In September 1918, the Spanish flu came to small towns in Northern Michigan when large crowds gathered for war bond fundraisers.


In September of 1918, WW1 was ending and the boys were starting to come home. Patriotism was high and celebrations planned to honor their return. The federal government, in heavy debt from the war and fearing for the economy, hosted Liberty Loan celebrations to raise millions of dollars for the troops. Civilians bought bonds as a show of patriotism. New recruits enlisted. Crowds gathered to enjoy the concerts, the parades and the celebrity speakers who were part of these Liberty Loan rallies. The Jackie Band was one of the biggest draws in towns all over the country.


John Phillip Sousa was the March Master, composer of “Stars and Stripes Forever” and inventor of the Sousaphone. He led the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 to 1892. In In 1917, He joined the Navy during World War I at the record age of 62. Leading the Navy Band at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, Sousa formed a 350 piece band who performed to support Liberty Loan bonds and navy recruitment. He broke this group down into smaller “Jackie Bands.” Jackie was Sousa’s nickname. Jackie Bands toured the country as part of the movement to sell Liberty Loan bonds.


In New York City, actress Ethel Barrymore, arrived with her entourage to star in the Great Liberty Loan Tableau. Tableaux were popular art, living art, where models and actresses posed as motionless figures representing a scene from history. The Great Liberty Loan poster starring Barrymore as Lady Liberty appeared all over America.


In Cheboygan, young Freda Loomis was inspired by this piece of art. She gathered her friends and recreated the tableau to honor the upcoming celebrations. The Jackie Band was coming to Northern Michigan! Posing as Lady Liberty in the tableau, she had a photograph taken.


In Petoskey, Eva Shanley broke out her best dress and her dancing shoes. She was excited to have a chance to hear the Jackie Band, and to attend a dance in their honor after dinner at the luxurious Cushman House Hotel.


Twenty one year old Henry Lee Cherry from Appleton Wisconsin, joined the Great Lakes Naval Jackie Band as a chance to work with the greatest march composer and the greatest band leader in America, John Phillip Sousa. Cherry was honored to be chosen as one of the touring of musicans, the Jackie Band 2, composed of 30 band members and a nine man drill team, along with Liberty Loan celebrity speakers. In their own private box car, they watched the fall colors change as they moved north across Michigan.


When Cherry stepped off the Pere Marquette Passenger Train in Petoskey, he was feeling fine, looking forward to another show. They had left four boys in Charlevoix at the hospital after a performance there on Sept. 20. Some illness was going around. But Cherry was feeling well enough to play with the band, dine, and dance with several young ladies, including Eva Shanley. But by the end of the evening felt worse and the doctor was called.


Dr. George Nihart, head of the Emmet County Health commission, treated Cherry right after the show. Cherry died from the Spanish flu eight days later. His dance partner, Eva Shanley, died two weeks later. Nihart also caught the flu.


The Spanish flu was particularly hard on young people in their teens and twenties. All of the young people at the dance returned to school where the virus spread like wildfire. Schools were so hard hit by lack of attendance, they closed. Nihart called for unnecessary meetings to be canceled. Churches and non-necessary businesses followed suit.


The County Health Commission advised to practice social distancing: “The department wishes people to tell their friends to remain at home, and especially people residing out of the city. Visiting back and forth between neighbors and friends should not be allowed, for this tends to spread the disease.”


Visitors were banned from hospitals, and public funerals were banned. Everyone was advised to wear masks. Finally, people were banned from leaving Petoskey.


People were not happy with the restrictions. The Petoskey News Review of October 1918 titled, “Don’t Lose Your Grip“ encouraged people to remain hopeful: “The closing of public places is highly commendable and should inspire hope and confidence rather than panic.”


But Dr. Engle , the new county health commissioner, in charge of enforcing the restrictions in Petoskey, had a tough battle to fight. People resisted his efforts to close businesses and ban travel. He said, “I lost more friends than I ever knew I had in the City.”


In nearby Charlevoix County, where four Jackie Band members were still hospitalized, the health department quarantined the entire town. Deputies were sworn in. Armed men were stationed at all entrances to keep visitors out. Leelanau County shut down I-22 from Traverse City to keep people out.


The Jackie Band continued its tour, on to Cheboygan.


To be continued...


In 1918 the Spanish flu killed 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 in the United States. It was called the greatest natural disaster of all time. It was the leading cause of death in Michigan in 1918, with almost 15,000 people dying between October and April of 1919.