Digging Through the Archives: Looking Back on Mendocino County’s Battle with the Spanish Flu


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History has a lot to tell us. As Ukiah High School students navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, UHS news looks back on how the Spanish Flu affected Mendocino County in newspaper archives and noted many similarities.

Local newspaper The Mendocino Beacon, described on October 19, 1918, that only 20 high school students attended school after the first case of Spanish Flu was announced. According to the article, there were usually 60 students attending on a regular day. Sound familiar?

In the same edition of the Mendocino Beacon, it was announced that  the annual apple fair (a local dance) would be postponed for  2 weeks. Many members of Wildcat Nation might recall when school first shut down due to COVID-19, it was also supposed to be a couple weeks.

On November 9, 1918, The Mendocino Beacon explained that there was no evidence that the Spanish Flu actually originated from Spain. They point out that the King of Spain had gotten the disease in 1893 and then again in the summer of 1918, but there was still no evidence that it had originated from there. Similarly, there was a popular debate earlier this year about where COVID-19 originated from. There was speculation that it was created in a lab in China and there were also theories that it came from bats. 

In the same edition, The Mendocino Beacon announced Mendocino High School will open again after having been closed for fours weeks because of the Spanish Influenza epidemic

While explaining the symptoms, there is a picture warning people about the dangers of the Spanish Flu and how to avoid spreading it. The picture is captioned with the rhyme “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” with a subtext explaining that it can be as dangerous as poison gas shells. It’s just a small nod to The Great War (WWI) which was going on and comparing the flu with something people already well knew the danger of. 

The article addressed several common questions about the Spanish Flu. One of the questions was “can someone who has had the disease catch it again?” The Mendocino Beacon explained that yes, you can catch the disease a second time, so you should still take caution when going in public. As the article stated earlier, the King of Spain caught the disease once in 1893, and then again in 1918. 

Another question the article addressed  was how can individuals protect themselves against the disease? The article said keeping your body healthy and ready to fight off disease is essential and suggested getting a good amount of exercise and sleep. They also say that eating healthy foods can be greatly beneficial. The article particularly suggested drinking milk saying, “milk is one the best all-around foods obtainable for adults as well as children.”

As made clear, pandemics have tested generations before and will continue to test ours. History tells us that ultimately, we will win the great war with COVID-19.

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