A lot of older folks recall their parents and grandparents telling stories about the deadly “grip” that many Mitchell County families suffered 100 years ago. “They said that some took sick and died in two or three days. It was pretty bad.” Little did they know that they were a part of one of the worst pandemics ever to infect the nation as well as the rest of the world.
Appearing first in America at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, in March 1918, the disease was misdiagnosed as typhoid fever in September 1918 in Wilmington. NC, then it spread quickly across the state. By October, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported up to 218 cases confirmed, school closings in the area, cancellation of community events including church meetings and a dance, a reduction in street car schedules, opening of an emergency Red Cross hospital at Park Avenue School, and distribution of food from the Masonic Temple; “colored doctors report probably more than 400” cases in the “colored” community.
The Blue Death or Spanish Lady was an unknown strain of influenza, the symptoms of which manifested quickly. Initially, the victim suffered a fever for 3 days, then their skin turned blue as their lungs swelled with fluid. Their respiratory system would shut down as their tissue lacked enough oxygen. Although this new flu proved to be no respecter of persons, it hit poor and crowded communities hard as well as military training camps. One report says, “At the railroad station that served Camp Greene near Charlotte coffins were stacked from floor to ceiling, taking home the bodies of young soldiers who never saw the war.” In the Weaverville Vance Cemetery there is a special section for children who were taken.
The North Carolina Board of Health counted 13,644 influenza deaths among the state’s 2 ½ million residents. The nation’s toll was about 675,000. It struck every country in the world, sparing only the island of St. Helena and Mauritius Island in the Indian Ocean. The global toll was at least 20 million and possibly twice that. We have very few data and documents related specifically to Mitchell County beyond the single sentence above from the November 8, 1918 Jackson County Journal.