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Cheryl Howland: A letter describing the Spanish flu

  • A photograph of a letter written in September 1918 by the uncle of Leverett resident Cheryl Howland in the middle of the Spanish flu.

Published: 3/19/2020 4:15:06 PM
Modified: 3/19/2020 4:14:56 PM

Editor’s note: In 1918, during the height of an influenza pandemic known as the Spanish flu, Leverett resident Cheryl Howland’s uncle, Charles Bartlett Howland, wrote this letter to his wife, Ruth Howland. Charles worked for the post office.

Dear Ruth, I have some more very bad news to write you and I guess if things keep on that by the end of the year there will be nobody left in town. Harold Ashley died yesterday (Sunday) at Camp Wilton(?) and his body is to be brought to Middleboro as soon as the government can get things straightened out.

As things are, I can give you no further information about the funeral, only that in Mass no public funerals or any other gathering can be held. The schools, churches, lodges, clubs, book rooms etc. are closed down tight. All Red Cross workstations are suspended and they have cut out some of the electric car trips as so many men are sick.

(Note: Another letter spoke of people dying on the trolleys and of people being healthy in the morning and dead by evening.)

Just as soon as I hear anymore about Harold’s funeral I will let you know and I will also look out for the flowers. I was intending to write Saturday, but Captn Doten told me that Harold was improving so I thought I would be able to give you some good news ... but about 8 pm today Harold Doten came up to the house on his motorcycle and told me the sad news. He also said that Mel Shurtleff died at Camp Devens yesterday at almost the same time as Harold.

Yesterday I worked around the yard all day, getting things cleaned up so that I could (….) then rest this morning, I filled one barrel with Baldwins so that we might have a few in case we had a high wind. On Friday we had seven funerals and Saturday about as many so you see what we are up against. In Brockton three days last week there was one every hour. I am glad that you are having so good a time and that you are able to be on vacation even if I can’t get one as things are very rushing at present.

Last Friday I went to work at 8 am and quit at 8:30 pm with just one half hour out for supper. For dinner I had two sandwiches so you can imagine what we are up against.

I am sending you the OLD COLONY and the Middleboro paper and also a card which came from Abington. If I find it is all right for you to go to the funeral I will telephone you but do not go unless I do for at this time it doesn’t pay to take any chances.

I hope you have written to Harry’s mother explaining the circumstances for I should feel rather cheap if I should happen to meet any of them and not have them understand just how things were. Captn Doten was just in and told me to tell you not to think of coming as Harold will be buried just as soon as his body arrives and there will be no funeral. Dr. Jackson’s wife is very ill.

Hoping you will not catch anything and that you are still getting better with the (?)

With Love, Chick….Plymouth, Mass, Sept 30, 1918




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