The following was taken from the writings of Dr. Lloyd Shaw, a superintendent, principal, teacher and coach for Colorado Springs schools from 1916 to 1951.
By the time school started in the fall of 1918, the “Spanish Influenza” had stood up on its feet and looked us squarely in the eye. It was a menacing look. A lot of people tried to laugh it off, but it somehow wouldn’t laugh off. It had got into our Army camps over on this side, and the grip was fatal. It spread from the Army camps into the general population, slowly but surely! Healthy men were suddenly very desperately sick for a couple of days and then they died. That was that, and the influenza was spreading.
All the schools were closed before October had run a week of its course. People were alarmed. The churches, the moving picture theaters, all places of public gathering were closed. Still the cases of influenza were steadily increasing. People were urged to wear masks — a piece of gauze tied over the lower part of the face — whenever they had to go among strangers. We met strangers very little, always at a distance and everyone understood.
Salaries were reduced at the schools, where we had nothing to do, no one to meet. The committee of physicians, who had to watch patient after patient die, held their ground, as the deaths increased and they refused all public meetings.
One evening, a man who lived down the bluff from me and worked at the Broadmoor Hotel, came over to borrow my phone. After phoning, he wanted to visit with me, at a safe distance, and he told me how excited and how foolish they were all being at the hotel. Just a few guests and everybody scared to death! “If they would only get over their fear,” he exclaimed, “we would get over the epidemic!” He was almost convincing in his eager earnestness.
The next day, about 3 in the morning, we heard someone pounding on our kitchen door. I stumbled down to the door. It was his wife, desperate and frightened, who wanted to use our phone. At last she got a doctor and I heard her tell him, “He’s terribly sick, with a very high fever, and I don’t know what it is! Please, please come out right away!” The doctor came before daylight. It was influenza and a sudden desperate case of pneumonia. They had an ambulance out by dawn and carried him away to one of the hospitals. He was dead by noon.
Swift, swift and utterly merciless! We washed our telephone carefully in soap and water. And we waited. The whole world seemed to be waiting to see who was next.
We had to have a little help with our babies. A few of the girls, who were meticulously healthy, came over to help us. The least suspicion of a cold, and you were out of all contact with people until you got well.
The war was over on Nov. 11 of that year. The influenza had been decreasing, and in their excitement and exultation the people decided to hold a parade. Never have I seen such feeling displayed on the streets of Colorado Springs! But it cost many of our lives. The influenza statistics immediately showed a marked increase.
At last, on Jan. 13, 1919, we reopened school. The epidemic did seem to be losing its force. There was much work to make up. And on Saturday and weekends we would meet in the great outdoors and play hard. After all, we had witnessed 675,000 Americans die from the Spanish Influenza.
This article comes courtesy of the Cheyenne Mountain Kiva, the journal of the Cheyenne Mountain Heritage Center. The Center’s mission is to gather and share the unique heritage and traditions of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region. For more information, visit cmheritagecenter.org.