Category Archives: Charboneau

The 1918 influenza strikes the Mohawk Valley

Sepia Saturday 543. Fourteenth 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

The first time I called the Little Falls, N.Y., public library in April 2006 looking for the obituary of my dad’s Uncle Albert Barney Charboneau, I did not know his exact date of death.

I only knew the year, 1918 — when Uncle Albert died in Dolgeville, N.Y., in the Great Influenza Epidemic — most likely in the fall.

“That’s going to be a problem,” the librarian said. “Papers weren’t published during the flu pandemic for fear of spreading it by circulating the paper, so there may not be an obituary, but we’ll check.”

Some newspapers stopped publishing

Wow, no papers published? That’s when I first realized just how severely the 1918 influenza had hit in Herkimer County.

Later, the librarian called me back to say she was unable to find Uncle Albert’s obituary in 1918. “But I did find one article that said 15-25 people died per day between October and December 2018,” she said. “Do you want me to send it?”

https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7335/27219398272_f220b0ef28_o.jpg
Along the Mohawk River in Little Falls, NY. A call to the Little Falls Public Library yielded a chilling news article about the impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic in this Mohawk Valley town — not far from Uncle Albert’s home in Dolgeville. Photo: Worldwide Elevation Map Finder

Apparently some papers were published after all! So I said yes, hoping to learn more about the influenza’s impact in the Mohawk Valley —  which would help me put Albert’s death in perspective.

The article she sent, from the 15 Oct. 2018 issue of the Little Falls Journal and Courier, is a chilling summary of the influenza’s sweep through Little Falls — just south of Uncle Albert’s Dolgeville hometown and where his brother Uncle Dewey lived.

Health staff “worked almost to the limit of endurance”

The article (transcribed below) did not include a death toll. Yet it sounds sadly familiar as we continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic — closed schools and gathering places, no church services, numerous deaths and a terrific burden on frontline healthcare staff.

Little Falls, in common with nearly all other cities, is suffering greatly from the epidemic of Spanish [1918] influenza that so thoroughly covers the country. The schools are still closed, and so also are the theaters, churches and other places of public gatherings. No services were held in any of our churches last Sunday. Our obituary column carries report of numbers of deaths, and many people are still suffering, although it is believed that there has been a slight improvement during the past 48 hours.

1918: Influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Photo: Library of Congress.

Physicians, nurses and all who have to do with the care of the sick and the homes where they are, are worked almost to the limit of endurance, and it is exceedingly difficult to get help of any kind. Even the undertakers are hardly able to take care of the cases they they have in hand and find it exceedingly difficult to secure such supplies as are demanded.

“The hearts of the people are in the right place”

The article goes on to describe the emergency house-to-house nursing care provided in Little Falls — back when health care professionals still made house calls.

The system of outside nursing outlined and directed by Miss Hunter, superintendent of the local hospital, has done much to relieve the situation. The city has been divided into districts and public spirited men and women have donated the use of automobiles to carry the nurses from house to house, so that much more territory could be covered than would otherwise be possible.

Miss Elizabeth Burrell has assisted at the hospital by serving as clerk for this service and trained nurses who now have homes of their own to look after have been doing work for others. The spirit of it all is most commendable and it’s being demonstrated that in times of stress the hearts of the people are in the right place.

The Influenza, Little Falls Journal and Courier, 15 Oct. 2018. Scan by Molly Charboneau

All around the article are columns of obituaries for those who died in the Little Falls, N.Y. area from the 1918 influenza and/or the pneumonia that followed in its wake.

Learning Uncle Albert’s story

But what about Uncle Albert’s experience?

Eventually, in the New York State Death Index, I was able to find his date of death  — 23 Oct. 1918, just after the influenza’s peak in the U.S. Army.1

So when I called the Little Falls library a second time, they were able to locate Uncle Albert’s obituary chronicling his final days.

Up next: The final days of Albert Barney Charboneau. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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 2gives 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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