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A look back at other pandemics

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

By Cathey Hartmann

Cathey Hartmann

Since Covid 19 is on everyone’s mind these days, as a self-professed historian I wondered what other pandemics might have occurred throughout the history of Erath County.

I was born during WWII and even though I don’t remember anything from that era, I’m sure there must have been shortages but feel they were due to manufacturing and supply, not hoarding and personal overstocking. In all fairness though, people were more self-sufficient back then, provided more of their own goods and were not as concerned about empty shelves.

In my research, H1N1 in 2009 is often referred to but the greatest impact was, of course, the Influenza outbreak in 1918. About 675,000 people died in the United States alone. Twenty percent of the world’s population was affected by the disease.

Medicine had much less to offer in 1918 than it does in 2020 and there were no tests, no vaccines and antibiotics had not been developed.

A story that appeared on out of Waco in 2017 detailed the impact of the Spanish Flu (sometimes called that because it was believed to have its origin in Spain but that was never proven) in Central Texas by saying it was “swift, deadly.” Waco was especially hard hit when troops assigned to Camp MacArthur in northwest Waco become infected with more than 900 cases confirmed. The same article reports that “It was not uncommon to see soldiers marching down Austin Avenue in Waco escorting a horse-drawn wagon carrying a flag-draped casket to the railroad for a lonely ride home.”

While I could not find the actual number of cases reported in Erath County, editions of the Stephenville Empire-Tribune throughout 1918 show several obituaries of those dying from the epidemic.

In the October 18, 1918, issue the mayor of Stephenville ordered schools and the “moving picture show” to close, and encouraged citizens to do as little visiting as possible.

The late Dr. Stuart Chilton, a well-known and respected community leader, recalled in his column of Oct. 27, 2014, that his father told stories about the flu of 1918.

In Chilton’s words, “He was a victim of the disease and survived, following a stay in Providence Hospital in Waco. He would often tell one of the humorous stories that resulted from the flu epidemic. The story went this way: ‘I had a little bird named Enza. I opened the window, and Influenza.’”

While I have not heard any humorous stories coming out of the Covid 19 pandemic, I did have one realization that I would like to leave you with.

A few days ago I was outside and realized that the redbud tree at the corner of our house was blooming, my purple iris had opened up, and a Carolina Jasmin was filled with yellow blossoms.

With my mindset so focused on what should I do, where should I go or not go, and worried about what was going to happen, I had not even noticed that spring is here just like every year.

Some things are normal.

Yesterday, my grandson and I flew a kite. Hopefully, decades from now when he is asked what he recalls from the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020, I hope that instead of remembering the dire circumstances we are facing, he will say, “Yes. My grandmother and I flew a kite.”


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