While the COVID-19 virus pandemic may seem like a novel occurrence, it is not the first disease to cause major shutdowns in the Village of Freeport.
The influenza epidemic of 1918 — also known as the Spanish llu or the grippe — killed between 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. This flu epidemic, erroneously named for a European country, is believed to have originated in Kansas, where the first case was reported in March 1918, at Camp Funston.
The influenza epidemic first appeared on Long Island in September 1918 at Camp Mills, in Garden City. By October, this base reported 1,100 cases, with 130 new cases per day being added to the total. Later in the month, 4,371 cases were reported at Camp Upton, in Yaphank, with twenty deaths occurring on a single day.
Between Oct. 1 and 15, 472 cases of influenza were reported in the Town of Hempstead. To stop the spread of the disease, Freeport Schools closed for a couple of weeks in October 1918. Churches and movie theaters were also closed. Orders were issued for saloons and soda fountain establishments to sterilize all drinking glasses.
Requests were also made that fraternal lodges and other public gatherings of a dozen or more people refrain from meeting. Merchants were asked to limit the number of people allowed in their stores at one time.
Dr. William H. Runcie, Freeport's health officer at the time, reported a jump of 68 cases to 125 cases of influenza in Freeport in one week in October. Freeport's population in 1918 was about 8,000.
At least four Freeport soldiers and a nurse died of influenza. They were William F. Downs, Mabel Pauline Guest, James C. Rich, Arthur J. Smith and James E. Vetal. Four additional Freeport soldiers died of pneumonia, a complication related to influenza. These were Emile C. Bernard, Theodore de Kruijff, Charles Jordano and John J. Thurston.
Freeport doctor Harold M. French, who attended to influenza patients, succumbed to the disease on Oct. 18, 1918. His wife, Susie, died five days later. Their 4-year-old-son also contracted the disease but later recovered from the illness. The French family lived at 111 W. Merrick Road.
Regina Feeney serves as a librarian and archivist at the Freeport Memorial Library.
While the library is closed until further notice, residents can still access a plethora of digital services at https://freeportlibrary.info/.