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Flu pandemic made headlines for months in rural Iowa

By Staff | Mar 27, 2020



The term “unprecedented” is being used often to describe the COVID-19 situation today, yet many of the issues connected to this health emergency were also realities of daily life in 1918-1919. Not only were churches, schools, theaters and other gathering places closed to help stop the spread of Spanish flu pandemic, but the media covered the situation extensively across America, including rural Iowa.

A headline in the Carroll Times newspaper from November 14, 1918, reported “Double Funeral at Lanesboro.” Effie Winkerson (formerly Effie Riedesel), 29, died at her home one mile west of Lanesboro on Sunday evening, November 10. Her husband, Frank, 27, whom she married in 1912, survived her by just 27 hours, passing away Monday, November 11.

“They each leave parents, brothers, sisters and host of other relatives and friends,” noted the paper, which added that the couple had been active in the Red Cross. “A double funeral was held at their home Wednesday at 2 p.m. conducted by Rev. Pruett of the Methodist church. They were buried in a double grave. Thus, they lived happily together and are now resting together.”

In a sad twist of fate, another Lanesboro couple, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Waters (28 and 25 years old, respectively) died in their home six hours apart in early December 1918 from pneumonia following influenza. They left behind two daughters, ages five and one, noted the December 12, 1918, issue of the Carroll Times.

The vicious grip of influenza would fluctuate and sometimes subside, offering hope that the deadly pandemic was ending. On January 9, 1919, the Carroll Times reported that teachers were back on the job.

“The epidemic of Spanish influenza seems to be on the wane in the county and most schools, both town and rural, have resumed their work after a prolonged vacation in many cases. The loss of school on account of the epidemic is without a parallel in the memory of living school men, but when it comes to health and mental development, there is no debate.”

When it became clear as time went on that the pandemic was not yet over, newspaper advertisements continued to appear for MEN-THO-EZE, which was made in Fort Dodge and was marketed as an all-purpose cure, including an influenza preventative.

“The goose grease and turpentine in this remedy will coat the membranes against Influenza germs, while the fumes from the wintergreen, peppermint and menthol will break any phlegm and keep the lung passages clear,” promised ads, which noted customers could get all this for 30 to 50 cents per jar.

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