The Great Pandemic of 1918, part 2

Posted by | October 9, 2017


1918 Spanish flu victimsKENTUCKY: On October 6, the Kentucky State Board of Health announced the closing of “all places of amusement, schools, churches and other places of assembly.”

Because they were almost certainly simply overwhelmed with combating the disease, Kentucky officials did not even report influenza cases to the U.S. Public Health Service until late October. Likewise in Alabama: it is impossible to know for sure exactly how many Alabamans were affected by the flu, since regular reports to the U.S. Public Health Service were never made.

At that point, KY state officials reported more than 5,000 cases of the flu. Over the next three weeks, they reported over 8,000 more.

In Pike County, KY, a miner named Teamus Bartley called the epidemic “The saddest lookin’ time then that ever you saw in your life.”

He and his brother worked at a coal mine when his brother’s entire family came down with the disease. Teamus visited his brother every night, and reported on what he saw:

“…every, nearly every porch, every porch that I’d look at had–would have a casket box a sittin’ on it. And men a diggin’ graves just as hard as they could and the mines had to shut down there wasn’t a nary a man, there wasn’t a, there wasn’t a mine arunnin’ a lump of coal or runnin’ no work. Stayed that away for about six weeks.”

Teamus later said that each night, he saw four or five miners and family members die in the camps.

VIRGINIA: John Brinkley, a sharecropper in Max Meadows, VA, believed that “a little fresh air could be fatal.” So he sealed his family in his living room around a fire in a wood stove. For seven days the family remained in the room with the fire. On the eighth day, the house caught fire and the Brinkleys were forced to evacuate. By mid-October, Virginia had seen more than 200,000 cases of influenza. By the end of the year, more than 15,000 Virginians would die.

WEST VIRGINIA: Charleston saw its first cases of influenza on September 28th when 7 cases occurred. Over the next five weeks, there were more than 2,300 cases, and more than 200 deaths.

More cases followed, but they were not recorded. Around the middle of November, Charleston authorities stopped reporting to the U.S. Public Health Service. It’s likely that they were simply too overwhelmed.

In Martinsburg, WV, so many people were either sick themselves or were caring for people suffering that a local committee estimated that only two out of every ten people were able to attend to their normal duties.

Gravediggers could not keep up with the demands for their services in Martinsburg. For several weeks, gravediggers maintained a backlog of at least two-dozen graves, which needed to be dug each day.

Burials themselves were quick. Funerals were banned, as were all other public meetings, churches were closed and theaters were shut.

The local Martinsburg newspaper published a list of “Some Don’ts that Should be Followed: Don’t Worry, Stop Talking about it, Stop Thinking about it, Avoid People who have it.”

Such Don’ts were hard to do. For instance, a James Horvatt was brought to trial before the Martinsburg-area county court on September 27, 1918 for allegedly forging a $40 check. Horvatt had contracted the flu while in jail waiting his trial, and was very ill from the disease when he appeared in court.

The disease spread among those who were in the courtroom with him that day. Three lawyers who engaged in proceedings contracted influenza and died within three days after Horvatt’s trial was concluded. Three others, the judge, the county clerk and the assistant prosecuting attorney in the Horvatt case, all contracted the disease and came close to death. So did their immediate families.

It was said that nearly every family lost someone. One family that experienced such a loss was that of an infant who would grow up to become one of the Nation’s longest-serving Senators. The mother of Senator Robert Byrd was actually a North Carolinian. She died of influenza when he was just one year old, and an aunt and uncle from West Virginia took him in.

MARYLAND: By September 28th, more than 1,700 cases were reported across the state. In Cumberland, 41% of the population became ill. City officials converted buildings on the city’s main street into emergency hospitals but there were only three nurses to staff these hospitals. Officials asked the Maryland Board of Health for additional nurses but the nurses never appeared.

OHIO: The state outlawed spitting. Influenza was not confined to the cities. Rural communities across the state also experienced high rates of influenza as well as significant numbers of deaths from influenza or pneumonia. By the last week of October, Ohio reported 125,000 cases of the Spanish flu. That week, more than 1,500 Ohioans died.

By the end of December 1918, the worst was over.


One Response

  • martha Fink says:

    This information explains what happened to my grandfather. There was no paper trail after Sept. 1918. He was a miner in Sylvia WV. My mother went to Mooseheart, Ill.

Leave a Reply

6 + 4 =

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2017 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive