Times Past

Dan Krieger: San Luis Obispo fared well in 1918-19 influenza pandemic

In San Francisco ... in 24 hours 1,417 new cases have been reported and 82 deaths.” In October 1918, at the end of World War I, the greatest pandemic in modern times spread quickly from Europe to America.

The virus infection was known as the Spanish influenza because the first reports of an epidemic came from Barcelona.

Some British sailors returned from shore leave infected with the virus.

Thereafter, it was often referred to as the Plague of the Spanish Lady.

The influenza spread from the cities, towns and armies of a beleaguered Europe to American shores.

Like most common viral epidemics, the flu primarily affected the air passages, with effects on the whole body such as fever, headache and weakness.

Most of the estimated 50 million to 100 million deaths worldwide were caused by pneumonia from the infection weakening the lungs.

On Oct. 18, 1918, San Luis Obispo Morning Tribune reported that the city of San Jose was in quarantine.

The next day, the Paso Robles Board of Health closed all theaters and churches and prohibited all public meetings.

The San Luis Obispo city Board of Health “decided to close for an indefinite period all churches, pool rooms, bowling alleys, fraternal society meetings and indoor gatherings of all kinds. ... The schools, however, are to remain open for the present ... under constant medical supervision.

“Regulations in regard to sitting on the sidewalks and on the floors and stairs of buildings will be rigidly enforced.

“A special flushing and cleaning of the streets downtown ... (was another) preventive measure.

“The Morning Tribune noted on Oct. 20, “There have been no new cases of influenza reported for the last 48 hours, and investigation by the Board of Health shows that there are not more than six authenticated cases of the disease in this city.”

Six new cases were reported on Oct. 23, prompting the Board of Health to close the schools.

A similar move was made by health authorities in Arroyo Grande.

The health boards urged parents and guardians to keep their children home.

The San Luis Obispo health board also encouraged the wearing of gauze masks as a preventive measure.

The board declared, “San Luis Obispo has escaped very lightly so far, compared with other cities, and if the proper precautions are taken by everyone, there is no need for the epidemic spreading here.

“Wear a mask not only to safeguard yourself but to safeguard others.”

The local Red Cross made up a number of gauze masks for distribution at its salvage shop. Others were placed for distribution in local drug stores.

“These are for everyone. Those who can are expected to pay as much as sufficient to cover the cost of material, which amounts to about 10 cents, but the fact that one hasn’t the spare money needn’t prevent anyone from wearing a mask, as they are absolutely free if you can’t afford to pay for them.”

Mrs. Robert Taylor of Paso Robles died at Atascadero Community Hospital as the result of pneumonia following an attack of influenza.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, the Morning Tribune reported the first death from the influenza in the city of San Luis Obispo.

William Gibson, an employee of Standard Oil Company and a resident at 1393 Chorro St., died of pneumonia.

He left behind a widow and a child.

Annual Graveyard Tour

Visit some of the graves of the victims of the 1918-19 Spanish-flu pandemic on historian and Cal Poly professor emeritus Dan Krieger’s annual graveyard tour starting on Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Bridge Street entrance to the Old Mission Cemetery, off of South Higuera Street.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.