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Coronavirus

1918 Spanish flu was felt in La Salle County

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Streator’s first Spanish flu victim wasn’t in his hometown at the time he fell to the “grip.”

Harry Iserman was sent to Northwestern Technical School, now known as Northwestern University, for special training before being sent to the Great Lakes Naval Station as a carpenter.

“Word of his death has shocked the entire community around Streator and Kernan, where the young man was well and favorably known,” read a Sept. 26, 1918, Streator Daily Free Press article.

Iserman was traveling with Leo Finlen, a fellow Streatorite who survived the pandemic.

COVID-19 isn't the first pandemic to sweep through Illinois and affect La Salle County communities. A little more than than a century ago, the Spanish flu caused a number of people to get sick and resulted in deaths.

While the numbers aren’t available, or accurate, the Streator Daily Free Press documented all of it.

A Lostant man, referred to as Private Heusel, died a week after Iserman; his father had taken a trip to visit him at Camp Grant before returning home, potentially bringing the illness with him.

The illness, however, is not what killed Mr. Heusel.

In 1918, a “gasless Sunday” order was put into effect in order to preserve gasoline for the World War I effort, and Heusel was in violation of the order for returning to his Lostant home on a Sunday.

He was shot in the back by an unnamed Tonica man who was angry Heusel violated the order.

Willis Ripley was Streator's first death reported within the city at 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 2, 1918. Ripley was an undertaker who assisted Henry Howland, who owned the Howland and Owens Memorial Home, which is now Solon-Telford Funeral Home.

Ripley’s obituary was mournful: “His personality was such that he made friends readily and the announcement of death seemed increduable (sic) to many who had not missed him from his place of business.”

The entire Ripley family fell ill soon after Willis did; all four children became sick, leaving only his wife, Grace, to take care of them.

“Mrs. Ripley, while able to be around the house, is far from being well and the strain of having the care of her entire family upon her, coupled with the sudden death of her husband, almost prostrated her.”

Edward John Carter Bradley’s infection and death followed just four hours later, at 12:30 a.m. Oct. 3, leaving behind three children, all suffering from the same "dred malady."

Every time a government source claimed the virus was under control, a new story would pop up, sometimes in the exact same issue of the Streator Daily Free Press. 

“Although the epidemic of Spanish Influenza, which has been raging at Great Lakes, Fort Sheridan and North Chicago, it is said to be on the wane. The disease continued taking toll yesterday.”

The Streator Daily Free Press went on to list the death toll in this Sept. 26, 1918 article: Great Lakes saw 77 deaths, Fort Sheridan saw 5, Waukegan 5, Evanston 4 and Camp Grant 2. 

Just two days later, it was announced that millions were fighting the disease. On Oct. 1, another 18 deaths were announced at Camp Grant and another 120 died in New York.

Streator’s Board of Health President Dr. L.D. Howe published a guide explaining how the virus was being transmitted through families; if one person was getting sick, there was a good chance everyone was. They didn’t want to close businesses; however they did ban large gatherings and coughing in public.

A former Streator Daily Free Press sports reporter, J.T. Miller, fell ill with the Spanish Influenza while stationed at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan, albeit a minor case; he submitted a letter to his former employer, who he did return to after World War I was over.

“Just a line to let you know I am recovering from an attack of the Spanish Influenza,” Miller told the Streator Daily Free Press on Oct. 7, 1918. ”I have been in the hospital for the past week and have been getting great care. I had my own nurse, a real nifty little nurse, and for that reason the disease was not so severe with me. I am going back to the company tomorrow and will return to duty in a couple of days.”

Stories practically disappear from October 1918 to January 23, 1919, when another outbreak was reported to have occurred at a school in Long Point; East Long Point School was closed after Esther Jensen, Ross and Gordon Gould, Mildred Wreith, Florence and Etta Sass, Joe McKee and the Williamson children all came down with the influenza. 

Another six cases were reported in Kernan that same day.

And then it disappeared from coverage until 1920: A January 1920 article briefly mentioned Long Point as a city ravaged by the grip.

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