Keller Auditorium: A hospital during Spanish Flu Pandemic

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Known for hosting off-Broadway productions like Frozen and Hamilton, Portland’s Keller Auditorium was once converted into a hospital and morgue for patients of the 1918 Spanish flu Pandemic.

Sue Ellen White has her grandfather’s records of that tumultuous time in the Northwest right at the end of World War I. ​ ​

“One can only wonder how much they felt as we do—confused, scared and with a lack of resources and experience to deal with what was happening,” said White. ​ ​

Haldane M. White (Courtesy Sue Ellen White)

White’s grandfather, Haldane M. White, was a senior advisor to two Portland mayors, and his job included overseeing what was then called Civic Auditorium. Sue Ellen inherited his booking records for the venue, which had only opened a year before the Spanish Flu pandemic. ​ ​

“In the scheduling book, the scheduled performers are all crossed out and ‘Hospital’ written across the list,” she explained. The “hospital” notation began Oct. 10, 1918 and continued through the end of the year. ​ ​

Sue Ellen felt compelled to contact KOIN 6 about her grandfather’s history after our story about a temporary hospital being set up at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. (Sue Ellen White is a family friend of Dan Tilkin’s parents)​ ​

(Courtesy Sue Ellen White)

Sue Ellen explains the month of January 1919 in her grandfather’s records also shows all the performances were cancelled, including the “Ellison White Musical” and the “Apollo Club”.​ ​

“Whether the auditorium was still a hospital or people were too wary to go out is not clear to me,” she wrote in an email. “My grandfather never spoke of the flu to me or to my brother, so I will not know. But I do have the records to tell their story.”​ ​

Haldane M. White’s various titles included Assistant Mayor, Mayor’s Secretary and Mayor’s Office Secret Service. ​ (Courtesy Sue Ellen White)
(Courtesy Sue Ellen White)

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