It is believed that the first cases of influenza hit New York City in August of 1918. Many cities throughout our country had slowed to a near halt. Schools had no choice but to close. Countless church services were disallowed. Even the federal government reduced its hours of productivity. Death’s grip was beginning to tighten and many of those who took ill in the morning were dead by night.

It was quick. It was terrifying.

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 was one of the world’s worst plagues, when the virus killed at least 50 million people. Others say it took perhaps as many as 100 million. The plague did not discriminate.

More than 600,000 people in the United States died of what was then called “Spanish Influenza.” At the time, there were ~103 million people living in the United States. The flu seemed to be particularly lethal for otherwise healthy young adults, many of whom suffocated from the buildup of liquids in their lungs. In one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years.

The virus paralyzed (physically and emotionally) many communities, including Manhasset, as it circumnavigated the world.

There were rules to prevent the disease’s spread, including the following slogan: “Cover up each cough and sneeze, if you don’t, you’ll spread the disease.”

Masks were worn by the overly cautious when taking walks outside. For those infected, a fine could be issued of up to $50 if you were seen in public. Buckets of water with disinfectant were used on the sidewalks to wash away germs from people spitting on the street. “Social distancing” was also a common practice during this time. Wearing masks, barring home sales calls, calling off worship, and secluding the sick were some of the many beneficial practices.

However, in other areas, the death toll surged and as a result, there were not enough coffins or graves to go around. It was impossible for funeral homes to keep up with the demand. Hence, the reason we are standing here today.

Today we honor the lives of those who were lost during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 and are buried here in what has been an unnamed area—better known as ‘Potter’s Field.’ It is unclear how many people were buried in this area, but we know that a mass grave was created for families that couldn’t afford a coffin or a plot or a headstone. The “Resting Lamb” markers are a reminder that many innocent children were also tragically taken during the pandemic. They are not forgotten. They will be remembered. Requiescant in pace—May they rest in peace.

Let us pray:

Remember, Lord, those who have died
and gone before us marked with the sign of faith,
especially those for whom we now pray.
May these, and all who sleep in Christ,
find in your presence light, happiness and peace.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Benediction:

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you
and give you peace.
Whether you are coming in or going out;
whether you are lying down or rising up;
whether it’s in your labor or in your leisure… laughter or in tears;
until you come and stand before Jesus,
in that day in which there is no sunset or dawning. Amen.

Dr. Steven D. Pierce
6 August 2017
Memorial Garden Dedication in “Potter’s Field”
for Victims of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919
at The Community Reformed Church Rosewood Cemetery

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