Amid the onset of COVID-19, Xpress took a deep dive into the city’s past response to the 1918 influenza. The series, which ran in our weekly history feature, Asheville Archives, examined the ways residents complied with, and later raged against, health restrictions, as well as the lasting toll the pandemic had on families who lost loved ones to the virus.
Below is the complete 1918 influenza series.
In the midst of the 1918 influenza, one local resident attempted to use the health crisis to aid his legal defense.
In 1918, as cases of influenza increased, local Asheville businesses sought ways to use the pandemic to increase sales.
In October 1918, in the midst of a worldwide influenza pandemic, Asheville residents opted to wear medical masks as opposed to Halloween costumes.
Throughout November 1918, local health officials and residents continued their efforts to contain the spread of influenza. But as December neared, the city seemed eager to get back to business as usual, despite the risks involved.
In January 1919, Buncombe County reported 141 new cases of the influenza over a 72-hour period. In response, Dr. Carl V. Reynolds, the city health officer, announced a new ban on social and fraternal gatherings. Displeased residents spoke out against the latest safety measures.
“I have no desire to frighten Asheville or to create any unnecessary alarm,” declared Dr. Carl V. Reynolds on Sept. 6, 1919. “But I do feel that the public should get a warning of the danger of failing to take steps to prevent a return of influenza here.”
As 1920 began, so too did the city’s latest bout of influenza. An initial six cases quickly skyrocketed to 232. Once again, the city was confronted by a highly contagious virus that needed to be curtailed.
“I think the Asheville I knew died for me when Ben died,” author Thomas Wolfe wrote in a 1929 letter. Wolfe’s older brother Ben perished on Oct. 19, 1918, from complications resulting from influenza.