On Feb. 7, 2019, the Courier reflected on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which through 1920 claimed the lives of millions around the world. The Courier’s reflection was based on two letters submitted by community natives for our consideration to publish. Little did we know at the time that, just 13 months later, the United States would be joining the rest of the world in facing another pandemic. With people looking back at the Spanish Flu with new interest and perspective, we are republishing the account online, as well as the Publisher’s Column that accompanied it. – jw
LETTERS DOCUMENT TRAGEDY OF 1918 INFLUENZA PANDEMIC
Editor’s Note: The two letters below were submitted by community native Kathy Krehbiel Hacking, who grew up hearing about the deaths of John and Laura Kaufman from her grandmother, Alvina Kaufman Krehbiel. Alvina was a sibling to John and Laura, who died from influenza in the fall of 1918; they were treated by Dr. Edward Kaufman — also a sibling. Kaufman penned the first letter to his sister living in Kansas. The second is signed by John and Anna Kaufman; Anna was another sibling to John and Laura. (Note the letters spell Laura’s name, ‘Lora’).
Dear Mary and Henry:
It is with aches and heart pains that I am directing this letter to you and tell you a few words of how we are getting along. God has spared my Home and Family wonderful safe. We are all well and doing as well as we can under circumstances. Although my work had been very crowding and often times I was answering calls with swollen hands and feet and had to drag myself to every move that I made.
Business was most highly crowding. Influenza raving at every corner and the public needed and begged for my attention.
I have treated during the Influenza Epidemic some over 350 cases and lost only 3. And my heart almost breaks when I think that one had to be my brother and the other my sister. You can not imagine what responsibility I felt, both as a Doctor and as a brother.
John’s case I took for very doubtful the first examination I had made — as I found both lungs filling up, with very little vitality to fight the dreadful disease. The same day I took Lora’s temperature and found it to be 103, so I sent her to bed at once and applied treatment hard. Although Lora was quite sick, yet she never was real dangerously sick, and had recovered from the influenza completely. I was out in the morning and found her to be in good condition, when I came home, Carrie told me Lora was dead. Oh you cannot imagine what a feeling. I could not believe it. I called for home and yet I could not believe it. We started for home and truly found Lora dead. What a pain. What a sadness. Yes God wanted her and God took her. I sure done all that could only be done to both of them, but they were not for this world any longer. And although the parting was bitter yet we must abide by God’s wish.
Mamma and Papa were dreadfully broken down. Papa often times wept like a little child and Mamma could find no resting place. We went out as often as we could and Ben surely done wonders there. He stayed there and he cared for the sick and he also done lots to the comfort of Father and Mother. Then Chas took sick and got him through the crisis. Chas. is still very weak but he is getting better every day. I suppose Ben and some of the others have written you all about the condition so I shall not repeat. I shall say that Father and Mother can comfort themselves somewhat better, although both have tears in their eyes if only something is mentioned about John and Lora. The Folks is almost out and I think in time they will see things somewhat different. Well I shall close for this time. Let us hear from you soon.
With Love and best wishes to you all.
From Esther, Caroline, Edward Kaufman
Marion Jct., S.Dak. Nov. 1, 1918
Dear Kids – Again I will write you a letter and tell you something about the latest happenings: although I am sure you will hear about them from everybody, but if I were in your place I could not hear enough about it, and probably you feel the same.
Today we took Lora to her last resting place, it was a real sad affair and the people that dared to come to the funeral showed deep sympathy although there were only a very few in number on account of the flu!
Mother is broken down entirely she appears a whole lot older and bent, she hardly can walk erect, Pa also is crushed to earth, nobody can feel with them of course but nobody can even imagine their grief but he has to look in their care worn faces. It simply is terrible, but after all they bore up well today in their grief. Mother even did not faint through the whole ceremony and flatly refused to be led to the car for rest but stood up by the grave to the last minute.
Poor Julia remained at home alone with Esther as company during the funeral ceremony, am sure she also had dark and dreary hours but Edw. did not find her well enough to go. Anna also was unfortunate enough to be not able to attend the funeral, she intended to write to you while we were away but did not, and I think you can imagine why, I was gravely concerned about Anna’s health through this shock but up to now she is alright. She only cannot gain strength in these times because of the great “Kummerun” concerning everybody.
Alfred Waltner made a very brief but very beautiful sermon, which I believe was a real comfort for everybody concerned, he pointed out the fruits of her life and claimed she lived a real long life although very short in years. It is not what a person says or claims to be but what a person does. 1. Rural teacher built up character for the future. 2. S.S. Teacher, always willing. 3. Organist. 4. Christian Endeavor. She never refused but always did her duty. A gap will remain in the home and in the church that can only be filled by Jesus Christ. I think Benj. will write you the particulars concerning her death as he was at her side, so you will get the news first hand. Jon also is down with the flu, but Fanny was at the funeral and said that his case up to now is not at all alarming.
The whole family at Chas. is also down in bed, and Edw. said today for a long while, but at present they are not critically ill. You see they went in by the folks when Hans (John) died and contracted the disease.
We are doing the work outside and Tom’s wife is in the house caring for them. Benj’s family is practically well, they all attended the funeral. Edw. was played out entirely by the time Hans died, his hands and feet were swollen from over working that he hardly could walk he merely crawled along like an old grandfather, but now he looks better although very pale. At present he refuses to go out at night. He is only out during the day. He has over 140 patients to attend. He did not lose a single one only his bro. and sister, he therefore takes it very hard and no eye can remain dry if it looks at him.
Well there is work enough to do now. We are not ready yet with our corn at the folks practically all is still in the field and at Chas. a whole lot also, but we hope that all will come along some way. The health at the folks is improving.
We are still well and pray to God that He may keep us so, yes pray with us. O! Plead unto Him that He may keep his sheltering hand over us, so that we may remain well so as to help the poor in their distress.
Please write very often.
Yours as ever.
John & Anna Kaufman
P.S. We feel deeply with you especially, Mary, may comforter from above also be with you, you poor poor folks.
PUBLISHER’S COLUMN: THE SPANISH FLU OF 1918
Anniversaries are designed to be celebrated. Married couples note the occasion of their marriage every year; several local hallmark businesses have observed key anniversaries in recent memory; and the Freeman Regional Health Service Gala marked 10 years last month.
We’re at the tail end of milestone anniversaries of our two world wars — World War I a century ago and World War II 75 years ago — it was 100 years ago that South Dakota first granted women the right to vote, and the Courier has been looking back at the winter of 1968-69.
Anniversaries are platforms on which we stand looking back on what once was, and often times how far we’ve come. They offer perspective, context and all sorts of lessons. And sometimes they can teach us about something we never knew.
Such is the case with a story I’ve become wrapped up in the past few months — the story of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, more commonly known as the Spanish flu. It was 100 years ago that this aggressive and severe illness decimated much of the world, killing as many as 100 million people.
I had read accounts in the Courier of local men, women and children who met their untimely deaths after catching the flu, and a reader, Kathy Krehbiel Hacking, sent us a letter late last year after being reminded of the deaths of siblings John and Laura Kaufman in the fall of 1918. John and Laura were a brother and sister to Kathy’s grandmother, Alvina Krehbiel, and young and influential members of my church, Salem-Zion. They are buried in the cemetery there.
Kathy’s note included a letter written by Edward Kaufman, a local doctor and a sibling to John and Laura. Edward treated more than 350 cases of influenza and lost three patients, two of them his own siblings. We have reprinted the letter — as well as a second letter from John and Anna Kaufman — on page 9A.
The 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu is certainly nothing to be celebrated, yet is a fascinating piece of history that often gets glossed over. It impacted people here, in Kansas from where it is believed to have originated, soldiers overseas fighting in World War I and the civilians they may have come in contact with. Among the hardest hit cities was Philadelphia, where city leadership refused to heed warnings and held major public gatherings just as the worst of it was hitting.
There is much to be learned about the Spanish flu and I highly recommend a podcast from the wonderful series “Stuff You Should Know” called, “How the Spanish Flu worked.” Google it and have a listen. And be sure to check out Edward Kaufman’s letter reprinted on page 9A. It’s as fascinating as it is heartbreaking.
Stay healthy, folks.