200 Plus

Flu Continues to Slam County

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Oct 17, 2018

It’s said “It’s darkest before the dawn.” This might explain the situation in October 1918. On the Western Front American doughboys were dying in record numbers, while at home the Spanish influenza epidemic was wreaking havoc in training facilities such as Camp Dix in New Jersey and threatening to break down modern society on the home front.

The Trenton Times of Oct. 20 reported, “A new high mark for influenza and pneumonia deaths was reached in New York today, when 766 persons died of these causes in 24 hours.

“In Calvary Cemetery, in Queensborough, 1,500 coffins containing bodies of victims of the epidemic are piled up awaiting burial. Other cemeteries also have large accumulations of unburied bodies. Grave diggers cannot keep up with the work.”

Meanwhile in the New Jersey state capital, “Complaints have been made to the Overseer of the Poor by relatives of victims of influenza and pneumonia, that certain undertakers have refused to accept bodies for burial. This condition is said to have been particularly true among the indigent class. … One case in particular is cited where relatives of a dead woman made three unsuccessful attempts to procure an undertaker and the body remained in an unprepared state for three days before a funeral director was obtained.”

The next day, newspapers across the state carried an advertisement.

“TO ALL TELEPHONE USERS … Spanish influenza has incapacitated a large part of our operating force and at the same time has emphasized the necessity for telephone service to meet emergencies. The operators who are still able to work can handle only those calls required by war work, sickness, public welfare or other absolute necessity. … If we are to maintain telephone service at all, the number of calls must be reduced during this emergency. … Please heed this appeal and do not make a single telephone call that is not absolutely indispensable.”

Locally things were just as bad. Lemuel Matthews sent a telegram to his congressman, Thomas Scully, in Washington, D.C.

“Influenza epidemic serious lower end Ocean County. Three physicians covering distance about thirty miles. Cannot possibly render necessary relief. Wish you would insist on the immediate return to Barnegat Doctor F.N. Bunnell now stationed at Fort Oglethorpe on sufficient long enough furlough to relieve this imperative need.”

In reply, “Telegram received. Have arranged with Doctor Rupert Blue, Public Health Bureau, to send doctors to Barnegat. Have requested War Department to assign Doctor Bunnell back from Fort Oglethorpe to Barnegat.”

Unfortunately, the doctor would not arrive in time to help. He was in the base hospital in Georgia with influenza.

The Tuckerton Beacon of Oct. 24 kept its readers up to date on the grim news.

“Augustus A. Driscall died at the Radio Station early Sunday morning from influenza. He was a member of the Naval Reserves and was 26 years of age. His home is in Tuckerton where he leaves a widow and three children to mourn his demise.

“Harry V. Carver died at his home in Manahawkin on Saturday, October 19th, after a short illness. Mr. Carver was a former resident of Tuckerton, and a former employee on the Beach Haven Railroad.”

Some didn’t know of their loss until it was too late.

“Leon Paul Parker died at Anniston, Alabama; a resident of Parkertown, in the service of Uncle Sam. Our correspondent from that place writes the following: It is with sincere regret we report the death of Leon Paul Parker, which came as a great shock to his relatives and friends as no one knew of his illness. He died on October 13th, of pneumonia, at Anniston, Ala., where he has been serving his country on the Military Police Force of that place. He was one of the first young men to enlist from this place when war was declared, although only 20 years old.”

There seemed to be no protection from the disease. When an explosion rocked the munitions plant at South Amboy, the Ocean County militia was sent to restore order. The New Jersey Courier of Oct. 25 posted a brief note saying, “Six militiamen from Company A of Ocean County are now dead as the result of their exposure while on guard at South Amboy, after the Morgan explosion. The only man from the Toms River platoon to die was Donald J. Shaw of Bayville, who died Monday.”

Other details in the Courier showed just how frightening the disease was.

“Funeral services for Corp. Claude C. Sherman, who died at South Amboy after having put his squad of men on guard, were held from the home of his mother. … Corporal Sherman was 28 years of age and entered the service Feb. 25 last at Camp Dix. He was sent to South Amboy for guard duty and completed 36 hours work the evening of the Morgan disaster. The next day he was to have started on a 10-day furlough. Instead he was recalled and neither slept nor rested until he fell at his post. Two days before he died he developed bronchial pneumonia.”

The Courier explained to its readers, “‘Young adults disease’ is the way medical men and other trained observers of health conditions here and elsewhere in the country are referring to the epidemic of influenza and pneumonia that is prevailing over a wide area. The reason for this characterization is that a large percentage of the victims range in age from about 20 to 30.”

Finally, the paper was able to announce there was a faint ray of hope.

“While the influenza seems to be less severe in some places, like a fire that has burnt itself out, yet it is evidently not all over with, and the number of deaths in this particular section this week nearly or quite equals that of last week, which was the heaviest deathlist ever known in Ocean County.”

Maybe the worst was over.

“Manahawkin, West Creek, Parkertown are all on the mend. … Doctors in that section said that at one time the disease was so widespread that when the physician came out of one house, he would be surrounded by a dozen people, all begging that he would go to see their sick next. Many of those who died it is alleged might have been saved has there been better nursing, but nurses could not be had. So many people were sick, often entire households at a time, and in fact entire neighborhoods, so there was nobody left to care for the sick.”

Slowly, like the survivors of a giant storm or a bombing raid, a citizen’s life began to return to normal.

“Under action taken by the state department of health today, municipalities of the state that are free from the influenza and pneumonia epidemic may forthwith lift the quarantine. … The reopening of the schools of New Jersey will not depend upon the lifting of the quarantine by the state board of health, but upon the conditions existing in the various municipalities.”

While originally Nov. 11 was called Armistice Day, commemorating the end of fighting in World War I, it is today called Veterans Day. Unfortunately, there is no Survivors’ Day to honor those who suffered through the great flu epidemic of 1918.

Next Week: The last sinking.


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