The first cases of Spanish Influenza in the Laurel area were reported in the Laurel Advocate on October 16, 1918.
These included Mark McCoy, three members of the A.E. Brice family, and Dewey Bruggeman. Dewey, the 19-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. L.D. Bruggeman, who became ill while working on one of his father’s farms. He was brought into town to recover. R.G. Stewart and William Maxon both came down with the flu a few days later.
Stewart, the manager of the telephone company, boarded in the Maxon home. All recovered.
The first area death attributed to Spanish Influenza was reported in the Advocate on October 23. The victim was a 7-month-old baby belonging to Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Schlotfeld. The Schlotfelds farmed southeast of town. The disease claimed another victim that week when Jennie (Mrs. Sam) Welburn, 40, died on the family farm near Laurel.
The number of Influenza cases increased at an alarming rate in November. More than twenty sufferers were identified in the Advocate of Nov. 6. All but four recovered.
Those who didn’t were Edward Fuoss, 25, of Concord; two unidentified men who worked on the Elmer Nichols farm north of Laurel; and Jean LeResche, a 25-year-old nurse of Sioux City. Miss LeResche contracted the disease while caring for the Schlotfeld family.
The ban on public gatherings was lifted prematurely on Nov. 1.
On Tuesday, Nov. 11, millions of Americans came out to celebrate the end of the war. Like cities and towns all over the nation, Laurel held a victory celebration. Hundreds of people lined the streets to watch the parade and then congregated around the bandstand at the corner of Oak and Main to see an effigy of the German Kaiser tried in absentia and executed with a stick of dynamite. Among the onlookers was the “Spanish Lady” and her deadly virus.
The Advocate reported more than 70 people down with the flu in November. Undoubtedly there were others who were overlooked. No deaths were reported in the town of Laurel until November 25, when 25-year-old Delia Bassinger of Bancroft died while visiting at the home of her parents Mr. and Mrs. Fred Linberg.
Three deaths were reported in the Advocate of Dec. 4. They were Nathan Williams, 25, a hired man employed by Louis Bruggeman; Arthur Carlson, 33, who farmed north of Laurel; and Reuben Lyons, 20, who lived with his parents south of town.
Mrs. J.A. (Amanda) Fredrickson, 32, and Mrs. H.C. (Lizzie) Lyons, 58, both died during the first week of December. Mrs. Lyons’ death was attributed to influenza coupled with grief over the loss of her youngest son Reuben. Death spared her the knowledge that another son, Irvan Lyons, had just been killed in France.
Mrs. Steven (Helen) Flint, 63, died on December 13. By the time the Spanish Flu reached Laurel, people willing to risk their lives caring for the sick were scarce. After Jean LeResche died after caring for the Schlotfeld family, Helen Flint took her place. Mrs. Flint told the Advocate that she had been born with a natural immunity. Her belief was incorrect.
After her services were no longer needed by the Schlotfelds, Mrs. Flint looked after other flu sufferers. While caring for her niece, Amanda Fredrickson, Mrs. Flint contracted the Spanish Flu and died on Friday, Dec. 13. “She literally gave her life for others,” said the Advocate.
The Spanish Flu was more deadly to young adults than to children and older people; thus, the death of Mrs. Flint and the Schlotfeld baby were rather unusual. At age 63, Helen Flint was Laurel’s oldest victim and little Mary Schlotfeld, at age 7 months, was the youngest.
If nurses and volunteer caregivers like Helen Flint were the heroines of the Spanish Flu pandemic, the heroes were the doctors who worked day and night for several months straight. “When the roll is called up yonder the names of country physicians will be well toward the top.
Never did they see such strenuous times as this winter. He doesn’t even have a moment’s rest on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. One physician we know had no dinner at all on Christmas Day and when evening came he was so far from home that he had to put up with a bit of bread and butter and a cup of coffee consumed in a public place.
When you kneel down at night, don’t forget to thank the Lord for the blessed ministrations of the country physician,” said the Advocate.
One of these physicians was Dr. James C. Hay of Laurel. “During the influenza scourge, when the grim reaper visited many homes and blighted hundreds of others, Dr. Hay worked night and day for months.
The only sleep he could obtain was between visits to patients, when he would instruct his driver where he wanted to go and then quickly fall into the sleep of exhaustion.
The poorest renter received the same service as the wealthiest landowner. No needy sick ever called on him in vain. Only necessity compelled him to ask for what was doubly due him.” (From the obituary of Dr. Hay published Oct. 14, 1925.)
In Laurel, the number of new cases seemed to taper off around Christmas. “Influenza sufferers seem to be less numerous,” said the Advocate on January 1, 1919. But the “Spanish Lady” was only taking a break. She would return in January and stalk the county until spring. Then she would vanish, hopefully never to return.