Retro Baltimore: The flu pandemic was all the news in 1918

The flu of 1918, which seemed to begin in military bases, soon swept civilian populations.

Reports of the great flu pandemic filled the news columns in the last week of September, 1918.

The Sun reported deaths of soldiers called up for service in World War I at Fort McHenry, Camp Meade and Edgewood Arsenal: “The epidemic which is sweeping the country has fastened its grip on the army posts in the vicinity of Baltimore.”

The paper also reported the death of “one of the first Baltimore victims of the flu,” a 21-year-old named Walter L. Read, who lived on Park Heights Avenue. He had enlisted in the Navy in Philadelphia and contracted the disease while stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois.

The flu, which seemed to begin in military bases, soon swept civilian populations. By October, Baltimore closed schools, race tracks, theaters, baseball fields and houses of religion. Retail stores and taverns trimmed their hours. Halloween celebrations were also shut down.

The first flu cases — many from the newly created army base at Camp Meade — were taken to Mercy Hospital. Reports in The Sun said that 75 Sisters of Mercy were sent to the base to assist the stricken. The base’s medical laboratory officer, Capt. George Shrader Mathers, died of flu-related pneumonia at the old Albion Hotel on Cathedral Street.

“During its six-week reign as the king of all diseases, Spanish influenza struck down 50,000 persons in the city and state and killed 5,160,” The Evening Sun reported in November, 1918.

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