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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Sneeze lands cigar dealer in the custody

A man sneezed in public – and unfortunately for him, it was in front of a judge. Sneezing publicly had been banned due to fears of the Spanish influenza. (Spokesman-Review archives)
A man sneezed in public – and unfortunately for him, it was in front of a judge. Sneezing publicly had been banned due to fears of the Spanish influenza. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Cigar dealer Tom McKeene became the first man arrested in Spokane for sneezing in a public place. He made the mistake of sneezing in the presence of a judge and a city health inspector.

Sneezing was now considered hazardous because of the deadly Spanish flu epidemic raging throughout the city and the nation. Public spitting was also banned.

McKeene was actually on trial on another charge – selling cigarettes to minors. He was sitting on a courtroom bench waiting for his case to be called when he emitted “one loud ker-chew.” The city health inspector, testifying in the other case, looked in his direction.

Then McKeene sneezed twice more and everyone, including the judge, “turned and looked in the direction of the unlucky McKeene.”

The health inspector hauled him in front of the judge and reminded him that sneezing openly in public was banned.

The judge ordered McKeene taken to the city health office and examined. He was found to be suffering from the flu and was sent home. His court cases were postponed until he was well.

From the flu beat: After a brief lull, the Spanish flu death toll spiked. A total of 12 people died, including four patients at the emergency flu hospital and two at the Fort George Wright military hospital. One 19-year-old Deaconess nurse died and the supervisor of nurses at the emergency hospital was now sick.

The city health officer, who had sounded optimistic the day before, now admitted that the situation was not reassuring and “may become dark for a day or two.”

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