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The Littlest Victims
Linda Hixon
October 5, 2018

Photo by Linda Hixon

Photo by Linda Hixon

All of the victims of the influenza pandemic of 1918 were innocent – this was the flu, not the war, and this pandemic killed people simply living their everyday lives.  But this week in Hopedale history, a truly innocent victim was taken by this flu.

On October 5, 1918, a baby was stillborn.  Hazel Barbour Davenport, the mother of the unnamed boy, was suffering from influenza and died of Broncho pneumonia on October 13, just eight days after her son.  The local newspaper at the time appears to have gotten the facts of this tragedy wrong.  The Milford Gazette noted Hazel’s death – she was 27, the wife of George Albert Davenport, and “had been married about three years and leaves besides her husband and mother, two small daughters, one only a few days old.”

But the death records are clear – Hazel lost her son before she lost her life.  Her daughter Dorothy was 4 and little Pearl was about 18 months old, having been born on May 3, 1917.  It’s hard to blame the newspaper – Milford was also in the grip of the flu pandemic and losing people at an alarming rate.  By October 5, when Hazel’s son was stillborn, four children had already been stillborn in Milford, at least one of those confirmed as a result of the flu.  Grace Ruggiero died the day after her son was stillborn, and this was not uncommon – during the flu pandemic, women miscarried “with shocking frequency.”  In this short span of time, Milford had lost 27 children, most to the flu including several babies under the age of two.  The newspaper can be forgiven for not getting the Hopedale facts quite straight.

Hazel was not the first woman to die in town because of this pandemic.  Gertrude May Stevens Cook, a housewife, died the day after Hazel’s baby.  The interesting thing about the deaths is that the women both lived on Inman Street – in fact their families lived on either side of the same Draper duplex.  It was not uncommon for people living in close proximity to die from the flu.  The theory of the existence of viruses was new at the time – the electron microscope had yet to be invented and the virus was still invisible to the human eye – but the virus did spread within pockets of the community.  Abner Archibald McNeill, a butcher living on Park Street, was one of the first to die of the flu in town on September 30.  Jennie Petter, a Swiss governess living a few doors down at 5 Park Street, died barely 10 days later.  Because Jennie died in the “Emergency Hospital” in Milford, she is also listed in those death records.

But proximity can be deceiving, especially in a town as small as Hopedale.  Another young mother, Assunta Santilli, lost her infant just as Hazel had.  Assunta’s son was stillborn on October 11, while Assunta herself lived for 10 more days before dying of influenza.  The family was from Italy and lived on Home Park Avenue, off Mendon Street.  Then another baby died, barely half a mile away.  Frederich Kempton was only 5 months old when Broncho pneumonia from the “Grip” took him on October 24.  He had been living with his family, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Kempton, at 16 Bancroft Park, an easy walk from the Santilli home through Hopedale Village Cemetery.  And the flu pandemic wasn’t over yet.