IT WAS CALLED THE SPANISH FLU–AND IT WAS AWFUL

This beautiful, little girl died at the age of 8 on December 25, 1918.  Her name was Lanora Troyke and she contracted the influenza that was sweeping the nation.  Not even the rural hamlet of Schaumburg Township could escape the pandemic that would inevitably kill up to 675,000 people.

With its beginnings in January 1918, the pandemic didn’t really erupt until June of the same year.  It was accelerated by troop movements in the declining days of World War I.  In fact, in her book, A Schaumburg Farm, 1935-1964, LaVonne Presley talks about her father, William Thies, being “inducted in the midst of a flu epidemic, but [he] did not contract the flu.  On the troop train carrying the recruits to Georgia for training, many young men became ill and died.  William felt lucky to have survived the trip.”

By late summer, the pandemic was in its second wave and was more deadly than the first.  Louise Bremer died on October 1 and on October 17, Dr. Theobald, a local veterinarian, sent a letter to William Thies telling him, “The Spanish Influenza is raising havoc around this neighborhood, quite a few people having died and hundreds of them being sick with it.  The Doctors are on the jump all the time, schools and churches are closed and picnics prohibited.”

He could have easily been referring to William and Wihelmina Dohl.  Like the swine flu epidemic of  2009, this pandemic seemed to hit young, seemingly healthy people more severely.  Mr. Dohl became very ill, very fast and was taken to Oak Park Hospital almost immediately on Wednesday, October 2.  Despite being ill herself, Mrs. Dohl visited him on Thursday.  According to the Cook County Herald, “Upon her return home, she went to bed at once…  They both died at the same hour Saturday noon.  The double funeral was held Tuesday.  They leave a son 11 years [Elmer], daughter 7 years [Malinda] who were also very dangerously ill with the malady, but hopes are entertained for their speedy recovery.”  Mr. and Mrs. Dohl were 34 years old. In an oral history that is on the library’s Local History Digital Archive, Erna (Lichthardt) Hunerberg recalled that after the caskets were pushed out of the house, they closed the house as a method of quarantine.

It continued to be a scary month. Two weeks later, five year old Paul Krentz died on October 18.   On October 23, Pastor Gottlob Theiss of St. Peter Lutheran Church sent William Thies a letter bringing him up to date on these tragedies and others.  “I just got it today from your cousin Tillie when I called there to see how they were getting on there.  You know they all had the influenza except August and Edwin.  They are all over it but Martha, and she is almost well.  We have a great deal of the plague around here, so far there have been two deaths, Alma Bahe and Karl Schroeder her brother in law.  Alma was buried a week ago today and Karl Schroeder yesterday.  We could not have the funerals in church because church and schools have been closed for two weeks already.  I wonder how conditions are down there in your camp.  Have you any cases of influenza?  They are not sending any boys to the camps from here just now on account of the plague.”

The influenza affected those who were well too.  They were called on to do chores for those who were sick.  It was truly a time of neighbor helping neighbor as displayed in this letter of October 26th to William from Wanda Boergener.  “Isn’t it awful with the sickness?  Panzers are sick except Hubert and Ella.  Henry has to go there night and morning to milk and do chores.  Eddy Stein is sick too.  Isn’t it too bad with Tilly Biesterfield?  The old Folks are there all alone now.”

By late October some of the worst must have been over.  In a November 1, article from the Cook County Herald, it was stated that “Schaumburg schools opened Tuesday.  Church services will be resumed Sunday.  Anyone who has the influenza in their family is requested to stay home.”  And they must have because the same column reported that there was “slim attendance owing to the flu epidemic.”

December, though, still found the flu in the township.  In her personal account, Erna (Licthardt) Hunerberg recalled its impact on her family.  Calling it the Spanish flu, she remembered getting sick on December 6 at the age of 12.  The rest of her family was not immune either.    Having told them that Santa was sick too, Erna’s parents postponed Christmas until the 29th when everyone was feeling better.

The Troyke family, however, did not fare as well over the holidays.  Young Lanora died on Christmas Day and was buried in St. Peter Lutheran Church Cemetery.    She left her parents, two sisters and three brothers to mourn the loss of a young, adorable girl who simply could not escape the nasty illness that swept our country.

This posting was written with the assistance of letters saved by the William Thies family, Cemetery Walk scripts on Lanora Troyke and Wilhelmina Dohl researched and written by Nancy Lyons of the Schaumburg Township Historical Society, an oral history of  Erna (Lichthardt) Hunerberg conducted by FPSAH and articles from the Cook County Herald .

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One Response to “IT WAS CALLED THE SPANISH FLU–AND IT WAS AWFUL”

  1. Bernice Maness Says:

    Elmer and Malinda Dohl were raised by an aunt and uncle after their parents both died of the flu. The house Mrs. Dohl died in and where their wakes were held is the same one LaVonne Presley grew up in on Wise Road many years later.

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