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Verdugo Views: Remembering the deadly Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19

Verdugo Views: Remembering the deadly Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19
Thornycroft Farm Sanitarium, where some of the Spanish Flu victims were taken, opened in the 1890s. It stood near Windsor Road and Adams Street. In addition to the main house, the sanitarium featured small cottages. Thornycroft was the forerunner of Glendale Community Hospital. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Glendale Public Library)

With this year's flu epidemic still raging, let's go back 100 years to the waning months of 1918 as a dreaded influenza made its way to Southern California.

The 1918-19 epidemic, which became known as the Spanish Flu, was a global disaster that killed more people in one year than Europe's infamous Black Death, known as the Bubonic Plague, which lasted from 1347 to 1351, according to the Stanford University website.

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Last century's Spanish Flu acted very quickly. A person could be healthy in the morning and dead by evening. Although physicians tried every treatment then available, the epidemic continued to grow.

It first appeared in this country in early 1918 at a Kansas military camp, according to the Stanford website.

The virus was carried around the world by travelers along trade routes and shipping lanes and was also carried by military troops.

Since World War I battles dominated the news, the flu initially didn't get much notice as it quickly spread around the globe.

The epidemic reappeared in the United States in September and entered California late that month, apparently brought by a traveler from Chicago, according to newspapers on file in Special Collections at the Glendale Central Library.

On Oct. 10, the Glendale Evening News published an order from Los Angeles Mayor Frederick Woodman to close schools, churches, theaters and all public places in Los Angeles.

The next day, R.E. Chase, Glendale's health officer, gave the same directive. Sharing the front page was the story of a soldier from Glendale, Reginald Whitaker, who had fallen to the flu.

The following week, the paper published "Influenza, How To Avoid It," offering precautionary measures to prevent an epidemic in Glendale.

The guidelines, issued by the California State Board of Health in Sacramento, recommended going to bed if symptoms such as a chill, headache, unusual tiredness or fever were present.

Other advice: "before going to bed, open all the windows; have enough bedding to keep yourself warm; eat nourishing food, such as milk, eggs or broth, every four hours; sneeze or cough into a handkerchief, which should then be boiled or burned; and take medicine to open the bowels freely."

Those caring for the sick were instructed to wear a gauze mask available from the Red Cross.

Despite these precautions, three local deaths were reported on Oct. 26.

One person who died was Lou W. Kerri, an employee of Kent & Son, who had been in Glendale for eight years.

Another was May Chase, wife of health officer Chase. She had fallen ill a week before and seemed to be mending, then suffered a relapse. She was one of the founding members of the local Red Cross chapter and a former president of the Tuesday Afternoon Club of Glendale.

The third victim was C. Verne Horner, who died at Thornycroft Hospital the evening of the day he fell ill.

November's Armistice Day celebration, complete with parties and parades, was a disaster from a public-health standpoint, causing a rebirth of the flu in some cities.

A flare-up in Los Angeles in mid-December caused local schools to shut down again but medical officer Chase assured Glendale readers that there was not a lot of local "trouble."

The epidemic raged on into 1919, finally coming to an end that summer.

Note to Readers:

The Alexander Theatre, named for Alexander Langley, son of an official in the Langley chain, opened on Sept. 4, 1925.

Inspired by the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, it was one of the largest and earliest of the many extravagantly designed movie houses then going up all over the area.

In 2015, during the Alex's 90th anniversary celebration, $75,000 was raised to refurbish the spire and starburst above the theater's entrance.

On the evening of Sept. 4, more than 300 people looked on as the beacon of light was ceremoniously "re-lit."

The "Illuminate Fund" created that year provides funding for ongoing maintenance and repair of the theater's spire, starburst and marquee.

Support the cause by joining Glendale Arts and the Alex Theatre at an "Illuminate Dinner" at 7 p.m. on Feb. 24, at PIRCH Glendale, 101 S. Brand Blvd., in the Glendale Galleria.

Tickets are $150 per person and include food and wine and a fine wine auction presented by Nancy Hathaway of the Wine Vault. Space is limited.

Tickets may be purchased at TheIlluminateDinner.eventbrite.com.

KATHERINE YAMADA can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com. or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o Glendale News-Press, 202 W. First St., Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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