While 1918 brought Lodi men and women home from the war in France, it also ushered in the Spanish flu — and unlike the war, the flu showed no signs of letting up as the city entered a new year.
The week of January 1919 brought a number of deaths from influenza-pneumonia, a virulent strain of deadly pneumonia triggered by the flu pandemic: Mrs. Stella Thurs, Donald Needham, Chester C. Locke, Mrs. Anna Henton, Ralph D. Robertson, August R. Clark and Albert Handel were only a portion of the victims whose names were recorded in the first 10 days of January.
One local man, G.M. Teal, moved to Skagway, Alaska for work. He shared the city’s stringent anti-influenza plan with his friends back home.
“When he arrived there he was informed that he could not enter the city until he had passed through quarantine, which required three days,” the Sentinel wrote on Jan. 9.
Still, while leading minds argued whether the “dread” influenza was spread through the atmosphere, the value of Native American remedies, and if prayer would help, flu cases were in decline, down 50 percent in Lodi. Elementary schools reopened on time, with few students missing class — though the school board warned parents on Jan. 7 that if their children had the flu, they must not be sent to school.
The optimism was short-lived. By mid-January, the county health officer announced a spike of new influenza cases and the city was weighing a quarantine.
“The Sentinel is strong for quarantine because it has closely watched the workings of such a law in other communities where the disease is rampant,” the newspaper opined on the front page on Jan. 14.
Mayor Charles A. Black also called for a quarantine during a meeting of the city’s health board, the Sentinel reported.
“When you see the very flower of the city taken by influenza, it is time to do something, and do something at once that will tend to decrease the epidemic,” he said at the meeting.
The same day, Modesto announced plans to close all theaters, churches, “moving picture houses,” and other public gathering places, along with the city schools. Stockton was considering a similar move.
At a special meeting on Jan. 17, however, the city health board decided Lodi would not follow suit. The main reason was the fear that people feeling the flu coming on would not call the doctor, for fear of being quarantined, and their health would suffer because of it.
A secondary suggestion, to put placards on homes where people had been diagnosed with influenza, was shot down because the Christian Scientist and Church of God communities in Lodi didn’t use doctors. Without diagnoses, there would be no way to enforce placarding, health board officials decided.
Not everyone was happy with the decision.
On Feb. 1, the Sentinel printed a letter from Mrs. Cora Minton. While she was visiting her husband, dangerously ill at the hospital, a well-wisher dropped by to see her children, bringing his own son — recovering from the flu — along. Just days later, Mrs. Minton’s oldest son had a nasty case of the flu and her youngest was beginning to catch it as well.
“Just a few lines to you to show that you were right all along as to the mask and that we should be quarantined,” she told the paper’s editors.
Whether it was the masks or the flu was drying up on its own, the number of new cases began to shrink around the same time. By Feb. 8, the illness was almost completely gone from the town.
“According to the physicians, the health of the community is getting better every day and the doctors are complaining that there is very little for them to do,” the Sentinel wrote.
The Mason hospital discharged its last flu patient on Feb. 11.
As fall approached, Lodians began to worry about a return of the influenza epidemic that wreaked havoc the previous winter. On Aug. 9, the Sentinel published a reassuring blurb that flu would return, but that it would be less deadly.
“The history of such waves is that the second years’ attack will not be nearly so severe as the first,” the paper wrote.
While no copies of newspapers from October or November remain in the archives, the Sentinel’s predictions appeared to be accurate. In the handful of December editions available, few influenza cases are reported. Nationwide, the epidemic was mostly over.
Phone operators on strike
In June, Lodi’s telephone operators went on strike. They weren’t alone — telephone operators all over the state, mainly women, were asking for better wages now that the war was over.
Alone at the switchboard was Margaret McCowan, who ensured that emergency calls for physicians and firefighters.
By July 1, Lodi businessmen were frustrated at the phone company’s inability to act. They met with the striking operators to see how they could help. They at first planned to all demand service from the phone company at the same time, but decided that was more likely to cause the phone company to send strike breakers than help the operators’ cause. They did reassure the striking women that they had local support.
However, the businessmen did ask for some kind of compromise on evening telephone service, since emergency calls could not be made after 5 p.m. due to the strike.
In Modesto, farmers gathered to create their own telephone exchange and connect their independent local lines to it, so they could provide their own service. They planned to offer the service to local businesses with independent lines as well.
“The loss of such clientage will mean much to the Pacific Telephone concern since the total revenue from the Independents will run into the thousands annually, it is declared by one of the farmer subscribers,” the Sentinel wrote on July 8. “The farmers union in Stanislaus is backing the movement.”
By July 12, three weeks into the strike, Lodians were becoming impatient with the strike.
“The feeling among the business men seems to predominate that they all want the use of their telephones, for they are losing money by receiving no service or the poor service which has been given since the strike breakers came to Lodi,” the Sentinel wrote. “Yet they are in sympathy with the girls and would like to see them win out.”
For that reason, the paper said, some business owners were refusing to accept calls even when they received them.
At the same time, other unions throughout the state were weighing a general strike in support of the telephone workers. Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers notified the state’s power companies that they would no longer mount or do work on poles shared with the Bell telephone network.
Negotiations broke down in July, and soon the union was replaced by employee associations.
The specter of Prohibition
The battle over whether or not alcoholic beverages should be sold in the United States went — at least temporarily — to the “Dries” in 1919.
Congress had passed the Wartime Prohibition Act on Nov. 18, 1918. The act, which banned most alcoholic beverages, had been intended to save grain for the war effort, but passed days after the armistice ending World War I was signed. It would take effect on July 1, 1919.
Additionally, the Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment at the end of 1918, and by Jan. 16, 1919, a full 36 states had ratified Prohibition.
On Jan. 21, John Emde announced that he’d pulled out 60 acres of wine grapes — though he said he’d planned to do so anyway.
“If any one would have guaranteed me $10 per ton for my wine grapes for the next 10 years, I would have pulled them just the same, for I am getting ready to go into the cattle business,” he told the Sentinel.
But for the Lodi area, he was in the minority. Grape growers banded together to fight the march toward Prohibition, and at the same time to come up with loopholes or alternative ideas to keep their vineyards in production.
By February, the local “Wets” joined with others around the state to speak out against the proposed Amendment, lobby lawmakers, circulate information about the impact Prohibition would have on the economy, and more.
It was too little, too late.
On July 1, an article on the front page of the Sentinel shared winegrape growers’ fears. Removing local vineyards to prepare land for other crops would cost about $2 million, the paper reported, and destroy an industry that had taken millions more to build.
Older vines could be used to make raisins or grape syrup, while new vines could be swapped for table grape varieties, the paper proposed.
Meanwhile, the state board of viticultural commissioners urged winemakers to organize and fight the plan, or even push for changes that would allow them to sell dried winegrapes overseas.
“It is not the intention to convey the idea that these wine grape raisins will seek selling markets for other than winemaking purposes,” Secretary E. M. Sheehan told the Sentinel on July 6. “Indeed, the main thought is that use may be found for them where the manufacture of wine may be carried on, and where it is not unlawful to so use this dried product.”
In the meantime, winegrapes were reportedly being sold at record-breaking high prices. A few bold buyers were willing to bet on the wartime alcohol ban being repealed, despite the federal government repeating that it would be in place at least until the troops had demobilized.
Their wager appeared to pay off: On Aug. 26, the Sentinel reported an announcement from President Woodrow Wilson that the wartime prohibition would be lifted on October 1. Wineries and other producers of alcohol would have a little over two months, until mid-January, to produce their goods.
But it would be short-lived. Prohibition was set to kick in on Jan. 17, 1920, and in October, the Volstead Act laid out the legal definitions and penalties for producing and selling alcoholic drinks.
A railroad strike threatened to stop the crop before it even got out of Lodi. As of Aug. 26, the strike hadn’t harmed Lodi growers yet, but it would need to be settled in a week to avoid any damage, the Sentinel reported. The strike ended just days later, and rail cars were beginning to move on Aug. 30. More than 170 cars of grapes had shipped out by Sept. 2. Another 126 went out on Sept. 4.
They weren’t enough. By Sept. 20, about 80 train cars were being loaded with Lodi grapes each day. The city’s growers said that number was about a third of what was needed.
“The car situation in Lodi is getting worse every day,” the Sentinel wrote. “Besides the black grapes that will be crushed by local wineries, it is now estimated there will be 13,000 cars of grapes to be shipped from here this season.”
With the season typically lasting 49 days, the city needed 211 cars per day to keep up with the crop, the paper said.
Though the October and November editions are lost, the city’s grape growers must have found some solution. On Dec. 6, the Sentinel reported that 134,944 tons of grapes had been produced and shipped out over the season.
About 4,000 barrels of wine were headed for Asia as the region braced for Prohibition to take effect early in 1920.
Prohibition lasted until 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt first loosened the limits on alcohol content, and then the Twenty-First Amendment repealing Prohibition was passed.
Other news in 1919
• Lodians were optimistic as they tracked soldiers and nurses leaving France to return home.
“Every community feels a desire to welcome back its soldier boys who have done the home town and the country so proud,” the Sentinel told readers on Jan. 9. “Here in Lodi we want to have a rouser of a celebration.”
On June 4, the city fulfilled that promise with a parade and celebration to welcome troops home. According to the Sentinel, tens of thousands turned out for the festivities, celebrating the soldiers, sailors, Red Cross nurses and others who served overseas during the war. A welcoming speech by Hilliard E. Welch was printed on the front page of the Sentinel the next day, along with a write-up of the event. Inspired, Stockton announced plans to hold a celebration of its own on July 4.
It took quite some time for all of the soldiers to make it back, with some trickling in late in the year. Still, the end of the war brought a hopeful tone for 1919.
• A new, paved road opened to Terminous in April. The road was expected to let Lodi businesses expand into the Delta.
The people of Terminous celebrated by hosting a picnic in early May, inviting the businessmen in Lodi to attend. About 50 from Lodi represented the city.
• In June, work began on the foundation for the new Methodist Church. At 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, church and community members gathered to lay the cornerstone for the new building at the corner of Oak and Church streets.
“A copy of this issue of The Sentinel, together with other historical matter, coins, papers, etc., will go into the box under the cornerstone,” the Sentinel wrote on Sept. 6. “Future generations will read and ponder over these things.”
The newspaper included a history of the church in that issue for posterity.
The church is still in use today in the same location.
• Also 100 years old this year: A&W Root Beer. Businessman Roy Allen, who later joined former employee Frank Wright to create the A&W company, first poured his now-famous drink at a stand on Pine Street, near the Lodi Arch, during a parade to welcome returning soldiers.
The drink was so popular Allen opened a more permanent stand and began selling mugs of root beer for a nickel each on June 20.
• Lodi announced on Aug. 14 it would throw its hat in the ring to become the new home of College of the Pacific as it planned to move away from San Jose. The school eventually settled on Stockton instead, where it is now University of the Pacific.
• It wasn’t just winegrapes selling at record prices. The post-war economy was good to Lodi’s agricultural industry in general, as apricots, pears, peaches, apples, walnuts and other crops set records throughout the late summer.
• On July 12, the Sentinel reported that a local woman was one of the first — perhaps the very first — in California to receive medication by airlift. Mrs. W. J. Koenig of Lodi received a serum to help treat her rheumatic fever by plane from San Francisco. She was expected to recover.