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History of Freeland, Pa.
Influenza epidemic of 1918

What's on this page:
  • Influenza epidemic of 1918
  • Photos of health care workers

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This was a Featured Photos post in November, 2018 from Charlie Gallagher, with information added from Emily Pecora and Tony Sutherland

Charlie Gallagher wrote: "Before October is over, you may want to commemorate the influenza of 1918." He cited Emily Pecora's thesis about Ralph Pecora's tailor business, chapter 2, pages 108-109:

The stress of war time was compounded in early October of 1918 by the outbreak of the Spanish influenza in Freeland. To control the spread of the virus, all churches, schools, and places of amusement (including Freeland’s widely popular saloons and movie theaters) were forced to close, and most public gatherings, including funerals, were forbidden. The pastor of St. Anthony’s church publicly decried the closing order as “discrimination on the part of health authorities,” pointing out that the profitable and powerful “factories, workshops, and trolley cars” of the town—all sites of public gatherings themselves—were allowed to continue to operate. Idle teachers were put to work distributing food and linens to housebound residents and four army doctors helped tend to the sick. By late October, 277 cases of the flu had been reported in the town of Freeland alone. In late November, the State Department of Health reported 42,000 influenza deaths statewide.

Think about that: in just 2 months, Pennsylvania had 42,000 influenza DEATHS. Charlie shares these two photos captioned "The nurse aides at the Freeland Borough Building, 1918 Influenza. Mary B. Gallagher second from right." We are looking at a portrait of courage here. Just think how brave these women, as well as doctors and other volunteers were, to be willing to tend to and otherwise assist their fellow citizens who were suffering from this very contagious sickness!

Health care workers in Freeland 1918 Health care workers in Freeland 1918

In addition to Charlie's photos and Emily's thesis, here is some information that came to me some years ago from Tony Sutherland, then editor of the Jednota newspaper. He had been looking through information in the Jednota library and reported that he had found "seven names of people in Freeland who died from the influenza epidemic 1918-1919. These are only the people who belonged to the FCSU [First Catholic Slovak Union] and had [FCSU] insurance. I am sure there were many more. The FCSU members were: Kristian Cajko (Shigo, age 37), Mikulas Ondusko, Orsula Kirvetajtes, Juraj Tokar, Anna Hirkala, Leonard Suchy, and John Kusnir."

Looking just at the FCSU rolls, he continued: "There were 32 people in the September 1918 FCSU death list. In October this number jumped to 168; November 441; December 179, January 1919,103; a total of 891. ... Only mass immunity saved the rest of the population." He noted that sometimes the influenza would come on suddenly, but the type where the onset was more gradual proved generally to be more deadly, adding: "Incidentally, the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak coincided with one of the worst winters of the century, at least in New York. … There was also a typhoid epidemic or outbreak around 1903 and a diphtheria outbreak [possibly in] the 1890s." [I don't know if those outbreaks also occurred in Freeland.--CT]

Regarding the influenza epidemic in the Freeland area, my brother Steve and I remember walking through the Upper Lehigh cemetery in the late 1970s or early 1980s and also in the Freeland cemeteries, seeing many tombstones dated 1918 that included many, many children and sometimes whole families.

Thanks to Charlie, Emily and Tony for these reminders of an epidemic in the Freeland area from a century ago.

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