War, disease and chewing gum 100 years ago

Sandy Vasko

    While the war was raging in Europe and the boys were being drafted and sent into camp, the average citizen was charged with supporting the effort.
    This meant farmers were to double their crops, produce more meat and milk more cows than ever before. Folks in the city joined the Red Cross, knit sweaters and taught their children to be patriotic.
    The population looked for enemies everywhere, but the deadliest enemy was one they could not see.
    In March of 1917 we read in the Wilmington Advocate, “Joliet and other cities are planning a fight against infantile paralysis (polio) which is expected to break out in this section.
    “Our board of health should be in readiness to fight this disease at its first appearance, and if there is a way of keeping it from getting a start here let that way be adopted regardless of the cost.”
    Polio is infectious and can cause death, paralysis and general muscle weakness. However, 70 percent of infected people show no symptoms at all, although they are carriers of the disease. This makes it even harder to quarantine the disease.
    Then, in the Oct. 5 issue another scary announcement was made. “Joliet is much worried over an epidemic of diphtheria which is increasing at the rate of from three to four cases a day.
    “The disease is of the most virulent form, and the health authorities are taking drastic measures to halt the disease. Three deaths have resulted from the disease so far.”
    Two weeks later diphtheria arrived in Wilmington, “Monday last, Ray Gadberry, son of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Gadberry, was taken ill while attending school. That evening a physician was called who pronounced that the little fellow was suffering from diphtheria, and promptly had the home quarantined.”
    Along with that article was, “Plainfield has more than 25 cases of scarlet fever, and despite the united efforts of the local board of health this disease seems to be on the increase.”
    Farmers and their families who lived in isolated areas, were less prone to get these contagious diseases. They had other problems though. With all the young men going to war, a labor shortage developed.
    We read on Aug. 17, 1917, “Farmers in this vicinity are complaining of a scarcity of farm hands to assist them in harvesting their crops and during threshing. Several farmers have been in town the past few days looking for men and offering as high as $6 per day (about $115 today).”
    In addition, with the war effort, every farmer had added more hogs to his farm, even those who were not hog farmers before, became one when the price of pork rose sky high. And where did all these new hogs come from? Why from other farms of course. Again, the unseen enemy, a virus, raised its ugly head.
    We read on Sept. 17, 1917 in the Wilmington Advocate, “Hog cholera has broken out in Joliet Township and Will county is facing another epidemic of this plague. The epidemic is said to be of a chronic type and for this reason has been raging among several herds in that township before its true nature was discovered.”
    “All of the animals in the herds have been vaccinated as an attempt to save them. All farmers in that vicinity have been warned by Manager Lisher, of the Will County Farm Bureau, that delays are dangerous, and that all hog owners will do well to see that their herds are vaccinated at once as a precautionary step.”
     Two weeks later we read, “Mazon and vicinity has an epidemic of hog cholera. There are over 15 herds of hogs in Mazon now affected by the disease. At present 110 have died and 200 are threatened with the disease which broke out in that part of Grundy county many weeks ago.”
    Indeed, it was difficult to keep morale up at home. The federal government encouraged all businesses to help with the morale problem by always showing a smiling face and indicating all is well with the world. One company that took this to heart was Wrigley's.
    In March of that year their ad mentioned that it was used by soldiers at the front, along with Japanese girls in Tokyo, sheep herders in Australia and ox drivers in Singapore.
    In September of 1917 it had changed. It now featured a sailor peeking out of a port hole with a big smile on his face. The ad said that “many a long watch or hard job is made more cheerful” by using their gum.
    Yes, the war and disease had infected every part of everyone's life.