The 1918 flu epidemic spread rapidly and was indiscriminant in infecting and causing death to people of all ages and from all walks of life. People died at such a rate that hospitals, physicians, and cemeteries were overwhelmed.
My father, now 88 years of age, spoke occasionally about a sister who died of what is now called Spanish Flu on October 8, 1918, just before her second birthday. She was one of what was to become seven children, three of whom were born after her death. However, none of the children forgot her, as my grandmother would parade them the four blocks from their house to the Oak Grove cemetery a couple of times a year to show them Charlotte’s grave marker—a slab of marble set vertically into the ground with the number 259.
Decades passed and my father lost track of exactly where Charlotte’s grave was. As part of an outing to Gloucester, Massachusetts to visit graves of his mother and sisters, we decided to try to locate it. As luck would have it, the caretaker of Oak Grove cemetery was there at the time. He took out an old dusty volume with handwritten entries for each person entombed. He asked approximately when she died, and located her name, and 259, her marker number. She was buried in “the Pink Path,” a section of the cemetery where many flu victims were buried.
Initially, many graves had just the marble slab markers. Loved ones added headstones but the original markers remain. This enabled us to locate 259, buried under several inches of dirt. Looking at the other headstones nearby, we noticed Charlotte was the only baby and the dead nearby were not elderly. Her neighbors with grave markers include:
- 276 Emma, wife of Alan Swomsen, 1870-1918, 1879-1918 (39 and 48 years old)
- 260 Kalioπη Nikitoπογογ, born March 2, 1892, died October 13, 1918 (26 years old);
- 258 Soren M. B. Jerrum, 1895-1918 (23 years old);
- 257 Orlanda C.Young Ferry, 1876-1918 (42 years old);
- 256 Hurley J. Conrad, 1988-1818 (30 years old);
- 252 Lillian M. York, 1875-1918 (43 years old); and
- 247 Peter Johnson, 1880–1918 (38 years old).
Now when we make the annual visit to the Gloucester graves, Charlotte is included. White mums mark the grave as well as the old marble slab. Our goal for the coming year is to put a headstone on her grave to give an identity to marker number 259.