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"The Saddest October"
The Great Influenza Epidemic

A. W. Cissel

In October 1918, the War in Europe was in its 4th year, but Americans were hopeful that victory was near. In that month, more of their sons would die in military posts and army camps than would be killed on the battlefields. One of the greatest health catastrophies of modem times occurred in October "The Great Influenza Epidemic".

Erroneously called "Spanish Influenza", this new germ (not yet known as a virus) swept across the world. Some people suffered colds, fever and chills similar to our won common flu symptoms, but many developed a virulent and often fatal form of pneumonia or even meningitis. Particularly hit hard were infants and young adults. Young mothers nursing a sick child would themselves become victims. The 18 year old Fleagle twins died within two days of each other; the Fraleys lost one son in a Pennsylvania army camp, while another lay dying at their home in Catoctin Furnace.

In a one week period in mid-October, Baltimore recorded over 6,000 new cases and over 1,600 fatalities. There were 355 deaths at Camp Meade. The obituaries in the Catoctin Clarion ran for two columns and were a roll call of familiar Thurmont names: Gall, Gaugh, Smith, Baxter, Frior, Stocksdale. It was Editor Charles C. Waters painful duty to publish the passing of his friends and neighbors, made even more tragic by the death of his only son, James, at St. John's College in Annapolis.

Thurmont' s doctors Birely and Kevauver averaged 35 house calls a day, but were powerless. The undertaking firms of M. L. Creager & Son or Wilhide and Creeger prepared the bodies of their friends and met the trains bearing the remains of townspeople who had died away from home.

For the first time since the Civil War, the Great Frederick Fair was not held. Theater performances, festivals, and group gatherings were forbidden so the moving pictures usually shown at Thurmont's Town Hall by Mayor Lidie were abandoned. The ministers reluctantly cancelled services for October 24th and funeral services were limited to family members.

The epidemic raged worldwide and then it was over. By November 11th, when the Armistice ending the war was declared, there were few new cases. Some "pneumonia" victims still convalesced, but many local homes were in mourning. This particular strain of infection never reappeared or maybe the population was forever immune; whatever the medical answer the cost in human lives was devastating. Afterwards it was determined that the first local case had appeared on September 23rd.

For at least one October, Thurmont' s citizens took little pleasure in the changing mountain colors. For that one year, October was the cruelest month.

If you have any Information or historical news clippings of events in the Thurmont Area, Please send them to us so we can included them in our archives. E-mail us at: history@mythurmont.net