Updated: Oct 9
Complied by Tom Vanasek in April 2020
It's always helpful to look back to see how previous generations handled similar circumstances. By the Fall of 1918 when the Spanish Flu epidemic reached the area, New Prague like the rest of the country was totally preoccupied with WWI. The residents were ensuring they were doing their part of this ‘shared sacrifice’ that when the epidemic hit, it seemed to be viewed more as a large hurdle to their obligations towards the war effort, and not a dire problem that could be afforded exclusive attention.
By April 1918 one year after the U.S. entered WWI, 88 local ‘boys’ and by June 124 were identified as serving in the Armed Forces. A 3rd offering of Liberty Loans was underway where residents of Scott County were expected to subscribe to $300,000 of bonds, while Le Seuer County’s commitment would be slightly higher since they were blessed with good crops. New Prague’s portion was $75,000, but its residents committed to $150,000 in short order. A subsequent 4th Offering came in November. This financial obligation, along with the United War Work Campaign were all monetary expectations placed on citizens and New Prague residents responded emphatically.
Besides its financial stake, New Prague did its part on limiting its use of materials deemed critical to the war effort. It also had a very active and visible local chapter of the Red Cross. Many residents committed to knitting-sewing anything from socks to sheets and later masks, comfort kits for departing boys, and Christmas goodies for those serving. Even kids on summer break were chided into doing their part. All of this was tallied and reported weekly on the front page of the paper.
It however was not all a united front. Growing concerns from farmers around the Midwest about market conditions resulted in the formation of a Nonpartisan League by a former Socialist whose platform wanted much more government involvement. Their candidate for Governor was Charles Lindbergh Sr. who also was against US involvement in the war. This ‘disloyalty’ and pro-German sympathy along with a socialistic platform proved to be very divisive and it was evident in the New Prague area.
On June 4th 1918, a petition signed by 124 mostly German farmers and patrons of the city citing in part: the fact as members of the Nonpartisan League we have been subject to be publicly mobbed and mistreated in a manner where not even respectable Americans would treat a dog. Even a Civil War veteran was claimed to be attacked for simply wearing a button. Further, the police have refused to protect us, and the New Prague Times has publicly indicated that no buttons or banners for the Nonpartisan League are welcome in this town. Therefore, unless we are provided the same rights and protections that citizens and political organizations are due, we will take measures to protect ourselves and will refrain from doing business in your town.
A rebuttal signed by 92 local professional and businessmen of Czech ancestry, appeared in the same edition of the paper. It disputed every claim made and stated much of the trouble was instigated from the other side and state leaders of the Nonpartisan League should be exposed to what they are.
All this played out on the front page of the New Prague Times in its entirety including the entire petition and rebuttal listing all the signees names under the heading:
124 Sign Threatening Petition Without Cause, New Prague Cannot Be Made Disloyal, Cannot Be Changed Or Bribed By Any Threats Of Boycott Nor Any Such Bolsheviki Propaganda, Department Of Justice Notified To Act.
Upon reading the petition afterwards, numerous farmers disagreed with its contents and sent a 2nd petition to the Mayor stating that.
This is the backdrop New Prague was experiencing when the Spanish Flu showed up that fall.
The first local death was in mid October, Ann Campion from a nurse from St. Patrick died while serving in France. For the next 7 months until May 1919, the New Prague Times reported almost weekly 1-3 local deaths attributable to the influenza. As opposed to the current pandemic, many of the deaths were of people in the prime of their life, in their 20’s 30’s and 40’s.
Many times it mentioned the severe suffering, one person even drowning herself in their well to escape the suffering. Many quickly went from feeling fine to dying within a week’s time.
Not sure what was mandated or what was on their own initiative but New Prague’s response seemed to be quick and aggressive.
By October many meetings and public gatherings were either canceled or highly discouraged. Funerals must be held in private and at home with only immediate family, the local embalmer and minister attending. The funeral was to take place within 24 hours and with a closed casket. The local Red Cross’ efforts were severely hampered by high absenteeism as people were either too sick or attending to sick family members.
In November, the city passed an ordinance (#18A) to help limit the spread of any infectious diseases. Any peddler or outside businessman wanting to conduct business locally, must first get a certificate of examination from a local doctor stating that both he and his goods are free from any infectious diseases. It cost $3 and if in violation he could be fined up to $50 or 30 days in jail. It was valid for only that day.
Schools, churches and numerous businesses -mostly saloons- were closed for a few weeks late that fall. Once schools re-opened after Christmas break, the school day was extended by 40 minutes to make up for lost time.
The prohibition on large crowds was informally suspended as news broke on Nov.14th that The Great War came to an end. A spontaneous celebration occurred on Main St. as people danced and sang in the rain and on the muddy street. Many businesses closed as did the school so everyone could take part and take in the impromptu program of speeches and performances by the Bohemian Brass Band at the Savoy Theatre.
Finally, in a sign that the epidemic was beginning to subside in the area, the 3 nurses and 3 housekeepers that were sent by the Red Cross to assist with the epidemic here were allowed to leave early in 1919. However, deaths from the Spanish Flu continued until Spring.