1918 flu epidemic the ‘deadliest in history’
If people think the flu is bad this winter, it is nothing compared to what happened 100 years ago, when the so-called “Spanish flu” epidemic swept the world. It was called the “deadliest in history.”
Historians say the flu infected 500 million people worldwide and killed as many as 675,000 Americans.
The disease began in February 1918 and exploded in August of that year. It finally ran its course in December 1920.
The disease, which spread quickly to the lungs, caused rapid death, even in people in the prime of life. In big cities, life came to a standstill. People were afraid to leave their homes, and coffin makers couldn’t keep up.
As much as could be ascertained, the Spanish flu wasn’t as serious in Marion County, Kansas. The only confirmed deaths were Dick Bredemeier’s grandparents, John Henry Bredemeier and his wife, Lillian Dody Bredemeier, and their baby daughter, Eleanor Ann.
The family lived in the Antelope community. All three died within four days of each other in February 1919.
Dick said his father, Herb, was 12 years old at the time.
Karon Hess of Marion said Henry and Lillian were uncle and aunt to her mother, Vera Bredemeier Highsmith. Her mother had said it was a scary time, and other family members stayed away from Henry’s household.
After the deaths, some of the Bredemeier men got together to dig graves and arrange a funeral. The dead were buried in Lincolnville cemetery.
Hess said her mom’s family couldn’t go to the funeral for fear of catching the dreaded disease.
According to Dick Bredemeier, Henry’s brother, Charlie, made sure the remaining children, of which there were five girls and several boys, were kept within the family and spread among family members.
The flu spread quickly among the military, and several people from Marion County were among the casualties. They are listed in the book, World War I Marion County Roll of Honor.
Le Noir Carney, a Red Cross nurse, became ill Oct. 31, 1918, and died the following Nov. 9 in Wichita. She is buried in Prairie Lawn Cemetery at Peabody. She was the daughter of W.H. and Mary Carney of Aulne.
Lucy Catherine McLinden, daughter of Hugh and Catherine McLinden of Marion, was a student at the University of Kansas. During the flu epidemic, she was made head nurse of Ward 4, Barracks 1, at Lawrence, Kansas, and worked 13 hours a day. She died Nov. 9, 1918, in the university’s Students’ Influenza Hospital.
According to Joan Meyer of Marion, McLinden’s picture hung on the wall of the study hall when she was in high school.
John Albert Morton, son of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Morton, Tampa, died of pneumonia Oct. 6, 1918, in Harcourt, France. It is surmised he got pneumonia from the influenza.
John William Pientka, son of Frances Pientka, Tampa, died Dec. 13, 1918, of “flumonia” at Camp Dodge, Iowa. He was in the 247th Ambulance Company, 19th Sanitary Train.
Last modified Feb. 22, 2018