Spanish Flu Epidemic: 1918

The Spanish flu epidemic hit Shakopee in October 1918. Fifty Scott county people and 12,000 Minnesotans died from the flu.

Among the first local victims were John and Theresa Deller, a Shakopee couple, and their newborn son. John and Theresa passed away within 12 hours of each other.

John died first, at 8:10 p.m. on Wednesday, October 30, and Theresa died at 7 a.m. on October 31, 1918. Theresa had just had a baby boy at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The baby died right afterwards. The mother, Theresa, passed away a few hours later, without knowing that her husband had also died.

John was just 38 years old, and Theresa was just 33 years old. The couple had three other children, who suddenly were bereft of both a mother and a father. Theresa’s parents were Mr. and Mrs. George Fischer of the community.

The three people were buried simultaneously from St. Mark’s Catholic Church. But like many other churches, their remains were not taken inside the church, but only to the door for a blessing, and then off to the cemetery for a hasty burial.

Friends were so concerned that they fathered and said their rosaries across the road from the family’s home. They wanted to pay their respects, but they didn’t know what was happening, and were worried that they would also get the flu.

During the month of October the Spanish Influenza epidemic that staggered the nation descended on Shakopee. By October 20, 1918, public meetings were forbidden, schools were closed, and people died by the dozens.

Martin Frank Dorn, who lived north of town, died at 6 a.m. the next day, the fourth victim of the influenza in a week. The young man was just 17 years old, and his death was a crushing blow to his family. He had been ill about ten days, and the influenza later developed into spinal meningitis.

The strain on physicians was another problem, according to one issue of the Scott County Argus. They cautioned people not to call doctors for mild cases.

By the end of the year, burials of residents from 11 other cities and townships in Scott County followed. They included a 32-year-old Prior Lake barber, a 23-year-old farmer from Sand Creek Township, and two infants in Blakeley Township.

According to Gordon Buesgens, people came home from World War I, and they brought that flu with them. Gordon was five months old when he was sent to stay with relatives after his dad became ill.  His father, a young Chaska baker, died from the flu. His mother was too sick herself to attend her husband’s private funeral. Gordon, an only child, spent much of his childhood living with relatives in Shakopee while his mother worked.

Richard Zaun, a retired teacher from Helena Township, remembers his father Elmer say that the influenza felt like the normal flu. Richard and his five siblings all became sick. They didn’t eat much, other than the raw eggs their mother fed them. According to Richard, it was the only remedy they had.

(Some information from “Influenza Takes Toll in Community,” Scott County Argus, Nov. 1, 1918, and “1918 Pandemic Took Its Toll on County and State” by Shannon Fiecke, Shakopee Valley News, May 7, 2009.)

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