Tag Archives: Influenza

“Dad”

image of clipping and tag regarding Fred Gorham

Fred J. Gorham, 1878-1918

When the U.S. entered World War I, Fred J. Gorham was a 40-year-old bank officer in Henderson, Kentucky, with a wife and young daughter.  But Gorham had also served as a cavalry officer in the Spanish-American War, and believed that his experience would help the Army in training recruits.

After obtaining special permission from the U.S. Army Adjutant General, Gorham re-enlisted in July 1918 as a private.  He was donning the uniform once more, he wrote his aunt, “to render what service I can in the behalf of Democracy against Autocracy, and quell the oppression of violence and outrage against the women and children of the smaller nations of the world.”  He hoped to go overseas, he wrote his brother, and “if I am allowed to ‘Go Over the Top’ once, then I won’t care what happens or where they send me.”

After reporting to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Gorham’s next stop was an Army base in Columbus, New Mexico.  “Dad,” as his younger comrades called him, quickly earned the respect of the troops as he led them in exercises like target practice.  “You could tell who the Kentucky boys were,” he wrote his mother, “by the way they could shoot.”

But twelve days after that letter, and having assured both his wife and mother that the camp was healthy, Gorham was dead of pneumonia following an attack of influenza.  This veteran of one war and volunteer for another was the victim of a pandemic that, over the next two years, would kill millions worldwide.

Gorham’s remains were interred in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery and his name added to the honor roll of Henderson County’s “Immortal Dead.”  The Henderson Daily Gleaner‘s list, in fact showed more of the county’s sons losing their lives to disease than to battle wounds.

Fred Gorham’s letters and papers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more Spanish-American War and World War I collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on “Dad”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

What I Learned in Summer School…

Gabe

Gabe Sudbeck, summer intern in Manuscripts.

“Everyone has a story and I want to know what it is.” These words were spoken by the late WKU history Professor Carlton Jackson. This notion has formed a phrase that has stuck with me since I read them. My name is Gabe Sudbeck and during my time as an intern in WKU’s Library Special Collections Manuscripts unit, I spent a lot of time reading his work and looking over his research about the HMS Rohna and the 1918 flu epidemic. When I was home one night talking with my mother about my internship, and I found out that she (a WKU Alumna) had actually been a research assistant with Jackson during her time at WKU. She said that he was a wonderful man. While I personally never had the honor to meet him in person, I do believe that he was a fine man full of energy and passion for his field.

The stories that I read about in the collection concerned regular people dealing with survival and tragedy in world events. The sinking of the Rohna for example was a tragedy in which over 1000 American men lost their lives. Many were left adrift for three days. Many men began to think of their loved ones. One story featured a man lost at sea who could hear his wife telling him that he could pull though. Another consisted of a priest recalling the story of a member of his church who refused to be baptized due to fear of being submerged under water which reminded him of being adrift at sea for three days.

One thing I learned from the internship is the personal connections that the researcher makes with his subject when he begins to study a historical event or person. I have heard stories that David McCullough, when researching John Adams intended for it to be about both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But McCullough found Adams to be more interesting and under appreciated, despite his significant contributions. McCullough truly enjoyed his discovery and his research; in the same spirit Carlton Jackson relished each of his writing projects. If I have learned anything from studying his work, it’s that we all have our own story to tell from the greatest of tragedies to the minutiae of everyday life.

Comments Off on What I Learned in Summer School…

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, Uncategorized

“Closed on Account of Influenza”

It was a disaster rarely spoken of today, yet it killed more Americans than all of our 20th-century wars combined.  Over 10 months alone in 1918, a vicious strain of influenza took the lives of more than half a million in the United States, and some 30 million worldwide.  Today, as many obtain their routine vaccination in anticipation of flu season, it is difficult to imagine such a sudden and destructive plague.

Scottsville teacher Eva Dalton's monthly report during the 1918 flu epidemic.

Scottsville teacher Eva Dalton’s monthly report during the 1918 flu epidemic.

But evidence of influenza’s shadow, especially in the terrible autumn of 1918, is preserved in several collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Some Kentuckians seemed to wait in resignation for the illness to strike.  Returning home to Auburn, a correspondent wrote Smiths Grove farmer Carlos Moore of a passenger “on the train last night almost dead with ‘Flu.'”  She was planning another trip the next week, “if I don’t take the ‘Flu.'”  Butler Countian Stella (Phelps) Minton and her family became so ill that her 7-year-old son had to assume all household duties.  Grief-stricken when two other sons died, Stella and her husband kept a small trunk filled with the boys’ belongings for the rest of their lives.

Entire institutions shut down in an attempt to curb the epidemic.  “The flu is on again here pretty badly,” wrote Cumberland County Circuit Court clerk Nevins Hume to a litigant in November 1918; consequently, “we did not have any Court, and will not have any until March.”  Scottsville teacher Eva Dalton recorded lines of zeroes in her attendance register as her school was “closed on account of influenza.”  Naomi Strum reported to her soldier husband that the Webster County schools were closing; nevertheless, she assured him there was “no danger in me taking it for I am not going in a crowd until it is over.”

The flu, of course, gave soldiers and their families additional cause to worry about one another in the closing months of World War I.  Serving overseas in December 1918, James McWherter heard from his father in Monroe County that the “The flu is still here, some are still dying with it.”  Drucilla Short wrote her brother George Harris in October that “influenza has put a ban on all churches, theaters and schools.”  Unfortunately, Drucilla’s letter was returned, for her brother had also lost his life–not to the flu, but to battlefield wounds.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For other collections relating to the 1918 influenza epidemic, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on “Closed on Account of Influenza”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives