The North Bend Eagle

  Flu masks in Shelby
A group of men pose with their flu masks in front of a furniture and undertaking store in Shelby 100 years ago. The epidemic claimed at least 23 North Bend-area lives in a four-month period. Photo courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society.

Deadly epidemic besieged area a century ago

by Nathan Arneal
Published 1/23/19

One hundred years ago, the United States, the world and North Bend, Nebraska, was taking a deep breath as it was released from the grip of a deadly scourge that affected millions.

Not World War I. Yes, troops were in the process of being discharged and returning to civilian life after the Great War came to a close on Nov. 11, 1918. But another affliction lapped at the doorsteps of the home front, bringing society to a screeching halt.

Spanish flu ad
This ad ran in the Eagle in late 1918 and early 1919, as the Spanish flu brought society to a screeching halt.

The Spanish Flu epidemic infected one third of the world’s population, according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, killing at least 50 million people worldwide.

The Eagle is taking a look back at the epidemic and how it affected life locally. Unless otherwise noted, all quoted material is drawn from contemporary North Bend Eagle coverage as the events unfolded in 1918 and early 1919.

On March 21, 1918, Alexander Thom, a Scottish immigrant and strong supporter of prohibition, ran an ad in the North Bend Eagle in support of his candidacy for mayor after being nominated by the Law and Order Party.

It would be his second stint as North Bend’s mayor, after having led the city government a decade earlier. Thom’s ad highlighted the financial success the city enjoyed under his leadership in 1908.

In the Eagle print and e-editions:
• A two-part in-depth examination on how the flu outbreak affected North Bend life.
• A look at the 23 people who died from the outbreak, including 14 deaths in a 19-day span.

Bad weather was blamed for a low turnout in the April 2 election, but Thom still carried the day, defeating the Citizen Party candidate, J.M. Eason, 121-78.

Little did he know, Thom’s responsibilities as mayor would take a back seat in the coming year to a role that came along with the position: chairman of the local board of health.

While Thom was taking the oath of office in North Bend, unusual influenza activity was noted in several military camps and cities on the East Coast. The illness was relatively limited and mild. This spring 1918 outbreak would become known as the “first wave.”


Read the full story in the print or e-edition.

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