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St. Louis Businesses Ordered To Shut Down — 102 Years Ago Today

October 7, 2020 Featured, History/Preservation, Politics/Policy No Comments
I bought this book at Washington University on June 6, 1991 for $7.95.

The city’s health commissioner has just ordered many businesses to close, effective tomorrow. That was the order on October 7, 1918.

City Health Commissioner Max B. Starkloff announced that public gathering places would be closed immediately to prevent the spread of influenza, which was just then becoming an epidemic in the city. Some 115 new cases had been counted that day in St. Louis, and at Jefferson Barracks the total number was 900.

Closed under the commissioner’s order were theaters, movie houses, open air meetings, dance halls, conventions, and public funerals. Church leaders agreed to go along with the ban on public gatherings, and Archbishop John J. Glennon suspended the obligation of Catholics to hear Mass each Sunday. Downtown stores were enjoyed to hold no sales or special attractions. Throughout the fall, the epidemic raged, with a final official death count of 2,063 deaths — the worst disaster of its kind in the city’s history. (From ‘St. Louis Day by Day’, by Frances Hurd Stadler, Pages 191-192)

The above simplifies the back and forth that happened through December. Restrictions were eased, the flu roared back, restrictions were tightened. But it worked.

Thanks to the quarantine, St. Louis’ death rate was lowest among the 10 biggest cities at the time. In Philadelphia, where bodies piled up on sidewalks when the morgues overflowed, the death rate was nearly twice as high. (Post-Dispatch)

After their influenza pandemic was over life resumed. Ours will too, but first we must all do what’s necessary to prevent it from spreading.

— Steve Patterson

 

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