By Hannah Combs
Brought to you by the Bonner County Historical Society & Museum
The Bonner County Historical Society has created a portal where you can share your stories, photos, and artifacts about the COVID-19 experience. Your personal histories will be archived in the Museum’s collections so that years from now you can remember what it was like, and so that future generations can understand what we are all going through.
BCHS has been collecting personal histories since its inception in the early 1970’s. Most of these can be found recorded in the oral histories collection. These are two stories about the Spanish influenza that were recorded as part of longer life histories.
Vernice Stradley, interviewed by Ann Cordes in 1978, was in high school during the winter of 1918-1919. She said they closed her school before the year ended, and she was home with her family for the remainder of the year. A hundred years ago, there was no way to go to school remotely. Several of her family members got the flu, and though she and her brother recovered quickly, her mother had to be transported to a larger hospital for treatment for a lung infection complication. Vernice said, “They took her away sick. They had a Dinky [a short shuttle train] that went through here, and they stopped the Dinky right by the house.” During her mother’s three-month hospitalization, the family received infrequent updates on her condition and were not allowed to visit. “They didn’t think she was going to live for awhile. [...] they said it was only a matter of time,” recalled Vernice. But her mother overcame the flu, went on to have one more child, and Vernice went back to school the following year and completed her high school degree. Vernice said she “never gave up. I bet I got as good an education then in high school as they get now when they get out of college.”
Frances Wendle Miller’s family was in the process of moving from Chicago to Hope at the beginning of the flu epidemic. Her father had moved first to establish a home and business (he was a doctor for a lumber mill in Hope), and Frances recalled, “We’d come to visit and we’d have to wear masks on the train.” They had a set of clothes they would wear on the train, then immediately change when they reached the house and wash all of the train clothes, for fear of infection. Shortly after the family settled in Hope, they relocated to Sandpoint, because her father’s medical skills were needed to help treat flu patients at the Page hospital. Frances said, “We could climb the tree [in front of the hospital] and watch them operate in the operating room.” She acknowledged that the flu hit the area hard and that “it made us more careful.” Frances Wendle Miller was interviewed by Nancy Nelson in 1978.
In addition to sharing current COVID-19 experiences, please let us know if you have family stories about the Spanish flu in Bonner County. What was the experience like for your parents or grandparents? Have you ever visited the “Little Lambs” section of Lakeview Cemetery, dedicated to the children who died during the Spanish flu? If you have something to share, please feel free to include it in your portal submission and help enrich the Museum’s collection.
Research courtesy of the Bonner County History Museum.