By Angie Georgeff
My grandmother was a teenager during the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. She often talked to me about our family history and her flapper days, but I don’t recall hearing her say anything at all about the pandemic. I suspect it was not a pleasant memory, especially since so many of its victims were very young.
Recent events have made me curious, so I pulled up Unicoi County’s death records for 1918. It took me some time to go through all of them, but I found 42 records that mentioned influenza as the cause of death or a contributing factor. According to the records I found, the earliest death in Unicoi County occurred on Oct. 5. Dr. J. I. Bradshaw first attended Ethel Griffith, a 27-year-old housewife, on Sept. 27 and she died eight days later. She had developed pneumonia, but influenza was listed as the cause of her death.
Three days later, Dr. Bradshaw would lose his second patient, 28-year-old railroad engineer A. P. Doyle. Dr. Bradshaw and his colleagues would be kept busy for at least the next three months. Two other railroad employees would die during October, along with two miners, a pottery worker and a soldier. Most were under the age of 35 and apparently healthy. Sadly, many victims of the Spanish influenza were too young to have any occupation. In October, Isaac and Julia Grindstaff lost two daughters, 10-year-old Jane and 7-year-old Millie, just one day apart. During December, James and Elvira Jones lost their 8-year-old daughter Virgie and 10-year-old son David Silas.
With 17 deaths attributable to influenza, October would be a very sad month for Unicoi County. The number would be reduced to 13 in November and then 12 in December, but the pandemic would continue to flare up into 1920. The good news for us is that medical science has advanced tremendously during the past century. If we stay strong, COVID-19 too shall pass.
Way to go, Unicoi County! The update I got last week showed Unicoi County with the best census response rate among the 12 counties in Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District. The bad news is that Greene County is nipping at our heels. We wouldn’t want those Greene Devils to overtake us, so be sure to respond to your census invitation as soon as possible. You may participate in the survey online, by mail or by telephone. It only takes a few minutes and it helps to ensure that Tennessee and Unicoi County get our fair share of federal funds and congressional representation. And since state funds for library materials are allocated by population, it also helps us get more books!