Former hospital reopens in 1918 to fight the flu
Eureka’s old Northern California Hospital, which became St. Joseph Hospital in 1920, ended up being a vital player in the fight against Spanish influenza in October 1918.
On Oct. 23 of that year, the Humboldt County Council of Defense and the Board of Supervisors met and, with approval from state officials, leased thenclosed hospital to the city of Eureka for up to six months as extra space to treat Spanish flu patients.
Local historian and author Jerry Rohde — a past president of the Humboldt County Historical Society — said that the Northern California Hospital, located at Trinity and F streets in Eureka, had been owned by two brothers, Drs. Curtis and Charles Falk.
“I don’t know when it started, but it had closed by 1918 when the Sisters of St. Joseph persuaded the county Board of Supervisors to reopen it as an emergency hospital during the influenza epidemic,” he said.
“I believe the Sisters, who did not have medical training, helped staff the reopened hospital. In 1920, after the epidemic had passed, the former Northern California Hospital was reopened as St. Joseph’s,” said Rohde, noting he obtained much of this information from the September/October 1990 edition of the Humboldt Historian magazine.
The American Red Cross oversaw reopening of the former Northern California Hospital in 1918, with Dr. C. M. Mercer and others making sure the space — which was to house at least 100 beds — had ample inventory on hand. An Oct. 23, 1918 Humboldt Times article stated: “The (hospital reopening) will … greatly relieve the situation with respect to nurses and the centralization of a larger number of cases now spread around in homes, hotels and rooming houses.”
Mrs. Ira Russ was put in charge of the refurbished hospital. City attorney J. J. Cairns, the Rev. Robert Crichton and other residents gathered in late October 1918 to move furniture and supplies into the hospital, according to the Humboldt Times. Red Cross nurses, as well as retired and practical nurses, showed up to work in the initial days after the building opened.
Community volunteers also helped out. Fifty seamstresses made face masks and pneumonia jackets, according to the Oct. 25, 1918 Humboldt Times.
Women in the community cooked and delivered meals to the hospital for patients. The Humboldt Times reported: “It is requested that the women sending in cooked foods in containers mark the dishes so that they may be returned to them.” A call was also put out for linens for the hospital, which needed at least 25 additional sets of sheets and pillow cases to accommodate the number of beds available.
Lots of other flu-related stories also appeared in the late October editions of the Humboldt Times. Here are a few:
· Members of the Eureka Elks Lodge volunteered the use of their headquarters to house people suffering from the flu. In an Oct. 27, 1918 article, Eureka city physician Dr. Lawrence Wing — who was ill in bed with flu-like symptoms at the time — said it wasn’t necessary right then, but he might take the Elks up on the offer if the epidemic escalated.
· The Oct. 28, 1918 Humboldt Times reported that police officer Quigg “did valiant duty yesterday in the enforcement of the order of the health board to wear anti-flu masks. One launch from across the bay brought a load of passengers, nearly all of whom were without masks. Quigg … met the launch, and the whole load was escorted to a drugstore, where they put on the masks.”
This ad ran in numerous October 1918 editions of the Humboldt Times newspaper. Dobell’s Solution, which people used as a mouthwash or nose spray, was one way to help guard against influenza, according to the advertisement.