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Flu epidemic hit in 1918

In the fall of the year 1918, World War I was drawing to a close in Europe, and Pulaski County was hit by a tragedy that would take the lives of more of our citizens than had been lost in the entire length of the war.
An epidemic of influenza that had started in the training camps in France had found its way to America and Pulaski County, Virginia. Few deaths had been recorded in the early days of the epidemic, and people didn’t take it too seriously. But with the passing of time, it did become of much concern to the people of the county. The Southwest Times of Oct. 1, 1918, carried a story of two deaths caused by the flu, and only two days later two more deaths were reported. The County Board of Health ordered the temporary closing of the Pulaski Elks Theater. On Saturday, Oct. 5, The Times editor, Dad Ham, wrote that 12 people in the county had died over the weekend. Two of Pulaski’s doctors were down with the flu, Dr. C. D. Kunkel and Dr. R. H. Whooling. This meant that there were only five doctors left active to take care of the growing number of cases of flu. These were doctors W. W. Chaffin, Percy C. Corbin, W. W. Cummings, S.C. Draper and E. C. Peyton. Dr. Corbin, Pulaski’s first African American physician, had only been practicing a short time and had not treated a large number of white patients, but he jumped in with his colleagues and took his position in the line-up, seeing patients, both black and white, and making a reputation for himself among both races. And he gained the respect of his fellow doctors for his manner of treatment. Author Conway Smith wrote that with Corbin, it was not a question of black or white, but whoever needed him most or whoever got there first. A recent heart attack had brought a sudden end to the medical services offered by Dr. George C. Painter, but when the need arose, he was back to doctoring, doing his part until the closing days of the terrible scourge, at which time he became disabled again, this time with the flu.
More doctors were desperately needed, and Mayor Calfee and Dr. Chaffin contacted the State Board of Health and the Public Health Service requesting whatever help might be available. There were numerous phone calls to various cities asking for doctors and druggists.
On Saturday, Oct. 5, Mayor Calfee began organizing forces for the battle. Calfee was a great organizer, and there never seemed to be a task that he would not tackle. The first move was to appoint a central relief committee. That was made up of prominent citizens of the area. The committee was composed of Howard C. Gilmer Sr., A. T. Eskridge, K. E. Harman, Mrs. Joseph Eckman, Mrs. E. V. Jameson, Frank Wysor, Percival Johnson, Rev. R. M. Standefer, J. W. Miller, J. N. Bosang, G. C. Hall, W. S. Gilmer and Neal Bunts.
One of the first orders of the organization was to cut out all public meetings and that other public gatherings be discontinued indefinitely. Then, a proclamation was approved by the committee by the mayor, ordering all except businesses vital to fighting the epidemic be closed at noon, beginning Oct. 7. No fountain drinks were to be sold, and no supplies, except ice cream and bottled drinks, were to be sold. The headquarters of the central relief committee would be the mayor’s office in the municipal building, which would be open 24 hours a day.
Lloyd Mathews of Pulaski is a retired land surveyor and a local historian.

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Flu epidemic hit in 1918

In the fall of the year 1918, World War I was drawing to a close in Europe, and Pulaski County was hit by a tragedy that would take the lives of more of our citizens than had been lost in the entire length of the war.
An epidemic of influenza that had started in the training camps in France had found its way to America and Pulaski County, Virginia. Few deaths had been recorded in the early days of the epidemic, and people didn’t take it too seriously. But with the passing of time, it did become of much concern to the people of the county. The Southwest Times of Oct. 1, 1918, carried a story of two deaths caused by the flu, and only two days later two more deaths were reported. The County Board of Health ordered the temporary closing of the Pulaski Elks Theater. On Saturday, Oct. 5, The Times editor, Dad Ham, wrote that 12 people in the county had died over the weekend. Two of Pulaski’s doctors were down with the flu, Dr. C. D. Kunkel and Dr. R. H. Whooling. This meant that there were only five doctors left active to take care of the growing number of cases of flu. These were doctors W. W. Chaffin, Percy C. Corbin, W. W. Cummings, S.C. Draper and E. C. Peyton. Dr. Corbin, Pulaski’s first African American physician, had only been practicing a short time and had not treated a large number of white patients, but he jumped in with his colleagues and took his position in the line-up, seeing patients, both black and white, and making a reputation for himself among both races. And he gained the respect of his fellow doctors for his manner of treatment. Author Conway Smith wrote that with Corbin, it was not a question of black or white, but whoever needed him most or whoever got there first. A recent heart attack had brought a sudden end to the medical services offered by Dr. George C. Painter, but when the need arose, he was back to doctoring, doing his part until the closing days of the terrible scourge, at which time he became disabled again, this time with the flu.
More doctors were desperately needed, and Mayor Calfee and Dr. Chaffin contacted the State Board of Health and the Public Health Service requesting whatever help might be available. There were numerous phone calls to various cities asking for doctors and druggists.
On Saturday, Oct. 5, Mayor Calfee began organizing forces for the battle. Calfee was a great organizer, and there never seemed to be a task that he would not tackle. The first move was to appoint a central relief committee. That was made up of prominent citizens of the area. The committee was composed of Howard C. Gilmer Sr., A. T. Eskridge, K. E. Harman, Mrs. Joseph Eckman, Mrs. E. V. Jameson, Frank Wysor, Percival Johnson, Rev. R. M. Standefer, J. W. Miller, J. N. Bosang, G. C. Hall, W. S. Gilmer and Neal Bunts.
One of the first orders of the organization was to cut out all public meetings and that other public gatherings be discontinued indefinitely. Then, a proclamation was approved by the committee by the mayor, ordering all except businesses vital to fighting the epidemic be closed at noon, beginning Oct. 7. No fountain drinks were to be sold, and no supplies, except ice cream and bottled drinks, were to be sold. The headquarters of the central relief committee would be the mayor’s office in the municipal building, which would be open 24 hours a day.
Lloyd Mathews of Pulaski is a retired land surveyor and a local historian.

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