Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
On March 4, 1918, Private Albert Mitchell, a mess cook at Funston Army Camp, Ft. Riley, reported sick. For the past month, soldiers had been coming down with varying flu-like symptoms. A week later, at least 100 soldiers at Funston were in the hospital, and the disease had spread to Queens, New York, (according to “Spanish Flu strikes during World War 1,” Internet Wayback Machine). Days later, it was over 500. Mitchell, it was determined, had contracted a new strain of flu. It was the first recorded case of Spanish flu, marking the start of the first wave of a worldwide pandemic that would kill 50-100 million people.
Censorship is the reason today we refer to the disease as the Spanish flu, rather than the Funston Flu or the Kansas Flu. According to a report on EurekAlert! The Global Source for Science News, “The name “Spanish flu” came from the fact that Spain was not a partner in World War I and its press was freer to report details of the pandemic than press in combatant countries who did not want reveal information about deaths and sickness to enemies.”
That bears out with wire reports in the Great Bend Tribune from this week in 1918. In the March 4, 1918 edition, attention focused on the health of soldiers deployed to Europe. No epidemics reported there, and whatever ills soldiers there might be suffering were purely American made, which we assume was meant to be reassuring.
“The crest of the sick rate was reached the first week in February with 6 percent from which was an immediate drop. The average is about 5 percent, of which percentage scarcely half are bed cases.”
The first wave was reportedly mild, compared to the second wave. According to History.com, “...a second, highly contagious wave of influenza appeared with a vengeance in the fall of that same year. Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate. In just one year, 1918, the average life expectancy in America plummeted by a dozen years.”
It has been noted that the Spanish flu “struck down many previously healthy, young people—a group normally resistant to this type of infectious illness—including a number of World War I servicemen.
In fact, more U.S. soldiers died from the 1918 flu than were killed in battle during the war.”
Terms of endearment
In another March 4 report, “Kissing is popular; That Old-time “out-in-the-moonlight” stuff has passed at Camp Funston,” a clue to one way the Spanish flu was passed is provided.
“The war has revolutionized kissing, at least at Camp Funston. For if there is anything a Funston Sammee likes better than a kiss, it’s a couple, or three, or a half dozen kisses.”
The report went on. “Kissing is just a matter-of-fact business down here, and the 300-foot platform of the Union Pacific station at this camp is the Kissin’ist place in this section of the country.” The description of girlfriends, mothers, aunts, sisters and second cousins vying for kisses at the platform followed.
“Now it’s hard to tell how he does it, but the Funston Sammee has a way of clinging to the side of a coach and at the same time putting both arms around the girl’s neck and planting a loud, healthy kiss on her waiting lips. Maybe he “stands on air,” but anyway, he sure gets results. Scores of such scenes are staged at the arrival and departure of each train.”
Since World War 1, doctors have learned ab much about the flu and how it’s transmitted. A day prior to symptoms occurring, and for days after the sickness passes, the sick can pass the virus through with respiratory fluids, through coughing, breathing, sharing food, and kissing.
“Barton is worst county in state” was the top story in the March 5 edition of the Tribune. A special examiner for the adjutant general’s office at Topeka spent the previous week in the county investigating deferred classifications , and made the report.
The report quotes the Capital Journal’s report on the examiner’s visit. “...a lot of draft interference and disloyalty have been reported. He visited Ellinwood, Claflin, Great Bend, Hoisington , Olmitz and Otis, and found plenty, he reports, to establish the conviction that Barton county is the most pro-German spot on the map of Kansas. The report went on to give examples of evidence collected of pro-German, anti-American sentiments, and painted a picture of a draft board that allowed men of German parentage to be exempted due to disinclination to serve.
Presumable the Tribune reporter disagreed, responding within the story that “Of the 1,575 registrants in this county, 816 men, more than half, have been placed in class 1, and on no grounds has any man been given deferred classification on account of disinclination to serve.”
Perhaps this was evidence of discrimination on the examiner’s part, having come in contact with so many with German ancestry here. Throughout the war, vigilantism occurred, and many German born Americans and their families were mistreated, use of the German language was outlawed in places, street names were changed, and some were even lynched.
But Ellinwood held onto it’s pride in it’s heritage, and new ways of expressing it have taken hold in recent years, including Kriskindlemart in early December for the past few year.