Local Saloons Ignored Orders, Spread Disease During 1918 Pandemic
Over 100 years ago, the Hudson Valley was also debating whether closing businesses was a good idea. Spoiler: it was.
The Beacon Historical Society released a detailed account of the struggle between doctors and local business owners during the Spanish flu. The controversy reads like something out of today's headlines, driving home the fact that history truly does repeat itself.
In 1918, the City of Beacon saw 95 people die in just one day. As a result, and because his brother was among the dead, Beacon’s Commissioner of Public Safety, John T. Cronin, issued orders to close all "schools, moving picture houses, theaters, churches and Sunday school." The next day he added saloons, pool halls, ice cream parlors and other businesses to the list.
Just like today, the closed businesses were still allowed to sell food and drink "to go," but that didn't satisfy some, who said the commissioner didn't have the authority to close their places of business. Eight saloon owners defied the order and remained open. They were promptly brought to court and fined, but immediately after being put on parole, they returned to their saloons and continued to serve customers.
Each of the eight owners were brought to court again and fined what would be $18,000 in today's money. But, in defiance of the law, they continued to operate. Legal counsel for the men suggested they "punch the nose" of Cronin and anyone else who dared tell them to close again.
Sadly, by disobeying the order, countless lives were lost. After involving the governor, the bar owners were brought to court. It was determined that several deaths every day in the small city of Beacon were directly the result of saloon activity. The bar owners didn't even disinfect their glasses, simply dunking them in cold water between use.
During a trial, six doctors testified that the influenza deaths were the fault of the bar owners, who knowingly spread the disease by disobeying health ordinances and not following sanitary procedures. Each of the eight proprietors were arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, tried and convicted.
The resolve of Beacon’s Commissioner of Public Safety, John T. Cronin to hold the men accountable and eventually close down the saloons has been credited with saving countless lives in the City of Beacon.
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