Ashland saw a notable spike in deaths in a single month during the influenza pandemic of 1918.
From 20 deaths in September 1918, total deaths in the county rose to 77 in October, before dropping back to 21 in November. Fifty-nine of October’s deaths can be attributed to the remarkably virulent new strain of influenza that plagued the world that year.
I have copies of all 59 Ashland County death certificates, plus one. The extra belongs to my great-grandmother, who died of influenza in Lorain, leaving behind a husband and three small children. Every one of these deaths is a real person, not a faceless statistic.
While Ashland was not hit as severely as some other places, particularly densely occupied cities and military encampments, Ashland was still affected. The evidence of what happened here is consistent with what historians and scientists have come to know about the epidemic.
In Ashland, 18 different doctors signed death certificates. Some physicians only signed one or two. Five doctors signed five or more certificates. One can only imagine their state of mind as they worked night and day throughout that terrible month.
A case of influenza often turned deadly when complications such as pneumonia set in. Therefore, most of the certificates list pneumonia as the primary cause of death, with influenza as the secondary cause. There was some variation in terminology used by the doctors. One consistently wrote "Spanish Influenza," while another preferred the term "La Grippe." Most simply called it influenza.
One of the most unusual aspects of this epidemic was its intensity among the young and otherwise healthy population. Only three people older than age of 50 died of influenza in Ashland.
Eight victims were younger than 18 years old, including two infants younger than a year. Pregnant women were at higher risk of complications. The death certificates do not reveal whether female victims were pregnant, so we can’t know how many were.
The most frequently listed occupation by far was "housewife." These 14 women ranged in age from 21 to 46, with 12 of them in their 20s.
A large number of death certificates indicated occupations involving manual labor. Six of the male victims were referred to as laborers, with most being in their 30s. There were also three carpenters, three farmers, a bricklayer and a butcher. Six worked at factory jobs, including one woman whose occupation was given as forelady. Four men worked for the railroads.
Deaths also included two retail merchants, one bakery clerk, the proprietor of a restaurant, two women with clerical jobs and one nurse.
Three men were foreign born. Two had a birthplace listed in what was then Austria-Hungary, and the third was listed as Slavonia. All three were buried in the potter’s field portion of Ashland Cemetery
The majority of the deaths were spread throughout the city of Ashland. However, nine occurred in Perrysville or Green township.
Most died in their own homes. However, 15 people died at Samaritan Hospital, which had been built only six years before.
One of the people who died at the hospital was a 23 year-old nurse. Her last wish was for a letter from her fiancé, who was serving in Europe. Sadly, he received the news of her death just one hour after the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11.
— Sarah Kearns, who writes the Ashland Memories column every other Saturday, works at the Ashland Public Library. Her email is email@example.com.