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Springdale memorial remembers those who died in 1918 flu epidemic

| Saturday, June 16, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

Their names and number unknown, those buried in a common grave at Springdale Cemetery who died during the 1918 flu pandemic now have a marker.

About a dozen people, most of them current or former cemetery association board members, gathered Saturday at the cemetery along School Street to dedicate the tombstone, which also memorializes the roughly 90 people buried there in unmarked graves.

The association spent about $2,000 in donated money on the black granite marker, which sits at the lower end of the graveyard, not far from the corner of School and Willow streets.

"We have been wanting for a long time to get a memorial for these flu victims," said Henrietta Eaton, Springdale Cemetery Association president.

Referred to as a pandemic because of its global spread, the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak killed between 60 million and 100 million people worldwide, according to the National Geographic Society.

That's more than all of the combat-related deaths of World War I. In some cities, as many as 10,000 people died per week, outstripping the ability of society to deal with the deaths. Consequently, many towns were forced to hurriedly bury flu vicitms in common, and often unmarked, graves.

Eaton said the borough bought two plots to bury the flu victims in, although records only definitively indicate the victims being buried in one of them. The plots measure 15 feet by 18 feet and can hold eight bodies. Eaton said at least eight flu victims are buried in the common grave site.

Eaton suggested most, if not all, of the flu victims were European immigrants, primarily from Hungary.

The cemetery also holds at least 90 unmarked flu victim graves. Eaton said small wooden crosses that failed over time to stand against the elements marked many of them.

Eaton said the association knows the names of 90 people buried at the cemetery in an unmarked grave. "There are probably a lot more we don't know about," she said.

Eaton said several thousand people are buried at the cemetery of about 5 acres, which the association took ownership of in the 1980s. Prior to that, the cemetery was divided into four lots and had been largely abandoned.

"This used to be nothing but a weed path," association secretary and auditor Robert Borland said.

Local clergy commended the association for maintaining the cemetery.

"It's good that there are people who care to remember those who came before us," the Rev. Ken Kasmarsky, pastor at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Springdale, said during the brief commemoration ceremony.

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