Spanish influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, United States in 1918. Photograph: Associated Press
In late 1918 the world’s greatest killer – Spanish flu – roared towards Gunnison, a mountain town in Colorado.
The pandemic was infecting hundreds of millions of people in Europe, Africa, Asia and across the United States, overwhelming hospitals and morgues in Boston and Philadelphia before sweeping west, devastating cities, villages and hamlets from Alaska to Texas.
Gunnison, a farming and mining town of about 1,300 people, had special reason to fear.
Two railroads connected it to Denver and other population centres, many badly hit.
“The flu is after us” the Gunnison News-Champion warned on 10 October, 1918. “It is circulating in almost every village and community around us”.
What happened next is instructive amid a new global health emergency a century later as the world struggles to react to the emergence of coronavirus.
Gunnison declared a “quarantine against all the world”.
It erected barricades, sequestered visitors, arrested violators, closed schools and churches and banned parties and street gatherings, a de facto lockdown that lasted four months.
It worked. Gunnison emerged from the pandemic’s first two waves – by far the deadliest – without a single case. It was one of a handful of so-called “escape communities” that researchers have analysed for insights into containing the apparently uncontainable.