A century apart, Moorhead family copes with pandemic

Linda Jones and her husband Ken Adams both fell ill with COVID this summer. 100 years ago, Linda's grandfather and great aunt died from the Spanish Flu pandemic. Submitted photo

MOORHEAD — This spring, Linda Jones of Moorhead and her son Keith Jones, an educator in the Twin Cities, asked people to take COVID-19 seriously, because they knew what a pandemic can do to a family.

On February 3, 1919, Linda's grandfather Carl Nelson and aunt Harriet Nelson died from the Spanish Flu within 30 minutes of each other.

It was the defining moment in the lives of the Jones ancestors and changed the course of their lives forever. Now, this generation of the family can relate even better to their predecessors . Despite taking precautions, Jones and her husband Ken Adams fell ill with COVID-19 this summer. Fortunately, the outcome has been better, but it’s given them new perspectives on pandemics, old and new.

Gymnasiums and other large buildings became makeshift hospitals during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, which killed 675,000 in the United States, more than 10,000 in Minnesota and more than 1,700 in North Dakota. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention photo


The Spanish Flu

Between 1918 and 1919 the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people — a third of the world's population. It killed an estimated 50 million people. The virus did not originate in Spain, but because Spain was neutral during World War I, news of the illness was more widely disseminated there, so people began to associate the illness with that nation.

Before it was over, more than 675,000 people in the United States had died. The official death toll in Minnesota was more than 10,000 and more than 1,700 in North Dakota, although experts agree the death toll was probably higher.

“It came in like a house a’fire,” Mark Peihl, archivist at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County told Forum reporter Patrick Springer in a story from March 22 . “The hospitals were very quickly overwhelmed.”

While the pandemic started in 1918, Minnesota and North Dakota saw the worst of it in the winter and early spring of 1919.

Linda, who lives in Moorhead, says her grandfather Carl worked for the railroad in Duluth, but she doesn’t know how he contracted the illness.

Clara Nelson was widowed at the age of 30 when her husband Carl died from the Spanish Flu in 1919. Submitted photo

“He was 37 years old when he died,” she said. “My grandmother would talk about him occasionally, but not very often. It wasn’t a very pleasant thing for her to talk about.”


That is probably an understatement. Not only did Clara Nelson lose her young husband, but just a half-hour later, her 3-year-old daughter took her last breath.

“I think she (Clara) was in a state of shock,” Linda said.

Following the funeral for her husband and daughter, Clara and Wallace moved to Twin Valley, Minn. to be closer to family. They eventually moved to Moorhead, where Clara worked in the laundry of a hospital and Wallace grew up to be a mechanic.

Clara died in 1981 and Wallace in 2002, never forgetting the family trauma the pandemic caused.

COVID-19 strikes

Keith and Linda told The Forum their family story in May of this year, just a couple of months after the pandemic had really picked up steam. Their intention was to help people see that even young people like Carl and Harriet can succumb to novel viruses.

In a Facebook post, Keith vowed to do his part to keep himself and others safe through social distancing, mask-wearing and going out only when necessary. Linda agreed. But even with precautions, Linda's husband Ken Adams tested positive on May 30 and Linda on June 1.


“We do not know where we got COVID. Many times we have tried to think of how we got it,” Linda said. “We were very cautious of what we did and where we went.”

Adams suffered from aches and pains, cough, lack of energy, chills and fever before being hospitalized.

“He was on oxygen and was treated with the drug Remdesivir (which was part of a study) for five days, which seemed to help with the recovery,” Linda said, adding that she suffered from a cough and a lack of energy, but was never hospitalized.

She says during her COVID battle, she thought a lot about her grandmother and what it must have been like for her 100 years ago.

“What kind of support did she have? Did she know anything about Spanish Flu ? Because of the internet and TV, I know about COVID- 19,” Jones said. “ I had a great support system.”

While the pandemic of 1918 and our current pandemic have some similarities, Linda says we’re in a better position because we know so much more about wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and sanitizing.

And while in May she encouraged all of us to look at her grandmother as an example of what could happen during a pandemic, now she has lived it to a smaller degree herself and will keep encouraging people not to take this latest pandemic lightly.

“We still don't know much about COVID. This is a different kind of virus than the Spanish Flu,” Jones said. “Our advice would be to listen to the experts and follow their guidance. Be safe.”


Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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