Henderson County, Kentucky



War revelers failed to heed health official's warnings

Dr. George ROYSTER tried to warn residents of the danger they were facing, but the urgings of that Henderson County health officer fell on deaf ears.

People were convinced the worst of the flu epidemic that had swept the nation and felled hundreds here was over. After all, hadn't the city officials already lifted the ban on people congregating in schools, churches and theaters?

Therefore, they reasoned, why should they heed Dr. ROYSTER'S dire predictions of more influenza cases if the public came together to celebrate the official ending of World War I? It was simply too thrilling an event to stay inside and avoid others.

This was in November 1918, and sure enough the Armistice sparked celebrations in the street and resulted in impromptu parades like the one that saw jubilant East End miners marching to the downtown section.

As they moved down the streets, revelers happily joined them and the day was marked by hugs, handshakes and joy.

And, though the citizens didn't suspect it at the time, they spread more than cheer.

In the following week, there were numerous new cases of the virus that caused high fevers, chills, muscle aches, all-over weakness and - in far too many cases - resulted in life-threatening complications.

It was reported that the national epidemic had begun in Army training camps and the "bug" had been carried far and wide by the rookie soldiers. It made its appearance in Henderson County in October, and by the time it loosened its grip on the populace, nearly 2,000 cases had been reported here and 152 victims died.

By December, the city hospital could no longer accommodate the steady influx of flu-stricken patients and it was obvious an emergency hospital would have to be quickly equipped and opened.

The local ELKS club volunteered the second floor of its stately, white-columned building at Third and Elm Streets and the offer was gratefully accepted.

Also offered, and considered a reserve facility, was Zion Evangelical Church.

The Gleaner noted that the Elks site was ideal, as it "has large, well-ventilated, well-lighted rooms with bath room, kitchen facilities and all that could be asked for and is available, if desired, through the side stairway."

Appointed to oversee the hospital was a Miss KELLAR, who was visiting nurse for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company here. That company granted her a leave of absence.

The Gleaner reported that the public was "showing hearty cooperation" and assisting with the setting-up of the hospital. Two local men guaranteed milk for the patients for the duration of the emergency facility's operation, and a woman donated $25 "to the cause." There also were numerous contributions of sheets, pillow cases, kitchen utensils and cots.

If warranted, the newspaper said, the city and county would buy additional cots. "Nothing will be left undone to give the patients every attention and care," the paper related.

In addition, the local Klee Morton Company promised free ambulance service to carry patients from their homes to the Elks building.

The Gleaner told readers that "this offer was gladly accepted by the (emergency committee) as patients will be in no danger in being removed from their homes in a closed ambulance."

Reprinted with permission
The Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Henderson, KY, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS