LE JR SCHMIDT
In September 1918, as the new bowling season began, the future of sport in America was uncertain. The United States was drawn into the Great War in Europe. The government cut back on all actions that did not promote the war effort. “Work or fight!” the order went. Thousands of young people had already been placed in armed service. The final month of the football season has been postponed, with the World Series being held just after Labor Day.
Archers tried to keep them going as best they could. Some leagues had folded, and pinboys were becoming hard to find. There was talk that next year’s Toledo American Bowls Tournament may be postponed.
In Chicago, the Bowlers Journal was completing its fifth year of publication. The Magazine had started as a weekly newspaper showing a local bowling scene. But in 1918, several writers at Editor-Publisher Dave Luby were already sending him regular reports from the country’s major bowling cities. Also letters were home from Dave’s sons, Mort and Forrest, both serving with the U.S. Army in France.
The big news in Chicago was tenpin after the previous spring’s Patriotic Bowling Championships. Local archers had held the town-wide event in May, raising more than $ 2,000 to build a bowling facility at Camp Grant’s army post. That plan had fallen through. It has now been announced that the money would be used to install alleys at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.
The leagues began to roll. As usual, the Bowlers Journal covered weekly tours of the Randolph, the North End Traveling, and the city’s major home leagues. Gertrude Dornblaser reported on women’s bowling. Luby communicators in San Francisco, Cleveland, Minneapolis and other cities took a look inside.
And now, as September progressed, a new turmoil began in American daily life – the Spanish flu.
One hundred years later, there is still no definitive answer as to where or when this pandemic began. It later emerged that flu outbreaks had occurred in various parts of the world as early as March. But with war going on, the governments in the famous countries exercised strict control over the news, and the public knew very little of these health concerns.
That was not the case in Spain, which was a neutral country without censorship during the war. So when people started dying in Spain, that fact was reported in all the warring nations. By June, the new disease was marked – unequivocally – by the Spanish flu.
Unlike most diseases, this flu was deadly to people in their twenties and thirties. It came on quickly, too. A person would feel well, then suddenly get a headache and fever, and start to vomit. Then it would turn blue and start shedding blood. Within a day or two, he would be dead.
Large gatherings of people were thought to spread the disease. In 1918, neither the United States had a centralized center for disease control, nor a federal Department of Health. As the new flu began to spread, individual city and state governments took whatever precautions they thought would work.
People would try all kinds of home remedies. One way was to hang a camphor bag around your neck. So was chewing tobacco plug. Other remedies were Apple cider vinegar, boiled red pepper, rye whiskey with honey, and the old reliable – chicken soup. Their favorite remedy was eating raw onions, one that definitely kept people from growing too close to it. At the same time, scientists were working hard to develop a vaccine.
On October 4, Pennsylvania closed all public gathering places. Philadelphia alone had more than 75,000 cases of the disease, with 139 deaths reported in the previous three weeks. Schools, theaters, churches, political meetings and sporting events were closed. Soon, a similar large-scale closure was ordered in Boston, St. Louis. Louis, Cleveland and Buffalo, as well as hundreds of small towns.
Bowling alleys were often incorporated into these blanket shutters. By mid-October, Dave Luby’s writers were reporting closures in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Indianapolis. But in New York City and elsewhere, alleys were allowed to continue operating. Bowling was considered a form of exercise that helped a person to be physically fit and able to fight the flu.
However, only active archers were allowed in the building. Owners were told to turn away spectators and anyone else. And since fresh air was thought to disperse and weaken the virus, proper ventilation must be maintained.
Chicago was one of the cities where the alleys remained open. But most stayed off the streets, and several leagues suspended sessions. The open play almost ceased.
Jimmy Smith was a game-winning champion. He had been contracted to launch a series of shows in Chicago. On Oct. 14, he defeated local star Frank Kafora in an 11-game set at Randolph Recreation. The next day, Smith was on the train back to his home in Brooklyn, the rest of his record had been erased by the flu.
On October 19, Dave Luby was knitting with the editor of Bowlers Journal with the title, “Keep the Alleys clear and clean. Luby acknowledged that Spanish flu had become a “serious threat,” something that everyone should be concerned about. However, there was no reason for the bowling community to panic. Common sense measures would help to reduce the risk.
Luby urged Chicago owners to keep their property “well ventilated, clean and hygienic.” Crowds should not be allowed to congregate. At the same time, bowling must continue, as it was one of the best “health donors” available.
“The flu germ has not yet been found in a bowling alley,” he concluded, “and will not adhere to hygiene rules.”
The Bowlers Journal published some practical advice from a survivor of the flu, with the exception of WV Thompson. The death of Brunswick, often referred to as “the ultimate authority over all things,” had been at work in New York. No sooner was he moved back to Chicago than he came down with the disease.
“If the bones of your whole body become swollen, and you find a lot that you didn’t know you had and they hurt too, you have the Spanish flu,” Thompson wrote. “Get home quickly. Immediately upon arrival, take a hot tub and then a cold bath. Open up all windows. Bundle up and get in bed. Call for a doctor, and get the best.
“Some say feed the [flu], ”Thompson went on. “I was hungry. I was back in the office in three days, and bowling on the fourth. It’s not great, but good enough to convince myself that bowling was good for what I was feeling. ”
Just as public confidence hit a rock bottom, the latest news began to turn well. On October 21, scientists announced that they had developed an effective vaccine. Vessels of the vaccine were torn to all parts of the country. Chicago alone received 100,000 doses, and inoculations began abruptly. Within two weeks, the number of flu deaths fell.
Then, three weeks after the vaccinations began – on November 11, 1918 – a peace treaty was signed in Europe. The conflict of what future generations called the First World War was over.
The country began to decline. Bowling began to decline. The closed spaces reopened. In Indianapolis, owner Jess Pritchett ran large display ads in city newspapers, announcing that its Central Bowling Alleys, “the best in the state,” were once again open for business. In case anyone missed the new air point of sale, the advert advised the public to “avoid the flu by taking healthy exercise.”
Two major regional competitions, the Middle East and the Atlantic Coast, have been postponed due to the flu revolution and the war. But in St. Paul’s, the International Bowling Association event went ahead as planned. In the spring, the big one – the American Bowling Tournament – was introduced in Toledo with a top entry of 796 teams.
The Spanish flu was gone. More than 50 million people had died worldwide, a death toll greater than in all the wars of the 20th century that had been put together. The United States alone died 675,000 deaths. Among archers, the most notable victim was Henry “Heine” Haselhuhn, a one-time ABC champion. And there were others, who were only known to their family and friends.
Those who were left behind dealt with grief. One of these was a 29-year-old Chicago bricklayer and an average 150-year-old archer named Florian Przedziankowski. In that terrible October of 1918, he lost both his wife and mother to the deadly flu.
But Florian moved on, as he had to. In 1920, he remarried, and a year later had a daughter. That girl became my mother.
JR Schmidt is the resident historian of Bowlers Journal International. A collection of 90 of his previous BJI columns and features, “The Bowling Chronicles,” is now available on Amazon or Kindle. This edition of his column appeared in the May issue of BJI. To subscribe now for much more of the industry ‘s best coverage of bowling news and inspirational tutorial tips and analysis, go here: https://www.bowlersjournal.com/bowlers- journal-subscriptions /