Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 100/365 Great Aunt Emma

With all the increasing concerns about the swine flu (there's got to be a better name), and the possibility of a pandemic, my thoughts turn to the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Although it was thought to have originated in China, it first struck with a vengenance in Spain where it killed 8 million people. With troops moving back and forth during World War I, it spread quickly, with almost 1 billion people contracting it world-wide.

In hindsight, the death toll for the Spanish Flu is estimated to be between 50-100 million people.

Read that again: 50-100 million people.

It's effects were greater than the Bubonic Plague, although many of the difficulties encountered weren't that much different (not enough doctors, not enough medical supplies, not enough hospitals, and, eventually, not enough coffins to bury the dead.).

Let me put a human face on this huge number.

This is my Great-Aunt Emma. On this particular day in late September 1918, she is twelve (with a birthday coming up shortly). She and her siblings are sitting for the all-important family photo, made by the traveling photographer in Wytheville Va. The family has made the long trip by wagon over the mountain, in order to pick up a cousin who is has been stationed in Europe during World War I. It is a joyous reunion - so many young men are not returning, but now Edgar is safely back with his family.

My grandfather is on the far left, standing just behind his big sister, Emma, who is the oldest. Addie is on the far right, the second oldest daughter. And the baby (Tom) sits on Addie's lap, while two more sons fidgeting in the background. Right in the middle is (of course) the middle daughter, Leona, fondly called Onie.

Two weeks later, Emma has turned thirteen and died on the very same day, having contracted the Spanish Influenza from her beloved cousin Edgar.

She enjoyed writing stories, teaching Sunday School, and singing. In fact, she had just sang in a school competition and won a blue ribbon for first prize. Her parents saved not only her funeral notice, but her blue ribbon, and her composition book with her stories.

They made sure she wasn't forgotten, even though she was just one of the 50 million or more who died from the Great Pandemic of 1918


  1. I have just finished perusing several of your posts. As always, your posts are interesting and informative! You are such a smart lady!

  2. Hey, aren't you suppose to be busy doing homeschool stuff, not out reading blogs???

  3. How sad. We don't realise how fortunate we are these days that certain illnesses are just an inconvenience rather than a death warrant.

  4. Thanks for putting a face on a very sad (and seemingly forgotten) event. I hadn't ever heard of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic until today. That in itself is sad.

  5. Don't feel bad Carrie - I have a mind packed full of historical trivia....and little else.