Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Masks were worn during the influenza pandemic in order to halt the spread of the disease.
Masks were worn during the influenza pandemic in order to halt the spread of the disease.
PD Canada via Wikimedia Commons
October 26, 2017

IN HISTORY: Rapid City Man Arrested for Spitting Amid Spanish Flu Pandemic

On October 26, 1918, a man was arrested and brought to trial for spitting in public in Rapid City. According to the Rapid City Daily Journal, the anti-spitting ordinance was established in order to prevent further spread of the disease “through the filthy and careless habits of some thoughtless people who persist in expectorating on the floors in public places and on the sidewalks.” The typical fine for the offense was $6, or $92 in 2017 inflation adjusted dollars.

Rapid City Mayor William E. Robinson instructed law enforcement officials to strictly enforce the ordinance in order to prevent further spreading of the Spanish Flu. A physician himself, Robinson attended to numerous patients at all hours during the flu pandemic. However, the mayor’s grueling work schedule and exposure to the deadly disease threw him into a state of exhaustion. He died on December 2, 1918, while still serving as mayor.

In 1918, the number one cause of death in South Dakota was influenza. Lawrence County suffered the greatest number of casualties, with 145 flu-related deaths. Statewide, the disease claimed 1,847 lives—28 percent of the total number of deaths in the state that year. By comparison, in 1917 influenza was No. 20 for causes of death in the state, claiming just 54 lives.

You can learn more about Mayor William Robinson on the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s Mayoral History Page.

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