The Great Pandemic of 1918, part 1

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 6, 2017

Across America in the fall of 1918 the Spanish influenza-and the fear of it-was everywhere. The flu’s name came from the early affliction and large mortalities in Spain where it allegedly killed 8 million in May that year. No one knows exactly how many people died during the 1918-1919 global influenza pandemic, but estimates place 675,000 Americans among the dead: more than died during World War I!

Many physicians succumbed to the flu themselves. Shortages of essential personnel of all types often compounded the crisis even further. A lack of sanitation workers in cities allowed sewage to accumulate in the streets, raising concerns about other diseases. Emergency hospitals could not be opened to accommodate the growing numbers of patients because they could not be staffed.

Most patients were isolated in their homes and treated there, if they could get medical attention at all. Gauze masks started sprouting on faces everywhere, though wearing masks does little to prevent the spread of influenza. Those sickened were often left to fend for themselves—neighbors refused to come to the aid of neighbors for fear that they too would be struck.

public wearing gauze masks during 1918 Spanish Flu pandemicALABAMA: It first appeared in late September 1918 in Florence, in the northwest corner of the state. Just three weeks later, over 25,000 cases of influenza in the state had been reported to the U.S. Public Health Service. Following a common practice in many communities, Alabama doctors often wrapped the wheels of their horse drawn carts with cotton so people would not become alarmed when they heard the cart leaving during the night. During the last two weeks of October, more than 37,000 cases of the flu erupted in Alabama. People around the state died by the hundreds.

GEORGIA: It probably arrived during the first week of October 1918, and then spread like a wildfire throughout the state. In just three weeks, from October 19th to November 9th, there were more than 20,000 cases and more than 500 deaths. State officials filed their first report on October 19. On that date, they claimed that the state had 6,304 cases with 68 deaths. The real number of cases and deaths was probably much higher. The next week saw an increase in the number of cases: 9,637 cases and 308 deaths were reported. The following week, the week ending November 2nd, saw a tapering off of the epidemic with only 4,287 cases and 138 deaths being reported.

SOUTH CAROLINA: By early October, the disease had spread into the upper reaches of the state. Eucapine, Vick’s VapoRub, and other patent medicines became popular and were touted as cures. South Carolina’s governor even permitted the use of then-illegal alcohol because doctors were advocating its use as a remedy and nothing else seemed to be working. Alcohol didn’t work either. Home remedies were widespread. Onion plasters, the eating of raw onions, and even drinking hot lemonade to induce perspiration were recommended. None of these treatments were effective.

TENNESSEE: On October 15th, there were 27 deaths in Knoxville. Dr. E.L. Bishop, of Tennessee’s State Board of Health, offered his advice by condemning “promiscuous kissing …especially that of the nonessential variety.” He said, “[a] kiss of infection…may truly be the kiss of death.” On October 27th, “conditions were better in mining camps generally and…reports from rural communities in a few counties indicated that the disease is not yet prevalent at these points.” In the last two weeks of October, when the pandemic was at its peak, nearly 11,000 Tennesseans were struck. More than 650 fell. Writing in a medical journal, one Tennessee physician summed up the situation in saying “The man who dug his neighbor’s grave today might head the funeral procession next week. No telling who would be next.”

NORTH CAROLINA: Dr. W.S. Rankin of North Carolina’s State Board of Health refused to approve the use of rum in emergency hospitals due to lack of evidence that it was effective against influenza. Instead the Board called for treatments of “sunshine and open air.” Calomel, a purgative (and insecticide), was also prescribed. By the time the pandemic passed, at least 13,000 North Carolinians had perished. The state’s many mill towns suffered tremendous losses from the pandemic. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and poverty all served to exacerbate the number of cases and deaths in these regions.

to be continued…


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Clad in brilliant white raiment, they appeared to rise off the mountain south of Chimney Rock

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 5, 2017

Raleigh Register and State Gazette

September 23, 1806

The following account of an extraordinary phenomenon that appeared to a number of people in the county of Rutherford, state of North Carolina, was made the 7th of August, 1806, in presence of D. Dickie, Esq. of the county and state aforesaid, Jesse Anderson and the Rev. George Newton of the county of Buncombe and Miss Betsey Newton of the state of Georgia, who unanimously agreed, with the consent of the relators, that Mr. Newton should communicate it to Mr. Gales, Editor of the Raleigh Register and State Gazette.

Patsy Reaves, a widow woman, who lives near the Apalachian Mountain, declared, that on the 31st day of July last, about 6 o’clock P.M. her daughter Elizabeth, about 8 years old, was in the cotton field, about 10 poles from the dwelling house, which stands by computation, six furlongs from the Chimney Mountain, and that Elizabeth told her brother Morgan, aged 11 years, that there was a man on the mountain.

Early 20th century penny postcard of Chimney Rock, NC.

Morgan was incredulous at first, but the little girl affirmed it, and said she saw him, rolling rocks or picking up sticks, adding that she saw ‘a heap of people.’ Morgan then went to the place where she was, and called out, said that he saw a thousand or ten thousand things flying in the air.

On which Polly, daughter of Mrs. Reaves, a good four years, and a negro woman, ran to the children and called Mrs. Reaves to see what a sight yonder was. Mrs. Reaves says she went about 8 poles towards them, and, without any sensible alarm or fright, she turned towards the Chimney Mountain, and discovered a very numerous crowd of beings resembling the human species, but could not discern any particular members of the human body, nor distinction of sexes; that they were of every size, from the tallest men down to the least infants; that there were more of the small than of the full grown, that they were all clad with brilliant white raiment; but could not describe any form of their garment; that they appeared to rise off the mountain south of said rock, and about as high; that a considerable part of the mountain’s top was visible about this shining host, that they moved in a northern direction, and collected about the top of Chimney Rock.

When all but a few had reached said rock, two seemed to rise together and behind them about two feet, a third rose. These three moved with great agility towards the crowd, and had the nearest resemblance of two men, of any before seen. While beholding those three her eyes were attracted by three more rising nearly from the same place, and moving swiftly in the same order and direction. After these, several others rose and went toward the rock.

During this view, which all the spectators thought lasted upwards of an hour, she sent for Mr. Robert Siercy, who did not come at first; on a second message sent about fifteen minutes after the first, Mr. Siercy came, and being now before us, he gives the following relation, to the substance of which Mrs. Reaves agrees.

Mr. Siercy said, when he was coming, he expected to see nothing extraordinary, and when come, being asked if he saw those people on the mountain, he answered no; but on looking the second time, he said he saw more glittering white appearances of human kind than ever he had seen of men at any general review; that they were of all sizes from that of men to infants; that they moved in throngs round a large rock, not far from the Chimney Rock; that they were about the height of the Chimney Rock, and moved in a semicircular course between him and the rock, and so passed along in a southern route between him and the mountains, to the place where Mrs. Reaves said they rose; and that two of a full size went before the general crowd about the space of 20 yards, and as they respectively came to this place, they vanished out of sight, leaving a solemn and pleasing impression on the mind, accompanied with a diminution of bodily strength.

Whether the above be accountable on philosophical principles, or whether it be a prelude to the descent of the holy city, I leave to the impartially curious to judge.

George Newton

P.S. The above subscriber has been informed, that on the same evening, at about the same time in which the above phenomenon appeared, there was seen by a gentleman of character, who was several miles distant from the place, a bright rainbow, apparently near the sun, then in the west, where there was no appearance of either clouds or rain; but a haze in the atmosphere. The public are therefore at liberty to judge, whether the phenomenon had any thing supernatural in it, or whether it was some unusual exhalation or moist vapor from the side of the mountain, which exhibited such an unusual rainbow.

Source: article first cited in Travels Through the Northern Parts of the United States in the Years 1807 and 1808, by Edward Augustus Kendall, Esq., publ. I. Riley, New York, 1809

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Stack Cake

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 4, 2017

The dried apple stack cake is one of the most popular southern Appalachian cakes— no surprise considering apples are found aplenty in the mountains. Culturally it’s akin to the classic European torte. It looks like a stack of thick pancakes, with apple preserves, dried apples or apple butter spread between each layer. At holidays and weddings, early mountain settlers traditionally served stack cake in lieu of more fancy, and costly, cakes. Neighbors, according to folk wisdom, would each bring a layer of the cake to the bride’s family, which they spread with apple filling as they arrived. It was said that the number of cake layers the bride got determined how popular she was.

apple stack cakeKentucky lays claim to originating the dessert via Kentucky pioneer washday cake. “Some food historians say that James Harrod, the colonist and farmer who founded Harrodsburg in 1774, brought the stack cake to Kentucky from his home in Pennsylvania,” observes Mark F. Sohn in Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes. “While Harrod may have brought the first stack cake to Kentucky, the cake could not have been common until more than 100 years later when flour became readily available.” Tennessee proudly points to Tennessee stack cake as the first, but in fact variations of the cake abound throughout the region.

The cake is many layered, low in fat, and not sweet. It’s made with layers of stiff cookie like dough flavored with ginger and sorghum and spread with a spiced apple filling. When served, the cake is tall, heavy, and moist.

Appalachian Apple Stack Cake (Sheri Castle’s recipe)

Makes 12 to 16 servings

Dried Apple Filling

1 pound (4 to 5 packed cups) dried unsulphured apples
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
4 to 5 cups water, divided

Cake Layers

5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sorghum molasses
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

1. For the filing: Place the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and mace in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender and the filling is very thick, about 1 hour. If the mixture gets dry, add more water. If it is soupy, continue to simmer until the excess cooks away. Use a potato masher to break up the apples into chunky sauce. Set aside.

2.For the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. You will be baking the layers in batches, for a total of six layers. (Alternatively, you can bake the layers one at a time in a greased and floured, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, which is the traditional technique. Yet another option is to pat the dough into six 9-inch rounds and bake them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

4. In another large bowl, beat the shortening, sugar, and molasses with an electric mixer set to medium speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

6. Add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with half of the buttermilk. The mixture should be the consistency of cookie dough, so knead the dough together with your hands if that works better than the mixer. Add a bit more flour if needed.

7. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into six equal pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap so it won’t dry out. Use lightly floured hands to pat a piece of dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared cake pans. The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick. Lightly prick the dough all over with a fork, making a pretty pattern if you wish. Bake until the layers are firm when lightly pressed, about 15 minutes. The layers do not rise as they bake.

8. Turn out the first layer onto a large cake plate. Immediately spread it with one-fifth of the apple filling (about 1 heaping cup). Continue baking, stacking, and topping the warm layers. Leave the top layer bare.

9. Cover the cake with several layers of plastic wrap and then tea towels, or store it in an airtight cake carrier. Let the cake rest at room temperature for at least two days before cutting.


Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes, by Mark F. Sohn, University Press of Kentucky, 2005

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May Justus: Tennessee’s Mountain Jewel

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 3, 2017

On the top of the Cumberland plateau in the middle Tennessee community of Summerfield lives a small, energetic, gray-haired woman who is a great favorite with her next door neighbors. These neighbors are the school children of the community, for the Little Brown House in which she lives is next to the school where she taught for twenty-five years.

May Justus reading to Charis and Thorsten Horton, children of Myles and Zilphia Horton, at Highlander Folk School. Image ID: WHi-52775 / Wisconsin Historical Society

May Justus reading to Charis and Thorsten Horton, children of Myles and Zilphia Horton, at Highlander Folk School. Image ID: WHi-52775 / Wisconsin Historical Society

Friday is her visiting day at the school. On that day Miss May Justus, who has thrilled thousands of boys and girls throughout the country with her numerous juvenile books, entertains these pupils by telling stories or reading from her latest book. She often picks up her guitar and sings old mountain folk ballads to accompany her storytelling’s.

Miss Justus’s first book, Peter Pocket, was written in 1925. Many others have followed in rapid succession, almost every year seeing the publication of one or more of her books. She has written stories for every age level from nursery school to junior high school.

May Justus writes about the folk in the Tennessee mountains—people she knows and loves. Most of the glad and sad adventures  of her ‘book children’ are rooted in her own experiences as a little girl. For example, her childhood home was a cabin very much like Matt’s and Glory’s in The Cabin on Kettle Creek. “I don’t do research for my books. I write from memory, about things my parents and my grandparents told me,” Miss Justus once told a reporter.

Her books have lasting value as real Americana. They are regional literature in the best sense of the word. The old customs, the folk speech, the ballads, the fiddle tunes, the play-party singing games, the herb lore, the weather signs, the nonsense rhymes, the tall tales, even the riddles—they are all to be found in the books she has written.

Illustration from 'Use Your Head Hildy' (1956).

Illustration from ‘Use Your Head Hildy’ (1956).

Miss Justus does not think the southern mountaineer is unfortunate—as some “outlanders” might. She happily sings the wild tales of the hills to the plaintive music of fiddle and dulcimer. She tells of the superstitions of Elizabethan days. The dialect of her ‘book people’ antedates Chaucer. Miss Justus kindly reminds folks that Chaucer, the first great English poet, used hit for it and spoke of ‘bird nestes’; Shakespeare in MacBeth used afeared for afraid; Lord Bacon, Sir Philip Sidney, and Spenser commonly used expressions such as ‘yander,’ ‘holp,’ ‘hopen,’ and ‘clumb.’

“Social changes have come,” says Miss Justus. “Under the influences, the folklore so long preserved has disintegrated. The juke box tunes are taking the place of the old-time fiddle music. Play parties have given place to amusements in the honky-tonk. As time goes on much mountain folklore which has distinct value will be lost forever unless it is set down in literary form. It is of more value, or so it seems to me, than Hepplewhite furniture or Haviland china. It is true Americana—a precious jewel to be treasured for posterity.

“If my own stories and books have a lasting value,” she continues, “it is, I hope, in the field of regional literature. For in this field may be preserved the history of a people to whom I belong, with whom I am glad to claim kin as a Tennessee Mountaineer.”

Miss Justus has had little change of feeling about writing for children through the years. She does “seem to be writing for younger children” as she grows older! She feels that the attitudes and interests of children are basically the same as when she began writing. Children’s wider scope of knowledge because of radio and television has not particularly affected her writing since she writes of fundamental values which do not change.

from 'Smoky Mountain Sampler' (1962)

from ‘Smoky Mountain Sampler’ (1962)

A study of the characters in her books reveals some of these fundamental values. The children in her stories learn from experience the necessity for hard work. They learn the value of education. They are proud and self-reliant. From their elders they learn honesty and fairness, cooperation, generosity, neighborliness, and hospitality to strangers. Though their material possessions are few, they know the meaning of real happiness. They know how to play as well as to work. However, they are not so extremely good as to seem unreal; they can be mischievous, too.

Children all over the world write to Miss Justus and she answers each and every letter personally. If you were to visit at her home, you shouldn’t be surprised to find her busy with her favorite recreation, making a garden—raising gourds in particular.

Introducing to the reader other beloved Tennessee mountaineers, Miss Justus, in Smoky Mountain Sampler (1962) says: “The outlander must linger with us awhile…if he will stay and make himself at home with us under the roof of our cabin, eating our sallet and corn pone or ash cake, maybe—if he will play with our young ‘uns and brag on our hound dogs—why we’ll forget to be tongue-tied and in the middle of a churning or half-way down a furrow we may head into a song.”

Thus, Miss Justus brings to life in realistic stories a homespun picture of a unique people living in the quiet atmosphere of an isolated, charming region set apart from the hustle-bustle world.


Adapted from May Justus: Tennessee’s Mountain Jewel, by Paul C. Burns and Ruth Hines, Elementary English, Vol. 41, No. 6 (October, 1964), pp. 589-593

Special thanks to Cindy B. Cady for her input on this article.

2 Responses

  • Enjoyed this very much. Thank you.

  • Thomas F. Taylor III says:

    My hometown is Monteagle. My Family (and I, as a child) knew, May Justus… May and Vera as the two women were known to us… always the two of them; always the two names, together.

    I knew and played with the Hoton children and visited Myles and Zilfia at Highlander.

    It’s amazing to think back on that time.

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And the goats are fine, thanks

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 2, 2017

The poet who penned “the fog comes in on little cats’ feet” moved to western North Carolina for the sake of the little goats’ feet. Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg and his wife Paula had lived for 17 years on Chicago’s foggy shores by Lake Michigan, but left it all behind in 1945. Flat Rock, NC, twenty-four miles south of Asheville, offered greener pastures and a longer browsing season for their Chikaming goat herd.

The Sandburgs paid $45,000 for 248 acres of land, a three-story, 22 room main house of over 9,000 square feet on a hill fronted by green pastures with various lakes, a barn complex and several outbuildings. Plenty of room for them, their three daughters, two grandchildren, their library of more than 10,000 volumes, and the goat farm operation. The hill approaching the house is steep and the climb ascends 100 feet over a third of a mile. Sandburg believed they had bought a “village” and Mrs. Sandburg a “million acres of sky.”

Lilian Sandburg at Connemara, Carl and Lilian Sandburg homePhoto caption reads: “Carl Sandburg spends most of his time writing, and his wife, Lilian Paula Sandburg, most of hers with her goats. She is shown here with her grandson, Joe Carol Thoman.”

The name of home they purchased, Connemara, is Irish, meaning of the sea. Connemara is a region in the country of Ireland located on the northwest coast in the county of Galway, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The home was built in 1838 as a summer home by Christopher Gustavus Memminger of Charleston, SC, who later served as the secretary of the treasury for the Confederacy. After his death the property passed to the Gregg family and then to textile tycoon Capt. Ellison Smyth, also of Charleston, who named it Connemara in honor of his Irish heritage. The Sandburgs bought the estate from Smyth’s descendants and kept the name.

The Asheville area was familiar to Mrs. Sandburg because her brother, photographer Edward Steichen, had spent time there and recommended it as a place to investigate.

Sandburg died on July 22, 1967 at the age of 89. His wife followed ten years later. Both of their remains were cremated and their ashes buried at Carl Sandburg’s birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois beneath a large boulder named after Carl Sandburg’s first and only novel, Remembrance Rock. Connemara, meantime, was sold to the government and is now maintained as a National Historic Site by the U.S. Park Service.


Carl+Sandburg Connemara Flat+Rock+NC Asheville+NC +appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia Appalachia+history

4 Responses

  • Marc Bentley says:

    I had no idea Carl Sandburg had a home in North Carolina! I’ll have to make a trip down there while I’m studying in Boone.

  • Glenda Beall says:

    We made a visit to Connemara several years ago and stayed almost all day. While I toured the house with a wonderful guide, my husband enjoyed the goat farm. We met a lovely young volunteer named Tuesday, who was amazingly astute about the goat herd and their history. She seemed to adore the goats, hugging them and petting them.
    I would recommend to anyone a visit to Connemara. I learned so much that day and enjoyed the staff and the volunteers. My husband made lots of great photos.
    Thanks for sharing this information on your blog.

  • John Morris says:

    I just Googled capt. Ellison Smyth who turns out to have been a major force in the early southern textile industry.

    Probably very worthy of a post on here.

  • Barbara Van Straten says:

    I was visiting my cousin in nearby Hendersonville and we stopped at Connemara last week. I wasn’t familiar with the Carl Sandburg story, but now I will be a fan. I love books as much as he did and bought his story. I was so impressed with their love for each other and their family. I especially loved the goats!
    Winter will go faster now, I have a good book to read.

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