Eveline’s Senior Year – Smallpox

I shared a photo of my grandmother Eveline Coates’ high school graduating class in Mystic, Iowa a few weeks ago. Along with the photo and her diploma, a couple of other mementos were saved. One is the program for the Junior-Senior Banquet in honor of the graduating Seniors. It was interesting to see how World War I seemed to be the overarching theme of the festivities. I decided to take a deeper look at what her life may have been like during the 1917-1918 school year. There was a lot going on, a war and the beginning of an influenza pandemic to name the two biggiesSee:
Eveline’s Senior Year: Part 1
Eveline’s Senior Year: The Draft and a Carnival
Eveline’s Senior Year: A Look Around Town
Eveline’s Senior Year: Musical Notes

I started this post a month ago and never finished it. I began with this explanation for getting behind: Part of the reason is just life – some weeks you have visitors, some weeks you have medical appointments, some weeks you are busy transcribing a record of church meetings from 1867, some weeks your husband gets COVID, some weeks you just don’t know where to begin. I’m feeling a little stuck in this series I impulsively started a couple of months ago. I have spent countless hours reading and clipping old newspaper articles and then having to find them on my computer and properly name them so I can find them again! Not to mention going down unrelated rabbit holes. I seem to have gone about this in the most time-consuming way possible. Perhaps some kind of a plan would have been wise…

As you can see, the prompt photo was for the weekend of May 21st! Today is June 18th. I did “off-topic” posts the last two weeks, but today I’ll finish what I started back in May. No more waiting!

As I was going through some of my grandmother’s papers, I came across a certificate of smallpox vaccination. Eveline had the disease and not the vaccine. It is signed by Dr. Labagh, the family doctor and dated Nov. 5, 1917.

Evellne’s report card shows that she was absent for 7.5 days during the second grading period of the fall semester of her senior year (1917). I don’t know the exact dates of each grading period, but the Nov. 5th date looks like it matches up well. Those 7.5 days were the only days she was absent during the fall semester. I suppose she went to school and started feeling poorly and went home. She saw the doctor on Nov. 5th and he diagnosed her illness as smallpox. She missed about a week and a half of school, add in a weekend or two, so it looks like she was under the weather for about two weeks.

The local newspapers are filled with little notes of who has the disease and what homes are under quarantine during the timeframe of Eveline’s senior year. Miss Nelle Ducey and the postmaster, Lee Evans. had smallpox around the same time Eveline did. Her name, however, did not make it into the paper. Note: Centerville was the county seat and had the prominent newspaper. There were columns devoted to news from the various smaller towns, including Eveline’s home town, Mystic.

Centerville Journal, Centerville, Iowa 08 Nov 1917 (Mystic News section)

I was unaware of yellow quarantine cards until I read this article from May 1917 (just as school was about over for Eveline’s Junior year) concerning smallpox in the county seat, Centerville, Iowa.

Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen, Centerville, IA, 03 May 1917

Maybe the signs in Centerville looked something like this.

Although I can’t find the source now, someone in the county was arrested for entering a house that was under quarantine. Just disregarded that yellow sign …

It seems that most of the smallpox cases in the area during 1917-1918 did not result in death. Perhaps the less severe strain, variola minor, was going around. One man in Mystic, however, was reported to have a rare effect from the disease.

01 Jan 1918, Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen, Centerville, IA

Schools were sometimes closed due to smallpox. East Side school had to close because the teacher was “entertaining” in October.

Semi Weekly Iowegian, Centerville, Iowa, 25 Oct 1917 (Mystic News section)

School districts in the county had to decide how to handle the winter break due to the number of cases of smallpox and days missed due to closures. Would it be better to make up lost time now so that the boys are out in time for farm work in May or remain closed for the usual holiday break (or longer) to save on coal that won’t be needed in May? Eveline’s high school re-opened on Monday, December 31, and there was no day off for the New Year.

Semi Weekly Iowegian, Centerville, Iowa, 03 Jan 1918

Eveline’s doctor spoke on the subject of small pox at the Appanoose County Medical Society meeting in April 1918, which was expected to be well attended.

Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen, Centerville, Iowa 24 Apr 1918

The newspaper carried a few articles about how the soldiers were doing nationally and in the nearby National Guard camp in regards to vaccination and cases of smallpox. What I found more interesting were letters received from some of the local men about their experiences. I have highlighted the parts that reference smallpox, but I found the letters interesting in full. Examined by eighteen doctors?

Semi-Weekly Iowegian, Centerville, Iowa, 22 Nov 1917

Poor Alfred Vanderpool ended up in Del Rio, Texas, where he mused that one’s normal fever was 100 degrees. And all those vaccinations! I wonder how they knew his smallpox vaccine did not take?

Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen, Centerville, IA, 18 Jun 1918

A young man named Clifford Charles Smith wrote a lengthy letter to the folks back home and it was read to the congregation of the Baptist Church. He described his journey from this southern Iowa county to Camp Dewey Lakes in Michigan. I was going to include his complete letter, but it just doesn’t show up well here, so I’ll just share his description of an unforgettable day.

Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen, Centerville, IA, 24 July 1918

Be brave and don’t complain about a few vaccinations and boosters! You will pull through it all right and soon feel fine.

Illness is often a time of waiting. Waiting to get well. Waiting to be allowed out of the house. Or into someone’s home. Waiting for school to resume. Maybe even waiting to get your mail.

I wonder how ill Eveline was when she had smallpox, how she spent her convalescence, how much of the talk among her family and friends was about smallpox that year. I wonder if she was good at waiting? Perhaps they wondered, as we do today, “When will this season of illness come to an end?”

This is my very late contribution to Sepia Saturday, where this week’s participants have responded to the current ephemeral prompt. Don’t wait! Pay them a visit here.

The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic: A Final Resting Place for Jesse Bryan

I am continuing a series on how the 1918 influenza epidemic affected my families. The current focus of the series is Jesse James Bryan, first cousin to my grandfather, Thomas Hoskins. I have traced Jesse from his early life in Drakesville, Iowa, to his burial in Brest, France. Jesse Bryan died November 13, 1918 of influenza.

The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, IA) 06 Dec 1918

By WW1, Americans had come to expect the return of remains of the war dead to their families, but never before had there been so great a number of casualties on foreign land. This was not the practice in Europe, where the casualties of war usually remained at or near the place of death. These differing points of view led to feelings of ill will between the Americans and the French over the repatriation of American war dead. An early misstep was letters sent by the Adjutant General to families of deceased soldiers that created the expectation that the remains of all American soldiers would ultimately be returned – said without clearing it first with the French government. American soldiers had been buried in temporary graves in cemeteries and in battlefields throughout Europe, the vast majority in France. At the end of the war when the United States wanted to begin the return of the deceased, France had other priorities – food, recovery, their own dead. There were concerns about the additional burden this would place on the transportation system, sanitation, the morale of French citizens, and making allowances for the United States not afforded to other countries. The French withheld permission.

Many in the military agreed that the best thing would be for fallen soldiers to remain where they had died – or in permanent cemeteries for American war dead. But American families had been promised the return of their family member. Lobby groups formed – both for and against the return of American soldiers. A significant shift in American sentiment occurred when former President Theodore Roosevelt expressed a desire for his son’s body to remain where it was originally buried. Thereafter, the War Department decided to poll each family to gauge their desires with respect to the final disposition of their family member. By January 1919, the Secretary of War reported that roughly thirty-one percent of all dead were requested to permanently remain in France. But the situation remained unresolved. The American Legion, General Pershing, Gold Star Mothers, and even funeral directors added their voices to the conversation. It was not until 20 March 1920 that the United States and France finally reached an agreement to permit the repatriation of deceased American troops.

Jesse’s family requested to have his remains returned to his hometown and his family. According to his Grave Registration Card, Jesse’s body arrived in Hoboken on June 29, 1920. The last of the American war dead arrived on American soil March 29, 1922. Jesse’s family did not have to wait nearly as long as many others.

Jesse’s body was disinterred on May 27, 1920. Exhumation procedures followed this general pattern: Workers closed the work area with canvas screens and posted guards to prevent illicit entry. A canvas was laid on the ground next to the exhumation site. Once the coffin was exhumed, the body was removed and placed on the canvas, where it was saturated with disinfectant and deodorant before being wrapped in a blanket. The remains were then placed in a metal casket, encased in pillows to prevent movement, covered with a white sheet, and the casket sealed before being placed in a wooden shipping case. The entire process took less than five minutes. The Grave Registration Service went to great lengths to try to ensure that no mistakes were made in identifying the dead.

Pier 4 at Hoboken, NJ was selected as the site for the return of transport ships bearing caskets. Once the remains arrived at Hoboken, the Grave Registration Service needed to coordinate the shipment of the caskets to all parts of the United States as quickly as possible. The plan called for the War Department to supply Hoboken with the name of the ship, its deceased passenger list and, if possible, the final destination of each body before the ship docked at the port. This allowed lead time to ensure adequate space at the pier and to arrange ground transportation to the remains’ final destinations.

There is a discrepancy between Jesse’s Grave Registration Card and the ship manifest that lists his name. The Grave Registration Card says that his body left Brest June 6, 1920 on the transport ship Mercury. But his name is on a passenger list for the transport ship Princess Motoika.

I confirmed the Grave Registration Card with newspaper clippings, but a late night search through all of the pages of the ship’s passenger list revealed that some named the Mercury, while others named the Motoika.

The New York Tribune (New York, NY) 29 June 1920

Around this time, the Princess Motoika was chosen to transport the U.S. Olympic team, so this may be the reason for the discrepancy. (The athletes were not at all pleased with their accommodations, by the way.)

After leaving Brest, the Mercury sailed to Antwerp, Belgium, taking on some passengers, and Danzig, Poland, where a number of Polish troops boarded. The ship carried over eight hundred deceased Americans.

New York Herald (New York, NY) 30 June 1920

Today, military caskets are always seen draped by the flag of the United States. This idea was born in the aftermath of World War I as officials planned for the movement of remains from the temporary cemeteries to a permanent cemetery in the United States or Europe. Since there were no regulations for this at the end of the war, policies were established as the repatriation of troops progressed. Questions such as the size of the flag and whether or not a flag could be buried with the body were tackled.

After arrival at Hoboken, the Grave Registration Card documents that Jesse’s remains were shipped to the Depot Officer in Chicago on July 20. He finally arrived at Drakesville, Iowa on July 23, 1920 to be received by his father, James Bryan.

When the remains departed Hoboken for their final destination, a military escort accompanied each casket. Nearby Fort Hamilton, New York, usually furnished the necessary soldiers for this detail. Escorting military remains was another practice begun as a result of WW1 that the military has continued to use. The military escort accompanying remains to a funeral might be the only personal interaction some citizens had with the Army. The idea of a military escort was also practical. When a casket was shipped by train, it required documentation, just like any other cargo. In addition, as the casket changed possession receipts were required to be obtained and forwarded to the Office of the Quartermaster General. The escorts helped train station agents and funeral directors, particularly those of small towns, navigate unfamiliar government paperwork, ensure that the casket was delivered in good order, and obtain proof of receipt by the family or appointed representative. The escorts also assisted the funeral director with moving the casket to and from the funeral home, into homes, churches, and ultimately the burial site.

The newspaper clipping below reports that the military escort accompanied Jesse’s body from France, which is different from what I read was the usual situation. The dates don’t exactly match up either.

Washington Democrat (Washington, IA) 28 July 1920

Hattie Bryan, Jesse’s youngest sister, told her granddaughter that she remembered the soldiers coming to the door of their home to report Jesse’s arrival and their attendance at the funeral. Hattie’s granddaughter has the flag that was draped on Jesse’s coffin.

I received these copies of newspaper clippings from the Davis County, IA Historical Society.

Jesse Bryan’s final resting place – Drakesville Cemetery, Drakesville, Iowa.

JULY 4, 1887
NOV. 13, 1918
Died in Brest, France

This concludes my research into the life and death of Jesse James (Joe) Bryan – unless I can eventually get military records or some letters turn up.

Jesse was drafted into the army to fight in France, trained for combat as the influenza virus reached pandemic status, was infected on the transport ship as he approached France, and died at the age of thirty-one – two days after the Armistice was signed. 

Jesse James Bryan

I recently received these two photos from the great-granddaughter of Hattie Bryan. The woman is Jesse’s youngest sister Hattie – the little girl who only remembered meeting her brother when he came home on furlough before his departure for France and who remembered the military escorts coming to her home.

Hattie Rose Bryan

And another photo of Jesse.

When I started researching Jesse’s life, I thought I’d just write two or three posts and be done. But there were puzzles to solve and the more I researched, the more interested I became in understanding the context of the pandemic and the military experience.

A few weeks ago, I found a video from the National WW 1 Museum, a lecture titled Forgetting a Catastrophe: Influenza and the War in 1919. It is forty minutes long and I had no intention of watching all of it – I was just curious to see what it was. I watched the whole thing. There is a lot of interesting information here, but Professor Nancy Bristow’s main point is that the influenza pandemic was essentially forgotten. Although more lives were lost to influenza than to the war, there are very few memorials – or even mentions in popular culture. The professor believes that we Americans like to ignore or rewrite the bad parts of our history and focus instead on progress, success, and victories. This keeps us, she says, from thinking deeply and voices of trauma are drowned out. She ended her talk (in January 2020) by saying that pandemics are a thing of the future and that admitting our tales of sorrow and loss is important – ironically unaware of how soon that future would be. Here we are.

When I asked my extended family for any stories of how the influenza pandemic affected our families, I got only two replies. Surely there could have been more.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope we will think deeply and not hurry too quickly to move on and “get back to normal”. I hope the voices of trauma will be heard and remembered. I hope we will tell our stories. I hope lessons learned will not be forgotten. I hope that we do not forget that our ideas of who or what is “essential” changed.

And given the events of this week, I have the same thoughts about January 6, 2021. We need to engage in deep thinking.

*****A source I used for a lot of the information in this post can be found here: Establishing the American way of Death: World War I and the Foundation of the United States Policy toward the Repatriation and Burial of its Battlefield Dead.

*** I have made a landing page where all of the posts related to epidemics and pandemics are collected. Epidemics and My Families

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

Please hop on a tram, train, truck, or transport to visit others who participated in Sepia Saturday.

The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic: Jesse Bryan Succumbs to the Flu

I am continuing a series on how the 1918 influenza epidemic affected my families. The current focus of the series is Jesse James Bryan, first cousin to my grandfather, Thomas Hoskins. I have traced Jesse from his early life in Drakesville, Iowa to the transport ship America during WW1. I have only a family Bible, a couple of photographs, and a few records found at ancestry.com so I have to flesh out as much of Jesse’s story as I can from what is available online. The more I look, the more I find, but of course not everything I would like to find.

The USS America sailed at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, September 20, 1918, with Jesse Bryan onboard.

The transport ships America and Agamemnon left port together, escorted by the destroyer USS Bell headed for Brest, France.

With cramped conditions, seasickness, enforced darkness at night, zigzagging maneuvers and no sleep while in the danger zone, unscheduled daily abandon ship drills – some at night, and whatever duties he was assigned, Jesse must have counted down the days until this trip would end. Of course there is no way to know Jesse’s mindset – anticipation, dread, or both.

Flashlight taken below water line on a crowded U.S.A. Transport showing how the men live. File Unit: American Library Association – Dispatch, 1917 – 1918
Series: American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918
Record Group 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952

There were diversions on the transport ships to keep up morale. Maybe Jesse watched a boxing match,

Troops on board a transport being entertained by a boxing match between two soldiers. Series: Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981
Record Group 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 – 1985

participated in a song service,

Song service aboard US transport
National Archives Catalog Record Group 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952

or took French lessons,

A study in French. These lessons are given by a French Officer enroute to France aboard a U.S.A. Transport. In the Submarine Zone and everyone has a life preserver
National Archives Identifier:17343016Local Identifier:165-WW-27A-9Creator(s):War Department. 1789-9/18/1947

I feel lucky to have found the following information on the Naval History and Heritage Command website that pertains specifically to Jesse’s voyage.

“America parted from George Washington and Von Steuben on 2 September 1918 and reached the Boston Navy Yard on the 7th. Following dry docking, voyage repairs, and the embarkation of another contingent of troops, she arrived at Hoboken on the morning of the 17th. Three days later, she cleared the port, in company with Agamemnon, bound for France on her ninth transatlantic voyage cycle.

By this time, an influenza epidemic was raging in the United States and Europe and had taken countless lives. From its first appearance, special precautions had been taken on board America to protect both her ship’s company and passengers from this scourge. The sanitary measures had succeeded in keeping all in the ship healthy. However, this group of soldiers, who had come on board at Boston where the epidemic had been raging, brought the “flu.” As a result, 997 cases of “flu” and pneumonia occurred among the embarked soldiers during the passage to France, while 56 cases broke out among the 940 men in the crew. Before the transport completed the round-trip voyage and arrived back at Hoboken, 53 soldiers and 2 sailors had died on board. This comparatively low death rate (some ships lost considerably more men) can be attributed to the almost super-human efforts of the ship’s doctors and corpsmen, as well as the embarked units’ medical personnel. Forty-two of the 53 deaths among the troops occurred during the time the ship lay at anchor at Brest from 29 September to 2 October.”

Until I read this, I was unaware that troops had boarded the America before it made port in Hoboken. This account singles out Boston as the source of influenza infection onboard ship, but troops arrived from other embarkation camps where influenza had also taken hold.

The America would have been fitted with a surgeons’ examining room, dispensary, a laboratory, dental office, dressing room, operating room, special treatment room, sick bay and isolation ward as well as several dispensaries and dressing stations throughout the ship for minor cases.

The quote above does not specify how many of the 55 deaths on the America occurred during each leg of the ship’s round trip, only that 42 died while it was at anchor in Brest. Of the 13 deaths that occurred while at sea, I am left to wonder how many died before arriving at Brest. If there were deaths before docking in Brest, Jesse may have participated in a burial at sea.

The History of Transport Service recounts a memory of a burial at sea on the USS Seattle.
“The armored Cruiser Seattle was six days out on her third war cruise as ocean escort for troop convoy. News travels quickly in a ship, and before the morning muster at quarters we all had heard that one of the crew, ill of pneumonia, had passed away during the night.
The people of a ship are thrown intimately together on an ocean voyage and, in this case, war service added to the community spirit. The loss of our shipmate touched us all. Little was said but much thought was given as we assembled aft in answer to the tolling of the bell and the boatswain’s pipe of the solemn call, “All hands bury the dead.”

The service was conducted on the starboard side of the quarterdeck, the official place for ceremonies in a man-of-war. The bier was mounted outboard and draped with flags. Just inboard and forward stood the escort under arms. Space was left for the funeral party to march aft from inside the superstructure.

At the appointed hour, the ship’s company, numbering about one thousand, ranged themselves in inverse order of rank around and abaft the turret guns. At the rail was rigged the gangway over which the body was to make its final passage from ship to sea.

The flag was then lowered to half-mast and the accompanying troopships in the convoy also lowered their ensigns to half-mast, thus joining in the ceremony, rendering homage in memorial of the life given just as truly in service for the cause as though it had been lost by the blow of a torpedo or an enemy bullet.

When all was ready the band played the funeral dirge, while the body bearers with the casket, followed by the pall bearers and Chaplain, marched aft at “slow time.” The escort came to “present arms” and all hands stood at “attention” until the casket was placed on the bier and the dirge finished.

The Chaplain read the church services. At their completion the band played “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Then all hands “uncovered,” the escort again came to “present arms,” the Boatswain and his mates piped the side, and in reverent quiet–even the ship’s engines were stopped–the body enfolded in the Stars and Stripes was committed to the deep.

Three volleys of musketry were fired, and the bugler ended the ceremony by sounding taps. The familiar and now mournful notes echoed in all hearts the call to the final sleep.

After a short pause the Captain gave the word “Carry on.” The band struck up a march and the divisions went forward at “quick time” to their respective parts of the ship. Gun drills were resumed. Carpenters, ship fitters, blacksmiths, and machinists picked up their tools. The propellers again churned the water, flags were masted, and the ship’s work continued.”

As reported above, the America sat at anchor from September 29-October 2 in Brest. During that brief time, forty-two men died. How awful that must have been!

The story passed down in Jesse’s family is that Jesse contracted the virus while on the ship. He did not die until about six weeks after disembarking. Without military service records, it is impossible to know just what happened next for Jesse. Was Jesse counted among the 997 cases of flu and pneumonia of embarked soldiers on the America and go directly to a hospital? Or did his symptoms manifest in camp a few days later?

Some victims of the influenza virus died quickly – within a day or two. The majority died within 3-10 days or two weeks. Jesse died November 13, 1918, well outside the usual timeframe if he was infected while still on the ship.

Descriptions of the virulent influenza are hard to read. As the illness progressed beyond the fever, headaches and body aches of a regular flu, the lungs filled with bodily fluids, causing discoloration of the hands, feet and face. Bloody fluids seeped from the nose and ears. As fluids built up in the lungs, it caused suffocation. Some experienced delirium and or lost consciousness. Some victims appeared to be improving and then developed bacterial pneumonia. Interestingly, I read that the new drug, aspirin, developed by the German company Bayer, was probably over-prescribed, and that it is now believed that many of the October deaths were caused or hastened by aspirin poisoning.

I don’t know where Jesse may have been hospitalized. There were several camp and base hospitals near Brest. Most were opening or adding space around the time of Jesse’s arrival in France to serve wounded and sick soldiers prior to their return to the United States. From what I read about a few of the camp hospitals, most seemed to have serious sewage/sanitation problems.

Unloading patients from ambulances, Camp Hospital 33. Brest, Finistere, France. 12-31-1918 “Series: Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981
Record Group 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 – 1985

 The military grave registration card for Jesse details his burial in Kerhuon Cemetery. Google Maps says Le Relecq-Kerhuon is about a fifteen minute drive from Brest.

I’m not sure if I found the cemetery where Jesse was buried, but maybe this is it. 

The burial ceremony for Jesse may have looked something like the one pictured below at a cemetery in Brest.

At the Kerfautras cemetery, a ceremony for members of the American army, during the Spanish flu epidemic, hence the large number of coffins. (Archives of Brest Métropole)

I have not been able to answer all of my questions about Jesse’s life and death, but I am satisfied with what I have found. Maybe those military records will surface one day.

Jesse’s story is not quite finished, so I’ll be back with the rest of his story.

P.S. I intended to have this post finished to share last week, but present day life intruded on history. Cancer can’t seem to leave me alone, so I’ve had to spend some time with doctors and scans. I’ve just gotten back to regular blogging in recent months and so I really hope I can keep that going!

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.