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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Autumn 1918 Pandemic, and five forgotten Kerrville heroes

Our Lady of Guadalupe School, at the intersection of
Jefferson and Lemos Streets in downtown Kerrville.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Today's news, with the constant stories of the Covid-19 pandemic, remind me this is not the first pandemic our community has faced. The story of that earlier time, in 1918, is a story of heroism, kindness, and charity. Even in calamity our community has deep reserves of hope.
All during the late summer and early autumn of 1918, Kerr County received news about the Spanish Influenza epidemic, dispatches which mainly brought the sad news that another of its sons, fighting in World War I, had died of the disease. In fact, of the men listed on the Kerr County War Memorial as lost in World War I, most succumbed to illnesses, mainly complications due to influenza, which swept through the military forces all over the world.
In 1918 the epidemic, which seemed so far away, finally arrived here, in Kerr County.
According to the October 11, 1918 edition of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, a young man serving in the Navy was sent home to Kerrville because his ship had an "epidemic" of Spanish Influenza, "and a number of the boys were sent home, hoping they would escape it." The young man "is thought to be in no immediate danger and will likely soon be up. This is the first case of influenza reported here." The young man survived.
The front page of the same newspaper offered this advice about the "Spanish Influenza," from the National Red Cross: "Wash your hands frequently. Consult the family physician at the first onset of symptoms...." This sounds very familiar.
A large portion of the second page was devoted to "Uncle Sam's Advice on the Flu," which concluded with a couplet: "Cover up each cough and sneeze/ If you don't you'll spread disease."
In the next issue, October 18, 1918, the president of the Kerrville school board, T. C. Johnston, informed readers there was "no intention of closing the public schools as yet on account of the few cases of influenza in the community. Mr. Johnson stated that the board would leave the matter entirely in the hands of the City Health Officer, Dr. Palmer, and when Dr. Palmer advised that the Schools be closed, his wishes would be promptly complied with."
"With proper precaution on the part of the affected," the story continued, "and due consideration given the rules laid down for the prevention of the ailment, it is not thought we will be seriously affected. At least we may hope for the best."
Dr. E. E. Palmer
The schools would later close.
By October 25, 1918, the Mountain Sun reported the first death in the epidemic; the victim was a young man working for the government in Kentucky, who fell ill and was sent home to Kerrville. He died just three days after arriving home.
By November, when the community was celebrating the signing of the Armistice, it was also "in the throes of the most malignant epidemic of Spanish Influenza," according to an article by Father Henry Kemper, priest of Kerrville's Notre Dame Catholic Church, published years later, in the Kerrville Times of September 28, 1933.
"Within a few days, and sub-freezing snowy days at that, Father Kemper buried from Our Lady of Guadalupe parish" six victims of the disease. Dr. Palmer identified three dozen additional cases in the parish.
"At once the Guadalupe School was converted into a free hospital regardless of sex or creed. A rigid quarantine was established, with paid police at all street entrances in to the [neighborhood]. Father Kemper stripped the Rectory of beds and linens; used his Buick as an ambulance; contributed several hundred dollars to furnish groceries for a thousand isolated parishioners in the danger zone; and despite the shortage of nurses in that never-to-be forgotten month, he secured two skilled nurses from Santa Rosa Hospital [in San Antonio], Sisters Irma and Ladislaus, who as by miracle at once turned the tide of one of the greatest dangers that threatened our city in the last quarter of a century.
Dr. Palmer's office,
623 Water Street, Kerrville
"The thirty-three men, women and children whose life seemed doomed in the Guadalupe School at once showed signs of recovery. No new cases arose in the neighborhood. After ten days and nights of anxious watching, the two Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word were able to dismiss the last flu patients, and to let their fellow-nuns resume class work as soon as the public schools were permitted to open."
The mayor of Kerrville at the time, H.C. Geddie, wrote a letter to the Reverend Mother General of the order:
"I share the belief of the health officer, Dr Ernest E. Palmer, that the Sisters by their self-sacrificing and painstaking devotion to the sick, both night and day, saved many a patient from death, and helped to safeguard our vicinity from an imminent and grave peril.
"For this assistance in our hour of need, permit me to express the debt of gratitude that the City of Kerrville owes to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word."
Others praised in the 1933 article were Dr. Palmer, who "will probably remember this as one of his busiest weeks in half a century of medical practice," and Mrs. Louis A. [Mae] Schreiner, "an angel of mercy ministering among the lowliest of God's stricken children", and "who has since joined the choir invisible and has heard the assurance "What thou has done for the least of My little ones thou has done for Me."
In today's pandemic, may we hope for the best, and remember to be kind, generous, and helpful.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who believes in prayer -- and also in carefully washing one's hands.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 14, 2020.

Two books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, this is a very timely message for all of us.


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