When it was Over Over There: Florida Soldiers and the End of World War I

“Veterans with Armistice Day parade float in front of the Jefferson County courthouse”-Photo courtesy of Florida Memory

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

November 11, 1918, the last day of World War I, was anything but quiet on the Western Front. Although the high commands of the combatants knew that the armistice or cease fire agreement signed early that morning called for the combat to end at 11 am, the habits of four years of warfare kept the armies fighting into the final hour. Some American commanders, fully aware of the armistice deadline, decided not to waste the lives of their men now that the war was about to end. Other commanders believed that Allied orders to maintain pressure on the Germans meant they should attack until the armistice was in effect. In a few cases, American generals seeking to enhance their wartime resumes insisted on assaulting German positions during the war’s final minutes. The last German-held French town to fall to the Americans was Stenay on the Meuse River. American troops captured Stenay only fifteen minutes before the armistice began at a cost of 365 casualties, 61 of them deaths. The last morning of the war produced 2,738 American deaths out of a total of 10,944 casualties on all sides.

Out of the 20 million deaths in World War I, 116,516 were Americans and 1,134 of those were Floridians. In all, over 42,000 Floridians served in the war. The first Floridian to die was Second Lieutenant Wiley H. Burford of Ocala. He was killed by a German bullet in France on February 14, 1918. Burford was a graduate of Princeton University and was attending law school at the University of Florida when he entered the Army’s officer training camp at Fort McPherson in Atlanta. According to the Ocala Evening Star, the news of Wiley’s death spread through downtown Ocala “as swiftly as fire follows a train of powder,” taking “the smile off of every face.” The newspaper praised his sacrifice: “He died for America; he died for France; he died for right and justice and the welfare of the whole world.” His death, the writer hoped, would inspire reluctant volunteers, “whose feet are slow to enter the pathway of duty and honor.” The university made many tributes to Wiley, including the dedication of the 1919 Seminole yearbook in his honor. A poem in the yearbook proclaimed Wiley “Florida’s First to Fall.” The student newspaper, The Florida Alligator, also paid respect to Wiley’s loss and the deaths of the other UF students who died in the war.

Wiley Burford
The Ocala evening star-February 18, 1918
aa00022765-10-1 cropped
The Seminole-1919

Many of Florida’s war dead, including the UF students, fell to disease rather than bullets. Most fell victim to the influenza pandemic that ended the lives of some 20 to 40 million people worldwide in 1918–1919. Up to half of the American soldiers who died in Europe during the war died of the flu, not from enemy fire. In an article entitled “Uncle Sam’s Advice on Flu,” the US Public Health Service warned that the disease was “As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells.” J. M. Wilson, a Floridian serving in the Navy, learned the truth of that warning when he returned from France at war’s end only to discover that his mother and two brothers had died from the flu in Pensacola. On October 17, 1918, less than a month before the armistice, Private Lee Bradley, an African American soldier in the 546th Engineer Battalion, died of pneumonia, most likely due to the flu. Private Bradley’s body was eventually returned to Florida. He was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Rochelle, Alachua County, where his family lived. His headstone declares that he died “For World Liberty” and bears an inscription common for the war’s dead: “He left his home in perfect health, He looked so young and brave, We little thought how soon He would be laid in a Soldier’s grave.”

Lee Bradley AA00010140-00094
From the University of Florida Digital Collections

Private Bradley was one of over 13,000 African American Floridians who served in the Army during World War I: the US Navy and Marines did not take black men as regular enlistees, only as servants and cooks. Racism consigned the majority of black soldiers to service or labor in battalions like the 546th Engineers, Lee Bradley’s unit. Black troops also performed essential support functions in the Army’s artillery, signal, medical, and veterinary corps and often came under enemy fire. The Lakeland Evening Telegram was enthusiastic about the service of black troops. In an article on “The Negro and the War,” the paper applauded black patriotism and their patience under fire, but could not refrain from a paternalistic tone when it noted that the black soldiers were “cheerful and good natured at all times.” The article painted black troops as men without grievances, when such incidents as the Houston Riot of 1917 clearly showed the extent of African American soldiers’ resentment of their country’s racism.

The Negro and the War
The Lakeland evening telegram-May 16, 1918

On November 11, 1918, however, the nation seemed to put aside racial ill will for a day as Americans of all backgrounds celebrated the end of the Great War. Expectation of an end to the fighting rose dramatically as early as November 8, when news leaked that German representatives had arrived at Allied headquarters to discuss an armistice. Rumors of war’s end brought people out in the streets in cities across the United States after false reports that the Germans had agreed to an armistice spread through American newspapers. As a result, according to the Associated Press, “Business was suspended, schools closed, bells were rung and whistles shrieked. Prayers were offered in churches and parading citizens jammed the streets.” Finally, on the afternoon of November 11, newspapers could unleash the long-awaited headline of “Peace! Armistice Signed—World War Ends” and simply “The War Is Over.”

PEACE Armistice Signed
The Pensacola journal-November 11, 1918

Only a few days after the armistice began, sentiment in the United States favored making November 11 a national holiday, even though the Fourth of July did not yet have such status. Proclaiming November 11 “the greatest day in the history of the world,” the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union argued that Thanksgiving should be moved to November 11 as the day was truly one of thanksgiving for the nation and the world. On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson recognized the importance of the day one year after the armistice was signed, releasing a prepared statement that henceforth Americans would hold Armistice Day as a day of “solemn pride.” The president was not present at ceremonies commemorating the anniversary as he was confined to his bed in the White House after suffering a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, unable to perform his public duties. He had sacrificed his health trying to get the nation to support and the US Senate to pass the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, and included the League of Nations, which Wilson believed would be instrumental in maintaining future peace. The Senate rejected the treaty and the League. Americans would go on to observe Armistice Day each year. In 1938, the day became a national holiday, and in 1954, Congress changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor veterans of all the country’s wars.

The University of Florida did not forget its dead. On October 13, 1934, the university dedicated Florida Field to the memory of all the Florida servicemen who gave their lives in the war. Florida governor David Sholtz and university president John Tigert led the unveiling of two memorial plaques. Placed on the north wall of the stadium, one plaque dedicated the field to all of Florida’s Great War fallen; the other plaque memorialized the names of university alumni who had perished in the war, including Wiley H. Burford, the first of Florida’s Great War dead. Generations of UF football fans have passed these memorials on Gator Game Days. How many have taken a moment to remember the young men who never returned from Over There?

From the University of Florida Digital Collections

Citations and Additional Sources:

Billings, Molly. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/).

Marlin, Pam Hawley. UF and The Great War (http://www.dmarlin.com/uf-then-now/ww1/).

Persico, Joseph. E. Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918 World War I and Its Violent Climax. New York, Random House, 2004.

_______________. “World War I: Wasted Lives on Armistice Day.” Military History Quarterly (Winter 2005). Published online by HistoryNet, June 12, 2006 (http://www.historynet.com/world-war-i-wasted-lives-on-armistice-day.htm).

United States World War One Centennial Commission. Florida (https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/261-florida.html).


More Ghost Towns of Florida

Members of Koreshan Unity dressed for a play- Courtesy of Florida Memory

It’s spooky season once again so we’ve collected more clippings about ghost towns in Florida. Why are there so many ghost towns in Florida? Christopher Strain explains that the waves of development in the state result in a “spatial and temporal paradox: the more Florida builds and grows, the more it degrades and devolves” (Strain). Economic downturns, agricultural failure, depletion of natural resources, and disaster all contribute to towns shifting from booming cultural centers to shadows of their former selves. That said, some of these towns have fascinating histories worth discussing.

Romeo, Florida and Juliette, Florida were both towns in Marion County that were a few miles apart from each other. The Shakespearean nature of their names caught our eye and we were able to locate stories and advertisements about both towns.

Romeo packing house
The Ocala evening star-March 30, 1922
The Romeo Picnic
The Ocala evening star-May 11, 1920
Juliette West Coast Bottling Company
The Ocala evening star-October 15, 1910

Eureka, Florida, in Lake County, is another town with a rather striking name. According to an article from Ocala Style, the post office in the town operated from “1873 until 1955, then moved to Citra.” Today there’s a boat ramp at the Eureka Dam that offers access to the Ocala National Forest.

Eureka County Correspondence
The Ocala Star-March 5, 1898
Eureka Notes Ocala 11131913
The Ocala evening star-November 13, 1903

Estero, Florida is another fascinating ghost town. According to the village website, “Estero’s most noted pioneer was Cyrus Teed, leader of the Koreshan Unity.” The Koreshans moved to the area from Chicago in the 1890s to found what they called their “New Jerusalem” to escape the persecution and ridicule they faced in the city. By 1904, they were “able to incorporate 110 square miles into the Town of Estero” (Estero). A story for a longer post, Estero continued to exist even after Teed’s death and non-resurrection in 1908. Estero appears to be making a comeback, but the Koreshans no longer exist. However, you can still visit their settlement, which is now Koreshan State Park.

Koreshans recieve goods
The new enterprise-January 1, 1907
Koreshan University Ad
The champion-June 14, 1906

Yamoto Colony, located in what is now Boca Raton, was a Japanese community of farmers founded by Jo Sakai in 1905. Supported by Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, the immigrant farming community wanted to “introduce new crops and farming techniques to the state” (Morikami Website). The crops they farmed included pineapples! Yamoto ultimately disappears in 1941 due to the wartime hysteria that resulted in Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans undergoing forced relocation by the U.S. Government.

Yamato Pineapples
The Florida agriculturalist-December 25, 1907
Yamato 4th of July
The Pensacola journal-July 15, 1908

The last two ghost towns we’ll cover this year are Viking and Oslo Florida. Despite being around 4 miles apart, Oslo is in Indian River County while Viking is in St. Lucie County. Apparently, the names of the towns were chosen by the Scandinavian families who moved to the area in the 1890s. Like Yamoto, the citizens of Viking and Oslo also engaged in agriculture, including growing pineapples. We’re not entirely sure what led to the declension of these two towns but their names are certainly interesting.

Viking Section Recognized
The St. Lucie County Tribune-April 29, 1910
Oslo mentioned in Viking Section
The St. Lucie county tribune-April 8, 1910
Oslo Pinapple and Citrus Growers
Fort Pierce news-November 5, 1909

Citations and Additional Sources:

Anonymous. “Ghost Towns of Marion County.” Ocala Style, July 6, 2010. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://www.ocalastyle.com/ghost-towns-of-marion-county/.   

Capero, Laura. New Collection: Viking Cemetery Collection. RICHES at the University of Central Florida. Accessed October 17, 2018. https://riches.cah.ucf.edu/?tag=viking-cemetery.

Florida Memory. The Koreshan Unity Exhibit. State Library & Archives of Florida. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://www.floridamemory.com/exhibits/koreshan/.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Yamoto Colony-Pioneering Japanese in Florida. Accessed October 24, 2018. https://morikami.org/our-history/yamato-colony-pinoeering-japanese-in-florida/.

Lake County Florida. Ghost Towns: Lake County, Florida. Lake County Board of County Commissioners. Accessed October 17, 2018. https://www.lakecountyfl.gov/pdfs/gis/maps/GhostTowns_22x34.pdf.

Pike, Jim. “Oslo.” Ghost Towns. Accessed October 19, 2018. http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/fl/oslo.html.

Pike, Jim. “Viking.” Ghost Towns. Accessed October 19, 2018. http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/fl/viking.html.

Strain, Christopher. “Ghost Towns, Vanishing Florida and the Geography of Memory.” Journal of Florida Studies Volume 1, Issue 2 (Spring 2013): accessed October 15, 2018. http://www.journaloffloridastudies.org/0102ghosttowns.html.

Village of Estero. Estero History. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://estero-fl.gov/estero-history/


The 1918 Flu Pandemic Part 3-Society Pages and Local News

Children ready for school during the 1918 flu epidemic-Image courtesy of Florida Memory

Over the last 2 months, we’ve discussed varying aspects of the 1918 flu pandemic. Beyond front pages, which predominately present national updates on the flu, there are other sections of our papers where the gravity of the influenza pandemic becomes undeniable; notably the society page. In our blog we’ve previously discussed women’s/society pages at length, but, as a refresher, society sections are regularly occurring columns in newspapers that cover issues including parties, women’s clubs, social visits from out of town, and other issues that were considered to relate to the domestic sphere. Additionally, some newspapers papers had broad local news sections. During height of the pandemic, the flu was often mentioned in those columns as well as in the society sections. In this post we’ll highlight content from society and local news sections of our papers to contextualize the effect of the pandemic on towns and cities in Florida.

In her book on the pandemic, Kristy Duncan points out that “in the United States, the 1918 influenza pandemic caused 550,000 deaths, widespread social disruption, and enormous burdens on health care and civil infrastructure” (Duncan 4-5). While this number is shocking, it is perhaps so large that it obfuscates the individual and local impact the flu made in Florida. Society pages really bring to light the intimate labor associated with caring for the sick as well as the mourning that occurred when loved ones succumbed to the disease.

In The Pensacola journal, which has the most consistent society page of our collection, readers will notice an uptick in reports of illness beginning at the end of September 1918. One particularly telling report is about a Lieutenant Cyester Smith, who had just returned from overseas duty only to find himself in a naval hospital in Virginia with pneumonia. For many affected by the flu, pneumonia followed with deadly consequences. While we are certainly speculating as to if Lieutenant Smith had the flu, it fits the timeline presented by Duncan. In her book, she notes “in September, the disease swept Europe. Returning troop carried flu home. In North America, servicemen disembarked from crowded ships at Atlantic ports only to board trains that would take them, along with flu, inland to cities, villages, and farms from Newfoundland to California” (Duncan 8). By mid-October 1918, nearly every issue of The Pensacola journal contained reports of illnesses, recoveries, and deaths attributed to flu and pneumonia. The overwhelming number of reports on this same topic demonstrate the spread of the disease to and around Pensacola.

Red Flu Highlight
The Pensacola journal-October 10, 1918


Interestingly, along with the flu epidemic we see a more regularly occurring section of The Pensacola journal: the obituary column. Prior to the 1918 flu pandemic, obituaries sporadically appeared in the paper, but the sheer number of deaths associated with influenza necessitated running it much more frequently. During this time, there are an almost overwhelming number of obituaries related to deaths attributed to either pneumonia or influenza. Following the end of the pandemic, the column remained in the paper, appearing on a regular basis.

PJ Obituary
The Pensacola journal-October 10, 1918


The society and local sections of The Lakeland evening telegram, while not quite as robust as The Pensacola journal, also provide snapshots into how influenza affected Lakeland. Similarly, by mid-October these sections were inundated with reports of sick citizens as well as reports of those that had passed away. Uniquely, on several occasions the paper also includes a report by the acting city Health Officer about the number of new flu cases in the city. The Lakeland evening telegram also opened up about their own struggle to produce the paper in the face of sickness and asked subscribers to “try to be as good-natured as you can” if “your paper is late, or if the substitute carrier boy misses you.”

29 New Cases Spanish Influenza
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 15, 1918

On a practical level, society sections are exceptionally useful for historians and genealogists trying to locate information on specific people.  It is worth mentioning that not all deaths were reported in society sections and, given the fact that our papers were written by and for the white populations of cities, African American deaths by and large aren’t mentioned or, if they are, they are reported without the use of specific names. Even with a subject as macabre as the 1918 flu pandemic, the society page sheds light on the day-to-day lives of people living where our newspapers were published.

We’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed our series on the 1918 flu pandemic.

Citations and Additional Sources

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Byerly, Carol R. “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.” Public Health Reports 2010; 125 (Suppl 3): 82-91. Accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.

Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Duncan, Kirsty. Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Gunderman, Richard. “The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago-but many of us still get the basic facts wrong.” The Conversation, January 11, 2018. https://theconversation.com/the-greatest-pandemic-in-history-was-100-years-ago-but-many-of-us-still-get-the-basic-facts-wrong-89841.

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

“Ship Went Down With All On Board”: Remembering the USS Tampa

NH 1226
Photograph of the USS Tampa courtesy of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

As the end of the centennial of World War I approaches (November 11, 2018), it is important to recognize that while the major loss of human life was on land in such terrible battles as Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele, and the Argonne, tens of thousands of men and women died as a result of the war at sea.  Americans who know about this aspect of the war might point to the German sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania—the sister ship of the Titanic—on May 7, 1915, as the most famous naval incident of the war: 1,198 out of 1,900 people onboard died, including 128 Americans; the sinking dramatically increased anti-German sentiment in the United States and contributed to the eventual American decision to declare war against Germany on April 6, 1917. While the sinking of the Lusitania resulted in a terrible loss of civilian life, the worst American military loss at sea occurred in the final months of the war on September 26, 1918, when a German U-boat sank the USS Tampa off the coast of Britain. The sinking killed everyone on board the Tampa: 131 men died, 34 of them Floridians.

The story of the Tampa began in 1912 when the ship, originally christened as the US Revenue Cutter Miami, was launched at Newport News, Virginia on February 10 that year. Weighing 1,181 tons and 190 feet in length, the steam and sail vessel was armed with three 6-pound guns. After initial trial voyages off Virginia and Maryland, the Miami was stationed for coastal duty in Key West. The vessel also took part in iceberg patrols in the North Atlantic following the sinking of the Titanic on April 14, 1912. In January 1915, the US Revenue Cutter Service merged with the US Life Saving Service to form the US Coast Guard. As a result, the Miami became one of the first ships in the modern Coast Guard. On February 1, 1916, while serving in Tampa Bay during the Gasparilla festival, the Miami was renamed the Tampa and continued to serve off of Florida and the North Atlantic.

USS Miami added to fleet
The Pensacola journal-February 11, 1912

Following America’s entry into the war in April 1917, the Coast Guard transferred its cutters to the command of the US Navy. The USS Tampa retained the same officers and crew, but the ship was outfitted with new weapons and features to combat German U-boats, which were sinking large numbers of American and Allied ships off the coasts of Europe and North America. On September 29, 1917, the Tampa left New York for Europe. The ship took up its new station at Gibraltar and spent the next year escorting convoys of merchant ships through U-boat infested waters from Gibraltar to Britain. During this time, the Tampa spent 50 percent of its service at sea. The Navy commended the Tampa for its “excellent record” of service.

Florida Memory 324723
Algy Bevins in uniform aboard the USCGC Tampa courtesy of Florida Memory

Among the young crew of the Tampa was Seaman Algy Knox Bevins of Davenport, Florida. Algy joined the Coast Guard in 1916 and first served aboard the USCG dredge Barnard stationed at Key West and Jacksonville. Soon after the United States declared war on Germany, Algy entered the Navy and was transferred to the Tampa. Serving onboard with his brother, Arthur, Algy wrote to his parents a week after joining the Tampa, describing his duties and assuring them of his safety:

Both Arthur and myself are in the cutter service. We have enlisted for one year and have been aboard one week today. It is way ahead of the Barnard for we are getting a little more money than the dredge was paying and at the same time traveling a little and serving Uncle Sam. I am [firing] and Art is passing coal. There is a good chance for advancement which the Barnard did not offer. . . . The cutter is not like the regular navy yet we are under the navy now. Our duties is life [saving] and coast guarding. Something which there is very little danger [encompassed] with the regular service. [Don’t] worry about us for we both like it and there is nothing to worry about.

Almost a year later, writing from Europe, the brothers continued to reassure their parents of their safety:

Both well etc. and going about our duties without any fears and it strikes me that if we can see nothing to be afraid of why you all should [have no] great cause to worry. The danger is no more here than in any other industry back home so just put those petty fears aside and look on the bright side always.

The Pensacola journal-October 13, 1916

The brothers were right. Serving aboard an escort ship was relatively safe. The real danger of U-boat attack came to unescorted ships sailing unattached to a convoy. Unfortunately, although the odds of a U-boat launching a successful attack on the Tampa were slight, the risk of an attack was always present. For the Bevins brothers and rest of the crew of the Tampa that risk became real on September 26, 1918, when U-boat UB-91 found the ship in its sights on a foggy night as the Tampa made its way into the Bristol Channel off England. The submarine fired one torpedo that hit the Tampa’s stern. Other ships in the convoy that the Tampa was escorting heard a loud explosion, and the Tampa was never seen again. The ship went down with no survivors. Only a single body was found among a few pieces of wreckage.

Ship went down with all on board
The Ocala evening star-October 3, 1918

Florida newspapers brought news of the shocking loss to their readers. The Navy did not make the sinking public until October 3. That day, the Ocala Evening Star ran the headline “Ship Went Down With All on Board,” but was unable to provide many details besides noting that a submarine had sunk the Tampa off the English coast. On October 8, the Pensacola Journal reported the death of First Lieutenant J. T. Carr, the Tampa’s engineer officer who had been stationed in Pensacola before America went to war. Two days later, on October 10, the Punta Gorda Herald noted the loss of the Tampa was especially tragic for the ship’s namesake town as nineteen crew members came from that city. The paper bemoaned, “Thus are the horrors of war brought home to us all.” Such an attack, the Herald declared, made a mockery of Germany’s recent peace overtures—on October 5, the German government declared its willingness to negotiate peace terms. “Unconditional surrender,” the newspaper argued, “is the best terms she [Germany] should receive.” The Lakeland Evening Telegram covered a touching memorial ceremony held for Bert Lane, a Lakeland native, whose life had ended on the Tampa, and who had “laid down his life for the cause of his country.” This tribute would have been repeated across the state as Floridians mourned the loss of so many of their young men.

Fitting memorial for Bert Lane
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 10, 1918

Citations and Additional Sources

American Legion, “Our Name Sake “U.S.S. Tampa” and Her Legacy.” http://www.post5tampa.org/history.html.

Bevins Family Papers. State Archives of Florida. https://www.floridamemory.com/collections/bevins/.

Gonzalez, Robin Robson, Nancy J. Turner, and Jen Larcom. USCGC TAMPA Tampa’s Own: Pageantry, Protection & Patriotism. Tampa History Center. https://www.dropbox.com/s/ha7sjsbm7eo6mpf/booksofar.pdf?dl=0

Herscovici, Derek. Remember the Tampa! Tampa Magazine (July 28, 2016). http://thetampamagazine.com/remember-the-tampa-military-ship/.

Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 1226 USCGC Tampa. https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-01000/NH-1226.html

Unites Sates Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard History Program. U.S.S. Tampa, C.G. Casualty List, World War I. http://www.post5tampa.org/files/U.S.S._Tampa_Casualties_1918.pdf.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic Part 2-Medical Advice and Questionable Cures

Coughs and Sneezes
The Pensacola journal-October 16, 1918

In our last blog we introduced the 1918 flu pandemic, discussed how the flu traveled through U.S. military camps during the last year of World War I, and briefly looked at how this topic was discussed in historical Florida newspapers. This seemingly unstoppable flu, which affected every segment of the population, stumped doctors and created a public health crisis. In this blog post, we’ll discuss attempts to limit the spread of the disease and some of the products that were incorrectly marketed as methods to prevent or cure the flu.

Responding to a public health crisis during wartime was no easy task for the U.S. Government. John M. Barry discusses the tension that existed between the need to downplay stories that would impact the morale of the American people and the very real health threat presented by the flu. He claims that newspapers helped downplay initial reports of the flu’s severity but, by late September 1918, there was no way to deny the presence of the flu in Florida and most other east-coast states. Around this time, articles begin to appear in our Florida papers, written by government agencies like the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) with recommendations on how to avoid the flu as well as how to treat it. One Government piece titled “Uncle Sam’s Advice on Flu” ran in many Florida papers including The Ocala evening star and The Nassau County leader. This article is particularly interesting because it explicitly talks about the King of Spain’s multiple bouts of influenza over the years and doubles down on the “Spanish Flu” name/origin. While some of the information about the flu itself is highly speculative, it does offers some practical advice to those helping the sick including that “no one but the nurse should be allowed in the room” and “care should be taken that all such discharges are collected on bits of gauze or rag or paper napkins and burned.” But the simple fact of the matter is many of the suggestions for avoiding disease transmission aren’t specific to the flu. This is likely due to the fact that “in 1918, the medical profession did not know what caused Spanish flu. And because they did not know the cause, it did not know to prevent the disease” (Duncan 11).

Safe expedients in home treatment
The Pensacola Journal-October 5, 1918

While the Federal government was certainly concerned with the flu, local governments and newspapers stepped in with their own suggestions and policies in an attempt to limit the impact of the epidemic in their areas. On the most basic end, we have examples like the fact that The Ocala evening star printed directions for making and properly wearing masks while attending to the sick multiple times during the height of the second wave of influenza. The Ocala evening star also ran a proclamation by the Mayor in early October 1918 titled “Concerning Measures Taken to Prevent Spread of Disease known as Spanish Influenza.” It mentions that “city health authorities have seen fit to close the schools, theaters, churches and other places of public assembly.” He also asks that people “avoid as far as possible gathering in crowds” and that parents “prevent as far as possible their children from going abroad.” He was not alone in his calls for “diligence to alleviate the situation.”

Ocala Mayor Proclamation
The Ocala evening star-October 9, 1918

Quarantines weren’t necessarily popular, but many local governments felt they were the most effective way to limit the spread of flu. As Kristy Duncan points out, medical practitioners “rightly assumed that the disease could be spread through the air by coughing or sneezing. Therefore many governments at all levels and on all continents enforced the closure of public areas where people might come into close contact with one another. They closed dance halls, schools, and libraries. Some North American cities shut YMCAs, ice-cream parlours, shoeshine parlours, candy stores, furniture stores, and churches (Duncan 11).” Quarantines were used throughout Florida during the height of the flu epidemic. Pensacola banned public gatherings even after the worst part of the epidemic had passed. While Orlando didn’t seem to have a quarantine, public officials told citizens that they needed to stop visiting neighbors or else it would “be necessary to ask the City Council to pass an ordinance” with a more enforceable quarantine. Schools were closed in many places, including Ocala and Lakeland. The Lakeland evening telegram is unique among our papers in that for one week in October they published the lessons students were missing due to the school closures. There’s no indication of if this section of the paper only ran for one week, (possibly because of illness among the teachers and/or students?), but it demonstrates that there were attempts to maintain some normalcy in the face of influenza.

Teachers assign lessons
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 23, 1918

Desperation and fear meant that people were willing to try just about anything to cure or prevent the flu. There are multiple articles in our papers explaining that the flu “doesn’t like lemons” or other citrus fruits. The Punta Gorda herald even claimed “unaccountable barrels of hot lemonade have been drunken to drown the flu germs” causing “a lemon shortage in America.” Brands were also quick to recognize that public concern surrounding this epidemic could be leveraged to sell “cures” to the public. Lack of regulation regarding patent medicines in the early 20th century allowed many products to claim to be effective flu remedies. Some companies, including Calotabs and Vicks VapoRub wrote ads that were intentionally designed to look like news articles touting the supposed efficacy of their products against the flu. Others, like Foley’s Honey and Tar, adopted a more standard advertising format to encourage consumers to buy their products. Even after the threat of the “Spanish Flu” had passed, memory of and fear of another epidemic probably influenced companies like Peruna and Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic to include flu in the list of diseases and ailments they claimed their products protected against.

Peruna as flu relief
The Pensacola journal-June 22, 1919

The best cure for the flu was ultimately time, but many people succumbed to the disease or complications caused by it before their body could successfully fight off the virus. Fear of the flu and the desperation that came with it resulted in governmental willingness to resort to quarantines and the willingness of private citizens to turn to cures like eating excessive amounts of citrus. Join us next month for the culmination of our series on the 1918 flu pandemic.

Citations and Additional Sources

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Byerly, Carol R. “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.” Public Health Reports 2010; 125 (Suppl 3): 82-91. Accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.

Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Duncan, Kirsty. Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Gunderman, Richard. “The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago-but many of us still get the basic facts wrong.” The Conversation, January 11, 2018. https://theconversation.com/the-greatest-pandemic-in-history-was-100-years-ago-but-many-of-us-still-get-the-basic-facts-wrong-89841.

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic Part 1-World War I and the “Spanish Flu”

4th Liberty Loan
The Pensacola journal-September 29, 1918

2018 marks the centennial of an event that is almost forgotten in our collective memory: the 1918 influenza pandemic. Over the next few months, we’ll feature stories about this global health catastrophe, focusing on how newspapers in Florida covered the topic. This first post will contemplate the origins of this pandemic, specifically looking at how it affected the ongoing war effort in the closing months of World War I.

Most of us know what influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is. We may associate it with symptoms which include fever, cough, fatigue, body aches, and more, which can appear abruptly.  While doctors and researchers do their best to anticipate world-wide flu trends to thwart the virus today, it acts in unpredictable ways. In 1918, medical science was even less equipped to handle a particularly aggressive flu strain that “swept the world in three great waves and killed an estimated 20 million-40 million people in just one year” according to Kristy Duncan, a professor at the University of Toronto and Canada’s Minister of Science (Duncan 3).

In the United States, the disease went by many names including the “Spanish Flu.” Despite the name, the flu didn’t start in Spain, but, because Spain was neutral in WWI, the press in that country covered events surrounding the burgeoning epidemic much more thoroughly than nations embroiled in the conflict. Those involved in the war didn’t want to give any indication of weakness to their enemies, and the flu epidemic certainly weakened every country it affected. In Florida and other states, people even speculated that the sickness was actually spread by Germany to weaken the war effort in America. While multiple theories as to the flu’s origin exist, there is no scientific consensus about where it truly started.

Speculation Germans caused disease
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 18, 1918

What we do know is that conditions associated with WWI military camps, which included soldiers living in close quarters and increased travel due to the war, facilitated the spread of the disease. In America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 Alfred W. Crosby notes that “On September 11, the Sox won the World Championship, the navy announced that the pandemic had killed 26 sailors in and around Boston, and the first flu cases were recognized among navy personnel in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, and Illinois” (Crosby 46). Within two weeks of September 11, 1918, front page stories emerge in The Pensacola journal, The Lakeland evening telegram, and The Ocala evening star about instances of influenza spreading in military camps throughout the United States. Despite the need for new troops, by late September 1918 there were talks of suspending the draft due to the unrelenting spread of influenza. Nationwide, doctors recognized the need for quarantine in the face of a disease that was killing segments of the population who normally didn’t succumb to the flu.

Epidemic Expands-Ocala
The Ocala evening star-September 20, 1918

The 1918 influenza pandemic affected the entire globe-but when did it get to Florida? A map in Crosby’s book shows that the that the epidemic started on Florida’s west coast between September 21-28 and the east coast between September 28-October 5 (Crosby 65). Troops stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola were affected by the outbreak, as were people living in nearby Pensacola. In September, Dr. Paul Mossman of the U.S. Public Health Service visited Pensacola and made recommendations to both the military and businesses, like restaurants and theaters, about to how to limit the further spread of the flu. Despite his recommendations, by mid-October, the F.D. Sanders, mayor of Pensacola, requested that Captain Bennett, commander of the Naval Air Station, prevent “large numbers of sailors” from visiting the city due to the epidemic. That’s not to say soldiers didn’t help the town during the flu, in one story, service men were thanked for stepping in to serve as telephone operators during the crisis.

Service Men make good relief phone operators
The Pensacola journal-October 13, 1918
Mobile bans kissing
The Pensacola journal-October 9, 1918

Soldiers were often prevented from going on leave, while others that were able to do so got sick while away from their stations. But the flu disrupted more than just the lives of those serving in the military. The pandemic also threatened the 4th Liberty Bond campaign, which ran during October 1918. Previous Liberty Bond drives depended on publicity campaigns which included airplane exhibitions and rallies with celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. With a deadly flu pandemic raging, public gatherings, while potentially beneficial to the war effort, were also a huge public health risk. Some cities, including Mobile, Alabama, banned all public gatherings “including Liberty Loan rallies.” Despite this risk, supporters in Pensacola rallied during mid-October to raise needed funds. The city was ultimately successfully, as was the overall campaign, but it should be noted the same jubilant edition of the paper also contains a society section full of notices about local people recovering from the flu.

Pensacola 4th Liberty Loan
The Pensacola journal-October 20, 1918

The effects of the 1918 flu pandemic touched every segment of society. We have better numbers on the extent to which it affected the U.S. military during WWI than perhaps any other part of society. Crosby claims “the United States Navy, which had more accurate knowledge on its sailors than the USPHS did about civilians, estimated that perhaps as high as 40 percent of naval personnel had flu in 1918. Three hundred and sixty-one of every thousand soldiers in the United States in the same year were officially admitted to treatment as flu patients” (205). It is not surprising then, that many articles in our papers discuss the flu in relation to the ongoing war effort.

Citations and Additional Sources

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Byerly, Carol R. “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.” Public Health Reports 2010; 125 (Suppl 3): 82-91. Accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.

Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Duncan, Kirsty. Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Gunderman, Richard. “The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago-but many of us still get the basic facts wrong.” The Conversation, January 11, 2018. https://theconversation.com/the-greatest-pandemic-in-history-was-100-years-ago-but-many-of-us-still-get-the-basic-facts-wrong-89841.

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

Our Man in Havana: Governor William Sherman Jennings and the Inauguration of Cuban Independence

Photograph of William Sherman Jennings courtesy of UFDC

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

The reestablishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba in 2015 marked the end of an era in U.S.-Cuba relations that began with the victory of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution in 1959. During that period, Florida played a pivotal role in the tensions between the two countries. The state was the main exit and settlement point for two massive Cuban migrations—one in 1959–1960 and a second in 1980—and the frontline in the Cold War between the two nations. Fifty-seven years earlier, in 1902, Florida also played an important role at the start of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, when Governor William Sherman Jennings attended the inauguration of Cuba’s first president, an event that launched modern Cuba’s tenuous independence from U.S. rule.

Cuban president Tomás Estrada Palma’s inauguration on May 20, 1902 was the culmination of a series of dramatic events. The United States occupied Cuba during the Spanish American War in 1898. The result of which included Spain turning over control of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Unlike those islands, which the United States controlled as territories—the Philippines gained independence in 1946—Cuba was to be granted independence after a brief period of American occupation (1898–1902). The United States, then under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, was not about to allow Cuba true independence, however. Cuba’s size, agricultural wealth, and strategic location—the island provided a vital shipping and defense link between the United States and the future Panama Canal—encouraged the United States to maintain its dominant influence in Cuba. The Platt Amendment outlined limited Cuba’s limited ability to enjoy diplomatic and economic independence and gave the United States the right to establish what is now the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Cuba is Free
The Ocala evening star-May 21, 1902

These issues were not on the mind of Florida governor William Sherman Jennings when he was invited to attend the inauguration of Cuba’s first president in May 1902. Elected as a moderate progressive in 1900, Jennings was a hardworking, ambitious governor who focused on balancing Florida’s budget and creating plans for the drainage of the Everglades that his successor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, would ultimately undertake. A competent but rather bland figure, Governor Jennings benefited from his relationship to his cousin William Jennings Bryan, one of the most captivating and influential turn of the century American politicians.

Bryan, a youthful congressman and outsider, won over the 1896 Democratic Party convention with his fiery “Cross of Gold” speech in which he lambasted corporate interests and pushed for free silver coinage as a way to grow the economy in favor of farmers and workers rather than the gold standard, which he believed benefited the wealthy and big business. Bryan won the Democratic nomination for president in 1896 but lost that contest and the one in 1900 to Republican William McKinley. Despite these defeats, Bryan, known to his supporters as the “Great Commoner,” remained immensely popular and continued to dominate the populist-anti-imperialist wing—Bryan opposed American control of the Philippines and other conquests from the war with Spain—of the Democratic Party.

Happy to see the United States allow Cubans their independence, Bryan enthusiastically attended President-Elect Palma’s inauguration. He did so as a private citizen in the pay of Collier’s Weekly magazine, which wanted to cover the inaugural events for its readers through the eyes of the Great Commoner. Governor Jennings and his family accompanied the famous man on the journey, but unlike Bryan, Jennings did so in his official capacity—he was the first sitting Florida governor to travel overseas—and hoped to show his state’s support for the new nation by ending Florida’s annual summer quarantine of travel from Cuba, a policy enacted to prevent the spread of yellow fever from the island to Florida.

Arriving in Havana from Miami on May 15, 1902, Jennings headed a large delegation from Florida. He and Bryan spent the days before the inauguration in a series of meetings with American and Cuban officials, touring Havana, and giving interviews to reporters. The governor was quick to point out to the press that the main purpose of his visit was not the inauguration, but the inspection of the progress of sanitation measures in the fight against yellow fever. During its occupation of the island, the U.S. Army, under the command of General Leonard Wood, undertook sanitary work in Havana and other cites to combat yellow fever and other diseases. President-Elect Palma assured Jennings that his government was committed to continuing the sanitation improvements made by the Americans: “. . . you people in Florida need have no fear that yellow fever, that dreaded scourge, will find any foothold again in this island . . . I intend to spare no pains or expense in keeping Havana and other cities free from it.” Palma, as reported in the Titusville Florida Star, also praised Florida for its support for Cuban independence: ‘“The history of Cuba’s success was written on the Florida sands, and the Florida keys opened the door to Cuban liberty. Key West is a ward of Havana, being nearer to Cuba in point of time than it is to the mainland of Florida.”

Governor Jennings to Cuba
The Florida star-May 16, 1902
Scrapbook from UFDC


Governor Jennings reciprocated in this outpouring of good will. He praised Palma’s leadership and was confident that the Cuban people would soon develop the habits of democratic government: “The loyalty and patriotism of this people has been well tested and established and I have every confidence that they will see to the interests and public welfare of the new republic.” While preferring to wait unit he returned to Florida to evaluate his impressions of Cuban sanitation facilities, Governor Jennings said that it was likely that Florida would end its annual quarantine of Cuba now that the island had the yellow fever problem under control. After attending Palma’s inauguration on May 20, Jennings and his party returned to Florida confident that Cuba had made a good start in its independence.

Last Resort of Yellow Jack
The Pensacola journal-August 9, 1905

That independence was conditional, however. The Cuban government had to enshrine the conditions of the Platt Amendment in its constitution and in a treaty with the United States. It was clear that the United States would not tolerate any foreign or domestic threats to its influence in Cuba. When opponents of Palma contested his reelection in 1905 and engaged in violent acts against his government, he called on the Unites States to protect his regime. In 1906, President Roosevelt sent U.S. troops back to Cuba, beginning a second period of occupation that lasted for three years. The United States continued to dominate the island until 1959, when the victory of the Castro-led revolution led to the break in relations that did not resume until 2015. As it did during Governor Jennings’s time, Florida continues to play a pivotal role in U.S.-Cuban affairs.

Citations and Additional Sources

Murphree, Boyd. “William Sherman Jennings, 1901–1905.” Unpublished chapter for a forthcoming book on Florida’s governors with the University Press of Florida.

William Sherman Jennings Papers. Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.