Capitol Hill And The 1918 Flu Pandemic, Part 2

Updated: Sep 10, 2020


Photoshopped image of a US School Garden Army Poster (Library of Congress) laid over a 1912 photograph of the Volunteer Park Water Tower (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Summer Lull

"Well, it looks like I'll have a lot of light tonight to work on my war garden!" "You got a war garden, too? So have I. I've got one in a vacant lot across from the house, and work on it all my spare time!"

Claims of the Germans' poor nutrition back in part 1 aside, the U.S. government was trying to improve the nutrition of the Allied forces by mobilizing students across America to maintain war gardens at home over summer break. During the war, farms in Europe had been devastated and many of their workers recruited for military service. Home gardens helped supplement this loss and perhaps they hoped a nutritional boost would help ward off the flu as well. Either way, thousands of Seattle students signed up to garden, and they mustered at Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park on June 7th for training. Many would return to the park a few weeks later for the fourth of July festivities there; a welcome reward for all their hard work. The Independence Day activities included tug-o-war, 50 and 100-yard-dashes for youth and military, band performances, community singing, and speeches. The high point was a patriotic pageant staged by Seattle's Greek community with a float carrying a giant seven-headed dragon of autocracy representing the Kaiser and his six sons, which was promptly “killed” by Allied soldiers.

Left: 1714 Broadway c1937 via WA State Archives | Center: Samuel Stone, c1925. Seattle Times | Right: Stone Catering Ad, 1917. Seattle Times

This focus on nutrition and patriotic activity continued into the summer when Samuel H Stone, president of the local NAACP and owner of Stone Catering located at 1714 Broadway (Seattle Central College Bookstore today), honored the African American servicemen departing to the battlefront in France with a banquet and jazz performance on August 3rd. Horace Cayton, publisher of Cayton’s Weekly, described Stone’s banquet as “the picture of perfection.”

Left: Beryl Apartments c1937, via WA State Arhives | Center: Edwin Brown c1918 via Cayton's Weekly | Right: Seattle Star article penned by Brown. Click the images for a closer look

For many others on Capitol Hill though, that summer was far from perfect. While officials and others continued to ignore or downplay the threat of “Spanish” Flu, King County had no qualms with taking controversial actions on a different medical front. As a war measure in early 1918, King County opened an “emergency hospital” on Beacon Hill to quarantine people infected with STDs without the right to habeas corpus and reportedly under inhumane conditions. In June of 1918, Elinor Olsen, manager of the Beryl Apartments, 318 E Pine st, was falsely arrested and unlawfully placed in this quarantine based on the arresting officer's fraudulent claim that she tested positive for an unspecified STD. Lawyer, future mayor, and fellow Capitol Hill resident Dr. Edwin J. Brown took up her case and others like hers and launched a nearly year-long crusade against this injustice. Not content to do that alone, he even filed to run for King County prosecuting attorney in August. Perhaps he believed he could change the system from within or maybe his crusade was just a self-promotional