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Tribune, BCHS, seek items to document pandemic
Pandemic stories, artifacts for exhibit
EB covid
The Easter Bunny waives to some of his friends during his tour through Pawnee County in April. As social distancing became a priority, communities found creative ways to provide safe activities. Here, Pawnee County first responders invited families to go outside their homes and wave to the Easter Bunny as he passed by. - photo by File photos
iron lung
This iron lung exhibit at the Barton County Historical Society was studied by engineers from Hess Services Inc. in Hays in March as they considered manufacturing a modern version as an alternative to ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

Golden Belt residents are invited to help the Great Bend Tribune and the Barton County Historical Society document their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re asking residents of our area communities to share the thoughts, actions and events they’ve experienced during the pandemic as we chronicle the history happening now for future generations. The exhibit, titled “Reflections: Barton County in Time of Pandemic,” asks contributors to reflect on the past six months, but it will also reflect on how another pandemic, the Spanish Influenza, affected our community in 1918-1919. Leslie Helsel and Karen Neuforth, co-directors of the Barton County Historical Society, are culling their archives for that part of the exhibit.

“Reflections” will make its debut at the Tribune’s Women’s Expo on Sept. 22 at the Great Bend Events Center, and will then move to the Barton County Historical Society Museum and Village at 85 South U.S. 281.

The Tribune and the historical society are asking people to provide written personal reflections about the past six months. These may include reflections on school ending abruptly in March, working from home (or losing work), or changing plans for major events, for example. People are welcome to write personal reflections about this time period and what they think the future might bring.

Contributors are also encouraged to donate or loan items that reflect this time period. Items might include a mask, a protest sign from local demonstrations or photos from “dragging Main.” Images and texts related to social media are also welcome. Individuals and businesses are encouraged to share the impact this global crisis has had on central Kansas.

“We’re collecting history while it’s happening,” Neuforth said.

This exhibit seeks to collect the items now for future generations, Helsel said. 

She noted that accounts of how Barton County handled the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-1919 can be hard to find. They were complied years later, by historians researching newspaper accounts and other sources.

Neuforth shared some newspaper clippings, such as this one from the Oct. 2, 1918, Great Bend Tribune: “On account of the prevalence of Spanish Influenza the doctors have advised that the Baby Contest at the Fair be discontinued which was done today.”

Another story from the Sept. 28, 1918 Tribune reports the draft call for Camp Funston was canceled for the week of Oct. 7. “Owing to the prevalence of Spanish Influenza, all camps have been quarantined.”

Soldiers fighting in World War I, such as 21-year-old Clyde Susank from northern Barton County, were sometimes casualties of the pandemic. In Susank’s case, a newspaper account said the cause of his death was not given, “but it is supposed that he contracted Spanish influenza which developed into pneumonia, as a letter from him written just a week prior said there were 709 cases of Spanish influenza in his regiment, but that he was enjoying good heath.” 

Helsel said all items submitted will be considered for addition to the museum’s permanent archives.

If you have a treasured item you do not wish to be added to the local history collection, the historical society will consider it a loan for the exhibit and return it at its conclusion, she said.

Send written submissions or questions to Susan Thacker at the Great Bend Tribune,, or to the Barton County Historical Society,