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Spanish Flu hammered Berthoud hard in 1918-19

May 22, 2020 | Then and Now
Berthoud Bulletin, Dec. 20. 1918

By Mark French

The Surveyor

In the fall of 1918 the Spanish Influenza swept across the United States as World War I drew to a close. Over one-quarter of the American population fell ill and by the time the scourge passed in 1919, more than one-half million had died from its ravages. Berthoud was not spared. From October 1918 to January 1919 accounts of illness and death filled the local newspaper while doctors and morticians struggled to keep up with their work.

The Spanish Flu erupted in northern Colorado during the last week of September 1918. The flu worked rapidly, sometimes claiming victims within hours of the first signs of infection. Symptoms included high fevers, shivers, muscular pain, coughs and sore throats. Dizziness and shortness of breath followed as victims lost strength to the extent that they were unable to eat or drink without assistance.

Unlike earlier influenzas that produced death through secondary infections of lethal pneumonia, the Spanish Flu caused uncontrollable hemorrhaging that filled the lungs and drowned the sick person in their own body fluids. The virulent influenza also reversed the normal age distribution for flu deaths, preferring adults in the 20 to 50 age range over elderly citizens.

In October 1918 the influenza which was probably carried into the country by a returning WWI serviceman, surfaced in Berthoud. The local newspaper warned, “There is no certain way in which a single case of the disease can be recognized; on the other hand, recognition is easy where there is a group of cases…When one gets it, he should go to bed at once. No one should sleep in the same room with the patient.”

The swiftness with which the influenza attacked was evident in a report in The Berthoud Bulletin on October 18, 1918. The newspaper reported, “William Petersen, a stranger, was found lying on the walk in front of the Hess pool hall Monday afternoon about 1 o’clock in a semi-conscious state. He was carried into Foresman & McCarty’s for emergency treatment, and was later taken to the county hospital in Ft. Collins where he is a patient, and at last report was getting along nicely. He has Spanish influenza.” Petersen’s full recovery was recounted in the paper a few weeks later.

By January, 1919, a full-blown epidemic gripped the town. Schools were closed, influenza cases quarantined, and notices posted in businesses warning patrons to make purchases quickly and not congregate. The Berthoud Bulletin relayed, “Influenza seems to have taken hold upon this community, and now numbers more sufferers than at any time. Pneumonia has developed in a few of the cases. At the Conrad Lebsack home thirteen are ill with the disease; four at John Lebsack’s. And seven at Sam Buehler’s. George Saltzman has it. Isaac Birdsill, Bergen King, wife and baby, Mrs. Motz (but not George; the flu’s careful), Raymond, Lawrence and Ben Davis, Mrs. G.C. Hess, Wayne, Oliver and Reva Hess. Mrs. Fred Thayer and Dorothy, Mr. and Mrs. Charley Osborne and baby, and Hoyt Osborn, Conrad Wolf and Walter Buehler have the disease in more or less severe form.”

The Sam Buehler family was hit hard. When son David died on January 8, his mother was the only one of six family members well enough to attend the funeral. Death claimed David Dreith, Mrs. Little and son, John Wirtz, Anna Wolf and John Aniess in the next few weeks. The ages of most victims fit the flu’s preference for those age 25 and up. Adam Schleiger, a Berthoud soldier wounded in France, died from influenza in Europe before he recovered from his injuries.

The epidemic subsided in mid-January 1919 and the schools reopened when 60% of the children were healthy enough to return. Life in Berthoud slowly returned to normal in the spring, but many local families continued to grieve the loved ones lost to the deadly Spanish influenza.

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