COVID-19 not the first pandemic to hit the village

When the Hinsdale Public Library celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2018, we perused old newspapers for nostalgia and remember seeing that the library closed its doors during the flu epidemic of 1918. At the time, it seemed like an interesting tidbit of an era past.

We couldn't have known then that two years later, our physical building would be off limits again. As we watch the current pandemic unfold in real time, we wondered how Hinsdale was impacted in epidemics past. We went to our archives and did some sleuthing about that same flu epidemic of 1918.

The 1918 flu started in a time already steeped in uncertainty, as the United States was in the middle of war. Young men left to train and fight and, at home, all hands were on deck for the war effort. These same young men were among the first impacted by the virus. In fact, one of the first indications in Hinsdale of the coming epidemic was the September postponement of a sailor's party to be hosted in Hinsdale due to quarantine at Great Lakes Naval Station. The next editions of The Doings announced deaths, including a banker, a child and a teacher, and were peppered with announcements of Hinsdaleans of all ages home with flu and many more cancellations and postponements.

As is typical of the tradition of service and philanthropy in Hinsdale, residents took action to assist. The Infant Welfare Society put out a call for food, clothing and bedding for women being widowed and orphaned children. Women trained in preparing surgical dressings were asked to double their output as the epidemic impacted Chicago's efforts.

Official word from the state came on Sept. 28 with rules and regulations for the control of influenza that included nine rules - from isolation precautions to guidelines on spitting in public places. On Oct. 14, the village followed suit and banned all public gatherings, including schools, churches, lodges and movie theaters. That week's issue of The Doings showed churches complying and indicated, among other changes, Miss Edith Reynolds has postponed her dance classes.

The ban, in fact, lasted until Nov. 2, after 250 cases and seven deaths. Officials believed the three- week quarantine helped slow the virus and it was "well under control." Schools opened that Monday with reassurances to parents, including medical supervision. Nov. 5 was Election Day, then came the relief and celebration of Armistice Day on Nov. 11 followed by a high school basketball tournament.

By Nov. 23, fears reignited as flu cases at the high school increased and, ultimately, 25-55 percent of students on any given day were absent throughout November. December saw continued infections and deaths and ultimately Hinsdale's rate of infection exceeded that of Chicago's. Parents were encouraged to limit social activities, especially dancing, to prevent another quarantine. The village president placed restrictions on social gatherings requiring all social gatherings of 20 or more to receive approval from the health commissioner. That January finally saw the lift of all bans and return to some sense of normalcy, and Miss Edith Reynolds finally reopened her dance class.

Despite the epidemic, the library continued its work in 1918, answering the community's questions, checking out more books than the previous year, collecting books and Victrola records for distribution among serviceman, and creating an archive of Hinsdale's soldiers and sailors.

The library and community, then as now, was resilient and service-oriented, making space for the future.

- Cynthia Dieden is the adult services manager at Hinsdale Public Library