Today, our community faces extreme hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this is not the first time our community has had to cope with significant impact from infectious disease.
The City Museum’s records tell of those lost during the diphtheria outbreak in the 1880s. This bacterial disease was highly contagious and primarily impacted children, resulting in families sometimes losing multiple children, such as Rev. Menk’s (St. Michael’s minister) family who lost two of their children in 1887.
Polio and tuberculosis were also widespread throughout the Chicagoland area at the turn of the 19th century, and our local newspapers tell of widespread effort to inoculate the public. Large scale medical facilities were opened to address medical needs, with the Chicago-Winfield Tuberculosis Sanatorium opening in 1909, now known as Central DuPage Hospital.
The community also experienced smallpox outbreaks and suffered through the 1918 Spanish flu, which saw area schools and churches closed in certain suburbs. This was a time of conflicting emotions, however, as many communities were celebrating soldiers returning from World War I, and were blamed as the cause for many flu outbreaks. The flu outbreak would continue until at least 1920, as medical advances, trace testing, and social distancing were not developed practices at that time.
Could Edith Massee Munson (who is buried in Glen Oak Cemetery) have caught the flu at one such celebration?
The Daily Chronicle in DeKalb reported that Mrs. Edith Chamberlain got word that her son, Wilber Chamberlain, and his wife and youngest son were all sickened with the flu at their homes in West Chicago. Thankfully, they all survived their bout with the illness.
As we continue to learn to cope in our new environment, we can look to our future with history in mind, as we, just like generations before us, will get through this.