Tag Archives: Albert Barney Charboneau

1918: Albert B. Charboneau falls ill with influenza

Sepia Saturday 544Fifteenth 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, fell ill in October 1918 when the second wave of the deadly pandemic influenza, which had spread around the globe, reached his hometown of Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y.

At 33, Albert was the woodworking foreman at the Julius Breckwoldt piano sounding board factory and the head of the Dolgeville Mason’s lodge.

He had been married for six years to Annie (Miller) Charboneau — and he was a tall, robust man one would not expect to get sick, let alone die. Yet Albert’s age and profile put him at risk in the 1918 pandemic.

Dolgeville, N.Y., looking north from the East Canada Creek Bridge (2015). Even bucolic Dolgeville was not immune to the influenza pandemic, which arrived there in the fall of 1918 and claimed the life of my dad’s Uncle Albert. Photo: Molly Charboneau

The influenza’s virulent impact

In her book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, author Gina Kolata sums up the sweep and toll of the influenza’s deadly second wave. [1]Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux:New York, 1999), 4-5.

The sickness preyed on the young and healthy.…The plague took off in September of that year, and when it was done over half a million Americans would lie dead. The illness spread to the most remote parts of the globe. Some Eskimo villages were decimated, and nearly eliminated from the face of the earth. Twenty percent of Western Samoans perished. No matter where it struck, the virus went after an unusual group — young adults who are generally spared the ravages of infections diseases. The death curves were W-shaped, with peaks for the babies and toddlers under age 5, the elderly who were aged 70-74, and people aged 20-40.[2]Kolata, Flu,4-5.

Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., during the influenza pandemic of 1918. According to the CDC’s website, “In fall of 1918 the United States experienced severe shortages of professional nurses, because of the deployment of large numbers of nurses to military camps in the United States and abroad, and the failure to use trained African American nurses.” Photo: Library of Congress

Lethal curve of the 1918 influenza

Nor was Uncle Albert alone. As shown in the table below, he contracted the 1918 influenza during a peak fatality period in the U.S. armed forces. Like him, the soldiers and sailors who were mobilized/demobilized in huge numbers during WWI were in the vulnerable 20-40 age group.

U.S. Army in the U.S. – Deaths Due to Influenza and Pneumonia in 1918 – Source: Alfred W. Crosby America’s Forgotten Pandemic[3]Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 59.
For the Week ending:
10 September 98
27 September 972
4 October 2,444
11 October 6,170
18 October 5,559
27 October 2,624
1 November 1,183
8 November 908
15 November 519
22 November 321

Civilian casualties climb

The curve of the 1918 influenza in the civilian population mirrored the military experience — although cities that took containment measures, and encouraged mask wearing and social distancing, fared better than those that did not.

All told, 195,000 people died of influenza in the U.S. during October, when the second wave peaked, according  to the 1918 Pandemic Influenza Historic Timeline on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.

Sadly, my dad’s Uncle Albert was among those casualties, succumbing to the influenza on 23 October 1918 — 102 years ago this month.

He died before my dad was born. So the few details I know about his final days are contained in his obituaries — which will be reviewed in the next post.

Please stop back. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants .here

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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References

References
1 Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux:New York, 1999), 4-5.
2 Kolata, Flu,4-5.
3 Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 59.

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.

https://www.loc.gov/item/2016648028/
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]Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 59.

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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References

References
1 Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 59.

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 [1]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.

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 State, “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.

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.[2]ibid.

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

References

References
1 Eisenstadt, Peter, et al. Encyclopedia of New York State (Syracuse:Syracuse University Press, 2005), 773.
2 ibid.