victims silently and leaving only a few clues in its wake. Usually, it was not until the first deaths began to occur, or after a significant cluster of cases appeared, that health officials and newspapers took notice. Even then, in many instances early cases were often passed off as merely “bad colds.” Such was not the case in Grand Rapids, Michigan, however, where one of the earliest – if not the first – local victim just happened to be the editor and publisher of the city’s largest newspaper, the Grand Rapids Herald. That man was Arthur H. Vandenberg, later to become a four-term United States Senator and influential member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Vandenberg caught the disease while traveling with the Navy’s Sousa Battalion Band’s (better known as the “Jackie Band”) Liberty Loan crusade across Michigan. On September 24, several band members came down with cases of influenza while in Bay City, north of Saginaw. Vandenberg was examined, fumigated, and allowed to return to his home in Grand Rapids. Several days later he, too, developed the disease. He was the first local case to be reported by the Herald.1
On October 3, the Herald commented on the first influenza death in the city; a 30-year old salt worker, who had only arrived in Grand Rapids from Manistee, Michigan three weeks earlier, had died in a boarding house. Six other cases were reported in the city. Grand Rapids Health Officer Dr. Clyde C Slemons told the public that influenza was not unlike the common cold, and that those who began to feel ill should remain indoors and call a physician. He added that he did not anticipate a large number of cases in the city, and expected the epidemic to pass quickly.2 By October 7, however, some 75 cases had been reported, although it was not entirely clear if all were in fact influenza. Slemons indicated that some might have been colds, since it was difficult to distinguish between bad colds and mild influenza, especially during the onset of first symptoms.3 Most of these cases were among workers at the local picric acid plant, a factory that produced explosives for use in munitions.
Across Michigan cases were mounting, and state authorities realized that they needed to take quick action if they were to have any hope of keeping the epidemic in check. On October 9, health officers of the larger cities of the state met with Dr. Richard M. Olin, Executive Officer of the Michigan Board of Health. Together, the health officers decided that a public education campaign would be the best course. They also recommended that cases be reported promptly, that sick children be excluded from school, that people be advised to avoid crowds and to stay at home if feeling ill, and that theaters, schools, churches, and newspapers be used to disseminate information on avoiding and treating influenza. For the time being, the decision whether or not to close public places would be left up to local authorities. As Olin stated, however, this did not preclude statewide action from his office.4
By mid-October, there were an estimated 150 cases in Grand Rapids, and city officials and residents alike began to worry that the city had no adequate means to care for the growing number of ill. No emergency hospital had been established, and, should the epidemic grow worse, nurses would be in short supply. The Grand Rapids News pointed out that some cases were being cared for in hotels and boarding houses, where they could not be properly isolated. This would soon become a pet issue for the News. On October 14, the City Commission, aware of the problems, directed City Manager Fred H. Locke, a former salesman who had been appointed to the position in May, and the Department of Public Welfare to take any action necessary to procure hospital accommodations. Locke spent the next few days surveying the city for suitable buildings. In the meantime, he found almost 100 beds in city sanitaria.5
Slemons was still optimistic about Grand Rapids’ prospects. Some 350 cases had been reported to his office since September 30, but he believed that half of them were not likely to be influenza. He placed great confidence in the measures the city had taken thus far, namely the educational campaign and keeping sick children out of school. Slemons also noted the better housing situation in Grand Rapids as compared to other cities. “We haven’t the congested quarters of the eastern cities where the epidemic first appeared,” he told reporters.6 For these reasons, he believed that Grand Rapids would not suffer the same fate.
On Friday, October 18, Governor Albert Sleeper ordered a meeting between the members of the state Board of Health, health officials of large Michigan cities, prominent citizens, and other state officials. Many communities across the state had already voluntarily issued closure orders, but the two largest cities – Grand Rapids and Detroit – had not. Governor Sleeper and State Board of Health Executive Officer Richard Olin believed that, with influenza now rapidly becoming epidemic in virtually every Michigan town, Grand Rapids and Detroit needed to be brought into the fold. As Olin stated, the two cities should “draw a tight line along health rules to aid in the suppression of the influenza epidemic in other localities.” The following day, Sleeper and Olin announced the statewide closure order. All theaters, movie houses, churches, lodges, pool and billiard halls were ordered closed, and all non-essential public meetings and gatherings were prohibited. The decision of whether or not to keep schools open was left to local authorities. Where complete supervision was available, Olin and the state Board of Health encouraged schools remain open. Slemons disagreed with the order, arguing that Grand Rapids had but a few influenza cases.7
The order went into full effect on the morning of Sunday, October 20, which the Herald called the “Bluest of all the blue Sundays in civic history,” with a city full of people with no churches or theaters to attend. Clergy members encouraged home prayers. No doubt residents obliged. Many more turned to shopping, making downtown merchants happy by delivering a banner day of sales. Others took to their cars for a country drive, the closure order coinciding with the lifting of the ban on Sunday motoring. Even theaters workers were not entirely disrupted as a result of the state’s order, and all male employees of the Consolidated Theater Company were temporarily placed in positions at the picric acid plant, while female employees were given jobs in the Haskelite factory (which manufactured mold-bonded plywood for the city’s furniture-making businesses) or at local knitting mills.8
Although compliance with the order was reported to be high, not everyone was happy about the situation. Mostly, people were confused about what exactly constituted a gathering and what they were allowed to do during the crisis. As a result, Slemons quickly found himself very busy answering requests to be allowed to remain open or questions about the specifics of the order. Ministers asked to be allowed to hold church functions. Musicians asked to be allowed to teach private lessons. Others called to ask if they could play handball within an enclosed court. Slemons announced that there could be no deviation from the state’s rule. “When business men are closing up to their great financial detriment, those engaged in sports and in teaching should not ask favors when lives are at stake,” he told the public.9
Grand Rapids soon came under criticism – both from within as well as from without – for not doing enough to protect against the spread of influenza. The Board of Education decided that Grand Rapids’ schools would not close, as children would be in more danger out of school than they would be in classrooms. Many parents were not happy with the decision, especially given that half the schools in the state were already closed. Parents had the option of keeping their children out of school if they were worried about the danger of influenza, and many of them did so.1 Several members of the Board of Supervisors were likewise unhappy with the decision to keep schools open, and they began agitating for their closure.11 Concerned that residents across the state (and especially in Grand Rapids and Detroit) might not be following the spirit of the closure order, on October 22, Governor Sleeper issued a statement clarifying the matter: all types of public places of amusement and loitering were to be closed.12 Although he initially opposed the closure order, Slemons was duty-bound to enforce it, and he railed against those who he called “reckless” for disobeying Governor Sleeper’s directive.13
On the other side of the debate where those who held that the closure order was an onerous burden, or who simply believed that it provided little or no protection against the spread of epidemic influenza. Members of the city’s seventeen Christian Reformed churches, with their emphasis on regular church attendance, were particularly upset by the closure order. They argued that schools, which met five days a week and contained physically undeveloped children more susceptible to disease, were kept open while churches, which met only once a week, were ordered closed.14 High school football teams continued to practice, but bemoaned that their games had been cancelled. They even offered to play spectator-less games, to no avail.15
By November 1, reports were circulating that Governor Sleeper was considering allowing churches to reopen. Immediately, his office was flooded with requests from health officers, physicians, mayors, and city and county officials asking for the entire closure order to be rescinded. Two days later, after a conference with health officials, Sleeper announced that the ban on gatherings would be removed by November 7 or 8 if better conditions continued. The governor held good to his promise, and lifted the closure order effective Thursday, November 7.16
With in increase in social interaction came an increase in the number of new cases reported to the Grand Rapids health department. Initially, Slemons did not feel that the situation was alarming. He even told residents they had nothing to fear from the upcoming Victory Parade (to be held on Saturday, November 16), since it was an outdoor event.17 As Thanksgiving approached, however, and as the number of new cases began to rise again, Slemons was forced to consider the possibility of issuing a local closure order and social gathering ban. He was as reluctant to turn to such measures, as residents were to live under them. The general consensus was, let sick individuals take personal responsibility for isolating themselves rather than put healthy people out of work and strip the public of its entertainment venues. An editorial in the Grand Rapids News summed it up best. Influenza was once again raging in Grand Rapids, and drastic action was necessary, the paper told its readers. But, the editor added, “We can close all the public places of amusement and business we want to, but so long as individual intercourse is allowed between sufferers of the flu and those not exposed, we will have a danger of contagion hard to combat.” The News called for the compulsory quarantine of the homes of all sick individuals.18
State Executive Health Officer Olin was not convinced that a second closure order was unnecessary. It was only after theater owners across Michigan assured him that they would cooperate in a statewide campaign against influenza that he reconsidered. Perhaps not surprisingly, the idea for the campaign came from Grand Rapids, where sentiment against another closure order was strong both among officials as well as laypeople. There, Slemons and the general manager of Consolidated Theaters devised a plan to have Michigan movie theaters display posters and show lantern slides on influenza prevention and treatment. Theater owners were also to make it a rule to request patrons with a cough or with other obvious influenza symptoms to leave with a full refund. Churches were asked to aid the campaign by providing important public health risk communications to their congregations.19 But education was only half of the plan; the other half was voluntary home quarantine. On Monday, December 9, the Health Department posted influenza warning placards on the homes of all known cases of the disease, forbidding all visitors except for family members. These family members, however, could leave the home at will. Lastly, City Manager Locke strongly urged the use of face masks for everyone while in public.20 The hope was that this combined effort would forestall more drastic intervention by the state.
Just a day later, however, State Olin, after consulting with other state health officers at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, telephoned his assistant secretary with orders mandating the strict home quarantine of all cases of influenza in the state. The penalty for failure to obey was set at not more than $100 or a jail sentence of not more than 90 days.21 In a battle over authority, Slemons, who was also in Chicago, made it clear that the new quarantine order would not go into effect in Grand Rapids until he deemed it necessary. The next day, Olin clarified that the quarantine order had not been finalized, and that the state Board of Health had not yet taken action.22
Residents may have welcomed Slemons’ standing up to Olin, but they did not think much of the city’s response to the second peak of the epidemic. Certainly the News did not, which printed a scathing attack on City Manager Locke and the health department for mishandling the epidemic. “Petty arguments and dissentions, conflicting authorities, the shifting of responsibility and pass of the buck is the order of the day at the city hall,” it printed. “People who call for help and guidance get no satisfaction.” The News was especially angry that no separate isolation hospitals had been established in the city, resulting in numerous cases in hotels, boarding houses, and public lodging places that were not being properly isolated.23
In fact, Locke and the Director of Public Welfare, Dr. A. E. Davidson, had been working on obtaining proper accommodations for influenza cases, although they were initially slow to do so. Davidson had requested that every hospital in the city set aside one floor or the equivalent to be used as an isolation ward. As Locke put it, it would be foolish to take over “an old building, barn, or other shack for these patients,” which could not be given proper care and treatment in such places.24 Under pressure from the public and facing a shortage of space in the hospitals, the city changed its tune and quickly arranged for the use of the old sanatorium building. It had space for 60 beds, would be staffed by nurses provided by the city’s hospitals, and provisioned by the local chapter of the Red Cross. The beds were desperately needed, since the hospitals were filled nearly to capacity. The YMCA offered its building, with space for 200 patients, to the city if necessary. The City Council welcomed the news, and expressed its approval of the handling of the situation by Davidson and Locke, the latter telling the council that the city could not possibly be expected to take care of all patients, but that he had done his best to procure hospital space for as many cases as possible after it became apparent that influenza was resurging.25
The News was not so sure this was the case, and immediately contacted each city hospital to enquire about available bed space for influenza patients. Butterworth, Blodgett, and St. Mary’s Hospital were unable to take any more patients. DeVore Hospital had space for approximately fourteen more patients. When the News contacted a local hotel about the situation there, the proprietor stated, “hardly a day goes by that we are not confronted with the influenza problem. We cannot throw these people out in the street and yet we must get them out.” The News found that nearly every hotel in Grand Rapids had been begging Locke to take care of their ill guests, to little avail.26 What the News failed to realize, however, was that with so few hospital beds available, and with the power to requisition hotels if need be, there was little reason or incentive to remove these cases to other facilities. In another scathing editorial, the newspaper attacked city hall for its failure in handling the epidemic crisis, and for its inability to act or even to provide answers. The city commissioners, it wrote, “are about as united on most problems as a barber shop quartet is on harmony.” It complained that Slemons and the rest of the Health Department were largely inaccessible. A mandatory quarantine should have been put in place, the editorial complained, instead of a weak, voluntary one. A hospital for contagious diseases should have been built long ago. The health and the welfare departments were “relics of bygone days, working in the dark with worn out tools.” The city may have been saving money, wrote the News, but lives were being lost.27
The next day, Friday, December 14, Slemons announced that 253 new cases had been reported for the day. With cases on the rise again, and with a severe shortage of hospital beds, the Health Officer announced a new set of anti-influenza measures. Public and private schools were ordered closed effective the following Monday until after the holiday period. To some extent this was a mere recognition of a de facto situation, as attendance was said to be down anyway. Stores and shops were warned that customers could not be allowed to congregate on their premises. Public elevators were restricted to carrying half the normal number of passengers per trip. All dance halls, skating rinks, lodge halls, and public meeting places were closed, and no private dance parties were allowed. Churches could remain open, as could theaters, provided the latter were well ventilated and prohibited the entry of anyone under the age of 16.28
Countering the charges leveled by the News, Slemons insisted that every single application for admission to an isolation hospital had been placed, and that every indigent case had been taken to DeVore Hospital. As to the issue of a mandatory quarantine, the health officer argued that such a policy would mean lives lost, since neighbors were caring for many of the ill. If they were not allowed entry into the homes of the ill, patients would die. “To prevent neighbors aiding such families would be criminal,” he told his detractors. He would insist that persons ill with influenza remain in their homes, but could not prevent caretakers from attending to them.29
Within a few days, the influenza situation in Grand Rapids had greatly improved. The old sanitarium building, now converted to an emergency hospital, began taking cases, as did several of the city’s private hospitals. Volunteer nurses from Mt. Mercy Sisters of Mercy as well as nurses from the Visiting Nurses Association’s infant clinic offered their services. At the same time, the number of new cases began to decrease steadily. As the epidemic waned, Slemons expressed his optimism that the worse was over, but, like nearly all his counterparts across the nation, was careful to warn residents that influenza cases would continue throughout the winter. Nevertheless, he believed that the situation had improved enough to warrant the removal of the remaining measures. At midnight on Christmas Eve, the ban on dances, ice-skating, and public gatherings was lifted. With the war over and the worst of the epidemic past, Grand Rapids celebrated “the merriest, brightest, and most thankful Christmas the world has ever known.”30
Between September and December 1918, over 2,500 of the 138,000 residents of Grand Rapids fell ill with either influenza or pneumonia. Of that number, 295 died.31 It is remarkable that this number was not higher given the very slow response to the epidemic by Health Officer Slemons and the health department. In fact, it took Grand Rapids seventeen days from the time the excess death rate first exceeded twice its average number – a marker which should have signaled to health officials that something was amiss – to finally respond with closures and public gathering bans, and even then it was done at the direction of the state Board of Health and not out of local initiative. Furthermore, Grand Rapids did not close its schools until mid-December, long after influenza had first appeared in the community. Yet in the end, Grand Rapids did better than nearly every other large American city. Its total excess death rate for the deadly second and third waves of the epidemic combined was only 211 per 100,000, a quarter of that for Pittsburgh and two-thirds that of St. Louis, often hailed as the model city for its handling of the epidemic.
1 “Influenza Halts Jackie Swing through Michigan,” Grand Rapids Herald, 25 Sept. 1918, 10, and “Spanish Influenza Gets Fenton and Vandenburg,” Grand Rapids Herald, 29 Sept. 1918, 1.
2 “One Death Here from Influenza,” Grand Rapids News, 3 Oct. 1918, 1.
3 “Reports 75 ‘Flu’ Cases; Ban on Public Funerals,” Grand Rapids Herald, 7 Oct. 1918, 1.
4 “Plan to Curb ‘Flu’ Epidemic,” Grand Rapids Herald, 9 Oct. 1918, 10, “Over 1,500 Cases of ‘Flu’ in State; Doctors Alarmed,” Grand Rapids Herald, 10 Oct. 1918, 10.
5 “Prepare to Flight ‘Flu’ Epidemic, Grand Rapids News, 14 Oct. 1918, 1, “Reports 15 New Cases of ‘Flu,’” Grand Rapids News, 15 Oct. 1918, 1.
6 “City to Avoid ‘Flu’ Epidemic by Using Care,” Grand Rapids Herald, 17 Oct. 1918, 4.
7 “Sleeper May Give State Wide Closing Order,” Grand Rapids Herald, 18 Oct. 1918, 8, “Report 2 Deaths, 41 New Cases,” Grand Rapids News, 18 Oct. 1918, 1, “Governor Sleeper Issues Proclamation Closing State Because of Influenza Spread,” Grand Rapids Herald, 19 Oct. 1918, 1.
8 “Blue Sunday Here with All Churches and Shows Closed,” Grand Rapids Herald, 20 Oct. 1918, 3.
9 “Says Flu Order Must be Obeyed,” Grand Rapids News, 21 Oct. 1918, 1.
10 “Schools to Remain in Session, Board of Education Decides,” Grand Rapids Herald, 22 Oct. 1918, 3.
11 “Five Deaths and 44 ‘Flu’ Cases,” Grand Rapids Herald, 23 Oct. 1918, 1.
12 “Schools All Over State Are Closing; Teachers Aid Sick,” Grand Rapids Herald, 23 Oct. 1918, 10.
13 “Flu Deaths Are Increasing Here,” Grand Rapids News, 25 Oct. 1918, 1, “Obey Health Ban or Suffer Penalty of Law, Dr. Slemons,” Grand Rapids Herald, 26 Oct. 1918, 3.
14 “Sunday Closing Order Keenly Felt by Members of Chr. Reformed Churches,” Grand Rapids Herald, 26 Oct. 1918, 4.
15 “Ban Has No Effect on Grid Practice,” Grand Rapids Herald, 30 Oct. 1918, 9.
16 “May Lift ‘Flu’ Ban Thursday or Friday, Governor Announces,” Grand Rapids Herald, 3 Nov. 1918, 6, “Flu Lid is Lifted As Uncle Sam Tags ‘Healthiest City,’” Grand Rapids Herald, 7 Nov. 1918, 3.
17 “No Flu Danger in Big Parade,” Grand Rapids News, 15 Nov. 1918, 1.
18 “New Quarantine Depends upon Today’s Flu Report,” Grand Rapids Herald, 25 Nov. 1918, 3, “Quarantine,” Grand Rapids News, 5 Dec. 1918, 6.
19 “Theaters Save Michigan from New Flu Ban,” Grand Rapids Herald, 8 Dec. 1918, 7.
20 “Flu Masks for Everyone in Public Places, Locke’s Plan,” Grand Rapids Herald, 10 Dec. 1918, 1.
21 “State Under Strict Quarantine Orders; To Jail Violator,” Grand Rapids Herald, 11 Dec. 1918, 10.
22 “Flu Increases Rapidly Here,” Grand Rapids News, 12 Dec. 1918, 1, “Drastic Measures Considered To Stop Rapid Spread of Flu,” Grand Rapids Herald, 12 Dec. 1918, 1.
23 “What Have We Done to Meet This Plague?” Grand Rapids News, 12 Dec. 1918, 1.
24 “Drastic Measures Considered To Stop Rapid Spread of Flu,” Grand Rapids Herald, 12 Dec. 1918, 1.
25 “General Call for Flu Nurses May be Issued,” Grand Rapids Herald, 13 Dec. 1918, 1.
26 “A Statement of Facts,” Grand Rapids News, 13 Dec. 1918, 1.
27 “The Influenza,” Grand Rapids News, 13 Dec. 1918, 6.
28 Minutes of the Committee on Public Health, Entry for 13 Dec. 1918, Collection 46, Box 40, Folder 41, Records of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan; “Flu Epidemic Again Puts City in Quarantine,” Grand Rapids Herald, 14 Dec. 1918, 1
29 “Flu Epidemic Again Puts City in Quarantine,” Grand Rapids Herald, 14 Dec. 1918, 1, “Children Cannot Go to Theater,” Grand Rapids News, 14 Dec. 1918, 1.
30 “Open Bureau for Nurses to Fight Flu Among Poor,” Grand Rapids Herald, 17 Dec. 1918, 3, “Isolation Hospital for Flu Patients Opens This Morning,” Grand Rapids Herald, 20 Dec. 1918, 3, “Influenza Ban is Lifted from City by Health Officer,” Grand Rapids Herald, 25 Dec. 1918, 3, “With Influenza Ban Off City Celebrates Real Christmas,” Grand Rapids Herald, 26 Dec. 1918, 3.
31 See the Grand Rapids Department of Public Welfare Monthly Bulletin Issued by the Health Division for September through December 1918.
|200||Excess Death Rate (per 100,000)|
September 25, 1918
Arthur H. Vandenberg, traveling with John Philip Sousa’s Band, is examined, fumigated, and then allowed to return to Grand Rapids after it was learned that he had fallen ill with Spanish influenza while the band was in Bay City, Michigan.
September 26, 1918
The Health Department of Wyoming township, a suburb of Grand Rapids, posts warning cards in a local manufacturing plant, instructing workers on how to prevent influenza and its spread.
September 29, 1918
The State Board of Health orders that private funerals must be held for all those who die of influenza.
October 2, 1918
Dr. Franklin Martin of the Advisory Committee of the Council of National Defense in Washington arrives in Grand Rapids to confer with the executive secretaries of the Volunteer Medical Service Corps about finding more physicians to help fight influenza. Dr. Martin is looking for 400 physicians throughout the country, two or three of which from Grand Rapids. Nurses are also needed, and twenty-five will likely be called from Grand Rapids. Dr. Martin addresses the union graduating classes of nurses from Butterworth, Blodgett, and St. Mary’s at the Powers Theater.
October 3, 1918
The first death in Grand Rapids from influenza is reported. August Johnson, 30, took ill September 28, finally succumbs to the illness this morning. Six total cases have been reported.
October 7, 1918
Health Officer Clyde C. Slemons receives instructions from the State Board of Health banning public funerals for victims of influenza or pneumonia. Grand Rapids hospitals ask Health Officer Slemons if they should admit influenza cases. Slemons leaves the decision up to individual hospitals.
October 8, 1918
Health Officer Slemons departs for Lansing to attend a conference of state, county, and city health officers. The possible closing colleges, private and public schools, theaters, churches, and other places of public gathering will be discussed.
October 9, 1918
Officials announce that Grand Rapids is starting its efforts to prevent the spread of the Spanish influenza, including using theaters to educate the public, instructing people to use handkerchiefs when coughing or sneezing, and sending any sick child home for at least 48 hours.
October 12, 1918
Health Officer Slemons recommends that people stay away from the ill when the illness is not definitely classified.
October 13, 1918
Seven more nurses from Grand Rapids leave for service in army cantonments, making a total of 56 Grand Rapids nurses called to serve in various army installations.
The State Board of Health announces that closing orders are to be decided by local authorities, but death reports are to be made daily to the State Board.
October 14, 1918
Reports surface that several cases of influenza are being treated in hotels and boarding houses because hospitals in many cases refuse to take admit the patients. In response, the City Commission discusses the question of finding a suitable building for an emergency hospital tonight.
October 15, 1918
The City Commission permits City Manager Fred H. Locke and the Welfare Committee to take any action necessary to procure hospital accommodations should the situation warrant it. Locke says that sanitariums may be furnished and prepared for use as hospitals.
October 16, 1918
City Manager Locke moves four influenza patients from a public institution to hospitals so that they may receive proper care.
October 17, 1918
When asked how the city has been able to fare so well, Health Officer Slemons sites three reasons: “The first is our educational campaign; the second is the realization by the individual of his personal responsibility, and the third is our orders regarding school children [keeping them out of school for 48 hours following any illness].”
October 18, 1918
Health Officer Slemons is summoned to a State Board of Health meeting to discuss closing the state in order to bring Detroit and Grand Rapids under the same closing rules. After the meeting, Governor Albert Sleeper orders the statewide closure of theaters, movies, churches, lodge rooms, poolrooms, billiard halls, and all public meetings or gatherings considered non-essential. School closings are to be left to local authorities. Slemons disagrees with the closing orders, saying that Grand Rapids has only a few cases and is capable of handling the situation.
October 19, 1918
Mission Sunday school of the Bates Street Church is discontinued due to influenza.
Ten influenza patients are moved by the city to DeVore Hospital.
October 20, 1918
With theaters closed, city merchants report a profitable day as the crowds turn to their stores instead.
October 21, 1918
Health Officer Slemons informs Grand Rapids undertakers that all funerals must be held privately, with only immediate family allowed to attend. In cases of contagious diseases, funerals must be held within 24 hours. Also enacted is an order for all extra-curricular activities at schools to be halted.
The Grand Rapids Railway Company agrees to keep car windows and doors open, but says it is impossible to prevent overcrowding.
Several theater managers report that they have secured employment for their workers at the picric acid plant while theaters are closed.
Oranges and lemons are scarce and prices have risen due to people’s belief they are efficacious against influenza. Grapefruits are recommended as a substitute.
October 22, 1918
Grand Rapids schools will not be closed, as Superintendent William A. Greeson and Health Officer Slemons believe children are in more danger when absent. Even so, parents are allowed to keep their children home from school if they wish.
Grand Rapids Junior College Student Army Training Corps reports being free of influenza. During the epidemic students are sleeping at home and not the barrack, though drills and class work are not affected.
October 23, 1918
Governor Sleeper issues an additional closing order for the benefit of those who did not think the initial order included bowling alleys, “public places of amusement of all kinds, and places of loitering.” New rules from the Board of Health call for capping the number of people allowed to gather for funerals or Red Cross work at ten.
The Board of Supervisors along with numerous citizens agitates for the closure of schools.
October 25, 1918
Many people are reported gathering at parties and meetings, ignoring the closing rules. Health Officer Slemons opposes these activities. He bans all Halloween parties, and calls for strict adherence to all influenza bans.
Blodgett Memorial Hospital announces that none but immediate family members are allowed to visit patients.
October 26, 1918
The Grand Rapids Railway Company announces that front doors of cars will be kept closed to prevent drafts, while back doors will remain open for ventilation.
Clergy and laymen voice dissatisfaction with the church closings, particularly in regard to the distinction between schools and churches.
October 27, 1918
Milk and food inspector Sheffield orders all grocers, butchers, bakers, candy dealers, and other bulk food dealers to cover unwrapped food in glass displays.
October 29, 1918
Average number of new cases is noted as lower than in other cities, and the death rate for October is no higher than last year. Even so the Health Department reminds citizens that state quarantine rules will continue to be strictly enforced. Gatherings of ten or more people are forbidden, unless they are all of the same family.
October 30, 1918
Grandville, a suburb of Grand Rapids, closes its public school after one of its teachers becomes ill.
November 3, 1918
After a conference with health officials, Governor Sleeper announces that the ban on church services, theaters, and public meetings will be withdrawn next Thursday or Friday if improved conditions continue.
November 4, 1918
The editor of the Grand Rapids News reports that the U.S. Surgeon General’s office has a cure for pneumonia, which involves the inhalation of chloroform.
November 5, 1918
Health authorities are optimistic that the quarantine will be lifted at least in Grand Rapids by the end of the week.
November 6, 1918
Grand Haven Mayor Loutit visits Grand Rapids to obtain help with the influenza epidemic in his city.
November 7, 1918
Health Officer Slemons opens all churches, theaters, poolrooms, bowling alleys, clubs, and other public places. Slemons still urges caution and reminds people to “cover up” when sneezing or coughing.
Census Bureau figures show that Grand Rapids is one of the healthiest cities of 100,000 people or more as it has the lowest death rate, lowest pneumonia rate, and the lowest influenza rate.
November 10, 1918
Services are held in Grand Rapids churches today after three weeks of being closed.
Night classes at Junior College and the School of Art and Industry will resume Monday evening at 7pm, according to Superintendent Greeson.
November 12, 1918
Health Officer Slemons reports over 40 new influenza cases and one death from noon Monday (11/11) to noon today. He blames the peace celebrations for the increase.
November 13, 1918
Four deaths are reported among the Native American community near Grand Rapids, which has been hit hard by the epidemic.
November 15, 1918
Health Officer Slemons says that the situation in Grand Rapids is not alarming despite increases in cases. He declares that people need not fear contagion from the Victory Parade scheduled for tomorrow because it is an outdoor event.
November 21, 1918
It is announced that action will be taken against physicians who neglect reporting contagious diseases.
November 23, 1918
Arthur D. Gallmeyer, son of Mayor Christian Gallmeyer, dies this morning at his home from pneumonia secondary to Spanish influenza.
November 25, 1918
Health Officer Slemons decides that another closing order will not be necessary if people cooperate with health authorities. There had been speculation that new bans would be put into effect because of the recent increase in cases.
December 5, 1918
The Grand Rapids News runs an editorial opposing the implementation of new closing orders being discussed, supporting instead an “individual quarantine.”
December 7, 1918
City Manager Locke announces that placards will be placed on residences with occupant suffering from the flu. Executive Officer of the State Board of Health Dr. Richard M. Olin was considering issuing a new closing order until he was assured today of the cooperation of all theater managers in a statewide campaign against influenza. The campaign will be an enlargement of the one in Grand Rapids, and is the result of the efforts of Charles H. Seaman, general manager of the Consolidated Theaters, Inc. Health Officer Slemons will also help to plan the campaign.
December 8, 1918
Executive Officer of the State Board of Health Olin says that Health Officer Slemons is largely responsible for the fact that Grand Rapids has been spared a serious outbreak like other areas of the state.
December 9, 1918
Members of the Kent County Medical Society meet at St. Cecilia Hall to discuss every phase of the influenza epidemic. The society approves of the system of placarding and quarantine.
December 10, 1918
City Manager Locke urges the use of masks in public places as part of city’s efforts.
December 11, 1918
Secretary of the State Board of Health Olin issues an order instituting a strict quarantine of every house in Michigan in which there is a case of influenza. It is to be illegal for anyone, other than regular attendants, to leave a quarantined house, with a penalty of a fine up to $100 or a jail sentence of up to 90 days. The Health Department (to help with the placarding of homes) drafts two housing inspectors.
December 12, 1918
The Welfare Department requests every hospital in the city set aside one floor, or an equivalent, to be used as an isolation ward for influenza patients. DeVore Hospital, where patients on the welfare list are being cared for, is almost at capacity. Unimportant surgeries are asked to be postponed. Commissioner Locke asks Camp Custer to let those nurses who left Grand Rapids to treat the sick at the camp to return to the city.
December 13, 1918
Arrangements are made to open the old sanatorium building by tomorrow if necessary for use as an emergency hospital. Former Mayor Philo C. Fuller, now director of the Y.M.C.A., announces that the association’s building, with a capacity of 200, will be turned over to the city for the treatment of patients if necessary.
The tuberculosis sanatorium is closed to visitors.
Health Officer Slemons issues a public closing order, banning public meetings, public and private dances, and any theaters or churches failing to possess adequate ventilation. Health officials will make decisions about the adequacy of ventilation on a case-by-case basis. All public and private schools will be closed Monday (12/16) and will remain so until the end of the regular winter break. Five and dime stores will be guarded by special officers to prevent congestion, and elevators will only be allowed to carry half the normal number of passengers. Dishes must be boiled for 15 minutes in restaurants.
The City Trust and Savings Bank introduces an anti-influenza shield: a wide strip of cardboard across the grating of the teller’s cage allowing transactions but keeping teller and customer invisible to each other.
December 14, 1918
The Health Department announces that all those who want to be treated with the Rosenau vaccine will be given it free of charge.
Health Officer Slemons bans children under the age of 16 from attending theaters or movie houses.
December 15, 1918
Local officials of the Red Cross help with the appeal for the release of nurses at Camp Custer. Reporting of influenza cases by physicians is once again made mandatory, punishable by a fine of up to $100.
December 17, 1918
Health Officer Slemons creates an organization to more effectively meet the needs of families who cannot afford the services of private nurses. Miss Margaret Roche, of the infant clinic, will open an administration office at the clinic and oversee a corps of at least 18 nurses who will visit homes of the poor who are ill. All society and education meetings, including Christmas exercises, at churches are banned by Health Officer Slemons; only purely religious services are allowed. Slemons also declares that only physicians caring for influenza patients may prescribe alcohol.
St. Mary’s converts its 4th floor into an isolation ward.
The nurses and student nurses at Mount Mercy Sisters of Mercy offer their service to the Welfare Department.
December 19, 1918
Washington authorizes the Grand Rapids chapter of the Red Cross to create a hospital to care for influenza patients. The hospital will care for all patients who cannot afford to pay for care in other hospitals.
December 20, 1918
Several managers of movie theaters petition Health Officer Slemons to lift the quarantine, but he refuses.
The old sanatorium building, under the supervision and control of the Hospital Committee of the Red Cross, is opened this morning for the isolation and care of influenza patients. Miss Anne McMahon, chief surgical nurse at Blodgett Memorial Hospital, will be superintendent of the new hospital. Undergraduate nurses from the three hospitals of the city will staff the hospital. John Duffy, Chairman of the Hospital Committee of the Red Cross, said that the hospital will take care of the needy, but will also accept paying patients.
Outdoor municipal Christmas festivities on Christmas Eve will be allowed because the Health Department feels it will not endanger the health of those who attend.
Church funerals are banned by Health Officer Slemons, but public funerals for those who did not die of influenza or other communicable diseases are allowed in homes.
December 21, 1918
Health Officer Slemons allows soldiers from Camp Custer to come home for holidays so long as conditions continue to improve in Grand Rapids.
December 24, 1918
Health Officer Slemons lifts the city quarantine at midnight tonight. Slemons will not reimpose the ban unless people become lax in their adherence to the rules for preventing the spread of flu.
December 27, 1918
Superintendent of Schools William A. Greeson announces that public schools will open on Monday, December 30.
December 28, 1918
Health Officer Slemons announces that children who have had influenza during the vacation will not require permits to return to school on Monday.
December 30, 1918
Dr. William R. Vis, city tuberculosis specialist, warns people who have recovered from the influenza that there is a close relationship between influenza and the subsequent development of tuberculosis.
January 30, 1919
Two men from Muskegon are sentenced in Grand Rapids to 20 days in county jail for violating the liquor laws. They claimed to have purchased the liquor in Chicago to treat their influenza condition.