A century later: From flu to COVID-19

DANIEL and Anna (Keleher) were parents to 11 children —three who died during the flu pandemic of 1918. Submitted photo

The COVID-19 pandemic has nothing on a scourge from a past generation: the flu epidemic of 1918. Connie Anderson is well aware of just how bad it got, as her ancestors suffered tremendous loss and heartbreak.

It is estimated that some 675,000 people in the United States perished during the flu epidemic of 1918 (otherwise known as the “Spanish flu”). Some of them hold a special place in Connie

Anderson’s heart.

In the fall of 1918, Daniel and Anna (Stohr) Keleher — Anderson’s grandparents on her mother’s side — had twins. Daniel and Joseph were born in the hospital in Tracy on Oct. 8. The proud parents brought their boys back to their farm southwest of Tracy.

On Nov. 11, Daniel was found dead; according to the death certificate, he died of unknown causes. Then on Dec. 15, their 2-year-old son, Thomas died of diphtheria.

Because of a quarantine that lasted six months, the family had to bury the boys at night. Then, on Jan. 19, 1919, 1-year-old Patrick died, again of diphtheria.

Anderson said thinking back on her family and all they went through really puts what is going on today in perspective.

“It scares me, because I know what can happen,” she said. “This story has been told throughout the years — it was a real hardship in our family … when they had to bury their babies at night because no one could be around. That’s just devastating.”

Anderson said Daniel Keleher was married twice. His first wife, Esther (Foley) died at age 42 on Feb. 6, 1913, following goiter surgery; they had eight children together. He then hired Anna, who lived in St. Paul, to help keep house, and they were married here. They had 11 kids. Anna died on April 4, 1940, shortly after suffering a stroke. Daniel, who suffered from heart disease, had a fatal heart attack on May 19, 1955 — a month from his 85th birthday. They are both buried at St. Mary’s Calvary Cemetery, northeast of Tracy.

“It was a very large family,” Anderson said. “I have a lot of cousins.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.