The deadly 1918 influenza spreads — around the world and back to Dolgeville, N.Y.

Sepia Saturday 542. Thirteenth in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

My dad’s Uncle Albert Barney Charboneau died in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. during the second, more virulent wave of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

After an initial spring 1918 outbreak of influenza in Haskell County, Kansas, the virus began its march with WWI troops to other bases across the U.S., then to the front in Europe and around the world — returning to the U.S. in a deadlier “second wave” in the fall of 1918.

https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-019-3750-8/figures/2
Spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic (Waves 1 and 2). The purple dotted lines, which begin in the U.S. heartland, mark the spread of the first wave of the 1918 influenza during WWI. The red lines show the spread of the second, deadlier wave around the world and back to the U.S. Source: BMC Infectious Diseases

Along the way the pandemic virus picked up the erroneous name “Spanish influenza” because Spain, a neutral country in WWI, openly publicized the outbreak — while the combatant countries suppressed news of the influenza’s toll.

A complete history of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 is beyond the scope of Molly’s Canopy. However, an excellent Influenza Encyclopedia compiled by the University of Michigan provides ample detail for readers who want to learn more.

First New York State cases

Of concern in this blog series is: When did the influenza spread to New York State? And how did my dad’s Uncle Albert — who lived in the small town of Dolgeville in New York’s Mohawk Valley — end up dying from it?

The Encyclopedia of New York State 1gives details about the arrival of the 1918 influenza in the state — making its first appearance in New York City in the fall.

http://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-newyork.html#
Masked New York City street sweeper during the 1918 influenza pandemic. According the the Encyclopedia of New York, “The New York Times reported that the first cases in the state were merchant mariners who shipped into New York Harbor on 13 Sept 1918. They were promptly quarantined….Less than two weeks after it appeared in New York City, the epidemic skipped northward to Victory Mills and Schuylerville (Saratoga Co) and then westward to Oswego.” Photo: Influenza Encyclopedia/NARA

According to the encyclopedia:

The New York Times reported that the first cases in the state were merchant mariners who shipped into New York Harbor on 13 Sept 1918. They were promptly quarantined….Less than two weeks after it appeared in New York City, the epidemic skipped northward to Victory Mills and Schuylerville (Saratoga Co) and then westward to Oswego.2

The rapid spread of disease was linked to army and navy personnel crowded into training camps during the final months of WWI. Soldiers taking leave in nearby cities and traveling in public conveyances increased civilian exposure. Being near a military installation or acting as a transportation hub predisposed a community to greater danger.3

New York takes action

Once New York City began reporting influenza cases, the state and its Department of Health swung into action — producing fact-filled literature about flu prevention and caring for the ill, assigning medical staff to hard-hit areas statewide, and making it a misdemeanor to cough or sneeze openly in public.4

http://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-newyork.html#
New York City resident shopping in homemade mask and gloves (1918). Flu prevention measures we are now familiar with were put in place in NYC and statewide — from mask wearing to parade cancellations to closing of theaters and other venues that could attract crowds. Photo: Influenza Archive/NARA

Measures we are now familiar with were put in place — from mask wearing to parade cancellations to closing of theaters and other venues that could attract crowds.

Meanwhile, in its spread across the state the influenza landed in Dolgeville and Little Falls — the Mohawk Valley hometowns of my dad’s Uncle Albert and the rest of the Charboneau family — where it created a crisis similar to what unfolded in towns and cities throughout the state.

Up next: The 1918 influenza strikes the Mohawk Valley. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1918: A severe influenza emerges in Kansas

Sepia Saturday 541. Twelfth in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

In early 1918 — around the time my dad’s Uncle Albert Barney Charboneau registered for the WWI draft in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. — a severe influenza took hold in Haskell County, Kansas, just west of Dodge City.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

I doubt that Uncle Albert or any of the Charboneau family were aware of this development. Yet the Haskell County cases appear to mark the emergence of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

In his book The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History5 author John M. Barry sums up the influenza’s spread.

Epidemiological evidence suggests that that a new influenza virus originated in Haskell County, Kansas, early in early 1918. Evidence further suggests that this virus traveled east across the state to a huge army base, and from there to Europe. Later it began its sweep through North America, through Europe, through South America, through Asia and Africa, through isolated islands in the Pacific, through all the wide world. In its wake followed a keening sound that rose from the throats of mourners like the wind. The evidence comes from Dr. Loring Miner.2

U.S. Army/Wikipedia/Public Domain
Sick ward at Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, Kansas (1918). According to John M. Barry in The Great Influenza, recruits from Haskell County,  where a severe influenza emerged in 1918, routinely trained at Camp Funston — 300 miles to the east — and a particularly hard winter meant the soldiers were often huddled together for warmth. Within weeks of the first March 4 case more than 1,100 soldiers were ill in hospital and thousands more required infirmary treatment. Photo: U.S. Army/Wikipedia/Public Domain

A Kansas doctor warns the world

According to Barry, Haskell County physician Dr. Loring Miner became alarmed when patients began showing up in early 1918 with a particularly severe influenza that was “violent, rapid in its progress through the body, and sometimes lethal” — and in such numbers that they soon overwhelmed his small practice.3

By mid-March when civilian cases subsided, Dr. Miner remained concerned and alerted national public health officials. His warning appeared in the weekly journal Public Health Reports, which circulated in the U.S. and abroad — the first mention of the deadly influenza that would sweep the globe.4

The influenza spreads to Camp Funston

https://nara.getarchive.net/media/ceremonies-camp-funston-thru-camp-lee-camp-funston-1918-be4ced
Troop tents at Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, Kansas (1918). According to author John M. Barry, “Epidemiological evidence suggests that that a new influenza virus originated in Haskell County, Kansas, in early 1918. Evidence further suggests that this virus traveled east across the state to a huge army base, and from there to Europe.” Photo: USNA

Meanwhile — about 300 miles east of Haskell County, Kansas — Camp Funston in Ft. Riley housed some 50,000 new military troops in overcrowded barracks and tents that had been hastily thrown together in 1917.5

Recruits from Haskell County routinely trained at Camp Funston –and a particularly hard winter meant the soldiers were often huddled together for warmth.6

So after a cook at Camp Funston fell ill with influenza on March 4, 1918, within weeks more than 1,100 soldiers were sick in hospital and thousands more required infirmary treatment — primarily with a milder strain of the Haskell influenza, but one that could mutate to a deadlier version.7

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007664230/
Panorama of Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, Kansas (1917).  Photo: Library of Congress

From there, the virus began its march with WWI troops to other bases across the U.S., to the front in Europe, then around the world —  mutating as it went — in a spreading pattern similar to that of the coronavirus, which we are all too familiar with.

Then a second wave of the influenza returned to the U.S. in its deadlier form in the fall of 1918 — which is when it caught up with Uncle Albert.

Up next: The spread of the deadly 1918 influenza — around the world and back to Dolgeville. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1918: The brief WWI service of Uncles Tom and Dewey Charboneau

Sepia Saturday 540. Eleventh in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

While my dad’s Uncle Albert and his brother Ray (my grandfather) performed alternative service during WWI, the other two Charboneau brothers — Tom and Dewey — were called to active duty.

Yet they mustered in so late in the war that each only served briefly — and neither went abroad.

Orville Nile “Tom” Charboneau was inducted into the U.S. Army in Little Falls, Herkimer Co., N.Y. on 3 Sept. 1918. According to his service card, he was appointed as a Private on 15 Oct. 1918. However, where he served is a bit of a mystery.

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016868180/
WWI: Basic training exercises (ca. 1918). Photo: Library of Congress

Where did Uncle Tom serve?

Tom was in service when his brother Uncle Albert died from the 1918 influenza — and his places of service were given in Albert’s obituaries.

  • One obituary, in the 24 Oct. 1918 issue of the Utica Herald Dispatch, says Albert was survived by a brother “Orville, who is stationed with the American forces at Fort Schuyler on Long Island.”
  • Another of Albert’s obituaries, in the 29 Oct. 1918 issue of the Little Falls Journal and Courier, lists him as “Orville, of Camp Shutler, L.I.”
https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014704955/
WWI: Camp at Ft. Totten, Queens, New York. (ca. 1918) Photo: Library of Congress

Meanwhile, his service card — under Organizations service in, with dates of assignments and transfers — says he served in  “C Def of Eastern NY Ft Totten NY Co 9 to disch.”

Did Tom have three assignments?

Is it possible that Uncle Tom served in all three places? Maybe so. There were temporary WWI training camps all over Long Island at the time, so he could have started out in a Camp Shutler.

And if Tom was in coastal defense, then Fort Schuyler (located on Long Island Sound in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx)  seems consistent with the final assignment listed on his service card — Fort Totten (in northeast Queens on Long Island Sound).

With so many soldiers mobilized, there was undoubtedly a great deal of troop movement here and there to fill assignments — and Tom may have been caught up in that during his brief time in service.

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014704956/
WWI: The mess hall at Fort Totten, Queens, New York. (ca. 1918). Photo : Library of Congress

Proud to be veterans

Tom was was honorably discharged on 9 Dec. 2018 at the end WWI — after serving for three months.

Uncle George Dewey Charboneau’s time in the Army was even shorter than Tom’s. He was drafted on  11 Nov. 1918 — but returned home before reaching camp when Armistice was declared, ending the war.

Yet despite their brief stints, both Tom and Dewey were proud to be veterans. In his book Herkimer County in the World War: 1916-1918, Franklin W. Christman compiled an Honor Roll of Herkimer County veterans of WWI.

Here are Tom and Dewey’s entries, which I later confirmed they authored themselves in response to a survey.

CHARBONEAU, ORVILLE N., Little Falls, N.Y.; born April 23, 1891; drafted September 3, 1918; U.S. Troops, Syracuse, Fort Schuyler; discharged December, 1918.

CHARBONNEAU, GEORGE D., Dolgeville, N.Y.; born June 12, 1898; drafted November 11, 1918; returned before reaching camp, Peace Day; honorably discharged.

A Memorial Day posting

Fast forward to the year 2000, when this Honor Roll appeared online as part of a Memorial Day celebration — then to 2006, when I first saw Tom and Dewey’s names on the list and emailed for details.

Back came this response from Marine veteran Paul T. McLaughlin, Village of Ilion editor for the Rootsweb site where I found the list. Sadly, Paul died in 2017 so I will let him have the last word.

I continue to be amazed by how many inquiries I have received since that list was posted in the 2000 4-County Memorial Day extravaganza. Here’s what your relatives wrote in response to the questionnaire. [Here he typed in the above listings verbatum.]

Strange that they spelled it [their surname] differently, but that may have been a typo from the transcriber. Orville [Tom] had only to serve a couple of months, and George [Dewey] was drafted on Armistice Day, so they didn’t have much to write about. That’s good!

Up next: The deadly 1918 influenza emerges. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time