Stories of those lost to 1918 pandemic showcased during Edmonds Walk Back in Time event

Sam Spencer, left, and Tracy Little listen as Kerry Radley describes Betsey Anderson Johnson’s life.

The stories of five local victims of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic were shared during the annual Walk Back in Time event at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery Thursday afternoon.

While Walk Back in Time wasn’t held last year due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, Cemetery Board member Tracy Little told attendees that the current pandemic sparked the idea for this year’s program — examining how the influenza pandemic that swept the globe starting in 1918 hit the small community of Edmonds.

Volunteer presenters showcased the stories of five influenza victims buried in the historic cemetery. They were:

Luther Martin Freese (1882-1920)

Larry Vogel portrays Luther Freese. (Photo by Teresa Wippel)

Luther Martin Freese died Feb. 15, 1920 of influenza pneumonia, during the third and final wave of the deadly pandemic. He was 37 years old. His death record shows that he was cremated in Seattle and his ashes were returned to his hometown of Edmonds for burial. The Freese family has a section at the cemetery.

As portrayed by Vogel, Freese talked about his life as a worker in the shingle mill, and also showed off his gloved hands that featured “missing fingers” — a common workplace injury for millworkers  While in his teens,, Freese started at the bottom and worked his way through each phase of a shingle mill’s operations — finally working as a shingle weaver and a sawyer. He was one of the early organizers and a member of the Quality Shingle Mill of Edmonds — his last place of work before his death.

Betsey Anderson Johnson (1892-1919) 

Kerry Radley describes Betsey Johnson. (Photo by Teresa Wippel)

Betsey Anderson Johnson died Jan. 10, 1919, at the young age of 17. Presenter Kerry Radley told the story of Johnson’s marriage on June 28, 1917 to Eldon Ereska Johnson, who was born at Camp Harney, Grant County (now Harney County), Oregon. At the time of their marriage Betsey was living with her sister Agnes and brother-in-law Samuel Yost (a major figure at the Yost Auto Company) at their residence on 5th near Main Street in Edmonds.

Betsey and Eldon Johnson had a short marriage (only one and half years). The couple moved to Burns, Ore., and were living there when Eldon registered for the WWI draft on Sept. 6, 1918. Just four months later, they were still in Edmonds, and Betsey died there.

John Gustave Lambe (1853-1918) 

Ashley Robinson talks about Hilma Sampson, widow of John Lambe. (Photo by Teresa Wippel)

Presenter Ashley Robinson told the story of John Lambe through the eyes of his widow, Hilma Sampson. John Lambe was born John Lampi, on Aug.t 22, 1853 in Finland. He came to America in 1881, and in the mid-1880s settled on a 120-acre homestead in what became Cedar Valley. 

After the death of John Lambe due to influeza in 1918, Hilma was left alone to raise the couple’s six children, as well as to manage the couple’s large ranch.

Hilma Lambe never married again, and remained living on their Cedar Valley ranch until her death on Dec. 1, 1958 at the age of 91.

Mattie Cornelia Welbourn Otto (1868-1918) 

Joan Longstaff recalls the life of Mattie Otto. (Photo by Sam Spencer)

Joan Longstaff told the story of Mattie Welbourn Otto, who was born June 23, 1868 in Des Moines County, Iowa. She and her husband James Nathan Otto had eight children.

Since the days when James Otto, by trade a butcher, first opened a meat market on Main Street in Edmonds, the Otto name became a well-known one in the Edmonds business world. Later James Otto owned and operated the Home Store, a downtown grocery store and meat market.

Ironically, in early November of 1918, Otto appeared to be the only one to publicly acknowledge the dangers of the contagious influenza. His advertisement in the Edmonds Tribune-Review announced, “While the flu is still in our midst, use your telephone. We exercise great care in filling telephone orders and, whileunder ordinary circumstances we prefer to have our patrons come in and shop personally, at the present time, we believe it is everyone’s duty to avoid crowds. Telephone 53 for meat, and 201 for groceries.” In December of 1918, his wife Mattie became one of the victims of the dreaded disease.

Christopher Tuffield  “C.T.” Roscoe, Sr. (1843-1919) 

David Little, right, talks about C.T. Roscoe. At left is longtime local historian Betty Gaeng, who traveled from Anchorage, Alaska for the event.

Tellling the story of C. T. Roscoe, Sr. was David Little. Roscoe was one of the more elderly victims of the deadly influenza. He died on May 10, 1919 at the age of 76, from a myocardial infarction due to an influenza infection. The Edmonds Undertaking Co. handled his cremation in Seattle, and funeral services were conducted at the Edmonds Federated Church, with Edmonds Lodge of the Masonic Order officiating. Roscoe had been an active member of the Masonic Order for over 50 years. His ashes were then buried in the IOOF Cemetery (Edmonds Memorial Cemetery), next to his wife Amelia.

C. T. Roscoe became active in city affairs and served as a councilmember, marshal and mayor for two years, 1895-1896. Later, he was employed at one of the shingle mills as a tallyman. Little noted that Roscoe built a beautiful house on the southwest corner of Fourth and Bell Streets — and that is still a well-preserved historic home in present-day Edmonds. 

Joan Longstaff, an Edmonds Memorial Cemetery board member, offered her thanks to Edmonds’ Driftwood Players for assisting with the costumes for the Thursday Walk Back in Time. In addition, former and now honorary cemetery board member Betty Gaeng — a former resident who has chronicled much of the area’s history, assisted by researching the lives of the pandemic victims (and the information above is gleaned from Gaeng’s summary).

To the delight of those attending, Gaeng — who moved to Anchorage, Alaska a few years ago — was able to make the trip to Edmonds for the event.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

  1. What a great event! Thanks to all associated with the Cemetery Board who made this happen. And what a treat to visit with Betty Lou!

  2. I am so disappointed to have missed this event. Honoring history in this way is so unique. I only wish I had been in attendance. Great read, Thank you to Driftwood Players, Betty Gaeng, and MEN; it was indeed a “Walk Back in Time”. I certainly won’t miss this next year!

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