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.
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 Eisenstadt, Peter, et al. Encyclopedia of New York State (Syracuse:Syracuse University Press, 2005), 773. gives details about the arrival of the 1918 influenza in the state — making its first appearance in New York City in the fall, as excerpted below.
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.
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.
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.ibid.
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.
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