Rich history at Millikin Homestead comes full circle

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DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — It’s hard to miss the beautiful home that sits back from the street on Decatur’s near westside. It’s the former home of James and Anna Millikin.

Inside, there are artifacts from more than a century ago, some of the chairs they sat on themselves.

It’s what happened here after they died that the treasurer, Douglas Warren said, is pretty spectacular.

“It was the Red Cross that came and said, ‘we need a special, Red Cross infirmary,’ is what they called it,” Warren explained.

When the flu pandemic hit in 1918, the two hospitals in Decatur were overflowing with patients.

“It had 35 people here, at the most, and during the worst of the pandemic, they were dropping one to two a week,” Warren said.

At that time, doctors didn’t know what they were dealing with. In fact, they even know what a virus was.

“Within three weeks, four weeks, we had a picture of what this virus looked like,” Warren looked back on the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had a concept. They had no idea. They just had no idea, and I feel so sorry for those people…about the only two things that they had then were, was Bayer Aspirin had been purified, and it was for sale and it could reduce fever. And the other thing, believe it or not, was Vicks VapoRub and it became a hot, black market item.”

Each of the rooms on the first floor of the Millikin Homestead held patients, some of them never made it back home.

“We think of our quarantine and how tough we got it, but what they would say is, the city would actually say to families, if one of your family members gets sick, you all have to quarantine and when your loved one dies, just put the body out on the front porch, and we’ll have a cart that comes around twice a week to pick up the body, but you had to remain in quarantine,” Warren explained the history of the 1918 Flu Pandemic. “I mean this is God awful. We just can’t even envision these things.”

675,000 people lost their lives across the U.S. that year.

Anna Millikin wished for their home to be dedicated to the arts. Now as a museum, it houses much more than just century-old artifacts.

It houses a history that many people now can relate to.

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