Appalachia History

First Hand Account of the 1918 Flu in Appalachia

old medicine bottles

David Brose, who was the longtime Folklorist at John C. Campbell Folk School, gave me a copy of a recorded interview he did with Cleva Anderson in the 90s.

I remember Cleva well. Her grandson Corky lived with her and rode the same school bus I did.

She lived just over the ridge from us. I’m know Pap and Granny both thought a lot of her. She attended Maggie’s Chapel that I’ve written about here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn.

My post title may be slightly misleading. In the snippet of the interview you’ll hear Cleva explain her family had the flu in 1919.

She does note it was the year after the 1918 flu that killed so many of their friends and neighbors and describes the way her parents helped those in need in the pandemic. Cleva’s family didn’t catch the first go round of the flu but witnessed it’s aftermath. I can imagine they thought the worst was over until they succumbed to the virus themselves a year later.

Hear Cleva talk about the flu:

I’m positive the Almond man Cleva tells of helping her family was Roy Almond’s father. Roy lived on Pinhook until his death a few years back and was a dear friend of Pap’s.

Years ago Roy’s cows got out and came across the mountain to pretty much demolish Pap’s garden. I remember Roy coming to apologize and pay Pap for the damage.

I imagine the Almond man knew he had to help Cleva’s family because he’d witnessed the way they helped the families on Pinhook the previous year.


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  • Reply
    SusieQ and Donnie Ray
    March 18, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    I too really enjoyed listening to the interview along with my husband…. when a neighbor stays to help, and a relative rolls up her sleeves and comes on in , even when encouraged and advised not to, saying I can’t stay out…… wonder where love like that springs from 🙂

  • Reply
    March 18, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    She sounds so much like my Mamaw, this was just like I was listening to Mamaw, she was born in 1900 and she’d been 18 at the time the Flu was so bad. Chinese Traditional Medicine or TCM are getting good results with ephedra and licorice root, if you get the virus read it for yourself, ephedra is the herb and we know it as ephedrine over the counter.

  • Reply
    Thomas Gulledge
    March 18, 2020 at 7:35 pm

    My Grandfather was drafted into the Army in 1918 – the 118th Old Hickory Infantry Division. He was sent by train to Camp Sevier in Greenville, SC; where he caught the Spanish Flu and almost died. But he survived, went to Europe by ship, and walked across France and Belgium; and eventually into Germany. He told me those stories, and I have a hand-written log of the towns that he walked through. With respect to the Flu, many soldiers died before leaving the USA, and many more never returned from Europe. I miss my grandfather, and I admire his courage. I have his dog tags around my neck, and I think of him every day.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    I just enjoyed listening to her talk. One time, Mama, my brother, and myself were sick with a stomach bug and Daddy had to take care of us. People don’t look after each other the way they used to do. Some folks probably don’t even know their neighbors.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    March 18, 2020 at 11:36 am

    I enjoyed that interview. She sounds just like many of the old generation I remember that have gone on.
    I worked in a steel mill with a man by the name of Gene Otta. He was adopted as a boy out of KY. by a family that moved to Southern Ohio from Colorado and bought a farm. By the way Gene was half Cherokee and the state of KY. Took him from his mother because she was dying. Well anyways Gene told me his Stepdad had lived on a huge ranch in Colorado and had sold his part of the ranch because of family feuding and moved east. His Stepdad’s family made it through the Spanish flu and when the weather broke riders went out checking on livestock. On this part of the story I’m not sure of the number. The riders found two or three squatter shacks and whole families were dead from the Spanish flu.
    As told to me by Gene Otta who is also gone on.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 18, 2020 at 11:11 am

    I wasn’t born till 40 years after it all happened and I didn’t know about the Spainish Flu. She talks just like we do and I particular liked it when Cleva Anderson talks about Hogs dying with Collary.

    People use to help each other. I remember friends of my older brothers coming to help with the farmin’. Now, you’d have to Pay ’em, if you could find anyone who would still Work. …Ken

  • Reply
    March 18, 2020 at 10:47 am

    How precious to hear her voice telling of the family experience and a friend and aunt coming to help!! I wanted to hear more of her story about her family as it sounded a lot like my parents growing up years. I’m in south central PA and they have closed schools and asked businesses to close except for take out food. I am blessed to have wonderful neighbors that are calling and checking on me daily to see if I need anything. Most people I know are working from home and I pray this all helps to stop this virus. Take care.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 18, 2020 at 10:09 am

    Sometimes there are events that stop us in our tracks and make us re-consider. They can be small scale, affecting only a few (though not less painful because of that). Or they can be, as this is now, massive with no-one escaping untouched. We are each and all in a fellowship of suffering in this world. Such times call us to come up higher.

    I noticed yesterday at the grocery store that even with the ‘distancing’ that there was more fellow-feeling among shoppers. I think we were each feeling, “We are all in this together.” You are helping, Tipper, by the virtual relationships you have been instrumental in creating. That will be something I take away from this to mull over when I am ‘ solitary on the mountain’.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2020 at 9:32 am

    Cleva’s beautiful voice and some of the things she said sounded like it could have been my mom or any of my fifteen aunts doing that interview. I will share the link with my sister and cousin and hope they enjoy it as much as I did. Cleva’s family pulled through the flu in 1919 without the medicine and technology we have today and we will get through the pandemic that our country is facing 101 years later.
    Some day our grandkids will tell about the virus that kept them from graduation, proms and their senior trip in 2020. The saddest thing they had to miss was a funeral for two classmates who were killed in a car accident over the weekend.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    March 18, 2020 at 9:07 am

    Hearing her talk reminded me so much of how my grandmother and mother talked. Shows that even when this round of Corona is over, it will not be over.

  • Reply
    gayle larson
    March 18, 2020 at 8:31 am

    We are so fortunate to live in a beautiful place where sheltering in is not a hardship. Neighbors look after each other
    and we know help is just a call away. I would not want to live anywhere else in a crisis. We are never alone.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 18, 2020 at 7:42 am

    Thank you do much for sharing the interview. I remember neighnors sharing and helping each other. Sad that it isn’t happening so much now.

  • Reply
    Wesley Bossman
    March 18, 2020 at 6:28 am

    We’re up here in southwestern New York and the Coronavirus is just about all the news talks about. Schools are closed, gyms, movie theaters, bars and restaurants are closed and serving take out only. The interview was delightful and fascinating and somehow calming and comforting. Thanks for the opportunity to hear it. Everyone stay safe and healthy.

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