If you want to go back in time and explore a sad and frightening yet interesting piece of Galena’s history, where might you go for information?
For four months in 1918, the influenza pandemic put a tight hold on this community. Many families suffered. Many businesses suffered.
Schools closed. Bars could only have five patrons at a time. As area residents–young and old–died, the families mourned in the solitude of their home. There were no funeral services nor church services.
City officials had their hands full trying to keep citizens engaging in social distancing. Business owners were at their wits’ end seeing their trade dwindle away.
All of these stories unfolded on the pages of The Galena Daily Gazette during those trying times. And there were other influenza stories on a national scale involving soldiers, sailors and World War I; the devastating impact on influenza on Philadelphia and other communities around the world; and the desperate search for a vaccine.
The problem was, and still is, you can’t develop vaccines quickly. Back then people were tested with all types of concoctions. And, most thought that some type of bacteria caused influenza. There were no microscopes strong enough to catch sight of something as small as a virus: they were yet to be discovered.
None are left in our communities with actual first-hand memories of the influenza pandemic. That was almost 102 years ago.
And, so to digress. . .in 2014, there were just over 72,000 Americans age 100 and over and that’s an increase of some 22,000 from 2000. There are more centenarians in the United States than any other country.
For anyone to have first-hand memory of the 1918 pandemic. . .well just say that the pickings are pretty slim.
So the memories of the 1918 influenza pandemic at neatly tucked away in the pages of The Galena Gazette and other local publications.
After observing and reading about local governmental bodies consider the vagaries of this COVID-19 pandemic and decide how to plot their course one might wonder how these same governmental bodies charted their course in 1918.
Any knowledge of this, the thinking behind decision-making, is lost in time. Today, we only know what was reported in The Gazette.
There is no or very sparse mention of influenza in Galena City Council and Galena School Board minutes. If memory holds true, the same is true with minutes from the Jo Daviess County Board.
The Galena Board of Health operated in those days and met frequently during the time of the influenza pandemic. A search for those minutes with the city of Galena, the county, the health department, as well as the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society and Galena Public Library, all proved fruitless.
And, that’s all too bad. Just as governmental bodies and public servants must make difficult, sometimes excruciating, decisions during this COVID-19 pandemic, you can bet that those who came before and served the public in 1918 faced making difficult decisions as well.
It is my hope that as these public bodies prepare minutes of their meetings, that they might consider including a bit more detail.
The value in this isn’t for those of us here today in service. The value comes in the future–50 years from now or 100 years from now–when a different group of leaders must navigate a community’s way through a health crisis.
Although “less is more” holds true many times it seems that in this instance “more is, more meaningful” would be more meaningful in years to come.
by P. Carter Newton, publisher