In the autumn of 1918, eighty years ago, World War One was killing the last of 8 1/2 million soldiers in Europe. Suddenly, there appeared a killer even deadlier than war.

Perhaps 30 million died by its hand worldwide, maybe 40 million; the exact total never will be known. Even more unbelievably, most of those deaths came in just 10 months.

In the United States 600,000 were killed; in today's terms that's 1.4 million. In Great Britain 229,000 died, in Germany 225,000, in France 166,000. Worst hit was India, where it's believed 16 million were killed.

In our own Fulton County and Rochester 57 people died in those 10 months, plus 10 local sons at their military camps. For months the community's lifestyle came almost to a halt as health officials battled, quite blindly.

This remorseless killer was the Spanish Flu and it came as more than an epidemic; it was a pandemic, a disease of global proportions.

It was a particularly virulent virus, but nobody was aware of that. In 1918 medical science did not know viruses existed. Their microscopes could not detect them. In fact, not until 1933 would the viral cause of influenza be discovered.

Then in the spring of 1919, ten months after it appeared, the Spanish Flu virus disappeared, just as mysteriously as it had appeared the previous autumn.

Mysterious, too, is why so horrible an event has been largely forgotten. Perhaps forgetfulness was the only way those who lived through it could cope with the experience. Today and continuing next week the history of this disastrous disease will be examined.

Consider first the epidemic's impact on Rochester and Fulton County;

there, in microcosm, is its affect on the United States and the rest of the world.

It first came to local attention in late September, 1918, with word that a local boy, Dean Mikesell, 22, had died of the flu while in training at the Great Lakes Naval Station at Chicago.

Shortly afterward, on October 7, Indiana's public health authorities warned that this particular flu was developing into an epidemic. They closed all schools, churches and places of public amusements throughout the state, banning public meetings of any kind.

As yet there had been few cases of the flu locally, but then within just three days physicians suddenly reported that it had spread throughout the county.

Medical experts responded in the only ways they knew how, considering that they had no idea of what they were fighting. Prohibiting public gatherings seemed to be the best course of action to combat this obvious respiratory disorder.

Dr. Archie Brown, city health officer, forbade the playing of pool, billiards or card games in local pool rooms where many local men gathered, although he allowed them to sell cigars and tobacco. Quarantine signs went up on every local home that was infected. Dr. C. J. Loring, the county health officer, suggested that gauze breathing masks be worn whenever anyone was near a flu-sick patient. He also ordered an end to leaf-burning after 4 p.m.

The ban on public meetings continued for a full month. Schools were closed for five weeks; when they did open pupils were asked to bring their own drinking cups. Several times a day students were asked to stand or to march about their rooms while windows were open. There were other precautions, such as an "influenza policeman." Mel True was hired by the Paramount silent movie theatre in the 800 block of Main Street. Dressed in full uniform, he was posted at the cinema's entrance to deny admittance to anyone suffering from a cold.

For awhile a supply of vaccine was administered locally but it was anti-bacterial and useless against a virus.

By the end of November, there had been 32 Spanish Flu deaths in Fulton County: 19 in the city and 13 in the county. The disease then flared again with 21 new cases in the first week of December. Once more, all public gatherings were banned, this time by Mayor Hiram G. Miller.

Such afflictions as endured here were magnified manyfold in the nation and continued well into March of 1919. When the disease then suddenly disappeared, medical historians believe it likely was because there no longer were people who were susceptible, those who remained having developed some kind of previous immunity.

Could such a terror happen again? The answer to that, and to the search for its cause, next week.

Published Dec. 15, 1998