Crawford County health records from Spanish Flu era found

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun

PITTSBURG, Kan. —  Crawford County health officials have uncovered century-old records that tell the story of the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic and its local impact, County Health Director Teddi Van Kam announced at Friday’s county commission meeting.

The records, which indicate that the last pandemic to rival COVID-19 hit Crawford County around October of 1918 and had largely dissipated by May of 1920, were found in a reportable disease ledger covering a period of several decades in the early 20th century.

“I think they found them in a garage one time, you know, kind of in a corner somewhere,” Van Kam said.

The first part of the ledger covered a period between 1934 and the 1960s. “And then there were a lot of blank pages, but we were like ‘Well, let’s flip clear through, and just to see if by chance…’” she said. “Well when we did, we found the entire Spanish Flu pandemic.”

The entire period of the Spanish Flu is covered in detail in the ledger, Van Kam said.

“It’s just amazing to see this in black and white on these pages,” she said. “You can see the little outbreaks in all the little coal camps. [...] There were months that there were over 1,000 cases in Crawford County. One month there was almost 1,400. So, you know, they had a tough time too.”

The county health department is now working to put together more information about the reportable disease ledger and possibly a presentation of some sort, Van Kam said.

Commission Chairman Jeremy Johnson said the health department’s discovery of the historical ledger was “incredible” and “really cool” and he is looking forward to seeing what else the department learns from studying the ledger or any presentation that they create about it.

Commissioner Bruce Blair, who said he had seen the ledger himself and looked through it prior to Friday’s meeting, said that while older records such as those from the 1880s tend to include last names that are no longer common in Crawford County, those from just over a hundred years ago are much more likely to be familiar to longtime residents.

“I’d say you could probably find someone you’re related to on those pages,” Blair said. “If your family’s been in Crawford County that long, I’d say you’d find a person. It’s crazy.”

Like Johnson, Blair also said he appreciated the health department’s efforts to preserve the history contained in the ledger.

“I thought it was neat, because most people look at old stuff and they’re like ‘ah, whatever’,” Blair said. “But I mean that’s just basically showing the same thing happened 100 years ago to people that you’re related to, that they went through the same thing, and it was recorded.”