Friday, March 1, 2013

Fridays With Frank: Challenges for a Young Pharmacist

Lee's Drug Store in its original location
Middlesboro, Kentucky, c. 1920
Frank Lewis Lee's WWI Draft Registration Card
Only a few years after my grandfather opened his drug store in Middlesboro, he, like the rest of the world, faced some serious challenges.  World War I began in 1914, and, while the United States tried to remain neutral at first, our country entered the fight in 1917.  Like many other American men, my granddad registered for the draft after this.  (By the way, what a great genealogy resource these draft registration cards are!  They contain quite a bit of information:  full name, address, date of birth, race, citizenship, next of kin, occupation, name and place of employment, and physical description.  You can also see your relative's signature here.)  Though Granddad was never called to fight, I can only imagine the anxiety both he and my grandmother must have felt as they wondered if he would have to go to war.

As WWI was coming to a close, however, another even greater challenge was facing my grandfather and the rest of the world.  A few months before the war would end in November 1918, the Spanish Flu began to attack people all around the world. According the National Archives, WWI, in the four years it raged on, was the deadliest war in history and brought about the deaths of  16 million people.  The Spanish Flu, in scarcely over one year, killed at least 50 million people worldwide.  It was the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history.

Middlesboro, Kentucky, was not immune to this epidemic, and, as a druggist, Granddad played a role in the way the community tried to combat this.  According to my grandfather's notes, he kept his drug store open eighteen hours a day, seven days a week when the flu was at its peak in Middlesboro in the fall and early winter of 1918.  He made medicines and delivered them to the hospital and to the homes of people who were too ill to come to drug store themselves.  He and his employees would take naps in the back supply room of the store when they could.

The Pinnacle News, the local newspaper at this time, published several accounts of deaths that occurred in Middlesboro due to the flu.  Several other stories about the local flu outbreak appeared in The Pinnacle News along side headlines about World War I.

The Pinnacle News, Middlesboro, Kentucky
October 25, 1918
Page 1
"Emergency Hospital Opens Today" and "Emergency Call:  Your Help Needed" are two articles that appear on the front page of the above issue of the Middlesboro newspaper.  According to the articles, the local Elks Club donated their meeting house on Cumberland Avenue to serve as the emergency hospital, and local doctors were asking the community to volunteer in helping those stricken with the Spanish Flu.  They asked for "blankets and comforts," volunteer nurses, food and people to prepare food.  The newspaper also praised the community as a whole saying:
The hearts of the people of the entire city are opened to the appeals for assistance from the many suffering and afflicted with the prevailing epidemic, and those having charge of the Emergency Hospital, which opens its doors today, are fairly inundated under the rush of offers of assistance and help.

A few days later, The Pinnacle News published a poem addressing the fear that many had of contacting the Spanish Flu.    The poem (author unknown) reads in part like this:

          We must remember there's a germ
               What's worser than the 'Flu'
          Because it permeates our life an'
               Everything we do.
          Its name is 'Fear'. . .

As the flu epidemic began to subside, the newspaper reflected that life in Middlesboro was getting back to normal.  Earlier in the epidemic, the Kentucky State Board of Health had issued bans on many places and events where large crowds of people would gather--schools, public gatherings, movie theatres, etc.  They hoped this would curb the spread of the flu.  Finally, in the February 12, 1919, edition of The Pinnacle News, the following headline appeared:  "Children Under Fifteen Can Now Attend Picture Show--Flu Ban Lifted."

Perhaps the most sobering detail about the devastation the Spanish Flu brought to Middlesboro and the surrounding communities appeared in the December 17, 1918, edition of the local paper.  On the front page of The Pinnacle News that day was the following notice:
To The People of Bell County:
The Kentucky Council of National Defense is still in existence and it desires the namesof all orphans whose parents have died of Spanish Influenza during the recent epidemic and also the names of those orphans whose parents may hereafter die from this cause.


"The Influenza Pandemic of 1918" from

"1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic" from

"The Deadly Virus:  The Influenza Epidemic of 1918," The National Archives

The Pinnacle News, Middlesboro, Kentucky,  from Newspaper Archives Online

"U. S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918" from

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