Spanish influenza came to Glenwood Springs in 1918
Frontier Historical Society
Editor’s Note: This column ran in the Post Independent in 2000.
As many of us struggle through the current flu season, we look back to October 1918, where the citizens of Glenwood Springs debated how to avoid the Spanish influenza epidemic. There was reason to fear this particular flu virus. It was extremely aggressive. It had the ability to kill within a few hours. It swept the world.
Looking for ways to avoid or minimize an epidemic, the Glenwood Springs City Council invited doctors Crook, Riddle and Horan to speak to the city and to the community. When asked about closing all public meeting places in the attempt to keep the flu from spreading, the doctors stated that it would be useless until the disease became a reality. The doctors, however, advocated a public education program to prevent the spread of disease. They began the program in the public schools.
Disease prevention was the topic of the town. Gargling, snuffing and drinking water from the hot springs was believed to ward off the flu. Bryant’s Drug Store offered many preventive potions. The Red Cross constructed gauze masks to be used while caring for flu patients.
However, within a week of the City Council discussion, the first cases of Spanish influenza were reported in Glenwood Springs. In an effort to quarantine the disease, all people suffering from the flu were referred to an emergency hospital established at 826 Grand Ave. The Iola Rooms, on the second floor of the building, had been rented by the city of Glenwood Springs in preparation for the coming epidemic. The Red Cross supplied and organized the new venture. Miss Margaret Hetzel, nurse from the Glenwood Sanitarium, was named as superintendent of the operation. Volunteer nurses, organized by the Rev. William Pepper, helped care for the patients at the new hospital as well as those quarantined in private homes.
By Oct. 26, the Glenwood Post reported that no more than 65 people in Glenwood Springs had been afflicted at any one time, and the epidemic was considered less severe than in other parts of Garfield County. It was reported that the “crest of the epidemic had passed,” but it had not. By Nov. 2, the Post reported that the entire population of Sunlight had been afflicted. One Glenwood physician reported having 100 cases at the mining camp. Many people from outside Glenwood were brought to the emergency hospital to recover. Many did not. Obituaries of the victims began to fill the pages of the local newspapers.
In November, the state Board of Health ordered the schools closed in Glenwood Springs until after the holidays.
The height of the flu epidemic was reached in late October and early November and had abated by the first week of December 1918. With just a few cases being reported, the emergency hospital was disbanded, the volunteers thanked, and the accounts settled.
By early 1919, the flu had disappeared from Glenwood Springs just as rapidly as it had infected the community. Glenwood Springs had participated in a global health epidemic — an epidemic which took an estimated 500,000 lives in the United States alone.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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