Flu 1918: Greene County, Pennsylvania

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

We are living through tough times, but we have been here before. The genealogist’s approach to history is to learn about it from the local level outward. Our ability to relate, empathize, understand, and simply be interested, increases when the history is tangible: places, people, and events that we know personally. Local history reduces our degree of separation from past events, even though we are separated by time.

Knowing that our ancestors experienced similar circumstances and endured, makes it easier for us to do the same. We are here today because they survived their hard days.

Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 10 October 1918, page 1, columns 3 and 4.

Influenza Epidemic – Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 10 October 1918, page 1, columns 3 and 4.

  • Teacher’s Institute Postponed
  • 40 cases in Waynesburg
  • All churches, theaters and moving picture places have been ordered closed on account of the Spanish influenza.

This is just a small clipping printed from the newspaper microfilm at the Cornerstone Genealogical Society. It is a mere snapshot of a much bigger impact felt by our community a century ago. This particular section was printed for our files because the next column over announced the deaths of three Company K soldiers during World War I. What a trying time.

In his History of Greene County, Pennsylvania, Dr. G. Wayne Smith explains that:

By the end of October, all Greene County schools were closed, and parents were ordered to keep their children at home. The Waynesburg Hospital was filled to overflowing. An emergency hospital with 30 cots was opened on October 20 in the Ross Building [where Groovy’s and Hot Rod’s restaurants were later located] on Morris Street where three nurses and fifteen local Red Cross workers ministered to the sick and dying.

Dr. Smith goes on to explain that “there were flu patients in almost every home at Wind Ridge, with seven ill in one home alone.” Hardest to read is that “at least fifty-five died in Greene County due to the epidemic during the winter and spring of 1918-1919, and scores of others were seriously ill.”

Holder tombstone, Green Mount Cemetery, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Glenn Toothman)

In Green Mount Cemetery, near the brick road entrance off of Morris Street in Waynesburg, is the tombstone of James Albert and Katherine Elizabeth (Summersgill) Holder. The young couple died within days of each other in April 1919, leaving behind their little daughters.

All ages were affected from infant to elderly, but this flu was particularly vicious to the young, healthy adults who would normally weather such a storm. Soldiers were hit particularly hard due to their close quarters in training, transportation, and service.

The Holders’ double obituary on the front page of the Waynesburg Republican, 24 April 1919, opens: “Not in this generation, during a single year, has such a heavy weight of sorrow and bereavement been felt by the people of Greene County, as they have been called upon to bear during the past twelve months.”


G. Wayne Smith, History of Greene County, Pennsylvania, 2 volumes (Waynesburg, Pennsylvania: Cornerstone Genealogical Society, 1996), 2: 695-696.

Green Mount Cemetery (Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania), Albert J. Holder and Elizabeth K. Holder tombstone, Section N, Lot 30; read by Candice Buchanan, 2011.

Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 10 October 1918, page 1, columns 3 and 4.

Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 24 April 1919, page 1.

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