Minnie Grindell 1918 Flu in Sedgwick (PEO.43)

Story about how the 1918 Flu epidemic came to and effected Sedgwick

When the 1918 Influenza Came to Sedgwick

Sedgwick was not spared when influenza swept across the world in 1918 killing at least 50 million people.1  It might seem that this tiny village in mid-coast Maine would be outside the reach of the contagion but the 1918 personal diary of Minnie D. (Blake) Grindell (1866-1936) which is in the possession of Sedgwick resident and Hooper descendant Janet Williams, tells a story of sickness and death like that seen elsewhere in the United States.

Minnie Blake and Joseph Whitney (Whit) Grindell’s home as seen in 2009.       Photo by Sylvia Conner Wardwell

Minnie Blake and Joseph Whitney (Whit) Grindell’s home as seen in 2009. Photo by Sylvia Conner Wardwell

Per Minnie’s diary, 1918 started out as usual with smelting in April and clamming, plowing and planting.  The Ice Works had been dismantled and local men were getting work removing the last of the wood and equipment.  Schooners with Sedgwick captains and crews as well as coasters from other ports, routinely stopped at the wharf as they moved wood, coal, household goods and produce up and down the eastern seaboard and to far away foreign ports.  Meanwhile, steamships kept regular schedules as they transported people and commerce to and from most coastal towns. As in many small towns of the day, town-folk regularly called upon one another as a way of providing support, sharing news and, in the face of illness, and bringing food or assistance with daily chores.

In May, while WW I was still being fought, 27 year old Roy Grindell (1891-1960) came home for a short while and then returned to Boston where he was in military training at Fort Devens. Shortly thereafter, in June, Private Harold Christy (1891-1959) came home on furlough before being sent overseas.

In July summer people including Mrs. Lydia Gower and Mrs. Julia Sweet, both from Massachusetts, and Mrs. Lillian (Henry) Knapp from Scranton, PA. returned to their Sedgwick homes.

In August Henry F. Pert died of lobar pneumonia but Minnie didn’t describe this as unusual since he was 76 years old.

September 3-8 was the Blue Hill Fair!!  Everybody went and had a wonderful time. Ollie Leach (born 1890), who was in the Army 1917-1919, was there with his parents, wife and children and gave Minnie and her daughter Gladys a ride home.

And then the influenza virus arrived

By September 15th 12 year old Gladys was very sick and on the 25th Minnie got a letter from her son Raymond who was a deckhand on a coastal steamship (probably the Pemaquid) telling her he had the Spanish Grip (sic). On October 4th Minnie’s husband Whit (Joseph W. Grindell) came down with a “terrible cold.”

Minnie writes; “Well, they have ordered the schools closed on account of this sickness.  There is none of it here yet but the orders came to shut the schools”.

However, Minnie continues;

Oct 11 “Barbara and Alice sick abed. Rita is sick too (Minnie’s friends).  Evan Nevells was buried up in our cemetery today (Forest Home). Ralph Roberts is dead.  Gertie Hooper is home sick. Raymond is well now but found Mae (his wife) sick abed when he got home” (Rockland).

Oct 12 “May Hooper was taken very sick again. They had to send for Oswald. Lots of sickness around here now.”

Oct 13 “Gladys abed all day and is very hot and feverish. Joey does not seem to get any better he has been sick a number of days. Wynes (Wynes Milliken, schooner captain) came home sick and Paul was sick abed today.  I do hope I shall be able to keep up if all the rest are going to be sick.”

Oct 14 “Minnie (Minnie Noland, her next door neighbor) is pretty sick again. All of Oswald’s family are sick, he with the rest tonight. We heard that Lizzie Pert Pierce (30 years old) was dead and also George Gray” (31 years old Bronchial pneumonia and La Grippe2.)

Oct 15 “Nothing to write of, only sickness. Gladys does not sit up or eat anything. Minnie is no better and Joey (Minnie Noland’s 11 year old son Joseph) does not sit up.

Oct 16 “All of Ed Hall’s folks are sick. All of Ernest’s (Grindle) folks are sick and Mrs. Sarah Grindle is sick too.  George Gray buried today.”

Oct 19 “I had the doctor come in to see Gladys, he says she has been very sick (I knew that (sic)).”  Nell says one of Lem Fowler’s little girls is dead and is to be buried today.  She said the Campbell boy who drives the stage was taken very sick yesterday.”

Oct 21 “Today we heard more sad news Jim Condon died Saturday night and the Campbell boy who has drove the stage all season is dead.  Whit heard that Carrie Black’s children were sick and that Cliffie Hooper was sick. Gene Sanborn is very sick so he has to have night watches. 

Oct 23 ‘I went to see Lizzie. Ruby Nell was there. Lizzie is very sick I think and Al and Mabel are both sick. Allie is very sick.”

Oct 24 “Ruel Dority died this morning about 4 and I heard tonight that Mr. Lon Sanborn died this morning too.”

Oct 28 “Ed Hall has been up today.  He says there has been lots of sickness and deaths in Brooklin lately.”

Oct 29 “All of Rolla Gray’s family is sick. What a sick time it is all around now.”

Nov 11 “School has begun again”.

Nov 30 “Well: there is only one month left of 1918 let us hope that next year will be a different one from this free from war and sickness.  This has been a hard year.”

In December Minnie wrote of how those who had been so ill gradually got better and resumed their previous activities, a local experience that mirrored the national influenza epidemic in that it was a highly infectious and frequently fatal disease that peaked between September and November of 1918.

Though one might think of Sedgwick as isolated, Minnie’s description of daily life clearly reflects the varied and frequent contacts with people, places and things that could have carried the virus to the town. Some of these were visits home from young men who were stationed at Camp Nevens where there were more than 14,000 cases of the flu and 757 deaths3, interactions with those on steamships and schooners that had infected crew members on board and the arrival of summer people who traveled from areas with many cases of the flu. And then there was the Blue Hill Fair.

Finally, it is possible that the same sense of caring and responsibility that caused the people of Sedgwick to regularly call on each other and to visit and assist the sick might have furthered the spread of the virus. Helping family and neighbors was the community norm. Face masks were used in some areas of the country but Minnie never mentions them so it seems they were unaware of even that basic protection from the flu.

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed millions across the globe. Sedgwick may have seemed safe by virtue of being isolated from the areas with high rates of infection but it was not, and it was not spared.

Pam Simmons, Sargentville
Susan Webb, Sedgwick
October, 2020


1 J Prev Med Hyg. 2019 Mar; 60 (1)

2 Death Report, Ancestry.com

3 J Prev Med Hyg 2019 Mar; 60 (1) page 2/3.