Looking Back: 102 years ago – 1918 and the Spanish Influenza Pandemic

A Seattle streetcar conductor tells a potential rider that he cannot board without wearing a face mask. (Photo courtesy National Archives)

In October of 1918, the world was still fighting WWI, and although the end of the hostilities was near, censorship of the news still remained.  Therefore, it was left to the non-combatant country of Spain to report that civilians in many places were becoming ill and dying at an alarming rate.  These circumstances gave rise to the name by which this horrible disease would forever be known—the Spanish flu.

In late 1918, a streetcar conductor on the Green Lake run in Seattle, is informing a potential rider that he cannot board the streetcar without wearing a face mask. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

After first showing up earlier in 1918, and then seemingly abating, in the fall, the misnamed Spanish flu returned with a vengeance, and Seattle was enforcing regulations to protect its citizens.  It was reported on Oct. 5, 1918, that Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson had ordered that every place of indoor public gatherings in Seattle close its doors. That included schools, theatres, motion picture houses, churches and dance halls.  The only public gatherings allowed were those in the open air.

In the United States, the disease, first called a 3-day fever, was identified among military personnel in the spring of 1918. Most people recovered after a few days and only a few deaths were reported.  However, in October, with WWI winding down and the American doughboys trickling back home from Europe, the disease resurfaced with a vengeance. Some victims died within hours after the first symptoms; others after a few days.

As the virus spread throughout the populated areas of the United States, and even into remote villages in Alaska, doctors, scientists and health officials seemed helpless. In one small remote native village in Alaska, influenza appeared where there seemed to be little contact from the outside, and in five days, 72 out of 80 residents died.

It was unknown where this strain of influenza first originated, but it was determined that it was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin, and even though it became known as the Spanish flu, it was very doubtful that Spain was the source.

Worldwide, it is estimated that about 500 million people became infected with the virus, and it is thought that at least 50 million, and probably more, died. About 675,000 deaths occurred in the United States.  A Census Bureau report showed that 1,513 people died in Seattle.

Even though Washington state had a large military and naval presence, it had a smaller number of victims than other states; except Oregon. The death toll seemed highest in the most heavily populated areas of Washington, but touched nearly every community. From late September 1918 through the end of the year, it had killed over 5,000 of the state’s residents. More than half the victims were between the ages of 20 and 40.

It is difficult to determine how Edmonds, a town of approximately 1,000 residents, was affected by this pandemic, as the local newspaper appeared unconcerned. Instead, with the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice in the news, the publication mainly covered war information—and the ending of the war was the main focus.

As he recalled the history of Edmonds as seen from the eyes of local journalists, even Ray Cloud, longtime editor of the Edmonds Tribune-Review, in his book Edmonds, the Gem of Puget Sound (1953), had no comments about the influenza pandemic.

Under town happenings, the Tribune-Review did mention the influenza deaths of three local people. On Nov.1, 1918 the paper reported that Mrs. O. W. Clark, a recent Edmonds resident, whose home was on Sixth Street, died Wednesday morning of influenza, and on Nov. 15, 1918, the paper reported that Ina Sneed, the sister of Mrs. O. W. Clark, also a newly arrived resident of Edmonds, had died of influenza. The third report was that locally, Jenne Peterson, of Camp 1, Admiralty Logging Company, died Nov. 6, 1918 in a Seattle hospital, a victim of the Spanish flu. A few other 1918 deaths were labeled pneumonia—of course, the Spanish flu may have been the contributing factor.

From my own research, I found that three of the four young Edmonds men who lost their lives while serving in WWI had died as a result of the dreaded influenza.

The first young man to lose his life during WWI was 22-year-old Jesse G. Marshall.  Pvt. Jesse Marshall died Dec. 17, 1917, while serving in the U.S. army on a battlefield “somewhere in France.” He did not die from an enemy’s bullet, but rather from influenza. This raises the question, was he also one of the first to fall victim to what became known as the Spanish flu? Jesse Marshall was born in Washington state on Nov. 5, 1895, the eldest of six children born to Frank W. and Sarah Marshall of Edmonds. Reading the answers to questions on his June 1917 draft registration form, Jesse Marshall seemed to be an interesting young man. He noted that his home was a camp on the Edmonds’ beach, and he received mail at the Edmonds’ post office. He gave his occupation as a trapper, employed by no one, and employment place as everywhere. The exact location of Pvt. Marshall’s “somewhere in France” grave is unknown.  His death was listed as “non-battle,” and he is one of the more than 4,400 men still missing from WWI.

Second to die while serving his country, was a very popular Edmonds native, 22-year-old Victor Hansen, the third son of Louis and Sine Hansen, Edmonds’ pioneers. The Hansen’s longtime Edmonds home was located on the north side of George (Main) Street between 6th and 7th Streets, and son Victor was a very popular figure around town. Pvt. Victor Hansen was drafted and sent to Camp Freemont in California in May of 1918. He was attached to Co. B, of the 22nd Machine Gun Battalion, U.S. Army. While still stationed at the camp in California, Pvt. Hansen became a victim of the Spanish flu and died of pneumonia on Oct. 19, 1918. He is buried at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle. A former student at Edmonds High School, Victor Hansen was a true Edmonds native, born there on Dec. 23, 1895, he lived in Edmonds his entire life before entering the service.

Richard Burbank

The third to die was another popular young man, Richard Bosworth Burbank. Richard Burbank enlisted Oct. 3, 1918 while he was attending college in Pullman. Pvt. Burbank graduated from the Agricultural Department at Washington State College, and had accepted a position as superintendent of the College Dairy. He resigned in order to enter the Officer’s Training Corps of the U.S. Army.  During the Spanish influenza epidemic at the college, he volunteered to attend the sick. While involved in this service, Richard Burbank was himself infected with the virus and on November 2, 1918, he died from the disease. His body was accompanied back to his hometown by a military escort, and he was buried in Seattle at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park. A 1914 graduate of Edmonds High School, Richard Burbank was born Oct. 5, 1896 in Minnesota, the son of Mr. and Mrs. David Bosworth Burbank whose home was on 4th Street in Edmonds.  Ironically, Mrs. Burbank went to Pullman to care for her son during his illness. After his death and funeral, she became ill with what was thought to be a serious case of tonsillitis. Instead, she had been stricken with influenza, and developed pneumonia. She died Dec. 5, 1918, approximately one month following the death of her son. Mr. Burbank was remembered as a longtime vocational teacher in the Edmonds School District.  Pvt. Richard Burbank’s photo, shown here, is one taken at the college.

An advertisement showing the Spanish flu as extremely communicable appeared in the Tribune-Review on Nov. 1, 1918. Home Stores Co., a downtown Edmonds grocery store, announced: “While the ‘flu’ is still in our midst, use your telephone. We exercise great care in filling telephone orders and while under ordinary circumstances, we prefer to have our patrons come in and shop personally, at the present time we believe it is everyone’s duty to avoid crowds. Phone for Meat, 53 and Groceries, 201.”

For such an extremely virulent health issue in 1918, one that involved the whole world, it does seem strange that the importance of the Spanish flu was apparently overlooked or ignored by some people in the small town of Edmonds.

By the summer of 1919, the influenza pandemic came to an end, as those infected either died or developed immunity. By the time, the pandemic ended, over 6,500 residents of Washington state had died.

— By Betty Lou Gaen

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. She is also an honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.


  1. In his 1927 book “Snohomish County In The War,” William H. Mason records the service of all the residents of Snohomish County who served our country in the First World War, both in military and civilian service. In the chapter under the title Our War Dead, he lists the name of Pvt. Adonijah B. Ameden, 7th Co. Puget Sound Coast Artillery Corps, Fort Worden, Washington, who died of the influenza on November 11, 1918, the day the war ended. An Everett man who lost his life in the service of his country, just as those in battle.

  2. Too many young servicemen lost their lives to the flu, and the sad part was that many were buried near the field hospitals and the locations of their gave sites were lost. The sailors were buried at sea.

  3. Betty,
    I always so appreciate your informative in-depth articles, historical accountings and musings. This article, in particular, is so interesting because the correlations between the Spanish Flu and Covid-19 are not so different.. In fact, here we are a century later and find ourselves at a frighteningly similar place. Thank you for the gems you continue to create and share and we get to glean!
    Marni Muir

    1. Covid versus Spanish Flu:

      Spanish Flu killed about 50 million out of a world population of 1.8 billion.

      The current Covid number is 685,281 out of 7.8 billion, 200 million deaths would equalize.

  4. Spanish Flu and Covid-19 are not alike at all.

    #Spanish Flu mortality by age:
    1–4: 12.13%
    5–14: 7.69%
    15–19: 6.16%
    20–29: 32.03%
    30–39: 23.35%
    40–49: 7.75%
    50–59: 4.07%
    60+: 6·82%

    #Covid Deaths by age:
    1–4: 0.005%
    5–14: 0.013%
    15–24: 0.121%
    25–34: 0.676%
    35–44: 1.722%
    45-54: 4.815%
    55–64: 11.909%
    65+: ~81%

    The data indicates that we should only quarantine the elderly. I also believe that elderly people should use sauna’s 20 minutes per day if healthy, and take HCQ and zinc as a prophylactic. We should also be taking the Hydroxychloroquine drug with Zinc that Trump identified very early on if we have early symptoms. Early treatment is key, only with use of Z-Pak (Zinc).

    Proven 91% effective within 48 hours.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkNC5OQD2UE <- Dr. Fauci on this study, favoring studies that have been retracted [below].

    The longer this goes on, the more conclusive evidence there is that there is a cheap, readily available cure which is actively being suppressed by the media and Big Pharma because they hate Trump and want to make a lot of money on a treatment/vaccine respectively.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xhoi1JKjClk <- Dr. Raoult on treating 2600 patients

  5. Matt Richardson, Thank you. I ask that you continue sharing your knowledge with us on the variety of subjects in Edmonds. Do you write and, or comment to other publications or media outlets on socio-economic, political, injustice issues, and the like? If so, where might I watch for them or look for archives?

    1. I agree Lori; Matt Richardson and his comments are truly an asset to MEN and Edmonds in general. He is young, a businessman, and a family man. I have missed his commentary. We are all better for his input on most everything as he is one of the most well-rounded personalities who has a mind like a computer. Welcome back Mr. Richardson!

  6. Editors: comments from a previous contributor are not factual and caution needs to be applied. Specifically Z-pack is a macrolide antibiotic and is not a source of zinc as was stated. Also, the Covid study from Henry Ford did not show 91 percent benefit as stated by a contributor; but included data from patients treated therapeutically within 48 hs (91 percent). The contributor implied hydroxycholoquine should be used prophylactically and the Henry Ford study authors clearly state the drug with or without Z-pack needs to include heart monitoring. HCQ and macrolide antibiotics (example Z-pack) have been shown to alter QT interval (reviewed extensively in the literature). Readers need to be careful! Just my 2 cents as a retired microbiologist (38 yrs laboratory service)

    1. I agree with everything you said, but we both need to be quantified. Dr. Gold (another censored doctor) points out more caution is warranted with tylenol than with hydroxychloroquine when the latter is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Very few are heart monitored when HCQ is used for other purposes. The dosage seems imperative.
      Studies that indicated heart problems often were conducted using twice the recommended dosage on people with pre-existing heart conditions.

      Within the next month or two, Hydroxychloroquine and Zinc (in some form) may be over the counter, just like in other countries.

  7. I am just finishing the book The Great Influenza, by John Barry. I wanted to know more since my father’s first wife and his sister , both in their 20s and pregnant died in 1918. It’s thought to be of avian origin. Spain was neutral in WWI and wrote about the epidemic in all its horrific details. Most countries were censoring the flu news. That is why it was called the Spanish flu. A big difference was how lethal it was for the people in their 20s. The scientists worked feverishly to find the origin of the virus and how it changed. All the scientific work on viruses lead to the development of vaccines now controlling many diseases. It was a long slog of research, no easy fixes. The discovery of DNA in the 50s helped in the research. We owe a lot to the long, slow work which scientists did to make the important discoveries about viruses.

    1. Barbara, this and your recent article on the types and characteristics of various trees are very helpful and contribute greatly to the various subjects and issues impacting our community. Even though I may strenuously and, perhaps too abrasively, disagree with you about some things, I certainly respect you, all your valuable insights and keen ability to communicate your position on all things Edmonds.

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