Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

April 7, 2020
COVID-19 pandemic stirs up memories of earlier pandemic death

I am sending you a story that might be appropriate for your paper in these flu times. I think you should have credit for your long, good work.  

On April 25, 1919, the Tooele Bulletin had an obituary telling of the death of the son of Francis Henry Orchard, then a resident and chief engineer of the Tooele Valley Railroad that ran between Warner on the westside of Tooele and the Tooele Smelting and Refining Co on the eastside. 

I received a copy of the obituary and was sorry to find that the Bulletin had had to report on another extreme flu pandemic over a hundred years ago. That time, instead of the elderly, it reported the loss of a very, young, healthy 17-year-old boy, Rolla Francis Orchard. Contrary to the coronavirus of 2020, the flu in 1919 was known to attack young teenagers, and it especially attacked young males. 

Since it happened about 15 years before my birth, I only know what I was told by my mother. I had known the story of uncle Rolla’s death all of my life and had inherited his picture, but it was just another sad memoir of the past. Suddenly, however, his death in this 2020 pandemic became meaningful to the Orchard family, and surviving members of the family began to ask about it.

In telling the story that I knew of Rolla’s death to the family, I was sent a copy of the Bulletin obituary by another relative. I was amazed that we could reach back in the past that far and find it was reported in a newspaper. I had not known the article existed.

In the story I was told, I learned that the whole Francis Orchard family had the flu — the parents and 5 children — but Rolla was the only one who died. During his illness they opened all the windows in his room as was suggested, and during his illness they tried to get a woman in town that was known to be successful at taking care of flu victims.  

She was overwhelmed with patients and could not come, but told the family later, it was not a good idea to open the windows. During his illness he wanted to see his two year old sister, so the family held her up in his doorway.  

He died April 23, 1919, and it must have been a terrible blow to the family to lose their young 17-year-old son on the doorstep of life. My grandfather Orchard took care of his grave all his life, before there was perpetual care. The whole family has put flowers on his grave on Memorial Day forever it seems. 

This is a bit of history that many families could be facing now. I never thought it would ever occur again, but today there may be many families facing the same experience of putting flowers on graves and telling their stories to the next generation.

Ardeth Daly Houde.

Rochester, NY

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