Spanish Influenza - a survivor's story
as told by Carl F. Douse 1906 - 1988
copyright © 2007 by Richard T. Douse
by Richard T. Douse
The story that follows is from a handwritten memoir my father wrote at the request
of a cousin, one Edwin Theo Moore. This memoir details a period of time from his
birth until just before he met and married my mother, Alice Glaeser. It includes a
very difficult time for him during which his own father and mother were involved in a
bitter divorce. It is a story that he carried with him until the day he died, and spoke
not a word of it to either my mother, my step-mother, or anyone else. It should be
remembered that during the time of his experience with the Spanish Influenza
epidemic, he was only 12 years old. What follows is just that part of his story that
involves his experience with the Spanish flu.
from: Recollections of my Early Years
by Carl Frederick Douse
I don't know whether it is a good idea or not to put my thoughts on tape or even to
write them. However, as Ed Moore just said in his last letter, "Time is running out."
And, of course I am well aware of it and believe it or not it doesn't bother me.
. . .
1918 came and with it, the Spanish Influenza. I got the flu. Mom had to work and
as I was deathly sick, I went to the Boston City Hospital. In a short time I recovered,
but the custody suit came up, and when the judge learned where I was and the effort to
kidnap me and the fact that mother couldn't really take care of me and work too, he,
the judge, ordered me to stay in the hospital as a ward of the court. I was in the hospital
nearly 6 months, all through the epidemic I had a small room and, having recovered from
the flu, I was immune, so I was put to work. My job was to push the gurneys to the
basement where trucks would take the bodies to the island to be cremated or to designated
mortuaries. I would also have to check the bodies for identification. Name and number
would be written on the stomach or thigh in indelible ink. Flu death was particularly
hard. Eyes staring, facial muscles in grotesque position and fecal matter, etc, over them.
Every available space had a bed. Patients were everywhere and nurses were very scarce.
The wards were huge rooms, holding 200 to 300 people. The heat was stifling. Air
conditioning and refrigerators were not invented then. Ice was in short supply. Boston
is unbearable in the summer. In the early morning the hallways were lined with those that
died in the night. Nurses did not have time to close their eyes or anything else. They
shoved them in the hall for me and moved in a live one. The moaning and groaning and the
smell of ether was almost unbearable. I pushed the gurneys to the huge cargo elevator that
was propelled by pulling ropes and got them to the basement where trucks could take them
to the island for cremation or to designated mortuaries. I had troubles - a wheel would lock
or I'd bump into a post and have an arm or leg out or a whole naked body on the floor. A few
peak days I carried over 100. In the big New York hospital they had over 300 a day. I figured
I carried over 5,000 bodies to the basement. The dead included old, young, men, women,
babies, young men, and pretty girls. As many people died of the flu as were killed in World
War One. The flu disappeared as quickly as it had come and there is still controversy over
After I got out of the hospital, mother sent me to New Hampshire on a farm as a chore boy,
but I wasn't big enough . . . Homepage