The 1918 Flu in Van Buren
The 1918 flu pandemic spread to almost every country in the world, and here at home almost every community was affected. About 200,000 American people died in October of 1918 alone, when the pandemic was at its peak, and about 28% of the population suffered directly from the disease at some point during the fall and winter of 1918-1919. Even most of the people who did not actually have the flu had one or more family members who did, or at least they had friends who suffered from the disease.
The Van Buren Current Local described the epidemic in Van Buren, Missouri, in the fall of 1918, and the situation the editor described was fairly typical of communities across the country. In a short article in the November 7 issue, entitled "Influenza Claims Many," the editor began, "The Spanish influenza has been raging for the past two weeks in Ellsinore and vicinity. There have been over 100 cases and several deaths reported." (The 1918 flu was called the Spanish flu because it was thought at the time, incorrectly, that Spain suffered disproportionately from the disease.)
After naming some of the victims of the disease and expressing his sympathy with the families, the editor continued, "Let us hope this dreadful epidemic will soon disappear from our community. As to the sick ones here (i.e. Van Buren) it is impossible to try to name all of them. There are several instances where whole families are sick in bed at one time as 'ye correspondent' and wife and two boys were all down at once with the malady, we are in position to know how it goes. Both local doctors here have been on the go both day and night. Just at present we know of no real serious cases, and from what we can learn about it, the situation seems to be improving some."
The editor was right. The situation, not just in Van Buren, but across the country did improve fairly rapidly after early to mid-November, but the outbreak of flu did not completely run its course until early the following summer. In the November 14 edition of the Current Local, the editor noted that a young woman schoolteacher who had been staying in Van Buren with her parents while all the county schools were closed on account of the influenza epidemic was now returning to nearby Fremont to re-open her school. He added, "The influenza situation here is improving somewhat," although two deaths from the disease had been reported during the prior week.