Great Aunt Maria Died of the Spanish Flu

Last summer, I posted a story about Maria P. Unger, whose life was tragically cut short in 1918. She was nineteen years old. She had been the older sister of Andrew’s grandpa. He was just a little kid at the time of his big sister’s death — seven years old. Andrew’s dad hadn’t known that he had had an aunt who had died when his father was just a little boy.

(The photo posted is from the Plett Picture Book. Maria P. Unger is second from the left… the one with the bright smile.)

This story was not unique. Maria P. Unger was one of many who died as a result of the Spanish Flu. It swept the world following the first world war as soldiers returned home, unaware they were carrying more than memories and wounds. The Mennonites were not so secluded by this time; they were not safe from the influenza. In fact, it’s been said that the Spanish Flu hit the Mennonites particularly hard because they did not follow directions to stop gathering and congregating. This from Vanessa Quiring’s thesis Mennonites, Community, and Disease: Mennonite Diaspora and Responses to the 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic in Hanover, Manitoba (thank you for bringing this to my attention, Brent Wiebe and Edward Krahn). In this thesis, she demonstrates that right here, the amount of deaths had been more than double the national average… because Mennonites kept right on getting together.

Recently I opened the Plett Picture Book and randomly stumbled onto page 147 which delivers “excerpts from Jakob L. Plett Diary” in tiny print, from 1917-1918. This seems to further prove Vanessa Quiring’s point.

A heartbreaking scene unfolds, as my eyes race to eat up the words on the page…

“My beloved wife has kept this book until now. As she is no longer able to do so I will try to continue this record in her place. On the (Nov) 14th. Gertruda and Elizabeth drove to K. Friesens to wash and found that Maria was sick. On the 16th they returned and they both were also sick. However as Friesens were in great need of help mother and Anna drove there on the 17th. By the 18th Anna was also sick already. However as things had not improved with Maria, mother and I again went to Friesens. We had the hope that things were improving with Maria. By the 19th Corn, Margaretha, Aganetha, and mother were also sick. However as matters had again become more serious with Maria they phoned and we drove over. Maria did not expect to be well again. As mother already felt too sick to drive over, I and Mrs. Corn. Siemens went there and stayed overnight. During this night Maria was very troubled regarding her salvation. On the 20th I drove home. (Katharina stayed there another night.) When I came home Jakob was also sick so that only I and Minna were not yet confined to a sick bed. Although Minna and I became sick it was not that serious. Gertruda was now somewhat better so that she could help us a little. (Later she was again completely confined to bed.) On the 21st Katharina also returned home and Margaretha Fast stayed there (at Friesens) for night. On the 22nd David Siemens drove there and stayed for night. Maria again had great concern over her salvation. During the night Margaretha also was in great anguish over her salvation. Corn. Siemens were here. Then also Joh. R. Toews, Klaas F. Penner, Cor. F. Unger and Jakob T. Wiebe were here. On the 23rd the wives of Cor. Siemens and Martin Friesen drove to K.K. Friesens and as Maria’s condition was very serious Cor. Siemens also went there for night. During this night Maria died at 3 in the morning. During the night mother was seriously ill for a time. I do not know what occurred on the 26th. On Tuesday, the 27th, they, namely Martin Friesen and David L. Plett brought Maria (to the window) in her coffin for viewing and she was buried after a small funeral. (Mrs. Jakob L. Plett (nee Maria B. Koop) died on the 13th day of December, 1918.”

He never says that it was the Spanish Flu… but it kind of seems like it really must’ve been.

I should add, this is not the same Maria as Andrew’s Great Aunt Maria Unger. Rather, I am the great-great-grand-niece of Maria P. Koop Plett.

Now I will go find her grave.