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Butte remembers impact of 1918 influenza pandemic

Posted at 2:56 PM, Nov 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-01 16:56:11-04

BUTTE, Mont. – One hundred years ago, the world was struck by a deadly flu virus.

The losses and sacrifices made during that devastating outbreak are still remembered – especially in Butte.

When the influenza pandemic spread across the world 1918, even Montana was not immune.

“Over 1,000 people died here from the flu and thousands more were sick with flu,” said Ellen Crain, who works at the Butte Archives.

The first cases of the deadly virus in Butte, then the largest city in Montana, were first reported in early October.

“And then it spread just like a great blaze with hundreds of new cases every day,” said Father Patrick Berretta.

The subject of the 100th anniversary of the pandemic, which killed millions of people worldwide, will be the subject of a lecture on Nov. 8th at Montana Tech, that will include Dr. John Pullman talking about how the incredibly devastating flu remains such a mystery today.

“How did it become so virulent?” asked Pullman. “We know the mechanisms of how it reproduces itself, but they’re still teasing apart why that virus, in particular, was so good at spreading through the population.”

There are many stories of heroism as common folks in Butte treated the sick and the dying.

“There are stories of a nurse coming to work in the morning, not feeling well by lunchtime, being sent home in the afternoon and being dead in the evening,” said Berretta. “Completely sacrificing her life for the care of her patient.”

Irish immigrant and priest, Father Patrick Brosnan, cared for the sick until he suddenly became sick himself.

“It was a devastating illness and took his life in just a few days,” said Berretta.

You can bear witness to this century-old tragedy today by just visiting Holy Cross Cemetery, where here in a small section, more than 80 people are buried, victims of the pandemic.

Like Daniel A. Sheedy Sr., who’s buried alongside his 8-year-old son – both died on the same day.

“Like all great stories of Butte, it’s a mixture of great sadness, but stories of great love, stories of great self-sacrifice,” said Berretta.

If you want to learn more, a lecture at the Montana Tech Library Auditorium is set for Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. – the event is free to the public.

-John Emeigh reporting for MTN News