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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • UP N' ATOM: c. 1950s

Matty Baldwin: 1912

Matty Baldwin: 1912

New York. February 21, 1912. "Matty Baldwin." The lightweight boxer from Boston, a.k.a. the Bunker Hill Bearcat, died at the age of 33 in 1918, a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic. 5x7 glass negative, Bain News Service. View full size.

 

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Took the best and the strongest

The old pistolero and writer, Elmer Keith, wrote me about that flu epidemic. Keith said the flu "took the best and the strongest," and it was all he could do to survive it.

At the time we corresponded, I wondered if Keith was correct, as that taking of the strongest seemed odd.

Grave stone

I was walking around a local cemetery a few years ago and noticed a tall gravestone with the names of 6 or 7 children, all died in 1918. Then I looked it up and read about the epidemic.
I can imagine all the people that survived WWI and then came home and died from this.

Grandmother's memory

One of my grandmothers was 9 years old in 1918, and she had distinct memories of the epidemic in Canaan, Vermont. As Vonderbees mentioned, the flu victims who died were overwhelmingly people in the prime of life. She told me that she and her several siblings, all children at the time, came down with the flu but none of them died.

My great grandfather only had a mild case, and after recovering he was recruited to dig graves at the local cemetery. A couple of days into assisting he was digging and suddenly hit an unmarked grave that had been there for years. This really disturbed him and he just couldn't take it anymore. He threw down his shovel, walked away from the cemetery without saying a word, and never went back.

An Unbelievable Epidemic

I saw that Baldwin died on October 15, 1918. My grandfather died from the Spanish flu on October 30, 1918 at the age of 30 when my father was only three months old. I have seen a chart that indicated the highest number of deaths during the outbreak occurred in October 1918.

This flu epidemic really differed from the norm in that rather than targeting relatively weaker children and older folks, it infected people who were in good physical condition in the prime of their life, such as my grandfather and this boxer. This is one of the reasons there was so much concern in the 1976 when they thought there could be another similar outbreak.

On the other side of my family (in a different Ohio town than my father), my mother had said her father told her about going out to help collect bodies of people who had died because there were so many who succumbed to the flu.

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