Sarasota’s past is riddled with references to the healthfulness of its citizens. In an article published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, local historian Jeff LaHurd references a Sarasota pioneer who claimed that the town’s first doctor, who arrived in 1885, “left after a year for Kentucky because he felt there would never be enough sick people here to support him.”1
Early brochures advertising the city that LaHurd mentions claimed that Sarasota was not just a winter resort, but was specifically a health resort.2
In 1908, Dr. Jack Halton opened the Halton Sanitarium. More than a sanitarium, however, the premises functioned as a hotel. Northern guests came to the Halton to relax. It was not until 1924 that Dr. Halton’s brother, Jack, opened up Sarasota’s first hospital.3
Watch the clip below to hear Harriet Burns Stieff discuss Sarasota’s notoriety for being a health resort.
So, what happened to Sarasota in 1918 when an influenza epidemic struck the world? It is estimated that this global illness killed 50 million people.5
Its healthy reputation aside, Sarasota was not unaffected. There is no exact number for the Sarasotans who were infected and/or died from influenza. Unfortunately, the entire state of Florida was inconsistent in reporting deaths.6 But, the Sarasota History Alive blog, authored by former Sarasota County Archivist Mark D. Smith, went through issues of the Sarasota-Times and writes that the newspaper occasionally reported deaths from the virus. Smith quotes the October 24, 1918 issue’s report on a recovering patient. It states, “Dr. Cullen Wilson’s recovery is assured. The doctor attended to his patients until he was unable to keep up and his case was the serious one in town.”7
Thus, though Sarasota was not immune from the epidemic, this reference to a singularly serious case in the town reveals that the area was, in comparison to many other parts of the world, largely spared.
Fig. 1. “The Halton Sanitarium,” photograph, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida.
- Jeff LaHurd, “Early Sarasota had just the tonic for what ailed you,” Sarasota-Herald Tribune, January 11, 2015, www.heraldtribune.com/article/20150111/ARTICLE/150119974?p=1&tc=pg (accessed March 5, 2015).
- Harriet Burns Stieff, interview by Joy Feagan and Kana Hummel, Sarasota, Florida, February 7, 2015.
- “The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918,” National Archives and Records Administration, www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/ (accessed March 17, 2015).
- “Florida,” The Great Pandemic: The United States in 1918-1919, United States Department of Health and Human Services, www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/1918/your_state/southeast/florida/index.html (accessed March 16, 2015).
- Mark D. Smith, “The Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918,” Sarasota History Alive, www.sarasotahistoryalive.com/stories/journals-of-yesteryear/the-great-influenza-epidemic-of-1918/?back=Stories (accessed March 16, 2015).