LIMA — In a span of seven hours, Charles Andrews lost his wife, 24-year-old Bessie, and his toddler daughter, Thelma, to the Spanish flu. Today, they rest together under a century-old tombstone in Shawnee Cemetery.
While few are alive today that could remember 1918, the names of those that suffered through one of the worst pandemics in human history can still be found dotted throughout the region on century-old gravestones. Or at least, that was Dean Smith thought.
Smith had taken up the task of updating cemetery records at Shawnee Cemetery, and he spotted a few from the time period when the Spanish flu ravaged the region. He tallied up 32 names from 1918 and 28 from 1919.
“Most of them were individuals. If I remember right, they’re all over the whole graveyard,” Smith said.
Subsequent research found death certificates for a portion who had died from “bronchial pnuemonia” with secondary influenza complications. Since they died during the height of the outbreak, some — like the Andrews family — may have been victims of the disease.
Locally, the Spanish flu hit the region on Oct. 8, 1918, when two cases were confirmed. At the time, other states throughout the country began entering lock-downs, and Allen County followed suit by Oct. 10.
Six weeks later after the public ban was relaxed, the Andrews died. According to their death certificates, one-year-old Thelma died in the evening of Nov. 17, and Bessie died before morning.
When the Andrews died, the United States had recorded 82,000 total deaths due to influenza. That number rose to 675,000 Americans by the end of the outbreak. Allen County reported 92.
Allen County Museum Curator Anna Selfridge said gravestones are common sources of historical information, especially for those looking to pursue genealogical research.
“That is quite often the only source that you can find that is primary — that happened at the time of the event — that will give you full date or birth, or death, children of, or marriage date,” Selfridge said.
Similar gravemarkers from those ravaged by the disease in 1918 have been found at the Saint Michaels Cemetery in Kalida. In that instance, a family of 10 lost nine of its members, including both parents, from the Spanish flu.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.