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Tracing Tracy Territory

Pandemic precautions sound eerily familiar

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Just over 100 years ago, on Jan. 31, 1920, to be exact, the Tracy Press ran a front-page story that has an all-too-familiar ring a century later in our town.

Henry Hull, editor and publisher of the Press wrote:

The influenza is with us again.

This fact cannot be denied, but should not occasion any alarm, but rather should rouse our citizens to use the great precautions, that it might not spread and become epidemic as it did last winter.

Dr. Powers, the health officer, is taking hold of the matter with a firm hand in an attempt to stamp it out or to prevent its spread. He states that no masks will be worn, but rather he will order all patients be isolated in their own homes until the danger of contagion is past.

With proper co-operation by the ailing ones there is no excuse for the disease to become epidemic. To such an extent that all schools and amusement places will be closed up. Those who have colds should not mingle in crowds. They are in the pink of condition to take the plague.

A health officer cannot do it all. The people must use a little common sense themselves, and when they feel that they are coming down either with the influenza or a cold they should voluntarily remain at home. By so doing, you might save a great deal of sorrow and suffering to your fellowman. Just an ounce of prevention will do wonders in helping to stamp it out.

— Henry Hull, editor, Tracy Press, Jan. 31, 1920

The next edition of the Press, Feb. 7, 1920, had this headline at the top of the page:

INFLUENZA CLAIMS

YOUNG MATRON

AS VICTIM

A week later, Feb. 14, 1920, side-by-side headlines ran at the top of Page 1:

YOUNG MAN VICTIM

OF DREADED

INFLUENZA

and

INFLUENZA CLAIMS

SISTERS WITHIN

THREE DAYS

And then in the next week’s edition of Feb. 21, 1920:

DEATH TAKES

BRIDE OF ONLY

THREE MONTHS

Death visited the home of Johannes Krohn Tuesday evening and took from him his bride of only three months, Mrs. Grace Krohn, formerly Grace Odell. The young bride was recently stricken with influenza which was followed with pneumonia. The crisis in fever had been safely passed and it was thought she was on the road to recovery when suddenly her heart failed to do its duty and she passed away quite unexpectedly. … Deceased was only 21 years of age.

The Spanish flu, as it was known as 100 years ago, re-emerged in Tracy early in 1920 after it had a serious outbreak during the winter of 1918-19. The virus had spread widely in Europe and was believed to have been carried home to the U.S. by soldiers returning from World War I, which ended on Nov. 11, 1918.

After the outbreak here about the same time as the fighting in the trenches in France stopped, Dr. Allan R. Powers (mentioned in Henry Hull’s Jan. 31, 1920, article as the city’s health officer), dueled with the city trustees (City Council) and with saloon keepers who were ordered to shut down by a split vote of the trustees but wanted to stay open. After a brief closing, the saloons (and Tracy had its full share) gradually reopened, as long as they didn’t allow “crowds to congregate.” After a man (no women in bars in those days) had a drink, “he was required to put on his mask immediately.”

Despite the precautions, the Spanish flu hit Tracy hard. There were 437 reported cases, including 14 deaths, according to “Doc Powers” (for whom Dr. Powers Park is named).

Today, Tracy saloons (and we still have our share) have been more compliant in responding to orders from the City Council, and Gov. Gavin Newsom, to close. This is all so strange with empty streets and shuttered businesses, and we all know it’s far from over. A century ago, they thought it was over, too, but then…

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.

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