1918 letter holds ties to modern day pandemic

By Sarah Richardson

Lewis H.M. Christie (date unknown)

Sisters Carolyn and Elizabeth Williams of Detroit, Michigan, submitted a letter of interest this week, one that’s over 100 years old, but still relates to issues the nation is facing in 2020. Their grandfather, Lewis H.M. Christie, received this letter in 1918 as he served overseas in WWI. His mother, Emma (Burdette) Christie, mentions the “influenza” (Spanish Flu) that was sweeping the nation at that time.

This was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 Influenza A virus. It lasted from February 1918 to April 1920, and it infected 500 million people – roughly a third of the world’s population at that time – in four waves.

Sadly, only 25 days after writing this letter, Emma passed away at the age of 48 and was buried at Morningside Cemetery. It is unclear if she succumbed to the virus.

The letter is as follows:

 

Renick, WV

Oct. 3rd, 1918

 

Dear Lewis,

Here comes another little letter. Guess you think I have nothing to do but write, but I have lots to do – Maude has started to school. Charles did not start this week as he can help with the corn some. We are trying to make some apple butter this week and getting beans. They have about got Mr. Boggs’ silo filled – have been working 2 days at it. This is a very busy time in old Greenbrier with men and women too. Sam Meadows from Willowton was here yesterday. He had been up to the line to see a fellow and stopped off at Renick and come up here a while. He told us several things about that country and is a very nice looking fellow.

I don’t know very much to tell you this time. Everybody excited over the new disease Influenza – 4 people died at Lewisburg, so we heard Elmer Hayes had it, but I don’t know that it is true. We heard today that Mrs. Henry Gilmer died with it. I think the thing for us to do is to stay up on this hill and not go anywhere, as it seems to be so contagious and fatal. Sam Meadows said there was several cases at Willowton. I hope it won’t get in your camp. Mr. Boon has gotten back from Camp Mead, has been sick ever since he left. They have not come back to Mr. Myles’ place yet. We heard that Fred Taylor and his wife had rented Myles’ place and would move this fall.

Sam went over to settle with Mr. Snedegar and is pleased with his binder and will pay the cash for it. Maude had a letter from David today. He is in France and said to tell you he would meet you in Berlin just as he told you he would when he last saw you in Renick. His letter was wrote while he was on the waters but mailed on the other side and some of it was cut out. I know he is lonesome over there. I do feel for you boys and hope and pray you all can come home soon.

The war news is good every day. How are you getting along and do you have plenty to eat? I wish I could send you something every week, but you are so far away – will write some more before long.

From Your Mother

 

Lewis H.M. Christie was born on January 9, 1895 at Willowton in Mercer County. He was the son of Samuel M. Christie and Emma Catherine (Burdette) Christie, longtime residents of that county. He went on to author The Christie Family Record of Greenbrier, Monroe, and Mercer Counties, West Virginia and elsewhere.

When Lewis was 10, his family moved to Renick and settled on a large estate about three miles west of the town. His father then sold the farm to move to Campbell County in Virginia, only to move back to the Renick area in 1914.

Lewis became a certified teacher in Greenbrier County in 1915, and when WWI was declared he enlisted in the United States Army at Richmond, Virginia. He served overseas until the war ended, first with the United States Infantry and lastly with the 304th Rail Head Detachment.

304th Rail Head Detachment

After being discharged with excellent service in Louisville, Kentucky, he again became a teacher in the schools of Greenbrier County for 20 years. In 1935 he was appointed Postmaster at Renick, retiring in 1965 without a break in service to his old farm.

Lewis was also the chairman of the U.S. Treasury Finance Program and the secretary of the Board of Education in the Falling Spring District, and he was remembered as “having had an able hand, good judgment, and kindly feeling for all mankind.”