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Bob Lind, Published June 08 2010

Lind: New Rockford was first to feel flu effect

More feedback from past Neighbors:

The story: It was of Don Wardwell of WDAY’s Co-op Shoppers musical group.

Feedback: Chuck Humphrey, formerly of Fargo and now of Pocatello, Idaho, writes that he and Don’s son Tom went through the Army ROTC advance program together and were commissioned in 1964.

But he’s lost track of Tom. Can anybody out there help him?

Flu hits home

The story: The 1918 flu epidemic.

Feedback: Carol Rud, New Rockford, N.D., sends a piece from the book “Almanac of North Dakota Mysteries and Oddities” that says the first confirmed victim of the flu in North Dakota was a New Rockford resident.

William Geokalis died of the flu Sept. 26, 1918.

Soon, two other New Rockford residents died of flu-related complications. In all, 11 residents of or near New Rockford died in the first two weeks of the epidemic, several weeks before the first cases were reported in Fargo and Grand Forks, the article says.

Eventually, hundreds of people in the New Rockford area became ill. This included the community’s two doctors. Doctors and nurses from Devils Lake, N.D., came to help care for the sick, but they soon had to return to Devils Lake, as the flu was hitting there, too.

Duane Midboe, Climax, Minn., sends information about the flu compiled by the Grand Forks Herald’s Marilyn Hagerty.

Marilyn wrote that the University of North Dakota, with an enrollment of about 1,500, was shut down during the epidemic, as were all area colleges.

Hospital wards in Grand Forks were filled, so public auditoriums were turned into makeshift wards.

No public meetings were allowed, movie theaters were closed (during the days of silent movies), churches canceled services, and no social events were held.

Every edition of the Herald in October 1918, when the epidemic was really taking hold, carried a story about the flu.

Dr. Jim Talbot, formerly of Fargo and now of Mesa, Ariz., notes that the 58,000 military deaths the United States recorded during the Vietnam War, bad as that number is, “was dwarfed by the number of influenza deaths during the flu epidemic.”

That epidemic, which lasted until 1920, killed between 50 million and 100 million worldwide, 675,000 in the U.S. alone.

In North Dakota, the first indication of the horror to come occurred in New Rockford.


If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com