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Ohio

Although the Public Health Service had required states to report the presence of the disease on September 27th, officials in Ohio failed to comply with this directive. This failure to report may indicate that officials in Ohio were overwhelmed by the pandemic. The state finally managed to file its first report on October 26th. In this report, they indicated that there were at least 125,000 cases in the state on October 18th. The disease had undoubtedly been prevalent in the state for some time before that date. During the week of October 26th, there were 1,541 deaths from influenza alone. Because officials had a difficult time collecting data, these figures were probably inaccurate. It seems likely that the real number of cases and deaths was much higher.

Taking a stroll in sparsely populated Franklin Park, Columbus, Ohio would have been in keeping with the recommended strategies of prevention. c.1909 [Credit: The Library of Congress]
Taking a stroll in sparsely populated Franklin Park, Columbus, Ohio would have been in keeping with the recommended strategies of prevention. c.1909 [Credit: The Library of Congress]

Cleveland was especially hard hit by the pandemic. During the first weeks of the pandemic, the state reported roughly 168 deaths from influenza per week. By the third week of the pandemic, the city's death rate had soared, with 682 deaths from influenza being reported each week. Dayton suffered greatly from the pandemic as well, with a high of 137 deaths registered there during the third week of the pandemic. By late October, Cincinnati was under seige as well, reporting 22,000 cases of influenza.

Influenza was not, however, confined to the cities. Rural communities across the state also experienced high rates of influenza as well as significant numbers of deaths from influenza or pneumonia.

Across the state, colleges temporarily closed their doors. In some cases, campus buildings became makeshift hospitals which treated influenza patients.

Cities also sought to contain the pandemic through ordinances and quarantines. Reflecting the widespread belief that influenza was spread through spitting, city officials in Cincinnati made spitting illegal. Fines of a dollar (a significant sum at the time) were levied against those who spit in public.

Folk cures were advertised and widely discussed. In Cleveland, one woman advocated cutting up two large onions, adding rye flour and molding this mixture into a cake which could then be placed upon the chest. She herself had used this treatment to great effect. In Castleton, one doctor developed a medicine called "Grippura" which he claimed would cure influenza (along with a variety of other unrelated diseases). In Toledo, city officials placed their hopes in a serum developed by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The city actually sent a doctor to the clinic to bring back some of this serum. The serum, along with the other cures, proved ineffective.

Lacking a cure, city officials in Dayton advocated that citizens abide by a set of directives issued by the Division of Sanitation of the Navy Department. The following were posted as instructions:

  • Protect yourself from infection, keep well, and do not get hysterical over the epidemic.
  • Beware of those who are coughing and sneezing.
  • Avoid crowded streetcarsCCwalk to the office if possible.
  • Keep out of crowdsCCavoid theaters, moving picture shows, and other places of public assembly.
  • Do not travel by railroad unless absolutely necessary.
  • Do not drink from glasses or cups which have been used by others.
  • Avoid close, stuffy, and poorly ventilated rooms.

Even cartoons reflected growing concerns about the pandemic. A popular cartoon "Polly and Her Pals," ran in the Dayton papers. Polly was soon wearing "bacteria bibs" for protection against influenza, and bemoaning the fact that her unfashionable family never caught anything as "fashionable" as the Spanish influenza.

This empty street in front of the Hotel Star in Columbus Ohio was typical in urban areas C. 1900-1910. [Credit: The Library of Congress]
This empty street in front of the Hotel Star in Columbus Ohio was typical in urban areas C. 1900-1910. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

Public places were also shut down across the state. In Columbus, the public schools closed for two and a half months. The public library was also forced to close as half the staff were ill with influenza. At Chillicote, the Majestic Theater became a morgue with influenza victims "stacked like cordwood."

The pandemic peaked during the fall. It gradually declined during the winter and spring. By the summer, it had disappeared from the state.

The disappearance of the disease did not mean, however, that the state was freed from its effects. A year after the pandemic, when Cincinnati assessed the health of 7,058 of the city's influenza victims, they discovered that 5,264 of these people had suffered medical damage and needed some additional medical care.

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