The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919, Part VII -Conclusions: “What Should Gratiot County Learn from the Influenza Epidemic?”

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Above: A picture taken around 1918 of the students who attended the Lewis School in Newark Township. At least six of the children in the picture were relatives of the author. The girl in the second row, far left, is the author’s paternal grandmother. All of these students lived at the time of the Influenza Epidemic that raged through Gratiot County from 1918-1919.

    The second and most massive wave of the Influenza Epidemic in Gratiot County claimed its first victim with Reverend F.E. Gainder. A Baptist minister in St. Louis,  Gainder died in early October 1918. he had been sick since April; however, the St. Louis Leader stated that influenza and pneumonia took his life. Gainder was only 35 years old and had been a pastor in town for five years.

   Possibly the last victim in Gratiot County lost their life in late May 1919. The Alma Record reported what appeared to be the last occurrence of influenza with the death of the Lane family of Alma. Harry Lane returned to Alma to bury his parents, who had both recently died. Then Lane returned to his home in the East. Unfortunately, Harry Lane contracted influenza, followed by pneumonia, and died. The Alma Record ran the headline, “Entire Family Wiped Out in a Few Weeks.”

    Between these two stories, a swath of death and sickness took place in Gratiot County starting in October 1918 through the end of March 1919.  A survey of newspapers during this period shows that at least 400 people became sick in Gratiot County, and at least 90 individuals died. However, these numbers are imperfect as these are only the sick and dead that can be identified. Also, the figures also do not include Gratiot County’s servicemen who died from influenza or pneumonia while serving during the World War. It is important to note that I tried to refrain from counting “neighboring communities” whose stories appeared in the newspapers. Places like Vestaburg, Carson City, Jasper Township, and the Wolford District were locations all adjoining Gratiot County, which frequently appeared in the county newspapers.

    An important question to ask is how many people were sick or died who went unreported. During this time, obituaries rarely occurred in the newspapers, and this epidemic took place before funeral homes existed. Many who died during the epidemic were taken to an undertaker, then to the cemetery for a quick burial. In several cases, family members of the dead struggled to make it to the cemetery because they themselves were extremely sick.

     There was little time between the passing of a loved one and burial, probably because of health reasons. For those of us today who are accustomed to funeral home visits, viewings, and church services, followed by interment at the cemetery, the process of death and burial was brief in 1918-1919 Gratiot County.

     Another thought about Gratiot County is how it compared in scope with the State of Michigan during the epidemic. From October through December 1918, at least 25 percent of the state’s population was hit by influenza. During these months, 6742 people died from the flu, and another 7247 died of pneumonia. In 1917, a total of 427 people in Gratiot County died. A year later, that number rose to 488 deaths, an increase of 14 percent. These statistics do not include those who died in early 1919 from influenza and pneumonia, thus I believe that the number of at least 90 dead from the Influenza Epidemic is very possible.

    Still, there are significant lessons from this event in Gratiot County’s history. One might ask, what exactly should Gratiot County learn from the Influenza Epidemic?

  1. During the time of the Influenza Epidemic, Gratiot County was rife with patriotism and support during the World War. There was no tolerance for any criticism of the government during this period. People were expected to buy War Bonds and support the war effort. Those who did not buy bonds, or who showed any reluctance in supporting the war found themselves identified in the newspaper, ostracized, and deemed un-American. One of the ways that people showed support for the war was through mass gatherings, parades, and attending speeches and rallies in the county. Attending meetings like these from September through November 1918 became fostering grounds for the spread of influenza once it arrived in the county.
  2. The Influenza Epidemic that hit Gratiot County moved unevenly at times. Early in the second wave, surrounding villages and hamlets were stricken. Places like Perrinton, Middleton, Ashley, and Breckenridge paid dearly with the widespread flu. Larger towns like Alma and St. Louis also were hit, but not always at the same time. Ithaca boasted that “only two people” died of influenza by early December 1918, but was hit again by Christmas. When some communities thought that a wave had passed, places like Ithaca or Breckenridge would see flare-ups again.
  3. The chief weapon against the Influenza Epidemic was social distancing, a practice that went back to the Middle Ages. People did not have answers for how to overcome this strain of influenza – even though different remedies were tried. The best recourse people had was to quarantine themselves. When dealing with an unknown enemy, quarantine was the only answer Gratiot County’s doctors and health officers could recommend to survive the epidemic. Mask wearing also became a practice in public, whether at Alma College, in local churches or while conducting business in towns or villages. These quarantines tested businesses, churches, and schools, as well as those who could not stand to be in quarantine, or who did not believe that quarantines helped. Some places did try treatments in the form of public vaccinations in  Alma and Ithaca by December 1918. To avoid wearing masks in public, people in Alma and Ithaca lined up to receive these shots (usually a set of three). One of the critical lessons from 1918-1919 is that people needed to listen to health experts. Some did, and some did not.

      4. While looking at the death and disruption of the Influenza Epidemic, there is a need for a recognition of heroes and empathy for the times. Health officials had the toughest jobs during the epidemic of 1918-1919, if for no other reason than most doctors did not want the job. In Alma, Doctor Thomas Carney fought many battles with citizens regarding quarantines. Carney quickly learned that people who did not believe they were in danger would not obey the health officials. Some people bluntly asked if health officials had the right to enforce quarantines. The state said yes, but in many communities, people did not listen. While dealing with the epidemic,  many Gratiot County doctors became exhausted while trying to help the sick and dying. Taking care of 40 to 60 people at a time (which happened in Breckenridge) must have worn these doctors out, but they continued to help the sick in their communities. We know that there were nurses involved, and at least one in Alma lost her life while helping the sick. The Red Cross chapters in Gratiot County mainly focused their efforts on providing an assortment of dressings, garments, and other things for the war and war relief, working out of their local rooms.  It is not clear what effect they had in the county, but they continued to focus on their work and mission for those people in need in the military and in Europe. Gratiot County has many stories of individuals who helped others by leaving their homes to take care of relatives and loved ones. In different instances, people left Gratiot County and traveled distances to care for family and friends because no one else could help.

     5. Finally, we have to recognize the issues of blame and shame that came about as a result of the epidemic. Who was to blame for the Influenza Epidemic? Where did this plague originate? Why was it here, and what could be done to survive it? These were questions that people privately asked amidst the losses that they suffered in 1918-1919. For those who lost family members, there was no easy answer to these questions.  This generation lived with the shame that meant not talking about the epidemic and those who were lost. I believe that this issue of shame is the reason why many Americans never heard much about this epidemic.

     For those who have followed this blog over the past few weeks, I felt it was important at this period of American history to tell the story of the Influenza Epidemic as it related to Gratiot County. I have spent the past two months of my own quarantine deliberately trying to finish a first run of writing about the research I started two years ago. During the summer of 2018, I spent three weeks  at Virginia Tech working with a group of teachers in a National Endowment of the Humanities Seminar entitled “The Spanish Influenza of 1918.” My teacher was Dr. Thomas Ewing and we spent one of those weeks doing research at different places in Washington, D.C. Work in the Library of Congress was especially helpful in learning the story of influenza as it applied to Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan. Records at the National Archives II in College Park, Maryland also helped to shed light on what happened at Camp Custer.  Still, returning to Gratiot County’s newspapers enabled me to find the best examples of what happened where we live.

     In 1988, I sat in a history class at Central Michigan University about the Roaring Twenties. Professor Calvin Enders required the reading of one book, Geoffrey Perrett’s  America in the Twenties, which was then one of the more recent books written about that decade. One of Perrett’s first stories related to the end of World War I described the Influenza Epidemic in the United States in 1918-1919. I had never heard of this event, and I knew nothing of its history – even on what was then the 70th anniversary of the epidemic. Back then it was hard for me to understand why I had never heard of this chapter in our history.

    It was also in the late 1980s that I lost my father’s parents, who had grown up as children during the World War I era. In all of my experiences of hearing my paternal grandmother talk about growing up in Newark Township, I never once heard her refer to the Influenza Epidemic. I later found out that Newark Township was hit hard – and that Myrtle Bliss had lost a sibling to disease just prior to the epidemic. Down the road from each other, two large families, named Bliss and Goodspeed, each with many children, grew up and lived during this time when the spectre came to Gratiot County.

     And to my knowledge, none of my family and relatives ever talked about it.

Copyright 2020 James M Goodspeed

The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, the Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part VI: “Gratiot County Rides the Waves, January-March 1919”

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Above: A collection of advertisements from Gratiot County newspapers dealing with the Influenza Epidemic. The top two appeared in the Gratiot County Herald in early 1920; the bottom appeared in the Alma Record in the fall of 1918.

     Early in 1919, Gratiot County, like the rest of the United States, tried to survive the succeeding waves of the Flu Epidemic. After the second wave of the virus seemed to subside around New Years, a third wave began in late winter. Many hoped that the epidemic would end by 1919,  but people in Gratiot County continued to get sick and die. It would turn out that influenza had not yet finished in Gratiot County.

January 1919 – End of the Second Wave?

    Several communities ended their quarantines, believing that the virus had passed. Now, other diseases affected people who encountered influenza. In Riverdale, the town experienced an outbreak of diphtheria.  In East Alma, typhoid fever could be found. These diseases came about after the government warned the public about how victims of influenza could be susceptible to tuberculosis, diphtheria, and scarlet fever.

    In January, people continued to appear in large groups, appearing unconcerned that diseases could be transmitted from person to person. Riverdale opened its roller rink after closing it for six weeks due to the epidemic, and a large crowd turned out on that Saturday night. Southeast Coe lifted the quarantine there, and the church quickly reopened. Elder Start felt so good that he gave two sermons on that Sunday. The Alma Red Cross restarted its work in meeting rooms in the Pollasky Block, determined to make more pieces for the destitute in Belgium. A new organization, the Gratiot County Good Health Society, held its first meeting in Alma in the Director’s Room of the First State Bank. The organization was formed to promote good health in Alma.   In Breckenridge, quarantines on the households of Chauncey Sheppard and George Coleman ended, and families started going out into public. Out west of Ithaca, 25 people gathered at the home of Freda Goodspeed, who was celebrating her tenth birthday. It was reported that the large group enjoyed the party. In all, people did not seem concerned about meeting in large groups in the wake of the epidemic.

     And yet people kept dying.  The death of W.G. Ballman, who operated the cafeteria at the Republic Truck Company in Alma, shocked many people. Ballman died after being sick one week. In Southeast Coe, Mary Myers, age 16, died from influenza, followed by pneumonia. She was quickly buried in Pleasant Ridge Cemetery. Farmers in Breckenridge found it hard to believe that Earl Whitney, who had a family and lived north of the village, died at the age of 28. He also was quickly buried in Ridgelawn Cemetery.  Whitney left a young wife and two small children behind. Another shock that month took place in Alma when Fred Von Thurn, a former Republic Truck employee who was well known in town, died after a week of battling influenza. Probably the most encouraging news for Gratiot County amid the deaths was that the number of those reported to be sick seemed to be declining.

The Third Wave Hits Gratiot County

     After these things took place, another wave of influenza struck the county in February 1919. Of the many hot spots, Breckenridge was especially hard hit. Someone in Breckenridge despaired that “The flu seems to be sweeping our town and community.”  On February 3, Doctor Drake reported that he had 36 new cases in his care.  In St. Louis, Doctor H.B. Pettit had relapsed to the extent that another doctor had to be called in to care for Pettit. Quarantines quickly took place in St. Louis. Clarence L. King, age 25, died of influenza, and a private funeral took place for him. Residents in St. Louis also were shocked when Fred A. Bieber, a well-liked bank employee, died at the age of 29 from influenza. The St. Louis Leader published an extensive story on Bieber’s service to the city and his sudden death. Another young man, Dean Mitchell, age 28, died in Hamilton Township. These deaths took place amidst the reappearance of diseases in a town like diphtheria and typhoid fever, which took the life of eleven-year-old Ernest Tenney in St. Louis.

    As the epidemic slowly passed that month, the biggest news in February involved the results of the Thornburgh trial in Ithaca. Doctor Frank Thornburgh and Mrs. Holcomb from Mt. Pleasant were tried for violating the quarantine of the Worden home in Alma the previous October. When young Albert Worden became ill, Dr. T.J. Carney, the city’s Health Officer, arrived and diagnosed Worden with influenza. Carney also ordered that a sign be posted that the household was infected. Mother Worden called for another opinion, calling in Mrs. Holcomb and Dr. Thornburgh, who said that the child had typhoid fever. The family removed the sign and put one up that read “No Influenza.” From there, city officials again changed the sign, and the health board and mayor issued a warrant to arrest Thornburgh for violation of the health laws. Now, the trial finally took place, and after a long two-day trial, the jury announced at 11:00 pm that Thornburgh was guilty. The doctor then filed an appeal. Eventually, Thornburgh paid a fine and planned to move away. However, he practiced in Alma years later.

    At the end of the spring, influenza managed to wipe out the family of Adelbert “Dell” Lane, a well known Ithaca resident. Lane’s wife contracted cancer and passed after two operations. Before her death, Dell Lane had heart trouble and died. Their son, Harry Lane, a teacher who lived in the East, made the trip home to bury his parents. After settling his parents’ affairs, Harry left for home and quickly contracted influenza, which turned to pneumonia. A telegram arrived in Ithaca the next day telling friends how the grim reaper, wiped out an entire family in only a few weeks.

Late Winter 1920

    From spring 1919 through New Years 1920, little seemed to be written about influenza. That changed starting in February 1920 when another outbreak took place with the intensity of what happened in 1918-1919.

    Every part of Gratiot County again suffered from a flu virus, spreading out in the countryside, closing schools and churches. Only five people were reported as having died. However, there was a long, long list of the sick. This outbreak lasted well into April.

    Newark Township was one of the first places to report, and the township suffered greatly. After listing the sick, the writer said, “Here is hoping that your correspondent will not have to write about so much sickness next week. May all who are sick be restored to health.”  South Fulton Township also had problems with influenza. “Nearly the whole of South Fulton are sick with the flu,” said an observer. At least eight families were then named, like the Days, Litwillers, Harters, and Fields. Schools in the different townships closed, sometimes because the teachers were too sick to teach. Telephone operation in Forest Hill was in trouble as the operators were sick. Forest Hill also closed schools as teachers and the superintendent became sick.  A common observation was that the doctors across the county could barely keep up with treating the sick, even as the numbers declined.

    Late in February, it was reported that “The influenza epidemic has been gradually gaining hold in St. Louis until it has reached a point where the physicians have about reached their capacity for caring for cases.” The schools in St Louis also went closed. During the first week of March, people in Breckenridge were excited as no new cases had been reported, and individuals seemed to be recovering. Still, Doctor Huebner, the new health officer in Ithaca, had trouble keeping up with the posting of quarantine cards in Ithaca in mid-May because too many Ithaca families were sick. Sprague’s Drug Store in Ithaca ran an advertisement that May, which urged “BEWARE OF THE FLU.”

Copyright 2020 James M Goodspeed

Those Who Died: January 1919-April 1919

W.G. Ballman – Alma

Mary Myers – SE Coe

Marie Guilds Corder – Riverdale

Earl Whitney – Breckenridge

Dean Mitchell – Hamilton Township

Fred Von Thurn – Alma

Ernest Tenney – St. Louis

Clarence L. King – St. Louis

Fred Bieber – St. Louis

Harry Lane – Ithaca (came home to bury parents, contracted influenza)

Those Who were Sick:

Floyd Smith Family – St. Louis

Doctor H. B. Pettit – St. Louis

Miss Lailah Harrison, Stacey Hart, Parks child, Mrs. Ralph Smith, Miss Vera Smith, two unnamed children – Newark

Jesse Houlden, Elmer Brown, Eichorn Family, Bert Smith Family – Emerson

Will Barrett Family, Fern Langdon, George Cunningham Family, Tom Kavanaugh – North Shade









We Remember 1918: Ithaca’s Agnes Yutzey, YMCA Worker During World War I

Goodspeed's Gratiot County Historical Blog

IMG_20170614_144337648.jpgYutzey passport.jpgYutzey portrait.jpgAbove: Agnes Yutzey’s YMCA portrait; Yutzey’s application for a  passport; staff picture from Ithaca Schools, taken prior to volunteering to work with the YMCA.

Author’s note: The following article first appeared in the December 6, 2018 issue of the Gratiot County Herald.

         During World War I, over 13,000 volunteers went to France and England to serve in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).   It was a favorite place for American soldiers, offering them a place to eat, relax, read and write home.

        Agnes Yutzey, who lived near Middleton, was one of the many volunteers who left her job and went to Europe. During her youth, Yutzey’s parents moved so that she and her two sisters could attend school in Ithaca. A graduate of Central Michigan Normal School, she returned to Ithaca as a teacher before volunteering to head to Europe for the…

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The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part V: “Gratiot County Tries to Return to Normal”

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Above: Headlines and an advertisement from the Gratiot County Herald in December 1918.

The Holidays are Here,  Gratiot is Back to Business

From mid-November to early December 1918, Gratiot County tried to shift its focus away from the terrible influenza epidemic. With the holidays approaching, people were encouraged to resume their daily lives – especially regarding shopping and going to church. Governor Albert Sleeper issued a hopeful prayer at Thanksgiving in which he said that “We are thankful that a dread epidemic has been stayed (in Michigan), through the prompt measure taken by the public health authorities throughout the state and the intelligent cooperation of the whole people.” Sleeper implied that the crisis had ended by mid-November, but in reality, it had not.

Many churches also tried to resume regular Sunday worship services in Gratiot County. When the doors opened in the United Methodist churches at North Star, Beebe, and Newark, churchgoers received a pamphlet entitled “Government Supplement Number 34 on Spanish Influenza.” On the one hand, church doors opened. However, leaders warned churchgoers that they still needed to avoid influenza. The re-opening of some churches took place while Gratiot County merchants reminded the public that businesses were open and evening Christmas shopping hours would soon start.

All of these attempts leading up to December to start life again while claiming that the epidemic had ended was wishful thinking. The federal government released numbers showing that during the influenza epidemic, more people died in the United States from influenza than did soldiers who died fighting in France.  Newspapers reported that over 3,100 people died in Michigan, and the flu had not yet abated.

The Results – The Sick and the Dead

During December 1918, more Gratiot County people encountered influenza and related pneumonia. Amidst all of the re-opening of churches and stores, an ominous column, entitled “Deaths From Illness in Week,” continued to run in the Alma Record. Names and stories were told of those who died from influenza and pneumonia, many of whom included young adults, like Flossie Merrill or Mrs. Lewis Hudson, who died in their twenties and thirties. The Gratiot County Herald also ran stories of prominent citizens who suddenly died in Ithaca, such as Miss Esther Lewis and her mother. Many others from Gratiot County would be named in columns in places from Breckenridge, Riverdale, and St. Louis. For December, at least one hundred people either became sick or died in the county. A total of forty-three people died, including twenty in Alma. At least fifty-seven cases of those ill with influenza and pneumonia would also be reported.

The Public is Warned – Again

Mixed messages about influenza continued in Gratiot County during the Christmas season. On one side were those who proclaimed that the epidemic had passed, and that life should start to return to normal. Some businesses in the county that had been closed eagerly prepared for re-opening. In Ithaca, the Ideal Theatre moved to a new location in town, purchased new seating, and awaited business to return. The Liberty and Idlehour in Alma did the same; the Idlehour bought and installed a new motor-generator to show better quality pictures. Gilbert Genesta was raring to go in Alma at his two theatres, and even announced re-opening before the quarantine officially ended. However, Genesta had to be told by the health department that he could not open.

Alma businesses announced that they would be open evenings for Christmas starting December 9 and would remain open until Christmas. The extended shopping hours allowed people who worked day jobs to have opportunities to shop at night. Alma also tried to lure shoppers with decorations in stores, shop windows, and advertisements with plenty of goods on the shelves. Business remained steady over at the Gratiot County Herald, which published a twenty-eight-page paper, but lamented that it could have done thirty-two pages if one of its foremen had not been sick with the flu. The article chimed that “This week, despite the ‘flu’ (the paper), (there) will also be a big issue.” At Christmas, the Herald also pronounced that in Gratiot County, “the excessive conservation has passed, and we are about to return to something like normal conditions.”  Still, the continuing December epidemic ran counter to “normal conditions.”

Newspapers continued to warn people of lives lost. A report from Doctor Olin, Secretary of State Board of Health, reported that 3, 176 Michigan residents had died so far. However, the actual numbers were believed to be much higher. Several large cities in southeast Michigan remained in quarantine lockdown in late November as over 800 new cases cropped up in the state.  Doctor James King of the United States Army Medical Corps, offered his first opinion that this strain of influenza originated as a “pneumonic plague” that may have started as early as 1910 in Manchuria, and which then spread across China.

Another health warning concerned tuberculosis, which now attacked survivors of influenza. The Red Cross warned of the dangers of tuberculosis and urged people to seek their doctor for treatment.  A recent explosion of the disease in England and Spain caused concern.

 December Quarantines

Mask wearing during the quarantine, which started in November, seemed awkward to some. Alma College students quickly observed how their professors and faculty members tried to wear what they comically termed “the three-layer cheesecloth masks.” Students noted that many of the professors found it hard to speak or sing with their masks on during chapel. President Crooks wore his like a bib, tied around his collar. Other professors tried to talk around their masks, and a faculty member did not wear one at all. Regardless, anyone coming down the hill after chapel or classes into town had to wear a mask.

Alma continued to use vaccinations to combat influenza. Over at the Republic Truck Company, an estimated 500 workers lined up at different times to get free shots. On the first day that the vaccinations were offered at one of the plants, 263 employees wanted the shots. When the plant opened early on another Friday, forty more people waited in line.

To further cope with the epidemic, Alma’s churches called for a Day of Prayer on December 15 for thanksgiving, forgiveness, and repentance. Churches observed that Alma had been spared from widespread devastation so far but acknowledged that the plague still needed to be stamped out in the county.

As more outbreaks of the epidemic took place in Alma in early December, leaders of the health committee and city doctors met to discuss creating a city hospital to hold the sick. The group, however, decided to send the sick to Dr. Brainerd’s Hospital.

One of the most challenging jobs during the epidemic in each town or village in Gratiot County belonged to the health officer. Doctor T. J. Carney in Alma led the battle to get the public to observe quarantines and to take the spread of influenza seriously. Carney clashed with families who refused to put up signs to warn the public about infected homes. He also dealt with people who insisted on visiting the sick, as well as other doctors who challenged Carney’s authority. After only two months of combatting the flu epidemic in Alma, Carney resigned. While other doctors were asked to take the position of the city health officer, most declined due to added stress and little extra pay. Eventually, Dr. J.N. Day took over the job, but he did so only if he was paid an additional $250 for the remainder of the term in office.  A similar occurrence with the health officer took place in Ithaca.  Doctor Lydia Higgins resigned after holding the office for less than a year. Higgins cited the extra stress and demands on her job in Ithaca for her resignation. No doctor offered to replace Higgins, so George H. Clow, village marshal, was appointed.

By late December, the State Board of Health issued warnings about quarantines in Michigan during the epidemic. It found that the continued spread of influenza resulted from not observing individual quarantines. The Board also called for the arrests of people who refused to obey.  In many communities, the health officer had to act as a peace officer, confronting people who failed to observe quarantines. In too many cases, families opposed health officers by not allowing them into the house. The State Board of Health called for a proper official to serve warrants to enforce quarantines, not the health officers.  Also, the Board confronted the public with its responsibility to inform local authorities concerning quarantine violations. In Gratiot County, some people failed to enforce quarantines with their own homes, and citizens reported violators in the neighborhood.

In December, there were plenty of ways that people continued to take risks of contracting or spreading influenza because no one else could help their sick family members. Irving Wood and his wife from Breckenridge headed to Fairgrove to care for their son and his wife. The young couple had suffered a relapse of influenza. In another instance, Lena Johnson of Sumner went to the Lansing Training Center to help her sick brother, who had been ill for five weeks.

Public gatherings still took place while the epidemic continued. The St. Louis United Methodist Church rededicated its new church after canceling the service in November due to the epidemic. Many turned out for the service. Over at the Ithaca Courthouse, one of the cases related to the 1917 murder of Alma’s Beatrice Epler began. The judge warned spectators in the courtroom that they could be sitting too close together.  He also warned the large crowd that quarantine was in effect in parts of the county, such as Ithaca. What was the result? A packed courtroom of people from across Gratiot  County turned out to hear about one of the accused in Beatrice Epler’s murder. The Red Cross, which closed many meetings, sponsored a dance at the Ashley Opera House, just as Ashley was recovering from a large number of influenza deaths during November. Over in New Haven, forty people “belled”  C.H. Blanchard and his wife during the late evening of December 12. For fifteen minutes, the crowd made all the noise it could outside the house, then the group was invited in by the newlyweds for supper, visiting, and games. They all left at 2:00 am.

When the epidemic flared again in December, all public areas were closed the week before Christmas. This quarantine also included the Ithaca schools.   Two prominent deaths occurred in Ithaca, coinciding with warm weather, and officials quickly closed Ithaca again – except for the stores which remained open. During Ithaca’s second closure, the Gratiot County Herald observed that many people in Ithaca went about with “sore arms” due to all of the vaccinations that doctors gave to people.

Other schools in Gratiot County that closed due to the epidemic re-opened, then closed again. St. Louis schools closed for much of December and planned to re-open December 30.  Alma boasted that its schools would remain open as school attendance kept growing, with over 93 percent of students in class during November. Some teachers, like Anna Clegg of St. Louis, came home from her assignment in Clare because that school closed until January.

Following Alma’s attempt to re-open the town in December, St. Louis tried to follow suit. A week before Christmas, St. Louis lifted its ban on public meetings and the wearing of masks. To prepare for business, St. Louis pledged that it would disinfect all of its public buildings. D.T. Kemp, city health officer, oversaw the plans.

Influenza Still Claims Those from the War

In all of the local news going on with the influenza epidemic, the status of Gratiot County’s World War veterans still appeared as news reports arrived during December. Private Walter Christy of the 4th Mechanic Regiment Air Service told his family that he had been sick for ten days in France, but he had resumed flying again. Fred Tryon of Breckenridge was also in France, had battled influenza for three weeks, and now was doing better. Private Ralph Miller of Alma improved after encountering influenza at Camp Wadsworth. His condition was such that his wife was called to come to visit him, then she returned home.

Out in Riverdale, the remains of Frank White arrived at his parents’ home. White served in the Navy and died from influenza and pneumonia in early November aboard the USS Mexican, a transport ship. White made four trips across the Atlantic and then died in Marseilles, France. Also, Miss Erma Harris, who was to marry White when he returned home, died in Riverdale of pneumonia on the same date that White did. Neither knew that the other one was sick. In another case, people in Bethany Township learned that Ernest Ray Showers, a local boy, died at Camp Douglas, Arizona, from influenza and pneumonia. His body came home for burial at Lakeview. Finally, the Gratiot County wife of a serviceman, Mrs. Suzie Fraker Smith of Fulton Center, recently battled influenza. She then received the news that her husband had been killed in France in October. The couple married just days before Lyle left for Camp Custer in November 1917.

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed


The Continued Plight of the Sick and the Dead in December 1918

Those Who were Sick:

Private Walter Christy (France)

Private Ralph Miller, St. Louis – Camp Wadsworth

Fred Tryon, Breckenridge – France

New cases December 5 in Riverdale (unnamed)

Breckenridge December 5 – 9 sick

Martin Muscott, Breckenridge

Mr. and Mrs. A.J. McDonald, St. Louis

Mrs. William Burl, St. Louis

Mrs. Ed Gable, Newark

Henry Rhynard, Perrinton

Mrs. George Myers, Seville Center

Pearl Peters, Fulton Center

Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Austin, Alma

Mr. and Mrs. James Wiltshire, Alma

Mrs. Wright and her father, Ebenezer Valley, Alma

Vincent Hawks, Ithaca

Mrs. Maud Campbell, Ithaca

W.C. Sargent, Ithaca

Charles Holmes’ four children, Alma

Mrs. Floyd White, Alma

Three Davison children, Alma

Mrs. R.C. Baldwin, Breckenridge

A.E.Pinney, Ithaca

Mrs. O. Moon, Pompeii

Orin Nettle, Pompeii

Gertrude Sutton – Pompeii

Mrs. A. Kochensparger, Ashley

Mrs. C.E. Weller’s daughter, Ashley

Darcy Reist, Ashley

Miss Ida Young, Ithaca

Hilda Pohly, Ashley

Miss Olive Myers, Breckenridge

Mrs. M. W. Muscott and children, Breckenridge

Mrs. John Allen, Breckenridge

Grace Young, Breckenridge

Mrs. B.G. Campbell, Breckenridge

Mrs. H.B. Stuckey, Alma

Miss Alberta Carson, Alma

R.H. Harrington, Riverdale

Mrs. Maud Campbell, Ithaca

Those Who Died in December 1918:

Mrs. Dean Shook, Breckenridge

Mrs. R. Coleman, Breckenridge

Mrs. Ward Long, Breckenridge

Mr. and Mrs. James Frye, Davis District

Mrs. Ray Coleman, Breckenridge

Ida Morrison, Middleton

Rufus Durbin, Middleton

James Goodwin, Ithaca

Herbert Hayes, St. Louis

Mrs. Nina Shook, Breckenridge

Mary Bellows, Gratiot County native

Mrs.Dora Watson, Ithaca

Esther Lewis and mother, Ithaca

The infant child of Mrs. Floyd White, Alma

Mrs. Ward Long and 18-month-old child, Breckenridge

Mrs. R.H. Brown, Alma

Mrs. Lewis Hudson, Alma

Flossie Merrill, Alma

Julia Evans, Alma

Ralph Swarthout, Alma

Mrs.Frank Riggs, Arcada Township






The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part IV: “The War Ends, Influenza Does Not”

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Above: Influenza announcements in Alma during November 1918; the World War ended in Gratiot County on November 11, 1918; local announcement for how to treat influenza.

The War Ends, Gratiot County Celebrates, Spanish Influenza Spreads

     “Peace has come.” These three words greeted Gratiot County at noon on Thursday, November 7, 1918, as the World War was thought to be at an end. Unfortunately, the official Armistice would not come until four days later. Gratiot County’s involvement in World War I lasted nineteen months but cost the lives of at least thirty young men, along with the numerous wounded.

     During days in November, residents left their homes to celebrate the end of the war in places like Alma, Ashley, Breckenridge, and Middleton. Most of the biggest celebrations in the county took place on the afternoon and evening of November 11, the official Armistice Day. People left their homes to make noise, let off steam, and to think about the return of their soldiers from Europe.

     On the other hand, all of these contacts between people across Gratiot County led to the continued spread of influenza. In Alma, people were explicitly told in the newspaper that the “Influenza Ban (is) Not Off.” Citizens found themselves celebrating the end of the war while hearing continued calls to buy  Liberty Bonds and to attend showings of captured enemy weapons. Many left their homes for different reasons, and more would become sick.
Battling Sickness and Death from Influenza – The Military

     On the same day that the Armistice was first announced, news arrived that Clarence Ludwick of Breckenridge died of pneumonia while aboard a ship heading to France.  Earlier on November 3, Frank White of Riverdale also died of pneumonia in a similar fashion. Alma College announced that it lost another student when Frank McCurdy died of influenza in France. His name became the seventh gold star on the college’s service flag. Theron Cady of Alma wrote a sobering letter that he had arrived safely in France. However, he became sick on the day his company prepared to enter combat just before the Armistice. Cady had a slow recovery in the hospital, like many American Doughboys who got ill on the front lines.

The Sick in Gratiot County

     Out in the countryside, the influenza virus and subsequent bouts with pneumonia continued to affect people’s daily lives. It was especially hard on the local doctors, all of whom could barely keep up with their patients.  Doctor Hall in Pompeii remained busy treating patients who had influenza. However, he was perplexed as to why no one in town was sick so far. All of his patients seemed to be outside of Pompeii.

     In Perrinton, newlywed Mrs. Lyle Smith battled influenza, even while learning that her husband died while fighting in France. Andrew Kinney and Little Jasper Rhynard had the same illness in that village. Out in New Haven Township, James Shaw slowly recovered from a severe, two-week bout with influenza. Leon Corwin returned to his store in Ashley, but he had been in bed for two weeks. Someone in Ashley commented that things might be a little better as “All who have been confined to the home with influenza are on the gain. Some are (even) out of doors.”

     Things did not go well in other places in the county. Sam Alexander, in Riverdale, was confined to his bed for a week. D.A. Byrnce in Sethton also remained seriously ill. Some in Middleton continued to be struck by influenza, such as Mrs. Helen Wood, who went into her third week battling the virus.

    Of all of the places in Gratiot County that suffered that November, Breckenridge had things rough. The village opened its churches on Sunday, November 10, and “usual services (were) held.” The next day, the janitor at the school rang the bell at 6:00 a.m. to tell residents that the flu ban had been lifted, suggesting that influenza had subsided. However, within the week, influenza exploded in Breckenridge, again closing the schools and churches. After a large group celebrated the Armistice party twenty-four people became sick throughout the weekend. Then more became ill and the number rose to sixty and kept climbing. When another forty people contracted influenza the ban was extended on all public and church meetings. A writer in the village recorded, “The doctors are kept busy here – attending flu patients.” Unfortunately for those in Breckenridge, their fight against influenza would go on longer than any other part of Gratiot County during the entire epidemic.

Those the Spectre Claimed in November

     Each community lost someone to influenza who was especially noteworthy.  The first to die in Alma included Clyde McElfresh, superintendent of the motor division at the Republic Truck Company.  He died November 12, and McElfresh was only thirty-one years old – one of many young adults who strangely lost their lives in the epidemic. News reached St. Louis that Lura Newman, who formerly owned Colonel Elwell’s Castle, had died, and her remains were sent back to St. Louis for the funeral. Newman died in New York. Influenza also claimed those who took care of the sick.  An example happened with the death of Jennie Marston, a nurse who worked at Brainard Hospital in Alma. She was only twenty-six years of age.

     Over at Ashley, the village continued to mourn the death of Little Mildred Beck, age four, and her death notice appeared in the newspaper. Another death notice ran for Alan Ladd of Elba Township, whose obituary appeared in the paper. Just across the county line in Midland County, Mr. and Mrs. James Preston lost their second child in only two weeks to influenza.

But the Flu Ban is Off – or is It?

     Part of the problem in the county was that health officials or town leaders called off quarantines, only having to restart them because influenza flared up again. As far as protecting the public, many like the Alma Record argued that quarantines had to be observed by everyone in each town, village, or community. The newspaper continued to condemn those who violated quarantines in the city, such as what happened during the Worden incident, where a family refused to isolate themselves and took down a quarantine sign placed on their property. Two doctors, Doctor Frank Thornburgh, and Doctor Holcomb, were served warrants for interfering with quarantines in the city. People followed their upcoming trial in Ithaca, in which both doctors prepared to defend themselves.

     However, there were forces at work that wanted quarantines to end so that businesses could resume operating. In Alma, churches hoped that they could open their doors for regular services early in the month as “Alma has seen about all of influenza that it will have if the people use care and good judgment.” Even the Alma Red Cross claimed that the ban was off by the start of November, cleaning had been done in their rooms, and volunteers awaited help from the public.  Also, places like movie theatres wanted to reopen as soon as possible. The Genesta Theatre in Alma prematurely announced that it would open the second weekend of the month, without getting permission from the health department. The Liberty Theatre in St. Louis also planned to reopen, wanting to open its doors.

       Alma’s churches were asked to hold only one service on the first Sunday, even though attendance was light. Six pastors signed a letter urging people to come to church and wear masks – with each church offering to distribute masks if parishioners did not have one. All adults in attendance had to wear masks, as well as Sunday School teachers. Soon, another outbreak of nine new cases of influenza hit various parts of Alma, then quickly became fifty-six cases, causing the health department to reconsider its decision about businesses and churches.

      As a result of this new spread of influenza, all public places were closed as Alma faced its most massive total of cases yet. Again the city put on the flu lid. The Alma Record attempted to calm the public at this time by stating that the cases supposedly were not serious and several had been cured by physicians. After all, the newspaper noted, only six had died of the disease so far. In contrast to the newspaper’s optimism, a new, sobering column started to run in the Alma Record entitled “Number of Deaths During the Week.” Some of those listed, like Mildred Boatby, age 27, died of complications of pneumonia, and her body was sent to Six Lakes. Although the cause of death for each person did not always appear in the column, it appeared that influenza and pneumonia claimed more lives in Alma. Things in the city regarding the flu epidemic were not quite as calm as the newspaper wished them to appear.

   Still, the city tried to calm people’s fears – especially since the holiday season approached, and local merchants needed business. By Thanksgiving, the Alma health department tried a new strategy to control the epidemic by trying to vaccinate everyone in the city and requiring all people to wear masks when in public. The series of three injections copied similar attempts at Camp Custer and in the city of Flint, where the shots showed some apparent success. People needed to come to the city hall in the morning or evening to get these free shots. After receiving their third injection, a person received a health department card saying that they did not have to wear a flu mask at any public gathering. Those who did not get the shots had to wear masks when in public.

The Effects of Quarantines in Gratiot County

     Even though the epidemic continued to spread, many appeared to be unconcerned that they would become sick. Whether due to carelessness or necessity, many moved about in public. Published letters in Gratiot County from hard-hit areas like  Youngstown, Ohio described how people died in numbers of over one hundred per day, and that the best ways to avoid the virus included proper hygiene and isolation, did not seem to scare some people. In some ways,  Gratiot County residents and institutions continued to go on with life – at least until things worsened.

     By November 7, Ithaca Schools announced reopening after a three-week closure. Sumner closed its schools and all lodge rooms, as well as Washington Township schools, Hamilton Center, Carson City, and Breckenridge. Sometimes the schools in one area tried to reopen after being closed for as little as one week, then closed again. In a few cases out in the country, schools closed because teachers were sick, and no one could teach the students, leading to more days off.  Also, it did not help when events happened as they did in Breckenridge around Thanksgiving. A group of young people went over to dance on a Monday night at the St. Louis Opera House. Soon, someone noted that “as a consequence, we have about fifteen new cases of influenza” in Breckenridge. Just after the Armistice, six Breckenridge high school girls carried a large American flag through the celebrating crowds during the Armistice. They raised $57 for a new flag for the school. How many of these girls got sick is unknown

     Other public gatherings took place, such as a drive for the United War Work Campaign in Ashley. A Canadian Army officer, Captain McKendrick, spoke to a large group there because of the flu ban in Alma, and those from Ashley could not attend in Alma.  McKendrick spoke for ninety minutes about his experiences in battles at the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Flanders, all to raise money for the YMCA. The turn out reflected how cooped up people felt after a terrible October wave of influenza hit Ashley. Yet, people did not seem concerned about relapsing.

     Still others in the county moved about either to see loved ones, to attend to sick family members, or to attend a funeral. When her son came down with Spanish Influenza in the Student Army Training Corps in Ann Arbor, Mrs. Ernest Madden of Vestaburg immediately went to help. After her death, Mrs. William Amon’s body arrived in Breckenridge for the funeral. She died of influenza and pneumonia while living in Lansing. Mrs. Jesse LaPaugh went to Toledo, Ohio, to take care of her sick daughter-in-law. Mrs. Stanley Bailey of Breckenridge ran to Camp Custer to see her husband.

      During mid-November, an advertisement appeared in the Gratiot County Herald from A.A. Sprague. It was the first statement of why some wanted the quarantines to end. Its big, bold letters it read “CHRISTMAS SHOPPING.”

Those who were sick in Gratiot County in November 1918 because of the Influenza Epidemic included:

Mrs. Arthur Manley and four others – Vestaburg

Marcus Cody, Marine – France

Frank Warner, Anna Harlow – North Shade Township

Mrs. Lyle Smith, Little Jasper Rhynard, Andrew Kinney, Mike Allen, Mrs. Landis and daughter – Perrinton

James Shaw – New Haven Township

Leon Corwin, Mrs. Nellie Ackles – Ashley

Floyd Bunts and Family – Elba Township

Frank Cockwood, Lawrence Hodde, Burton Btiley, Doctor and Mrs. D.A. Curtis, and J.E. Hodge– Breckenridge

Mrs. Delling and Daughter – Ithaca

Sam Alexander – Riverdale

Miss Carrie Merritt – St. Louis

Reynolds Gregory – Eureka

John Williams Family, Hunter and Gertrude Martin, Mrs. Myrla Moore and two children –Hamilton Center

Mrs. Cor Frisbie – Forest Hill

Mrs. Herbert Rhynard – Washington Township

D.A. Byrnce and Scott Payne – Sethton

Mrs. Helen Wood and Mrs. John Staley – Middleton

J.H. Cady, E.C. Crandell – Alma

9 new cases in Alma –November 14

Waldo Richards – Pompeii

John E. Johnson – Newark

Elbridge Wolfgang  and wife – Bethany Township

Reynold Gregory, Mr. and Mrs. Burt Parks – Eureka

Mrs. Alpha Ringle – Sickels

24 sick in Breckenridge – November 23

60 new cases in Breckenridge – November 23

15 new cases in Breckenridge – young people from dance – November 23

40 cases in Breckenridge – November 28

Neva Williams – North Star

Those who died in Gratiot County as a result of the Influenza Epidemic in November 1918 included:

Clyde McElfresh – Alma

Two members of the Harris Family – Vestaburg

Mrs. William Amon – died in Lansing, funeral in Breckenridge

Ed Sullenger’s son – died in Lansing, funeral in Breckenridge

Mrs. Glen Johnson, D.A. Byrne – Carson City

Two children of Mr. and Mrs. James Preston –Redstone

Mrs. Lester Beard – Jasper Township

Mrs. Scott Payne – Sethton

Jennie Marston, Mildred Beatby, Harry See – Alma

Leon Ladd – Elba Township

Mrs. Lura Newman – died in New York, St. Louis native, funeral in St. Louis

Copyright 2020 James M Goodspeed

The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part III: “Danger Arrives in October”

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Above: Red Cross nurses show how to wear masks in fall 1918; Alma Record advertisement about coughing and sneezing; Quarantine in Alma.

Gratiot County in October 1918

         The topic of bad health or health threats was not something new to Gratiot County in 1918. Two well-known men were arrested in Alma in July 1918 for “expectorating” (spitting) on the sidewalks. Both men thought the ordinance to be absurd and loudly complained to Justice D.L. Johnson about the enforcement of the law and their small fine.

         The late summer of 1918 also would be noted for a crackdown on “social disease” in Alma as the state began to enforce the detention of women who were believed to be carrying social diseases. Some women would be arrested, detained, and then sent to hospitals like the one in Bay City because they were suspected prostitutes who were visiting Alma businesses like the Republic Truck Company.  Over at Alma College, plans took place to convert the museum into a barracks for the additional students who joined the SATC (Student Army Training Corps).  The college needed more room to house the increased men, and leaders believed that they would turn down SATC applicants after October 1. Because of this, many young men would be crammed into a confined space.

        Medicines regularly appeared in newspapers, advising readers about how they could avoid or treat “The Grippe.”  “Doctor King’s New Discovery”  helped avoid the Grippe and could be found at the local druggist. Or, one could try Scott’s Emulsion, a preventative for the flu “so skillfully prepared that it enriches the bloodstreams, creates reserve strength, and fortifies the lungs and throat.”

        As October started, many helped America in the World War by buying bonds, attending patriotic meetings, or by helping the Red Cross. Few people seemed concerned about the impending health crisis that started to descend upon Gratiot County.

Military Deaths are the First Warnings

       The first news that Gratiot County residents heard about the influenza epidemic dealt with the deaths of young men at military cantonments. Robert Wachalac,  the first one mentioned in the newspapers, died from influenza on September 26 at the Great Lakes Training Station. His father had once owned a foundry in both Alma and St. Louis. Two days later, on September 28, Clair Schlappi from Riverdale also died at Great Lakes. The biggest name that received the most attention in Alma came with the announcement concerning Ammi Lancashire’s death in Philadelphia. Lancashire was the grandson of Alma’s leading founder and benefactor, Ammi Wright.

        Soon, the names of county men who died at Camp Custer and their funerals would be announced. Floyd Allen’s name, who enlisted from St. Louis, emerged. Homer Hunt of Elwell would follow. The funerals for the men could be problematic during the epidemic. Glenn Heibeck’s funeral took place at the Ithaca Presbyterian Church, and some people attended. However, Michael Mikilica’s funeral in Bannister took place outside in front of the church. Afterward, he was buried in Ford Cemetery. Earl St. John, who died in Camp Custer, was sent to Breckenridge for a funeral. Dwight Von Thurn of Alma died in a Georgia camp. He contracted influenza while serving as a nurse to other soldiers after volunteering to help the sick.

      Once Camp Custer notified families that their son or husband was sick, parents, wives, relatives, and friends took off for camps to see their loved one before he died. The trips took place regardless of the threat of anyone becoming infected. Homer Hunt’s parents also traveled to Camp Custer before he died. Samuel Wheeler of Emerson (Beebe) ran to Camp Custer to see his sick brother. In other trips, W.E.Swope of Breckenridge and Mrs. Thomas Crawford attended their relative’s death in Jackson, Michigan. The soldier died at Camp  Croft and had been sent home for the funeral.

      Ralston Fleming, an Alma boy who joined the SATC in Ann Arbor, died at the University of Michigan hospital one week after joining the program.  Other sad news came when Alma College student and star football player, Ed Foote, died in a Southern camp.

       Other news about soldiers who tried to avoid the virus also arrived in the county. Orlo Roberts from Ithaca joined the Merchant Marines and sent word home that he had been sent with other men out into Boston Harbor due to the flu. Captain S.R. Watson wrote that he survived an attack at Camp Dodge, Iowa.

        By mid-October, a rumor existed that court-martials – and even executions – would take place at Camp Custer involving doctors who allowed sick soldiers to travel to their homes. It turned out that some officers had been allowed to go to their homes in downtown Battle Creek during the outbreak. However, several soldiers were seen loitering downtown, and the news made its way back to camp and the newspapers. While investigations into the incidents were planned once the influenza crisis abated, the rumors of executions at Camp Custer were called “pure bunk” by the Army.  On a side note, if anyone wanted to help a sick man at Camp Custer, they could send cigarettes for them while they stayed in quarantine.

       At the end of October, Gratiot County newspapers ran a “Roll of Honor”  of twelve men who died so far in service to the county. None of the names included influenza victims, at least not yet.

Conflicting Messages

      The arrival of influenza at Camp Custer caused a delay for the departure of any Gratiot County men for their camps that October. On October 3, the county draft board announced that it canceled all scheduled departures for drafted men to cantonments for at least one month.

      Slowly, people in Gratiot County started to close public places; however, only for “precautionary measures.” The first indication that people were nervous came when the Alma Suffrage Meeting was canceled; then, the Presbyterian Synod also canceled its meeting in town. By October 17, Alma had officially moved to quarantine. Health Officer Dr. Thomas Carney ordered the closing of all churches, movie theaters, pool halls, and music halls in town. For the moment, Alma Schools remained open as it was noted that “only a few cases of Spanish Influenza” existed in the city.  Alma College went to full quarantine just a day before this order. A week later, St. Louis also went and closed public places on October 24.

      One incident demonstrates the conflicts of enforcing quarantine with one Alma family, the Wordens, and two local doctors, Dr. Carney and Dr. Thornburgh.  When Alma reached thirteen cases of influenza as of October 23, Dr. Carney declared that homes had to post notices that each household was infected.  One of these on Woodworth Avenue belonged to the Worden family, where at least two people were sick (one was an infant). Dr. Carney visited the family and declared that it needed to be quarantined, and a sign was put up outside. When the older son, Albert, grew worse, the family changed doctors and called in Dr. Thornburgh, who pronounced that the family suffered from typhoid, not influenza. Thornburgh advised the family to take down the quarantine sign, and Ollie Worden, the eldest son, did so. Ollie had a reputation as a troublemaker and the town drunk, and when he took down the sign and put up another one that read “No Influenza,” people went into an uproar. Many saw Ollie Worden’s actions as just another of his irresponsible acts and someone quickly reported this to Dr. Carney and the health department. The issue in Alma now involved who had the power to declare and enforce quarantines. Because Carney had the backing of the State Board of Health, the Wordens were again quarantined.  Another sign was put up out in front of their house. They were also informed that no more resistance would be tolerated. The Worden incident demonstrated that quarantines were to be taken seriously and that there would be consequences for those who did not obey. The case also caused Dr. Thornburgh and another doctor in Mt. Pleasant to be charged, brought to trial in Ithaca, and fined for encouraging disobedience of the quarantine. Sadly, the Worden child during the influenza epidemic.

What should Gratiot County do?

        Both Gratiot County, the state of Michigan, and the Federal Government all tried to quickly educate the public about the dangers of the influenza epidemic. Professor MacCurdy from Alma College was the first to do this when he asked the Alma Record to print a list of thirteen things people should know about this influenza virus.  Surgeon General Rupert Blue issued this notice to each state as an attempt to “provide all available knowledge” about the influenza virus. The culprit now had a name: Pfeiffer’s bacillus. It moved through body secretions, incubated between one to four days (usually two), attacked the respiratory tract, and vaccines for victims offered only partial success for treatment. While the government acknowledged that quarantining was termed difficult and impractical in some cases, people were told to avoid crowded rooms, streetcars and to look out for those exhibiting coughing and spitting. People also had to stay in warm, ventilated rooms to avoid broncho-pneumonia, which usually followed this influenza.

      Another example that the epidemic was spreading through Alma involved the creation and use of masks. Professors and anyone else who left Alma College and came “down the hill” into town were told that they had to wear a mask as the college aimed at protecting those who were in the Student Army Training Corps (SATC). Even the Gratiot County Draft Board members soon wore masks upon orders from the Adjutant General in Lansing.

        Red Cross workers also received orders to close and quarantine and would “open as soon as health conditions are improved.” When the Red Cross room reopened just before Halloween, workers had to “exercise reasonable precautions.” Upon entering the room, workers had to adjust their face mask, and then wear it for only two hours at a time. After this time, they had to leave the room and boil their masks for at least twenty minutes before wearing them again. The Alma Red Cross also published a notice for the public about how to make their own masks.  A mask needed to be made out of more than three grades of gauze, but butter cloth worked best. A yard and a half of tape was needed for each mask, and the mask should measure at least five by nine inches. A good mask would supposedly protect a person if they stayed at least four feet away from others. However, one needed to stay at least ten feet away from anyone who coughed.

       Clerks in all of Alma’s downtown department stores also used them when dealing with customers as precautions. Another example of social distancing existed in the county. The Ithaca postmaster put out an announcement earlier in the month that both adults and children had to stand behind the floor line when picking up packages at the post office.

      Surprisingly, another topic of quarantine took so long to take effect in the public schools. Early in the month, the St. Louis schools closed for a short time due to the fear of infantile paralysis. It is not clear how long they stayed closed, but it appears that they reopened. Even after closing different places in Alma by mid-October, the schools remained open there because “only a few cases of Spanish Influenza” could be found in Alma. Alma High School did seem concerned enough to cancel the Alma – Midland football game, possibly because Midland experienced the epidemic as well.

       Out in the countryside, it was a different matter. The Beebe school closed first and announced it would remain that way for two weeks, then came the closing of the Sumner school. A string of closings followed in succession: Sethton, Perrinton, North Shade, Washington Township, Rathbone, all closed their doors. A pattern was emerging in Gratiot County: while towns like Alma and Ithaca seemed to avoid the epidemic,  it was the Gratiot County countryside that was ablaze with cases of the influenza virus.  Things would continue to worsen in rural Gratiot County.

       On October 24, as a precautionary measure, Ithaca closed its school even though there supposedly was not an epidemic. As other public places in Ithaca closed, someone commented still that  “We are not suffering seriously from the plague anywhere neither do we want to do so.  An ounce of prevention.”  However, in what would be one of the hardest-hit areas in the county,  just before Halloween Breckenridge closed its schools indefinitely.

       Churches also closed and could no longer hold services. The church bell at the Ithaca Presbyterian Church still rang each Sunday morning at 10:00 am, reminding people of the Sabbath. The pastor eventually asked each family to make a time of prayer and worship at home by reading the Bible and singing a hymn. Someone from the church still delivered Sunday School papers to homes. The pastor also asked each family to lay aside weekly offerings and send them to the church treasurer.


The Sick

        Notices of the sick who suffered influenza started as a trickle in October. “The Sick List,” which each community kept track of, contained a listing of people who experienced different maladies, and it served as communication to warn others. One of the first to become sick, A.S. McIntyre of St. Louis, was at home with three days due to “Lagrippe” early that month. By October 10, the virus hit the countryside, and entire families became sick. The Peter Salisbury Family in New Haven Township were all ill, and ten more people in Middleton became ill at the same time. The Hull Family was having “a serious time with influenza” and fortunately had a nurse to tend to them. The Hulls were fortunate as many families could not find anyone to serve as a nurse. Christian Eyer of Alma headed for Lansing to take care of his daughter because Eyer’s son-in-law was hospitalized with influenza, and “There is not a nurse to be had there.” Finding someone – anyone – to help with a sick household was a real problem for many Gratiot County families.

         Within a week, another eight people in Middleton went down, and the churches suspended services. Ten more people in Middleton became sick by Halloween.  Four people over at nearby Perrinton soon reported in as sick, followed by another household of five. As things worsened, Dr. Hall and at least three other doctors made frequent house calls. A total of fourteen people would initially become sick in Ashley, and by the end of the month, the total there reached the incredible number of seventy-five with influenza.

         Caring for the sick had its challenges. Several teachers returned home to Gratiot County to their families because their school in Flint or Marion closed down, allowing families to see each other. However, for those who traveled to take care of their sick family meant becoming trapped in a quarantine, or worse. Miss Della Struthers, an Ithaca teacher, went home to Pontiac to attend a funeral for a close family friend. At the funeral, her brother became sick, and Della had to stay in quarantine. The same situation happened to music teacher Merrie Jewell who went to help her family in Fowlerville. Jewell was quickly placed in quarantine. Samuel Wheeler ran to Camp Custer to see his sick brother, even as relatives of many soldiers there became ill. Mrs. Roscoe Praether of Breckenridge traveled to Alabama to see her husband in a cantonment, apparently unafraid of the epidemic.  When Roland Campbell of Breckenridge made the trip to Pompeii for surgery at Dr. Hall’s hospital, his wife came with him. Unfortunately, Campbell’s wife contracted influenza while awaiting his recovery in Pompeii.

The Dead

       Among the first to die early in October included Reverend F.E. Gainder of the St. Louis Baptist Church. In Ithaca, Warren Gross, age 56, died as a result of pneumonia, but his funeral took place at the Ithaca Presbyterian Church. Frank Gunn, the first in Ashley to die, had a private funeral in the undertaker’s room. Only a prayer was said for him then he was quickly buried in the North Star Cemetery.  Ashley residents experienced shocked by what influenza did to three members of the Beck family, who all died in Ashley. Little Mildred Beck, age five, died along with her relative, Dorothy Beck.  When Mildred died on a Saturday night, her father, Sam, came from Durand to help his sick daughter. The father quickly contracted influenza and died the following Monday morning.  When infant Orbie Darling died on a Sunday in Breckenridge, his parents were so ill that they could barely attend a private funeral. A funeral in Bannister took place on October 15 for Private Peter Mikilica, who died in Camp Custer, but the service took place outdoors in front of the church. While all deaths would be tragic, sometimes the loss of one person hit a village or town, especially hard. In Perrinton, Howard Phelps typified the fate of one of the younger adults who died. Phelps served as village clerk and telegraph operator, and he was well-liked and respected in the community. When he suddenly died at age 26 and in the prime of life, people could not believe that such a young adult could perish.

How the Public reacted to the Influenza Epidemic in October 1918

       On October 3, approximately 2,000 people still attended a Liberty Loan meeting in St. Louis in front of the Commercial Bank. Just as the virus hit, Middleton people met for prayer meetings at the Methodist Church. The Strubles showed some foresight in Ithaca by volunteering to close the Ideal Theatre before being ordered to do so. Large numbers of people from Breckenridge drove to Alma to see the war trophy train that pulled in with several flat trailers filled with guns, German airplanes, and tanks. The showing was held to raise Liberty Bonds.  State Representative Fordney, who represented Gratiot County and who had just planned a tour of the county for a series of speeches, canceled all of them. Instead, he planned to “drive about some” in Gratiot County to talk to a few people. The St. Louis Methodist Church thought enough of the threatening situation to postpone the dedication of its church until December.

       And in Alma, toward the end of the month, the newspaper started printing first page notices of those who died. On October 31, the headline of an article that said: “‘Flu’ Situation is not Alarming.” The Alma Record justified the headline by writing that only two or three severe cases had been reported in the last day. Also, the paper mentioned that Alma College was the only college in Michigan with students in the SATC that had escaped the flu. True, people in the Gratiot countryside were suffering, but Alma “hoped to escape the toll” being taken in places like St. Louis, Ashley, Perrinton, and Middleton. Maybe Gratiot County could soon return to normal.

      It would not be so.

Copyright 2020 James M Goodspeed

Those who became sick during October 1918 included:

A.S. McIntyre, St. Louis

Mrs. J.G. Kress, Ithaca

Peter Salisbury Family, New Haven

Mrs. B. Hudson, Newark

Ten people in Middleton (October 10)

Eight people sick in Middleton (October 17)

Mrs. Harvey Humphrey, New Haven

Two people sick in Ashley (October 17)

Fisher and Shaw families – Wolford District

Five people in Hamilton Township (October 17)

Fourteen people in Ashley, including the George Gallup family (October 24)

Jack Burch in Rathbone

Alf Crawford in Breckenridge

Seven sick in Middleton (October 24)

Mable Pendell  – Middleton

Nellie Peters – Pompeii

Charles Dodge – Pompeii

Mrs. John Martin – North Shade

Hull Family – Middleton

Otto Fenner & wife – St. Louis

Glenallen Caldwell – Ithaca

Mrs. Rolland Campbell – Breckenridge

Baird Family – East Alma

Mrs. John Delling – Ithaca

Mrs. Hooker & 5 children – Perrinton

George Browning & wife – Riverdale

Seventy-Five people – Ashley (October 31)

Lora Seaman – Sumner

C.T. Pankhurst – North Star

Ten sick in Middleton (October 31)

The unknown number (“reported only a score”) in Alma (October 31)

Those Who Died in October due to Influenza who were either from Gratiot County or were tied to the County:

Robert Wachalac – Great Lakes

Clair Schlappi – Riverdale

Ammi Lancashire – Philadelphia

Floyd Allen

Rev. F.E. Gainder – St. Louis

Warren Gross – Ithaca

Floyd Schrider – Carson City

Glen Rickard – Matherton

Homer Hunt – Elwell

Mildred Beck – Ashley

Dorothy Beck – Ashley

Sam Beck –Ashley

Orbie Darling – Breckenridge

Frank Gunn – Ashley

Four people dead in North Shade

Ralston Fleming, Alma boy, died in Ann Arbor

George H. Smith – Alma

Howard Phelps – Perrinton

Mrs. Irvin Pankhurst – Pompeii

William C. Smith three-year-old son – St. Louis

Albert Worden – infant child – Alma

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed

The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part II: “They Came and Went to Camp Custer”

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Above: Doctors try to combat the influenza epidemic in the cantonments; notice of travel from Mid-Michigan to Camp Custer, dated September 18, 1918 – only ten days before Camp Custer experienced the epidemic.

     Soon after the declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, Gratiot County prepared for the first draft since the Civil War. Today, records of almost 1,000 Gratiot County men show that half of those who were drafted were farmers, and most draftees were sent for training to Camp Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan.

     Built near scattered woods, rolling countryside, and a small creek only 800 feet from its buildings, Camp Custer quickly went up in 1917.  The camp had soldiers barracks that were each built in the shape of an “L.” For entertainment, bored and homesick soldiers attended the Liberty Theatre, which held up to 5,000 men. A library sat next door to the theatre, and the YMCA was there to help soldiers who needed to obtain writing material, books to read, or athletic equipment for games to pass the time.

    For the parents, wives, and loved ones of these soldiers, the directions about how to get to the camp became well known. County newspapers told how people could leave from Ithaca, then follow a route through Pompeii, St. Johns, Dewitt, Lansing, Charlotte, Bellevue and end up at Battle Creek. Although it was only 109 miles from Ithaca to Camp Custer, people could drive there in six hours, so day trips were possible. However,  this meant only being able to visit a soldier for a couple of hours. As long as Gratiot County drivers obtained a pass for each person in their car, they were let in and given instructions about how to find their way to the soldier’s barracks. Guards at the gate only seemed concerned about allowing illegal intoxicants into the camp. Anyone traveling by train to the camp would be dropped off a distance from the entrance, but the walk was not too long.  Thus, travel back and forth from Gratiot County to the cantonment was well established by the fall of 1918.

     Gratiot soldiers told their families about camp life through their letters. Most described the routine of becoming a soldier; the food wasn’t too bad, but many fought loneliness during their training. Sometimes a Gratiot County soldier came home on a pass to marry his sweetheart, have a short one or two day honeymoon, but then he had to head back to camp.

       By the end of August 1918, over 30,000 troops were stationed at Camp Custer, and that was the problem.  On September 15, 1918, 537 men were suddenly admitted to the camp hospital. Less than a week later, on September 21, a day that featured warm weather and pleasant skies, something else seemed wrong. Doctors observed that officers had colds and sore throats; a few suffered bronchitis, which turned to pneumonia.  More men now came in with little or no cough, but they had the sudden onset of high fevers, often reaching 102-105F, respiratory problems,  aching in the bones, and severe prostration. By September 29, a quarantine was declared when 503 men suffered from influenza and another 139 contracted pneumonia. One day later, the numbers jumped to a total of 1,771 sick. By October 3, a total of 952 men were again admitted, filling  2, 125 beds. These admissions marked the peak of the epidemic inside the camp.

      In response, doctors and nurses donned masks and placed sick soldiers in a cubicle system to separate the beds. Attempts were made to boil mess kits but this stopped and sterilized tubs were substituted for washbowls which sat near the sick.  Once the hospital filled up, the mess halls, classrooms, the nearby YMCA and Red Cross buildings, and ten wood barracks all held the sick. One had trouble walking through corridors of these buildings because they also filled up with the ill and dying.

     As conditions worsened, Camp Custer telegraphed Detroit for more nurses, and over 80 came. At this point, camp officials made another decision. Family members were contacted and told that their soldier was dying. These all rushed to the camp, where a Red Cross nurse met and escorted them to the bedside of their loved one.  Mothers and wives were allowed to be near their sons and husbands if they wore masks. Tragically, as a result of being exposed to the virus, a total of 35 family members had to be hospitalized, and four mothers died.

      The way that the doctors tried to treat the rest of the camp during the crisis showed how little they understood about the disease. Healthy soldiers were now told to stay out of other buildings, and they were stripped to the waist and inspected twice a day to see if they were sick. All of their bedding and clothing had to be aired for six hours each day, and spitting was not allowed.

      By the first week of October 1918, the camp reached its peak of deaths when a total of 96 men died on October 7. However, more symptoms appeared: severe malaise, complaints of body aches, pain behind the eyes, a deep desire to sleep, a slow pulse, and delirium. Doctors also observed that broncho-pneumonia was now killing more men. The sick also seemed to crave moist foods, so sugar, stews, prunes, and dried peaches were fed to those who could eat.

      By mid-October, pneumonia-related cases dropped down to less than 10 percent in the camp.  However, by the Armistice, the final totals of those admitted due to sickness were staggering. A total of 7,687 men had been admitted to the hospital with influenza, and another 2,365 entered due to pneumonia. From these groups, 672 men died. A camp doctor wrote in a final report, “All deaths were from pneumonia (none from Influenza alone).”  This doctor did not seem to cite influenza as a factor relating to why so many soldiers would die.

      For Gratiot County, there were direct ties to those in the military who died during the influenza epidemic. Of the thirty World War I dead listed on the All Wars Memorial in Ithaca, eight of them died due to influenza.  Some of these took place in military camps and some in Europe. At Camp Custer, three Gratiot County men died there: Floyd Allen, Earl St. John, and Glenn Heibeck.  Allen (from Alma) belonged to the 40th Infantry, got sick on September 26, and died on October 11. St. John ( from Breckenridge)  and Heibeck (from Hamilton Township)  both belonged to the 78th Infantry and died three days apart on October 8 and October 11. Allen and St. John were listed as victims of “b-p” (broncho-pneumonia). Heibeck’s official cause of death was not recorded.

      Today, there were two things that the military and the government did in 1918,  which seem strange given how influenza spread in 1918. First, once the Armistice was announced on November 11, Camp Custer started to release men in mass numbers to return to their homes across Michigan, as long as they stayed south of a line from Bay City to Muskegon. Also, during the onset of the epidemic at Camp Custer, there were instances where men left the camp to go into Battle Creek.  How many of these men were still infected with the influenza virus?

     Secondly, a misconception took place about influenza-related deaths. While many people in Michigan (and across the United States) suffered extreme bouts of influenza and survived it, many soon died from pneumonia. It happened that influenza attacked the body, causing so much damage to immunity levels that people could not recover in time to stave off a secondary infection. In many cases, secondary infection would be pneumonia. This “double wave attack” took place in Camp Custer, and it would happen in places like Gratiot County.

     By late September 1918, people had been coming and going from Gratiot County to Camp Custer for quite some time. What did it mean? In some way, the influenza epidemic made its arrival here by October 1, 1918, just as the epidemic appeared in Battle Creek.  A giant wave was coming to Gratiot County.

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed

We remember those from Gratiot County who served  in the military and who died as a result of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919:

Floyd E. Allen – Camp  Custer

Reuben Root – Camp Hancock

Edward Peters – Camp in New York

Glenn Heibeck – Camp Custer

Earl St. John – Camp Custer

William Shippey – Germany

Clyde Hull – France

Clarence Ludwig – France

*Dwight Von Thurn – Camp Oglethorpe (died of influenza in February 1918)






The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part I: “It Was Unlike Anything We Ever Experienced”


Above: Downtown Alma during World War I months before the arrival of the Influenza Epidemic.

      What happened in Gratiot County in the fall of 1918 was both an epidemic and a pandemic. It was the county’s worst encounter with influenza, but it was also a global problem.  In all, approximately one-quarter of all Americans got the flu, a total of 25 million people. More Americans would die from the Influenza Epidemic than did soldiers and sailors who died in the World War.

      Some people knew it as “The Grippe,” a term that had been used for the frequent waves of influenza that came seasonally to places like Gratiot County.  Others called it “The Spanish Influenza,” and in the fall, it arrived as the second of three waves. The first invasion came in the spring of 1918 and left little indication of how deadly this would be. Even after the terrible events of the fall of 1918, in the spring of 1919, influenza visited again.

       It was in September 1918 that the virus reached Gratiot County, and by early October, many became sick. Still, life went on, and patriotism was very much in swing. With the nation heavily involved in World War I, the fall of 1918 witnessed intense Liberty Loan or Bond sales, drives, meetings, and parades. People in Gratiot County were expected to contribute heavily to the war effort by buying bonds. There was a feeling that the war would end soon because the Germans were retreating in France. Loyalty and support for the war effort seemed to approach a fever pitch, and people who did not appear patriotic could be put on notice.  On the eve of this national health crisis, people were actively congregating, meeting, and working in support of the war -and they would soon encounter and spread the influenza virus.

      For many who became sick, it meant suffering through intense influenza and then succumbing to a secondary viral infection,  usually in the form of pneumonia.  Symptoms frequently included having a sore throat, a severe cough, experiencing muscle pains or pain in the joints, the feeling of being cold all the time, or experiencing a fever of 101-105 degrees.  For those who experienced viral pneumonia, they often had intense delirium, coughed up of blood,  bled out of their nose or ears, and  had their skin turn “as blue as berries.” For some people in Gratiot County, it meant feeling healthy in the morning and then being weak, confined to bed, and delirious in the evening. Others best described the sickness as if they were being hit with a club.

      This flu epidemic in 1918 was also unique in that adults in their twenties and thirties died, leaving their families and homes adrift.  People tried to counter the influenza epidemic by keeping different things clean. Instructions said: keep your house clean, keep your “bowels open,” get plenty of sleep, eat a light diet, and practice social distancing, a practice that went back to the Middle Ages.

     Churches and theaters closed. Businesses closed their doors as well. “Quarantine” in Gratiot County was the word that meant staying away from homes that had contracted influenza. Woe to those who broke the quarantine as they could find themselves facing the wrath of the health department, or end up in jail.

       The truth was in Gratiot County, as in countless numbers of cities and villages across the United States, no one knew how to combat this influenza virus. Doctors could not explain why some of their treatments seemed to work on some patients but failed with others.  Doctors experienced a sense of helplessness about what to do, as did nurses, clergymen, health department officials, and city governments.

     In the fall of 1918, these were some of the things that Gratiot County experienced at the time called the Influenza Epidemic. And it was a time in our county’s history that our ancestors would never openly discuss.

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed

The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Prologue: “The Arrival of Palmer Gustin”

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Above: Portraits of Palmer Gustin before and during his service during World War I; Gustin’s headstone in Indiana; Fulton High School 2005 World Geography class.

     The papers, wallet, and American Flag did not appear to draw any interest. When I first saw the auction lot on eBay, I was interested in its contents and even more intrigued that no one seemed to want it. There was only a short time left on the auction, and the materials belonging to a World War I veteran from Anderson, Indiana, sat there.

    It was early 2005, the internet was buzzing, and the United States had not yet experienced the recession of 2008. Items about American military history could be found on the internet, and those from the World War I era, while fairly common, often did not draw that much attention. It was as if World War I was a forgotten war – and the items in this sale were available.

      After I won the contents of the lot and it arrived at my room at Fulton High School in Middleton, Michigan, I wondered just what the story was concerning a soldier named Private Palmer Starr Gustin. Among the stained contents were a slightly mildewed American flag from 1918, a billfold,  a Red Cross receipt for a $1 donation, a photograph of a girl, and a bank book. Other items included: the soldier’s registration card, conscription letter, General Orders, names of other soldiers on a notepad, a poem about Kaiser Wilhelm, and his draft board classification card. There was also a large, oval-shaped,  “fish-eye” type of photograph of a soldier. There was also a collection of condolence cards; one was signed “War Mothers.”

    Since I tended to be a part-time History teacher, and because I seldom got the opportunity to teach American history, I had been creative with ways to get history into the classes that I taught. During the fall 2005 semester, I had been assigned a World Geography class. I decided that I would do the unusual: let my small group of Geography students do the detective work on the internet to see what they could find out about this collection of World War I items, and just who this Palmer Gustin was. I could argue that I was teaching the geographic theme of “movement.” I just held my breath, did not tell my administrator what we were doing on Fridays, and let the students learn something about history.

     The internet in 2005 did not have all of the search engines and sites that exist today. Museums and archives were coming online with access to their collections, just started to digitize some of their holdings. Still, I was soon surprised at what my students discovered.

     It turned out that Private Gustin was the son of John and Nellie Mae Gustin and the family had lived in central Indiana for quite some time. Born in 1898, Palmer was the eldest son of five children. His only brother, Arthur, died in 2004 at the age of 97. Students learned that Palmer appeared before the local draft board in Madison County in August 1918, and he was sent to Camp Sheridan in Alabama. There he became a part of Company C, 67th Infantry. All of this happened after being rejected by the Army and Navy in 1917. Eventually, Gustin was accepted for Selective Service in 1918. It was then that the class found out that something very bad had happened to Palmer Gustin.

     Gustin had been at Camp Sheridan for a short time in the fall of 1918 (possibly eight weeks) when the Influenza Epidemic hit the camp. Camp Sheridan was not the only camp to experience the epidemic, and the virus had invaded military cantonments (camps) across the United States by September 1918 at the latest (as had Camp Custer in Battle Creek). Some camps encountered the virus earlier that spring. Soldiers quickly became sick with influenza,  and then frequently suffered pneumonia, which resulted in death. Palmer Gustin contracted influenza and died on October 24. A week before Palmer died,  a total of 2,367 cases of influenza were reported in his camp. This young man from Indiana, age 22, was one of those who were taken in the influenza epidemic.

      After my class tried to make sense of this puzzle, the question was asked, “What should happen to the remaining effects of Palmer Gustin?”  The next assignment was to find out if any family members were still alive and if they could tell us anything else about this soldier. We were lucky and we discovered that there was a niece still living in the Anderson, Indiana area. Of course, Mr. Goodspeed was nominated to try and make the initial contact. I did and I found Paula Bronnenberg, who was very interested in her great uncle’s belongings. Bronnenberg wanted to know why a bunch of students from another state found them. Mrs. Bronnenberg helped to fill in some of the pieces of her uncle’s life. Paula lived in the same farmhouse that Palmer Gustin had been born. She knew of his death in the flu epidemic and she also knew who the girl was in one of the pictures that I described: it was her grandmother, Mattie Palmer. Mattie’s first name was on the back of the photograph.

     Bronnenberg also explained that there had been an estate sale in the family and that she had failed to obtain Great Uncle Palmer Gustin’s military items. We decided as a class that these things belonged in Indiana, and we shipped them back to her. I took pictures and made copies of the items before we returned them, and the file disappeared into my crowded filing system until I remembered that I still had it. At the time, I was starting to investigate Gratiot County during World War I.

       As a teacher, my small group of Geography students had encountered a deadly event in history known as the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. I knew a little about this pandemic, but not very much. I began to ask what really happened in Gratiot County?

      It was over ten years before I really started to really look for the answers to the question, but I began to find some of them.

         Next time, Part I: “It Was Unlike Anything We Had Experienced”

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed


Gratiot County’s Finest Hour – January 1945: The Bulge Extends the War; Landing in the Philippines

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Above: Rationing violations in Gratiot County and hunters; the Farm Bureau and county banks all urged support of the war effort; farming and farm products all stayed in the minds of people as the war went on into 1945.

    The surprise and the shock of the German attack in the Ardennes in December continued to make the headlines. Although the Western Allies slowly pushed the Germans back, the going was slow, and casualties continued to climb.

      Out in the Pacific, the United States landed in the Philippines and began the process of liberating the islands from Japanese control. For a while, the news about the war in the Pacific seemed brighter than what was happening in Europe. County newspaper columns now warned citizens that the war in Europe could take another year to win. No projections were made about how long the war against Japan would take.

      At home, the OPA cracked down on rations and rationing as a result of the Battle of the Bulge. Some foods that had been relatively easy to obtain now came under stricter guidelines. A group of Gratiot County hunters found themselves in trouble with the OPA for abusing their gasoline rations during deer season.

      The war was real, it was going to continue, and the consequences were harsh.

      It was January 1945 in Gratiot County.


The Red Cross

      The Red Cross announced at the start of the New Year that families and friends of prisoners of war in Germany could now write immediately to their loved ones. The International Red Cross in Switzerland now accepted the letters, which used to take at least two to three months to reach a captured POW. However, packages still could not be sent until it was determined the POW’s permanent address.

     School children in Gratiot County had their work displayed in the window of the county chapter’s window in Ithaca. Donations of afghans and bed slippers showed how school children supported the Red Cross. Mrs. W.L. Clise, who had worked as chairman of the Junior Red Cross for the past eight years, organized the window display.

      The 1945 Red Cross fund drive was set at a goal of $25,700, and March 20-22 was set aside as county canvass days to raise money. Stanley C. Brown served as county chairman, and six other men served on the board with him, each from the five districts in Gratiot County. For example, Mrs. Ralph Tweedie was chairman for District No. 5, which consisted of North Shade, Fulton, Washington, and Elba Townships.

     Different chapters in the county published their annual reports and the work they did in 1944. The St. Louis chapter published a long list of women who worked on things such as knitting for the Army and Navy, which the women there contributed 1168 hours total (Mrs. Emma Weston gave 211 hours of service). Items like sleeveless sweaters, gloves, helmets, mufflers, turtleneck sweaters, scarfs, and watch caps were many of the things that the group made. Mrs. Florence Marr submitted the report, which detailed which St. Louis women gave of their time.

     At the annual Alma Red Cross Chapter meeting, Mrs. G.A. Giles was re-elected as chairman. Some of the things that the Alma group did included the creation of kit bags, Army hospital garments, and surgical dressings. Loans totaling $596 had been made to servicemen from the unit. The chapter had a fund balance of  $2, 045.41 to work with to start the year

     Ithaca also had a meeting on January 26 and announced that the new service headquarters had been set up across from the courthouse.  Ottoway Marett, a father whose son was killed in the Pacific in 1941, spoke at its annual meeting in the Thompson Home Library. Marrett joined the American Red Cross immediately after his son’s death and went overseas in 1942. Mrs. Sarah Rasor acknowledged that 106 garments and 144 kits had been sent out in 1944.


Farming in Gratiot County

     Among the most important news that involved farmers concerned the drafting of farm laborers. The War Mobilization director announced that men now between 18 and 25 years of age who had agricultural deferments would now be drafted. These workers, who made up a farm pool of approximately 345,000 men in the nation, was the last large source of men for the war. The German offensive in the Ardennes in December pushed back expectations that the war in Europe would soon end, and more soldiers were needed. Once the drafting of deferred farmworkers was announced, farmers across the state voiced concerns that they could not meet the nation’s farm goals for 1945. Some farmers were livid when they heard that they would lose their farm help. In some places in Michigan, farmers went to the draft board meeting, walked in with farm animals such as chickens or a cow, and left them with the draft board. The farmers then told draft board members to figure out how to feed and take care of the animals.

      A group of about 350 young Gratiot farmers was called up for pre-induction physical exams. Five busses, consisting of 175 men, left early in January with another group scheduled to go in February. Usually, the examinations were given 30 to 40 days before induction, but the draft board could not confirm how soon these men would be inducted. Michigan was expected to send 35,000 men by July, with 10,000 of the men coming from deferred farmworkers.

       In other farm news concerning Gratiot County, St. Louis schools announced that it was offering adult classes in agriculture. Ithaca, grain market news, reported the following prices:   No. 2 White Wheat sold for $1.64 a bushel; Dark Red Kidney Beans were $7.25; live poultry went for 25 cents a pound; U.S. graded eggs sold between 24 to 40 cents a dozen. Arlan Sherman from Ithaca appeared in the January issue of Capper’s Farmer with his invention, which involved using an old inner tube as a tractor cushion. Sherman wrapped his cushion in an old burlap sack, shaped into the desired shape, then tied it to his tractor seat. Dairy feed payments for milk and cream subsidies became available in late January in four different towns to save farmers from driving long distances in Elwell, Middleton, Breckenridge, and Ashley starting January 1. St. Louis Beet Growers Association held its fourteenth annual meeting in the St. Louis High School auditorium. A free lunch was given to those who attended. The St. Louis Cooperative Creamery also planned its annual meeting for February and planned on having it in the high school as well. Farm families were urged to comply with the 1945 Census for Agriculture, and a call went out for help from people to enumerate the census. Farmers could also obtain certificates for lumber to be used for maintaining or repairing farm dwellings. While pumps and cellar drains were still rationed, household water systems, like sump pumps, were not.

     Another problem concerned the number of people who held auction sales because due to a lack of help. Or, farmers now were being drafted. Maynard Parrish of North Star, Paul Duski of Bannister, Robert Chaffin of Ithaca, and Ciril Tugen of Alma all were forced to sell because of military obligations. Joe Honus of Ashley had no pasture for his animals, so he had an auction sale. Allen and Orville Ropp quit farming “at the request of the draft board,” and so they sold their farm west of Alma.

    Some exciting developments occurred in the county concerning the hunting of red foxes by hunters and farmers. Gratiot, Clinton, Ionia, and Montcalm hunters all declared war on red fox as it was believed that the animal was decimating the pheasant population and preying on farm animals. On Christmas Eve, an organized fox hunt started in Maple Rapids, led by Conservation Officer Harold Barrow and fifty hunters, bagged five foxes. Not one of the hunters volunteered to turn in a fox for the $5 bounty for animals that were shot in North Star and Newark townships. One of the foxes had to be dug out of its burrow. Nineteen of the hunters had their picture taken which appeared on the front page of the Gratiot County Herald. There had been some debate in Gratiot County about the new $5 fox bounty.  Sheriff Nestle had to examine all fox pelts, and he then placed a unique perforated stamp in the ear of each hide. The mark prevented anyone from cheating and collecting twice on fox pelts.

     On a more promising note, Union Telephone Company said that it planned to expand rural telephone service “As soon as war demands are reduced…” The announcement encouraged many Gratiot County farm families as rural service did not extend to that many in the county.

Rationing Goes On

     As rationing continued in January, it seemed to be even more severe than it had in 1944. The Gratiot County rationing board issued certificates for 97 Grade 1 tires and 21 small truck tires.  Later in the month, the rationing board issued another 270 tire certificates. Another potentially rationed item dealt with a possible coal shortage.    Now, people were warned that they might have to obtain certificates indicating their need for coal. In January, the lack of coal had not hit. However, concerns over fuel started to appear. The anticipated coal shortage would lead to “brownouts” in St. Louis as the War Production Board wanted a drastic cut in the amount of electricity to be used after February 1. This rule meant no exterior lighting for display purposes, and only lights for public safety and directions to the downtown area would be allowed. The welcome sign to St. Louis also was turned off.

     The German December offensive affected rationing. Before Christmas, only one-third of meats had been rationed; now, 85 percent of beef on the ration list was rationed.

    Centers in the county continued to request tin can collections. Trucks went to ten places in the county starting January 15 and delivered tin to the Harris Milling Company in Alma. The Moblo Hardware Store in Riverdale and Sumner Hoxie Store in Elwell were just two of the places that tin could be taken locally. The tin from Gratiot County went to the Vulcan Detinning Company in Pennsylvania, and a total of over seven tons of tin were picked up from the back of Alma City Hall. When it was all done, Gratiot County sent over ten tons of tin from a year’s worth of tin drives.

     Superintendent F.R. Phillips of Alma Schools proclaimed that Alma students would help pick up the paper at the same time as the tin drive. During the day of the tin drive, Alma students took approximately one hour after school to pick up over one ton of tin that day. Eight trucks and drivers assisted the students.  Anyone who missed having their paper ready for the pickup only needed to call the Civilian Defense Agency at Telephone 103. Breckenridge also held a two-week tin drive, and tin was delivered to the Miller Implement Store. The Breckenridge Blue Star Mothers encouraged people there to help make an extensive tin collection in the village.

      The city of Alma already started a “paper holiday” after the holidays. The Chamber of Commerce urged shoppers to bring a bag for their purchased items instead of asking to be wrapped. One of the calls for the paper during the war now concerned cartons for shipping blood plasma to wounded soldiers. Over in St. Louis, the Boy Scouts planned another paper drive pickup in early February.

    Over at the Ithaca courthouse, a group of 27 Gratiot County deer hunters were summoned by the OPA authorities regarding the misuse of gas ration cards. Several Gratiot hunters exceeded their gasoline allotments in traveling to the Upper Penninsula to go deer hunting. Drivers had only 120 miles per month in gas rations, and they would have had to save over three month’s worth of rationing allotments to travel that far north to hunt (which amounted to 360 miles of travel). When the men were confronted with the fact that their travels exceeded 406 miles to and from the Straits of Mackinac things, plus mileage beyond the Straits, things did not seem to add up.  As a result of the hearings, the men received 90-day suspensions all gas rations. Some of these men included Archie Mates (Breckenridge), along with E.A. Cummings, Philip Becker,  and Joseph Kapral (Ithaca), who received 90-day gas ration suspensions. Another three men who did not appear in court got 180 day suspensions. The hearings , led by OPA officials, took place in the supervisors’ room in the courthouse.

A New Direction for the Draft

    The December German offensive sent ripples through Gratiot County because the military looked for more fighting men. Selective service looked for those previously classified as 4-F, as well as those who had deferments as farm help. President Roosevelt  admonished those who committed “job skipping” – those who left their designated jobs without approval from their draft board.

    One of the changes in Gratiot County dealt with men who previously had been classified as 2-A now had 1-A classifications. These included young business and professional men. Clerks and telephone operators – as well as postal carriers – all received the news that new draft orders were coming. County Farm Bureaus asked Draft Boards to slow down and carefully consider  who would now be drafted. The main argument for this centered around the effect that drafting farm boys had on the effectiveness of farm help and crops for 1945.

War Bonds and Loans

     The final report for December’s Sixth War Loan Drive showed that Gratiot County raised just over $449,427.00 or 64 percent of its goal for sales to individuals. Corporation sales, however, went above the target and raised $579,795.00, or 143 percent of its aim. Overall, Gratiot County raised over 93 percent of the assigned goal it had for selling war bonds in the drive, which turned out better than had been projected.  Why didn’t the county do better? County newspapers asked the same thing and reminded the public that there was no better duty than investing in the government as many hoped that the war in Europe would soon end.

     There had been other successes with bonds. A former St. Louis lady, Mrs. Clinton Bailey, now lived in Detroit. Bailey sold over $100,000 in bonds over the previous two years and gained headlines when she sold a $50,000 bond for the American Women’s Voluntary Services. Over in Pompeii, Miss Cheryl Lynn Fraker received a $25 bond as the firstborn child in 1945 in Gratiot County. “Miss Gratiot of 1945” was born at Smith Memorial Hospital at 3:15 a.m. on New Year’s Day. She weighed 8 pounds 3 ounces, and Dr. A.L. Aldrich attended the delivery, with help from Gertrude Kirby, the Registered Nurse.

Letters Home to Gratiot County

     Letters home to Gratiot County reminded readers who were defending the homeland. Private Berfield Acker wrote to his parents in Alma about being in the South Pacific. Now in the Philippine Islands, Acker said he had lost some weight.  He also had never been so unclean in his life. He had been living in dirt and mud holes for over a week. The dirt on his clothes made them very heavy and he had to clean them by beating them against a rock while standing in a creek. After being allowed to trade with the natives, he and his fellow men obtained bananas, chickens, and sweet potatoes. Although he had yet to receive Christmas presents from home, Acker enjoyed turkey for Thanksgiving. Orville Lippert, also from Alma and in the Pacific, got his letter and pictures from home in time for Christmas. Lippert visited a Catholic chaplain at one of his stops and was asked to paint an image on the altar for the chapel. He took pictures of where he was and hoped that they would arrive home by March. Lippert also wrote that he spent a lot of time interacting with the natives in his area by learning how to ride in a canoe, which he almost tipped over.

     Leland Lytle wrote home from Holland, asking for someone to send him cigarettes. Lyle served with the engineers and valued hearing from his mother – “Hearing from you is almost like hearing your voice.” Officer Clair Purdy of Alma told his voyage to England. Purdy said that the men only ate twice a day, and he was on a British ship. As an officer, he had excellent quarters, and he had a steward clean his room twice a day. Everyone on board took showers and baths in saltwater as freshwater was used only for shaving and drinking. English stewards gave table service to the officers while enlisted men had to eat out of their mess kits in the chow line. The seas could be rough, and when Purdy reached once for his coffee, “I found it wasn’t there but had slid halfway down the table. At the same time, a crash in the kitchen indicated a tray of broken dishes.” Several civilians also were on board, traveling under government authorization as foreign diplomats.

     “Somewhere in the Pacific,” Clarence Isles wrote to his parents in Ithaca that he had been on Saipan. Isles told his mother that he had not seen a window in so long that he forgot how curtains looked. On Saipan, Isles had to search enemy dwellings and also saw many dead Japanese after a battle. He estimated at least 5,000 enemy dead lay in a ten-acre area, having fallen three or four deep due to machine gunfire. A fellow soldier claimed to have killed 58 Japanese in one night attack. The Japanese ran in large numbers, yelling, and appearing to be drunk. Isles said that frequently the attackers got through the American lines because there were too many to shoot at one time.  Ronald Gross also told his parents in Ithaca that he just had not had time to write during the treacherous invasion of the Philippines. “The reason you haven’t heard from me is because I have been fighting and couldn’t write. I have had some buddies killed, but I can’t tell you how many or how,” Gross added. He did send home some Philippine money.

     Donald Peters told his parents that he received packages in Italy from the Blue Star Mothers and the Sowers Church. He said it was nice to be remembered. Sergeant Max Sias wrote to his parents in St. Louis after arriving in England. Sias was in France at Christmas and attended a Christmas Eve service in an old church filled with former soldiers and some French citizens. These were the first services in the church in four years. The people there had not attended services since being occupied by the Germans. A family that owned the building where Sias and other American soldiers were billeted gave Sias a basket of apples for Christmas, a wonderful Christmas present. Private Howard Comstock, also of St. Louis, also wrote to his parents about parachuting into Holland with the 82nd Airborne. Comstock said that he had too many things on him when he jumped out of the plane, causing him to almost fall headfirst. While Comstock safely landed, he found himself in the middle of a field; then he sought cover in a ditch. As Comstock sat there for a moment, Comstock saw three C-47s hit by enemy fire before they went down in flames. Upon hitting the road, he and other paratroopers ran across a bridge nine spans long, all while being shot at by the Germans. Private Orland Keefer of Alma wrote a heartfelt letter to his wife, explaining his Christmas Dream. Keefer dreamt of hearing his wife’s voice, entering his home, and seeing a Christmas tree inside. Keefer made it clear that “I know when I go home, I’ll be sure no children of mine will ever have to spend their Christmas in jungles, in fox holes, or beachheads.” Private Donald Kiter of St. Louis wrote that he was staying in an 18th-century chateau somewhere in France. Kiter was amazed by the cloth-like wallpaper, rug, fireplace, “and almost all of the comforts of home.”

Those in the Service

     Three Dancer boys from Wheeler were in Europe. Leroy (France), Kenneth (Germany), and Duane (Italy) were all involved in combat areas. Private Lowell Quidort wrote that he was now in Belgium. Corporal Mike Simonovic sent word to his wife that he was somewhere in France, possibly in Paris. Private Frank Wroe of Elwell served as an ammunition worker in the 8th Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress station in England.  Private Frank Raymond wrote to his mother in St. Louis from a foxhole in Germany with the Third Army. He said that his hole was not too wet. Corporal Alfred Gorringe of Alma was an MP with the Sixth Army Group Headquarters in France. He was involved with traffic patrol, headquarters guard duty, and town patrol work.  Private Donald Greening of St. Louis told his parents that his Christmas dinner in Belgium during the German offensive consisted of cold beans and some hard crackers. Greening served with the Cannon Company of the 290th Infantry.  Second Lieutenant Stanley Bailey, Jr., of Breckenridge, piloted the troop carrier “Dakota” over Cherbourg on the opening night of the invasion and now did so over Holland. He had worked for Greening Oil Company before entering the service in April 1942.

     In Italy, Private Matthew Horwath served as a carpenter with Peninsular Base Section Ordnance Depot. His unit serviced combat troops throughout the Mediterranean. Russell Isham of Middleton served in the signal company of the 100th Infantry Division in the 7th Army front. Isham’s unit was in charge of communications. He had gotten as close as the Rhine River. Private James Mills of North Star served in Italy with the 11th Bomb Group of the 42nd Bombardment Wing. He had been involved in five campaigns since going overseas two years ago. Private Leland Perry of Alma wrote from Italy, thanking his parents for the “swell” Christmas he had after receiving twelve Christmas packages. This was the second Christmas Perry spent in Italy. Private Glen Mutchler, also of Alma, served with the 339th Polar Bear Regiment in Italy, which broke the German Gothic Line at places like Highway Line and Futa Pass.

Robert C. Ode of St. Louis was serving on an LST in the South Pacific. Emery Bebow of St.      Louis returned to California to await his second deployment to the Pacific Theatre. Lorne Beard, who was inducted into the Navy before graduating from St. Louis, served aboard the USS Boise and saw action at New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and now in Leyte, Philippines. He had two brothers in the service as well. Sergeant G.D.Smith of Alma sent home a picture from a New Guinea jungle of a Papuan native doctor. The natives were very helpful during the invasion, and they helped fight the Japanese.  Harry Most of Lafayette Township finally got word home to his parents that he was okay. He landed in England, and his brother James made it safely to France. A third brother, Bert, saw a lot of action in New Guinea and wished he could see snow back home in Michigan. Nolan MacLaren of New Haven wrote from the South Pacific that he received his Christmas package and all of his cards. He commented on how the men he served with valued Christmas treats and how they shared them. MacLaren thought he was relatively safe and hoped to see Japan when the war ended. MacLaren also hoped he would return through New York so that he could say that he had been around the world.

     In the United States, Private Leonard Zinn was in Fort McClellan, Alabama, and “is very lonesome and would welcome letters from any of his friends.” Sergeant Elon Pratt went back to Jackson, Mississippi, with his wife after a fifteen-day furlough. Pratt had spent 30 months in Alaska with the 11th Air Force in the Army Air Corps before coming home. Private Reed Gould also came back on a three-week leave from India. It was his first furlough home since entering the service in 1941. Staff Sergeant Robert Duane came home from Italy after completing 50 missions in the Air Corps. He expected to be sent to Miami, Florida, after his two-week visit.  Technical Sergeant Richard Guernsey came home to Middleton after completing 51 missions as a radioman and gunner in Italy. He departed for Italy on July 1, 1944.

     Finally, news arrived that Private Evelyn Courey now served as a staff car driver with the North Atlantic Division of the Air at LaGuardia Field in New York. Courey had been a WAC since early December 1943, and her mother lived in Alma.

Those Killed, Wounded, and Missing in Action; Status of POWs

     The number of names of those who died in service to Gratiot County and the nation continued to grow. In 1944, at least 49 young men from the county or neighboring areas perished while defending the United States.

     Lieutenant Arner, Miles Douglas of Ithaca, died in France when his P-47 Thunderbolt crashed in dense fog on December 2.  Douglas had already survived being shot down during the summer of 1944 in his plane, “Miss Isabelle.” Had Douglas completed his mission he would have been eligible for a furlough home. Another loss from Ashley occurred when Sergeant Robert Kerr was killed in action, as was Lieutenant Leslie Struble of St. Louis. Both deaths were tied to the German offensive in Belgium. Private Robert Lucas was also killed in action in Belgium on December 28. He had attended St. Louis schools and had been in the service since late March 1942. Sergeant Edward Lyon of Ithaca died in an airplane crash in England on January 2 as a result of the fog. Ray Bartlett, a Fireman 1/c from St. Louis who had been listed as missing in action in the South Pacific, was now listed as dead. Orville Casson, age 18 and whose grandmother lived in Ithaca, died when his ship the USS Destroyer Monaghan went down during a typhoon in the Western Pacific. Only 6 out of 150 men on board survived. Casson’s cousin also lost his life in the Pacific aboard the U.S. Submarine Grunion.

      The American Legion held a memorial service in Breckenridge for Private Donald Armbrustmacher, who was killed in action on October 31, 1944. The ceremony took place at the Congregational Church, which was filled with family, community members, and members of the Blue Star Mothers. Taps was played at the end of the service. Another memorial service in Breckenridge took place to remember Quartermaster Denver Welch, who lost his life in a hurricane on September 18, 1944. Welch had been aboard the Coast Guard cutter The Jackson when lost in the Atlantic off Cape Hatteras. Welch’s death marked the second time in the service of his country, having enlisted at age 18 and spending six months in the Panama Canal Zone. After being discharged due to a bone infection, Welch re-enlisted in December 1941 and joined the Coast Guard. Earlier in May 1944, Welch spent a week in a life raft at sea when he lost his ship in a storm.

     The names of the wounded from Gratiot County kept growing. Private Alfred Reed was wounded at Aachen and now was in the 162nd General  Hospital in England.  Private Kenneth Burch from the Porter Oil Field was in a hospital somewhere in England. Private Frederick Rohn had spent five months in a hospital in England, but he was now back in action. Others wounded in Europe included Private John Meyers of Sumner, Corporal Jack Dickerson of Alma, and Lieutenant Carroll McAdam of Ithaca. However, there had not been much information about any of them. Sergeant Daniel Dafoe of Alma suffered a shell fragment to his upper right arm on Christmas Day in France, but he was making a healthy recovery. Another Alma man, Lieutenant Frank Shimunek, suffered a severe shoulder wound in Northern Italy while commanding his platoon of combat engineers with the 88th Blue Devil Division. He would be out for at least two months. Private James Fox of Alma, who previously served as an MP and had been transferred to the Infantry, was wounded during the Belgium break-through. T/4 Ray Ferrall of Bannister also injured his right arm on December 20 and would be out four to six weeks. Private Carl Wiltfong of Ithaca was wounded on Christmas Day in Germany, but he expected to rejoin the 121st Infantry soon.

      Out in the Pacific, Private Wayne Sowers was wounded on Guam in July and was hospitalized. He enlisted at age 18 and received the Purple Heart for his wounds. Arthur Lover from Bannister was in a Naval hospital in the South Pacific. Private Wayne Sowers of St. Louis had been wounded while on Guam and spent two weeks in the hospital earlier in July.

      Some of the most significant anxiety that Gratiot County families dealt with concerned about the unknown status of several men. Lieutenant John Ellis of Alma was missing in Belgium, as Sergeant Duane Rench, who was missing from a bombing raid over Germany. Others missing in action included Private Arthur Wilson (Breckenridge), Jack Little and Ted Barton (North Star),  Duane Rench (Alma), and John Kupres (St. Louis). With each of these men, little was known about their fate except what the War Department announced. On New Year’s Day in Alma, the wife of Lieutenant Harold Fandell learned that her husband had been missing on a B-24 bombing raid on December 12. One week after receiving this news, she learned that Fandell was back with the Eighth Air Force in England because he survived the bailout over Germany. Mrs.Henry Isham of Middleton discovered that her son, Lieutenant Robert Perry,  was missing since a September 22 bombing mission from India to China. Perry piloted a C-46 cargo plane. Private Foster Gervin of Elm Hall had been missing since December 4 in Germany.

     More Gratiot men also became prisoners of war, mainly in Germany. Erwin Junior Morey, whose mother lived in Wheeler, sent a card to his mother saying that he was well, and the Red Cross brought food to his camp once a week. Private Anson Foster, who had been missing since September 15, now was a prisoner of war in Germany. So was Sergeant James Grosskopf of Alma, who had been in a camp since December 11, 1943. Sergeant George Mahin of Alma also was in the same camp.

And So We Do Not Forget

    The Gratiot County clerk released figures that one divorce in every 2.75 marriages in the county during 1944. The record showed 244 marriages and a total of 81 divorces were granted…The Gratiot County Road Commission planned to construct four new steel and concrete bridges in the county and 4 ½ miles of a new highway. The total cost of these post-war projects was estimated at $435,000…The Gratiot County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of  Gratiot County and the state of Michigan going to Central War Time (Eastern Standard Time)…A crazed Leslie man shot and killed one person and wounded another near Elm Hall in early January. Nally King shot his former housekeeper and her mother when Mrs. Marian Blair refused to return to Leslie to help care for King’s mother. After the shooting, King turned the gun on himself and committed suicide…The St. Louis Community Center needed a director before and could not open its doors until it hired a part-time person to oversee activities for junior and senior high students…The St. Louis Rotary Club heard a report about a proposal to grow more evergreen trees and shrubs in St. Louis. Verne Miller of Alma brought samples to illustrate how these could help St. Louis…The Blue Star Mothers of Gratiot County continued their push to raise money and to establish a war memorial in Gratiot County. The group had more than 3,000 names for support and $5,500 so far for their project.

     Rural teachers in the county had the opportunity to take college extension work this winter from Michigan State College. The classes were to take place in Ithaca…A March of Dimes Campaign took place in mid-January to help victims of poliomyelitis. The goal was to raise $3,200…The movie “Wilson” appeared for one day only at the Alma Strand Theatre. The new movie told the story of President Woodrow Wilson. The evening show cost $1.10 for adults, but a matinee only cost 76 cents…Income tax meetings for farmers took place in three places in Gratiot County. They were held to clarify the topics of dependents, deductions, and how to report sales of assets…A dairy specialist from Lansing came to Middleton to talk to farmers about ways to improve dairy production…St. Louis High School held a town hall speaker who was a survivor of a Japanese prisoner of war camp. United Press correspondent Robert Bellaire was held for six months outside of Tokyo just after Pearl Harbor. He was one of 45 prisoners who were part of a prisoner exchange in 1942…The Bridgeville School in Washington Township reported that twenty students were enrolled there, and the Christmas Seal Program raised $8.22, according to teacher Mrs. Mabel Biddinger…The Fulton E.V. Aid had a fish dinner that served 105 people and raised $48.10. A donation was made to the Infantile Paralysis Fund…The annual athletic banquet at Ithaca brought 225 people to listen to Albion College Athletic Director Dale Sprankle. After a chicken dinner, four Ithaca boys were recognized who would soon leave for the armed forces.  Marvin Gabrion received the 1944 Most Valuable Player…The Alma College basketball team played a team made up of men from Fort Custer.

      The St. Louis Commercial Savings Bank received recognition for its growth as a result of its reorganization and service since 1934. Vere Nunn, who had worked for the bank for over 35 years, now served only as its President…A group of 166 members of the Gratiot County Farm Bureau met at its annual meeting in Ithaca to hear Professor  E.C. Prophet talk about “Geography in War”…Max Paine’s Fulton basketball team defeated Ithaca 34-21…The St. Louis GEM Theatre collected money for the March of Dimes program…A total of 70 Gratiot school districts received $45,265.74 in state aid.  Alma city schools received $15,297.00 while North Shade No. 4 got $205.87…Forest Ervay purchased Duck Pin Alley in St. Louis. Four leagues had been formed and bowling took place four nights a week…An Adult Education program continued to grow at Alma Schools. Director Sylvia Williams was in charge of the program… and the Annual Week of Prayer, sponsored by the Ithaca Ministerial Association, took place.

     And that was Gratiot County’s Finest Hour in January 1945.

    Copyright 2020 James M Goodspeed