In 1918, the word “influenza” did not appear in The East Hampton Star until Sept. 20. On that day, the news from Amagansett led with a short note saying George V. Schellinger had been sick for several days. His was the first of many mentions over the next year and a half for the newspaper, which we have been looking through as a new pandemic looms.
For those who might like to read the coverage, which included tips from Washington, D.C., on the affliction, the East Hampton Library has made issues of The Star available in an online collection beginning in 1885 and reaching nearly to the present day.
Dr. David Edwards, the town health officer in 1918, reported six cases of influenza in early October. A week later there were 35 cases, and the Neighborhood House on Three Mile Harbor Road was turned into a temporary hospital. Dr. Edwards ordered the village movie theater closed that week as well. The next week, there were 125 cases. Schools closed, and The Star reported that Miss Eleanor Mulford was at home, taking an enforced vacation from her job as an athletic instructor in Baldwin.
Edward O. Lester, 25, appears to have been the first East Hamptoner to die of influenza, two days after he arrived in New Jersey to work in a munitions factory. By then, there had been eight cases and one death in Sag Harbor. Many of the dead were young, like Mr. Lester. Rachel Stevens was 34. Burtram Cunningham was 28. Peter Mansir was just 19 and had worked at the A&P grocery. Stanley Rhodes, a crewman on the fishing steamer Ocean View, was 21. Clifford Ralph Boughton, the eldest son of the The Star’s publisher, died on Nov. 22; he was 26. But the flu did not discriminate. It took the old as well, with 1919 the most fatal year.
The rate of new cases fell in the following months, as did the number of deaths. Yet between it and the war in Europe, East Hampton suffered great losses, as did the rest of a stunned and reeling country. The United States bounced back, as it seems to do, and life went on. We are counting on it to do so now.