On an overcast but warm Memorial Day about 90 people gathered at the Waterbury Hope Cemetery to honor those who have defended our nation, liberated the oppressed, and served the cause of peace. Following the laying of the wreath by the American Legion and a very interesting talk by Ryan Fisher, the Historical Society remembered those we lost in the 1918 flu epidemic. Ultimately, 62 deaths were taken by the time the epidemic was over. The following records some of the events of the day.
The Color Guard from the American Legion Harry Cutting Post #59
Firing Squads giving a rifle salute
Ryan Fisher gave an interesting talk on the history of the American Legion and their support of the Boy Scouts in Waterbury
Jim Walton gave us an overview of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918
Note the purple cross. They were placed at the graves of 14 who died of the flu and are buried in Hope Cemetery
Brian Lindner sharing the story of Dr. Watson Wasson, superintendent of the Vermont State Hospital, who died in November from the flu after have taken care of the people he served and loved.
Rosina Wallace by her grandfather's grave sharing his story
James Wallace 1871-1918
Presented by Rosina Wallace
“The Wallace family has held onto the farm through crisis and tragedy. Rosina says her great-grandfather would have lost the farm had it not been for her great-grandmother’s good business sense. A century ago, Rosina’s grandparents, James and Florence, had seven children in nine years. James Wallace died in the 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions of people around the world. All seven children also had the flu, so “the farmers next door came over and did the milking and chores. Grandfather died and my grandmother kept the farm going. She had five sons, and they were pretty big-size kids.” The children survived, and Rosina’s father Keith eventually took over the farm.” ...from Stowe Today
Dr. Watson Wasson
Presented by Brian Lindner
Dr. Watson L. Wasson was appointed to superintendent of the Vermont State Hospital in 1905. In the early part of October, 1918, a terrible epidemic of influenza that was sweeping the country struck at the Hospital. Isolation and quarantine of each case was attempted, but nothing seemed to stay its progress. One after another, the staff physicians became ill, until Dr. Wasson alone was able to be about. At this time more than 50% of a sadly depleted nursing force were sick in bed requiring attention in addition to the patients who were suffering from the disease. Even without illness there was a shortage because it was the height of World War I and many were serving in the armed forces.
Dr. Wasson worked with ceaseless activity, early and late for both patients and employees until he himself was stricken. His death took place November 24, 1918, truly a sacrifice to the people that he loved and the profession that he so honorably represented.
There were also 18 male patients and 5 female patients who died of influenza during the epidemic.” …from Empty Beds
The 1918 Influenza, Spanish Influenza or “Purple Death”
Presented by Skip Flanders
The 1918 Influenza epidemic often referred to as “The Spanish Influenza “or “The Purple Death” was one of the most deadly viruses the world has faced, killing more people than any disease of similar duration. This flu caused the death of many of its victims by pneumonia which filled the lungs with fluid shutting off oxygen and turning the body purple, thus the name “Purple Death.” There no known ways to avoid the flu and there were no cures, resulting more than 600,000 Americans dying a number sufficient to drop the average life span in the US by 12 years. Victims were often given kerosene with sugar added to make it taste better, and applying Vicks Vapor Rub. Today October 1918 remains the most deadly month in US history with 195,000 people dying. If the 1918 flu struck today and resulted in the death of the same 2.5% of its victims it would kill 1.5 million Americans.
What was happening in Waterbury?
What was life like in Waterbury in October 1918 as residents battled the influenza?
It claimed 17 lives in the Waterbury area in the first week. Cases of the flu were so numerous that an emergency hospital was created. The flu and deaths interrupted daily lives and routine business. Up to 7 deaths occurred in one day.
The flu impacted families who lost multiple members, some children were left orphaned. Florilla Ames , age 6, remembers the neighbors coming in to keep the fire going and to do chores. Neighbors helping neighbors. During these time folks didn’t know who would come down with the flu, and if they did, who would survive. Ultimately 58 lives were claimed in October, and 62 deaths when the epidemic was over.
Skip Flanders talking about the severity of the flu when it hit Waterbury in 1918
We greatly appreciate those who took part in our ghost walk:
-The members of the American Legion, Post 59 for the traditional Memorial Day service
-Jan Gendreau—Organizer of the 12 Memorial Day Ghost Walks
-Ryan Fisher, a student in the 7th grade at Bishop Marshall School—speaker
-Paul Willard, MC
-Rosina Wallace telling about life in Waterbury in 1918 and grandfather who died of the flu
-Brian Lindner telling about Watson Wasson 1874-1918 and the Vermont State Hospital
-Skip Flanders –The flu epidemic in Waterbury & Duxbury and how it was treated
-Jim Walton—Research on the flu of 1918
-Flowers - Jack Carter
-Jack Carter, Cindy Parks, Grace Sweet - Group Leaders