Typhoid Epidemic of 1917
The United States was still about four months away from officially entering World War I when an epidemic of typhoid fever hit Osceola. Typhoid fever, also known simply as typhoid, is a common worldwide bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces a person infected with the typhoid bacteria.
The war had been raging since 1914, but the United States was still gearing up to a war declaration. During December 1916 and January 1917, cases of typhoid fever were being reported. Sometime in January 1917, the State Board of Health sent 15 nurses from Harrisburg to Osceola where the epidemic was growing more serious each day. By the end of January 1917 an additional 22 cases were reported in one week, bringing the total to 57. A Miss O’Halleran was in charge of the nurses. The state authorities intention was to convert the Firemen’s Arcade (on the current site of the Heath Funeral Home) into a temporary hospital and care for the victims there, but after going over the site and considering other circumstances it was decided to take care of them at the Cottage Hospital in Philipsburg This was considered the appropriate course of action since nearly all the cases were on the Centre County side of the Moshannon Creek.
By January 31, 1917, the Cottage Hospital had admitted 11 of the sicker patients and the sun parlors of the hospital and every other bit of available space was used to make available space for 25 more typhoid patients. The Pennsylvania Rail Road made a number of cots available and the State furnished the remainder of the beds to care for a total of about 36 patients. At this point, it was estimated that there were 90 confirmed cases of typhoid. The Chamber of Commerce of Philipsburg donated $300 to be used for the care of patients from the Centre County side of Osceola, which is actually in Rush Township.
Also, at about this time, it became apparent that the source of the problem was most likely the drinking water from a water line serving that area. The theory being that this was the only way that the disease could strike so many people so quickly in the same general area. Warnings were posted to residents to boil the water before using it for any purpose. There were not enough nurses to care for the victims in their homes.
Among those who were ill at the end of January 1917 were Elmer E. Bowes and three daughters and one son, Mrs. John Dale and four children, three members of the Baughman family, Mrs. Kane and child, Charles Kennedy and son with another son having pneumonia. The first death occurred on January 30, 1917; Mike Novak (Novich), who was described as a Polish resident living in Edendale. His wife and child were also admitted to the hospital with the disease. On the same day, Dr. Samuel Dixon of the State Board of Health and several of his staff made a visit to assess the situation. Physicians of the town as well as other Doctors from other parts of the County were kept busy day and night attending to the sick. The other Doctors were called in to take care of the needy.
By February 5, 1917, there were 104 patients with Typhoid Fever being cared for. The bitter cold weather at the time made matters even worse. A plea was put out to neighboring communities to provide financial relief. It was a difficult task as there had been several canvases made for the impending war effort. The city of Tyrone, with of its close ties to Osceola because of the railroad, held a band concert in their YMCA auditorium with proceeds from the ten cent admission being forwarded to the Osceola Relief Committee. Extra contributions were encouraged. Other civic and fraternal societies throughout the region also made sizable donations.
Other people known to suffering from typhoid fever early February 1917 included Mr. and Mrs. William Dixon of Edendale, two more Baughman children of Newtown and a Mrs. Greenawalt. Townspeople and businessmen collected $1,037 in two separate meetings to aid the relief effort. The unseasonably cold weather continued to be a hindrance in treating victims that lived in homes that were not equipped to provide heat to the entire house.
On February 6, 1917, the second person, 28 year old John T. Hefferan from Edendale, died as a direct result of typhoid fever. There were 110 confirmed cases at the end of the first week of February. Dr. Dixon, the Pennsylvania Commissioner of Health and part of his staff, returned to Osceola in early February to evaluate the situation.
On February 8, 1917, it was reported in the Tyrone Daily Herald that 4 men, all heads of families had died from Typhoid Fever. In all cases other members of the same families were also suffering from the disease. The Alley Popper Railroad was running special trains to carry the sick and needy to Cottage Hospital. Two separate relief committees were in operation, one in Osceola with Lawshe Baird as treasurer and one in Philipsburg with Secretary Green of the Chamber of Commerce as treasurer. Clothes, sheets, pillow cases, robes and blankets, as well as food of all types, were provided by residents of the town and beyond. The firemen and the Moose Lodge continued to offer their homes as emergency hospitals.
The last summary of the epidemic that I could find was in the February 23rd edition of the Tyrone Daily Herald. As of that date, 118 cases of the fever had been confirmed. Only 17 of those cases were in the Borough of Osceola; 101 were in Rush Township just “across the creek.” There had been 14 deaths, all male except one and 12 of the 13 men were married with families.
After completing Osceola Mills From the Beginning, it became possible to perform more complete research using the Death Certificates released to the public and made available on Ancestry.com with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. This information coupled with the newspaper archives for the Tyrone Daily Herald and the Clearfield Progress resulted in a more complete list of those who died during Osceola’s typhoid epidemic in early 1917. Unfortunately, there are no Osceola Leaders available for this time period. Listed below in alphabetical order are those who died along with additional information from their death certificates. William Hoffman actually died in Tyrone and Thressa Wasickle became the second and last female to die on February 27, 1917. I believe this list to be accurate. There may be a few others but it would have to be a case where no death certificate was filed. I made an exhaustive search of death certificates in Osceola and Rush and Decatur Townships. The final tally is 17 deaths, 15 males and 2 females. There is a death certificate for 16 of the 17 victims. I could not find one for James Kenna Sr., but he was included among the fatalities in multiple newspaper articles. There are a few other possibilities, but I can’t include them with a high enough degree of confidence.
NAME DATE OF DEATH
February 19, 1917 A 50 year old resident of Osceola who was born on October 5, 1860. Son of John Friday and Tugsa Olert Friday who were both born in Germany. He was survived by his wife Clare and at least 6 sons and 2 daughters, some of which were already adults. John was a track foreman on the railroad.
Friday, Walter W.
February 25, 1917 The 16 year old son of William and Laura Miller Friday and was born on April 22, 1900. He lived in Rush Township and was a student at the high school. Walter had 4 brothers and a sister. He was not closely related to John Friday above.
February 12, 1917 John was 56 years old. born in 1860 and was an immigrant from Russia. His death certificate showed parents as “unknown”, but the information was submitted by a Mary Guzak. John was a coal miner who lived in Rush Township.
John T. Hefferan
February 6, 1917 John was a 28 year old resident of Rush Township and was born on July 15, 1888. He was the son of William and Catherine Shannon Hefferan. He was still single at the time of his death. He had at least 5 brothers and one sister. One of his brothers Leo (William Leo), who was married, also died from the fever a week later. No information could be found about his wife and family.
February 11, 1917 Leo, the brother of John and the son of John and Catherine Hefferan was 24 years old and was born on December 6, 1892, He was a coal miner, and as stated above, no information could be found about his wife and family.
February 16, 1917 Albert, the son of Philip and Marie Henry, was 28 years old and was born in 1888. Both his parents were born in Germany. He was a brakeman on the railroad. Although he died in Philipsburg, he may have lived with his family in Osceola. If not, he lived with his wife and family in Rush Township. Since he was married and died between 1910 and 1920, no information could be found about his wife and family.
February 4, 1917 James was a 72 year old storekeeper/cabinet maker in Osceola. Although the death certificate does not mention typhoid, He was listed as a victim in more than one newspaper account. He was born in 1844 In Boulton, Lancashire, England and had at least 3 sons and 3 daughters, all adults. He was widowed before 1900.
William O. Hoffman
March 21, 1918 William was the 35 year old son of John B. and Nancy Turner Hoffman and was born on January 10, 1882. He was employed as an engineer on the railroad. He and his wife Anne had 3 small children, 1 son and 2 daughters, by 1910. The family was most likely much larger when he died in 1917. John lived in Tyrone, but contracted typhoid while staying at a cabin near the Osceola rail yard.
February13, 1917 William was a 62 year old carpenter who was the son of John and Elizabeth Jones Hutton and was born on June 5, 1854, He lived in Edendale, Rush Township. He and his wife were the parents of at least 4 children, 2 sons and 2 daughers, all adults, but some living at home.
February 12, 1917 William lived at Spike Island and was born in Russia. He was trying to get his family to America, but was unable to because of the war. He was 31 years old and was born in 1886. He was a coal miner.
Unknown No death certificate could be found for James, but his death from typhoid was reported in multiple newspaper accounts. Reportedly, he was survived by a wife and 5 children, 3 sons and 2 daughters. He worked at Stine’s Foundry.
John Thomas Miller
February 6, 1917 John was a 44 year old laborer and was born on September 29, 1872. He was the son of David and Mary Ann Garmen Miller. He and his wife Jennie were the parents of 2 children, 1 son and 1 daughter.
Mike Novak (Novich)
January 30, 1917 Not much is known about Mike Novich or his family. He was 26 years old, married and worked as a coal miner. He lived in Rush Township, most likely in Edendale. He was born in Russia the son of Mike and Mary Annstick Novich.
March 16, 1917 Very little is known of Harvey who was the 24 year old son of Luther and Bella Matley Reher. He lived in Stumptown and had a wife and 2 children.
February 28, 1917 Thressa was the 14 year old daughter of Martin and Victoria Wasicky, both born in Germany. Thressa was born on October 14, 1902. She attended school in Osceola. The Wasickys lived on East Curtin Street. The newspaper reported that Thressa had several brothers and at least 5 sisters.
February 10, 1917 Adeline was the 23 year old daughter of Lawrence S. and Mary B. Williams. She was born on February 1, 1894. Her brother, Thomas Harvey Williams died 2 days earlier on February 8, 1917. There were two other children in the family, one son and one daughter. The daughter, Violet M., who was 27 at the time, was well known to many Osceolians as a school teacher.
Williams February 8, 1917 As stated above T. Harvey was the brother of Adeline. He was 21 years old when he died. The family lived in Rush Township. Both Adeline and T. Harvey were single. He was a noted baseball and basketball player.