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Remembering the Victims of Genesee County’s Autumn 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic


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The invisible enemy that invaded Genesee County in the fall of  1918 took 159 lives in seven weeks—and still more in coming months. It knew no discrimination, no social boundaries, no mercy, no pity. Its victims were nurses, farmers, accountants, clerks, mechanics, business owners, professionals, factory workers, clergy, itinerants, town officials, rich and poor.

More significantly, they were fathers and mothers with children left behind; they were children with mothers and fathers—sometimes only one or the other—left to mourn them. They were husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends. The survivors’ lives would be darkened, shadowed, forever.

They were part of the county’s future—generations to be. And their loss would affect families and communities in Genesee County for generations to come.

We remember them here.


Of the 159 individuals who died of influenza and/or pneumonia or other related complications between the first death on October 11 and the last day of November, 1918, 142 are listed here. The information is based on obituaries that appeared at the time in local newspapers; research failed to turn up listings for the remaining 17.

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Died October 11, 1918

Oct. 11, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Martha Ellen Ganiard – LeRoy. Age 16. Survived by her parents, a brother, and two sisters.

Byron Cemetery

• David R. Howell – Bergen. Age 30. Survived by his wife and three young children, including an infant.

• Dr. Clor W. Merle – Batavia. Age 28. Survived by his wife and an 18-months-old daughter, both also ill at the time of his death.

• Lynn V. Parsons – LeRoy. Age 32. Survived by his wife and two-year-old son.

Died October 12, 1918

Oct. 16, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Mildred Ford – Bergen. Age 21. Survived by her parents and two sisters.

“There have been about 200 cases of influenza in this township [Bergen] in the past two weeks. The school and churches are closed, and in some houses the entire family are down with the disease. It is thought, however, that the crisis has passed . . . .”

Died October 15, 1918

• Martin Francis Doran – Batavia. Age 17. Survived by his parents and three sisters.

Oct. 16, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Alice Ruth McCowan – LeRoy. Age 16. Survived by her parents, two brothers, and three sisters.

“Miss McCowan was . . . a  student of the Le Roy high school  and a classmate of Martha Ganiard and she appeared greatly affected by the death of the latter.”

• Mrs. Hattie Toal Root – LeRoy. Age 48. Survived by her husband, one son, and one daughter.

Died October 16, 1918

• Mrs. Emily Coles – Batavia. Age 40. Survived by her husband and three children, ages 7, 11 and 13.

Oct. 17, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Dorothy Katherine Mooney – LeRoy. Age 14 months. Survived by her parents and one sister.

“She had been ill only 24 hours.”

• Mrs. Hattie Bater Palmer – Bergen. Age 29. Her husband had died five years earlier. Survived by her 12-year-old daughter.

Died October 17, 1918

• Martha Washington Duncan – LeRoy. Age unknown. Survived by one sister.

St. Joseph Cemetery, Batavia

• Edward V. Francis – Stafford. Age 23. Brother of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Beck, age 32, who died 3 days later, and of Joseph P Francis, age 25, who died one week later. Survived by their parents, one brother, and three sisters.


Oct. 18, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Carrie Iannello – LeRoy. Age 19. Survived by her husband and two young children, Rosaline age 1 year and 5 months, and Gaton, age 3 months. Rosaline died nine days later.

• Adelia Kirczofski – Depew. Age 5. Died while visiting her uncle in Batavia. Survived by her parents, one brother, and two sisters.

• Mrs. Henry Pflaum – Batavia. Age 29. Survived by her husband and two young daughters.

Oct. 19, 1918 Batavia Times

• Allie L. Scoville – Batavia. Age 30. Survived by his wife and a young son.

• Theodore Allen Trumbower – Batavia. Age 30. Survived by his wife and a young daughter.

• Joseph Yachett – Bergen. Age 36. Survived by his wife and six children.

Died October 18, 1918

St. Francis Cemetery, LeRoy
Oct. 18, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Louise Caccamise – LeRoy. Age 27. Survived by her parents, three sisters, and a brother serving in the Army.

• Mrs. Ida Wallace Laird – Bergen. Age 42. Survived by her husband and nine sons, ages 5 to 21. Two sons were in the AEF in France.

Died October 19, 1918

Oct. 19, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Ellen D. Davis – Batavia. Age 1. Survived by her adoptive parents.

Oct. 19, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Albert J. Shamp – Byron. Age 17. Survived by his parents and a brother.

• George Sheldon – Batavia. Age 74. Survived by a daughter and a brother.

Byron Cemetery

• Clark John Thomas – Batavia. Age 25. Survived by his wife and two sons.

 Died October 20, 1918

• Clarence A. Berg – Elba. Age 24. Survived by his parents, two brothers and a sister.

Oct. 23, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Mabel Elizabeth Brown – LeRoy. Age 30. Survived by her parents and a sister.

“Miss Brown was a  young lady of kind and loving disposition.”

• Lester Butler – Batavia. Age 29. Survived by his wife and a two-year-old daughter.

• Bartholomew Gacuzzo – LeRoy. Age 1 year and 11 months. Survived by his parents.

• William P. O’Brien – Batavia. Age 42. Survived by his wife and 13-year-old son. Business partner and nephew of Mrs. Julia Callan, who died two days later.

• Melvin G. Spittal – Batavia. Age 32. Survived by his parents and two sisters.

Oct. 22, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Chrisula Vlahapulu – Batavia. Age 9 months. Survived by her parents.

• Lillian Y. Westacott – LeRoy. Age 25. Survived by her husband, parents, six brothers, and two sisters.

Died October 21, 1918

• Charles Bannister – Batavia. Age 39. Survived by his wife and a son.

St. Joseph Cemetery, Batavia

• Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Beck – Batavia. Age 32. Survived by her husband and a daughter. Sister of Edward Francis, who died October 18, and of Joseph Francis, who would die October 25.

Oct. 26, 1918 Batavia Times

• Timothy E. Carney – Batavia. Age 34. Survived by his wife and four children.

• William E. Houlihan – Batavia. Age 28. Survived by four sisters.

Oct. 21, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Peter Keenan – LeRoy. Age 27. Survived by his parents and one brother serving in the American forces in France.

“His brother, Private Henry Keenan, is now serving the American forces in France.”

• William H. Porter, Jr. – Pembroke. Age 22. Husband of Charlotte Porter, age 29, who died three days later. Survived by four small children.

Died October 22, 1918

Oct. 23, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Ora Elizabeth Boothe – LeRoy. Age 20. Survived by her parents, two brothers and a sister.

“Other members of the family have been ill and she had faithfully nursed them all through their sickness.”

• Mrs. Julia Callan – Batavia. Age 50. Survived by two sisters. Business partner and aunt of William P. O’Brien, who died two days earlier.

• Rev. Victor Fassetta – Batavia. Age 35. Rector of St. Anthony’s Church. No surviving relatives in United States.

St. Joseph Cemetery, Batavia
Oct. 22, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Mattie Flynn – Batavia. Age 36. Survived by her husband, two young sons, and a six-weeks-old daughter.

“Mr. Flynn, who was taken ill at the same time, is still in serious condition.”

• Edward Madden – Batavia. Age 40. Survived by his mother and two sisters.

• Mrs. Agnes Osr – Oakfield. Age undetermined. Survived by her husband and three children.

Died October 23, 1918

Maple Lawn Cemetery, Elba

• Mrs. Nellie Moore Gateson – Elba. Age 43. Survived by her husband and a 10-year-old daughter.

• Mrs. Susan Ethel Gesse – Darien. Age 30. Survived by her husband, two sons ages 9 and 12, and a daughter, age 7.

• Samuel Magavero – LeRoy. Age 21. Survived by his father, several siblings, and his wife of less than one month.

Wladystawa Mruczek – Batavia. Age 1 year. Survived by her parents.

• Torrance W. Russell – Batavia. Age 73. Survived by his wife and two sisters.

• Joseph W. Shirley – LeRoy. Age 34. Survived by two brothers and six sisters.

Oct. 24, 1918 Batavia Daily
Oct. 30, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• George W. Strable – Elba. Age 4. Survived by his parents, two brothers, and two sisters.

• Edgar D. Warner – Alabama. Age 20. Survived by his mother and four sisters.

• Isadore Zelasko – LeRoy. Age 30. Survived by his wife and one son.

Died October 24, 1918

Evergreen Hill Cemetery, Corfu

• Mrs. Mertie Wilbur Burrill – Batavia. Age 35. Survived by her husband and four children.

• Mrs. Mary Chiaramonte – Batavia. Age 40. Survived by her husband, six sons and a daughter.

• Mrs. Mabel Harriet Cole – Bergen/Batavia. Age 28. Survived by her husband and three young children. Her four-year-old nephew, Glenn Dusen, died one day later. They were buried together.

•Samuel Coticchio – Batavia. Age 30. His wife, Anna Coticchio, age 28, died two days later. Survived by five young children.

Oct. 30 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Mrs. Antonina Lena DeCarlo – LeRoy. Age 28. Survived by her husband and three remaining children.

“The family has been sadly afflicted, three children having died within the past year.”

• Louis Fenello – Batavia. Age 2. Brother of John Fenello, age 13, who died five days later. Survived by their parents.

• Mrs. Frank Ferrio – Batavia. Age 40. Survived by her husband and two brothers.

• William Jeffreys – LeRoy. Age 25. Survived by one brother.

• Mrs. Elizabeth Martin – Batavia. Age 65. Survived by a daughter and three sons.

Oct. 29, 1918 Batavia Daily
Old Buffalo Rd Cemetery, E. Pembroke

• Mrs. Sarah Porter — Pembroke. Age 29. Wife of William J Porter, Jr., age 22, who died three days earlier.

“Mr. and Mrs. Porter leave four small children, all very ill with the disease.”

Byron Cemetery, Byron

• Miss Katherine Roach – Batavia. Age 27. Survived by five brothers and a sister.

• Charles Wokasen – Byron. Age 36. Survived by his wife and two teenage children.

Died October 25, 1918

• Mrs. Frances S. Dunn – LeRoy. Age 33. Survived by her husband and an eight-months-old daughter.

• Glenn Dusen – Batavia. Age 4. Survived by his parents, two brothers, and two sisters. His aunt, Mrs. Mabel Harriet Cole, died one day earlier. They were buried together.

Oct. 25, 1918 Batavia Daily
St. Joseph Cemetery, Batavia

• Joseph P. Francis – Stafford. Age 25. Survived by his  parents and four remaining siblings.

“His brother, Edward Vincent Francis, died a week ago . . . and his sister died on Monday.”

• Mrs. Mamie Gilbert – Alabama. Age 27. Survived by her husband, a son age 4, and an infant daughter.

• Mrs. Kathryn Dawson Mansell – Corfu. Age 33. Survived by her husband and five children.

St. Francis Cemetery, LeRoy

• Mrs. Bridget McElroy – LeRoy. Age 51.  Her husband died 10 years earlier. Survived by a son and a daughter, two brothers, and two sisters.

Died October 26, 1918

 • Mrs. Anna Amato – LeRoy. Age 23. Survived by her husband Leonardo and four small children.

Oct. 28, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Rosa Cojski – Buffalo. Age 12. Died in Bethany at the home of John Hatuta while nursing the Hatuta children, all ill with influenza.

Oct. 26, 1918 Daily News

• Mrs. Anna Coticchio – Batavia. Age 28. Wife of Samuel Coticchio, age 30, who died two days earlier. Survived by five young children.

• Edward L. Fidinger – Oakfield. Age 33. Survived by his wife and young daughter.

Oct. 26, 1918 Daily News

• Rosaline Iannello – LeRoy. Age 17 months. Her mother, Mrs. Carrie Iannello, age 19, died nine days earlier. Survived by her father and a 3-month-old brother.

• Anthony Mancini – Batavia. Age 31. Survived by his wife and four young children.

• Mrs. Teresa Marotta (or Mariotte/Marotia) – Batavia. Age 22. Survived by her husband and a two-day-old infant son.

• Antonio Micelli – Batavia. Age 35. Survived by his wife and four children.

• Mrs. Mary Stroh – Batavia. Age 38. Survived by her husband and two children.

Died October 27, 1918

Maple Lawn Cemetery, Elba

• Merton Daniel Bowen – Elba. Age 24. Survived by his parents and a sister.

• George L. Bradt – Alabama. Age 47. Survived by his wife, a daughter, and two sons (one serving in France).

• Mrs. Clara Locke – Batavia. Age 36. Survived by her husband and four children, ages 2 to 14.

• Mrs. Margaret Ferris McCulley – Batavia. Age 30. Survived by her husband and an infant daughter.

Sacred Heart Cem., Bennington, NY

• John Schramm – Batavia. Age 12. Survived by his parents, three brothers, and two sisters.

• Agnes Wrycza – Darien Center. Age 21. Survived by her parents, three brothers, and a sister.

Died October 28, 1918

Oct. 28, 1918 Batavia Daily
Oct. 28, 1918 Batavia Daily

 • Samuel Bani – Batavia. Age 33. Survived by his wife and several children.

“Both hospitals, the Batavia and St. Jerome’s, are crowded with patients, the majority being ill with Spanish influenza.”

Nov. 2, 1918 Batavia Times

• Mrs. Mary J. Dibble – Batavia. Age 51. Survived by a son and two brothers.

Died October 29, 1918

 • John Fenello – Batavia. Age 13. Brother of Louis Fenello, age 2, who died five days earlier. Survived by their parents.

• Catherine Kopper – Batavia. Age 38. Survived by her husband.

Oct. 29, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Mary Lewis – LeRoy. Age 33. Survived by her husband and three young children.

• Sister Mary Macrina – Batavia. Age 37.  Survived by an aunt, and one brother serving in the Army.

“She died a martyr to duty, having worked among the Spanish influenza patients at the hospital until she contracted the disease three days ago.”

• Mrs. Mary Pappero – Oakfield. Age 45. Survived by her husband.

• Marion De Loris White – LeRoy. Age 2 years and 4 months. Survived by her parents and three brothers.

Oct. 30, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Mrs. Roslia Zimmerman – LeRoy. Age 32. Survived by her husband and four children, ages 3, 6, and 5 years and a 15-day-old newborn.

“On October 16th a little son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman and soon afterwards the entire family was stricken with influenza. . . . Her death is a particularly sad one because four small children are left motherless.”

Died October 30, 1918

St. Joseph Cemetery, Batavia

• Mary Loretto Clark – Batavia. Age 35. Survived by her mother, two sisters, and a brother.

• Mrs. Marie Hollenbeck – Batavia. Age 22. Survived by her husband, her father, two brothers, and a sister.

• Louis Pixley – Batavia. Age 17 months. Survived by his parents, two brothers, and three sisters.

Died October 31, 1918

Nov. 2, 1918 Batavia Times

• John W. Brown – Niagara Falls. Age 17. Died at State School for the Blind in Batavia. Survived by his parents.

• James Henry Burr – Elba. Age 30. Survived by his wife and three small children.

• Vincent Conti – Batavia. Age 2. Survived by his parents and a 3-year-old brother.

Nov. 1, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Cora Peio Darnell – Oakfield. Age 34. Survived by her husband and two daughters.

• Eleanor V. Horgan – LeRoy. Age 31. Survived by four brothers and two sisters.

St. Francis Cemetery, LeRoy

“[She] had been ill since last Friday, influenza contracted while in the discharge of her duties as a nurse in caring for patients ill with the disease, being followed by pneumonia.”

Died November 1, 1918

Nov. 2, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Clayton D Lawton – Batavia. Age 10. Survived by his parents and a sister.


Died November 2, 1918

Nov. 2, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Elizabeth Conti – Batavia. Age 23. Survived by her husband and a three-year-old son.

“Mrs. Conti . . . died at her home at 5:40 o’clock this morning. . . . . [She] gave birth to a daughter last night. The infant was born dead. Mrs. Conti’s son, Vincent, aged two years, died Thursday. . . .”

• Anthony Fenello – Batavia. Age 6. Survived by his parents, one brother, and two sisters.

“One brother, Louis, aged three years, died from influenza on October 24th and another brother, John, aged 13 years, died on October 29th from the same cause.”

• John Toporoski – Batavia. Age 30. Survived by his wife and two sons, ages two and four.

Died November 3, 1918

Nov. 4, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Eli Baube – Batavia. Age 49. Survived by three sisters.

• Thomas Considine – Batavia. Age 72. Survived by his wife, a son, and two daughters.

Died November 4, 1918

• Anthony Cavallaro – Batavia. Age 45.

• Anthony Leone – LeRoy. Age 23. Survived by his parents and one brother.

Died November 5, 1918

• Lillian Kdzeolka – Batavia. Age 3-1/2. Survived by her parents.

Josefina Kisicki – Bergen. Age undetermined. Survived by her husband and five small children.

Mary & Harold Lortz, Batavia Cem.

• Mary Helen Lortz – Batavia. Age 23. Less than two weeks earlier, her brother, 2nd Class Seaman Harold R Lortz, died of pneumonia while serving in England. Survived by her parents, two remaining brothers, and two sisters.

• Anthony Piazza – LeRoy. Age 28. Survived by his wife and four small children.

Died November 7, 1918

Nov. 7, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Nellie Lavada – Batavia. Age 35. Survived by her husband and five children.

• Joseph Locicero – Batavia. Age 43. Survived by his wife and three daughters.

• Joseph Edward Martin – Batavia. Age 33. Survived by his wife and a son.

Died November 9, 1918

• Rose Marie Kossuth – Batavia. Age 18. Survived by her parents.

• Virginia Walfrom – Darien. Age 58.

Died November 11, 1918

Nov. 11, 1918 Batavia Daily
Nov. 11, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Harold Charles Moore – Batavia. Age 7. Survived by his parents, three brothers, and a sister.

“After 1,567 days the greatest war in history ended this morning . . . .”

Died November 12, 1918

Nov. 12, 1918 Batavia Daily

• George Gschlossl – Batavia. Age 29. Survived by his wife of less than 10 months.

Nov. 13, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Mrs. Fannie Squires – LeRoy. Age 35. Died of influenza at the State School for the Blind in Batavia. Survived by her husband and a young daughter and son.

“Her little daughter, Marion, who is a pupil at the school was taken ill of the same disease about two weeks ago and her mother had been caring for her and it was there she contracted the disease.”

Died November 13, 1918

• Harold Gardner – LeRoy. Age 21 months. Survived by his parents, a brother, and a sister.

Died November 14, 1918

Nov. 16, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Artle Kenney – Batavia. Age 53. Survived by a sister.

• Mrs. Anna Kossuth – Batavia. Age unknown. Survived by her husband and six children.

Died November 16, 1918

• Anthony Frank – Batavia. Age 29. Survived by his wife.

Died November 17, 1918

Nov. 18, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Eva Gardner – LeRoy. Age 27. Survived by her husband and two young children.

“A son, Harold, aged 22 months, died last Wednesday of influenza and meningitis, and a sister of Mrs. Gardner, Mrs. Nellie Lavada, died in Batavia on November 7th last.”

Died November 18, 1918

Nov. 20, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Anna Redinger – East Pembroke. Age 22. Survived by her husband, parents, and two brothers, one of them serving in France.

• Maggie Legatta – LeRoy. Age 7. Survived by her parents and several brothers and sisters.

Died November 21, 1918

• Lyna A. Miller – Batavia. Age 40. Survived by her father and three brothers.

Died November 23, 1918

Nov. 23, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Betty Peggs Booth – Batavia. Age 27. Survived by her husband and three small children.

“She is [also] survived . . . by a brother, Edgar Peggs, who is in the U.S. Navy.”

• Matthias Schmiegel – Corfu. Age 65. Survived by three sons and a daughter.

Died November 24, 1918

• Grace Kenny – Batavia. Age 23. Survived by her mother and a sister.

Died November 25, 1918

Nov. 26, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Agnes C. Knickerbocker – LeRoy. Age 25. Survived by her husband and a three-year-old son.

Nov. 26, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Anna Delplato – Batavia. Age 7. Survived by her parents and a sister.

Died November 27, 1918

Nov. 27, 1918 Batavia Daily

• John Kauffman, Jr. – Batavia. Age 6 months. Survived by his parents and several siblings.


Dec. 4, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

• Mrs. Ada B. White – LeRoy. Age 38.  Survived by her husband and five young children.

Machpelah Cemetery, LeRoy

“She contracted influenza immediately after the birth of her little daughter and her condition was considered serious from the first. This was another instance where the mother has been taken, leaving a number of young children.”

Died November 28, 1918

Nov. 29, 1918 Batavia Daily
Nov. 29, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Mrs. Francesca Ricotta – Batavia. Age 35. Survived by her husband, parents, and two sisters.

• William Folland – Stafford. Age 31. Survived by his wife of less than two years, who also was ill with influenza when he died.

November 30, 1918

Dec. 2, 1918 Batavia Daily

• Harry L. Hunn  – East Bethany. Age 32. His wife, Mrs. Rose Mayne Hunn, died two days later (December 2) of the same disease. Survived by a daughter.

“Their daughter, Lorena, was first taken ill with influenza and is thought to have contracted the disease in Batavia. Mr. Hunn was afterward taken ill and Mrs. Hunn’s illness followed.”

East Bethany Cemetery

“A double funeral will be held at 2 o’clock tomorrow [December 3] afternoon.”



Sadly, while November’s death toll seemed to diminish, December would bring more cases, more outbreaks, and more deaths. Ironically, say some experts, the widespread  celebrations of the Armistice on November 11, packing crowds of jubilant citizens into the streets for parades and rallies, may have given the waning disease a second wind, with new opportunities to spread, prolonging the epidemic. Sporadic outbreaks would continue through February, 1919.

Coming Soon: The War Ends, the County Celebrates (Twice!)—but Bad News Keeps Coming


All Genesee County death statistics from A Special Report on the Mortality from Influenza in New York State During the Epidemic of 1918-19 by Otto R. Eichel, M.D., New York State Department of Health, New York 1923 (pages 24-27). Accessed online,


Many thanks to the following individuals, who kindly granted permission to use the headstone photos featured in this post. All photos ©copyright the photographers named: Donna Ruhland Bonning (headstones: Mertie Burill, Nellie Gateson, Charlotte and William Porter); Ann Freeman (headstone: Eleanor Horgan); Richard Godown (headstones: Martha Ellen Ganiard, Harry and Rose Hunn, Ada Weiss White); Jim and Elizabeth Love (headstone: Agnes Wrycza); Delia McIntyre (headstones: Louise Caccamise, Mary L. Clark, Bridget McElroy); Frederick Porter (headstones: Merton D. Bowen, David R. Howell, Clark J. Thomas, Charles J. Wokasen); Dawn Vanderkoi (headstones: Matilda Flynn, Edward V. Francis, Joseph P. Francis, Mary Francis Beck).

All newspaper articles retrieved from

Autumn Brings a County Fair, Heartening War News—and a Merciless Disease


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September 20, 1918 Daily News

Looking back, reading reports in local newspapers from the fall of 1918 through the lens of hindsight, you can see it coming: a deadly wave, at first so distant on the horizon it must have seemed barely worth noting, but each day growing stronger, spreading wider, coming closer to Genesee County.

Ultimately, the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 and early 1919 would infect at least a third of the global population, and kill an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide. In the United States, more than 650,000 Americans died.

September 18, 1918 Daily News

But in those opening fall days in Genesee County, the handful of minor items in the papers reporting flu and pneumonia outbreaks in Europe and in Boston seemed little cause for alarm.

And what was so new about the flu, anyway? Every fall and winter had brought influenza, also known as the grippe. Most victims spent several unpleasant days in bed with body aches and fever and then recovered.

September 13, 1918 Daily News

Besides, it was the year’s fairest and busiest season.  The trees were afire in leafy color. It was harvest time. Crowds were flocking to the county fair.

Even the news from “over there” was heartening. American and Allied forces were pushing the Kaiser back on all fronts. The Huns were on the run. There was talk that the war would soon be over.

But the onrushing wave gathered speed.

September 21, 1918 Batavia Daily News

On the same day the county fair ended, the Batavia Daily News reported thousands of influenza and pneumonia cases at Army training camps.

“The total number of cases reported from all camps up to noon yesterday was 9,313, with 11 deaths.”


Emergency influenza hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, 1918


Less than a week later, similar outbreaks had occurred among civilians in New York City, Philadelphia, and other population centers — and were spreading into rural areas. Reports in local newspapers grew more urgent.

September 25, 1918 LeRoy Gazette-News

“The Spanish Influenza, which is said to be more dreaded than the old fashioned grippe, has reached this country and is spreading quite rapidly. It is something which should not be regarded lightly as in many cases it is attended by fatal results. The disease leaves the system very much debilitated and as a result pneumonia often follows.”

But the warnings told only part of the story. Physicians and scientists were finding, to their puzzlement and horror, that this flu behaved like no other.

Many patients displayed startling symptoms. Their lips turned black, their faces blue; their noses hemorrhaged, their throats gurgled with fluids. Autopsies of victims revealed lungs choked with bloody mush.

The flu and its most common complication, severe pneumonia, were so frequently intertwined it was nearly impossible for doctors to distinguish which was the actual cause of death. The disease spawned other grave conditions, too:  childbirth complications, kidney and heart failure, diphtheria, tuberculosis, meningitis.

National Red Cross Home Service Photo, 1918

Most perplexing: this flu, unlike previous strains, attacked healthy young adults with particular ferocity. Hale and hearty individuals in the prime of life with no prior medical problems—men and women between the ages of twenty and forty-something—seemed especially vulnerable. Many died within days, or even hours, of first developing symptoms.

September 28, 1918 Batavia Times

As September drew to a close, New York State health officials issued a warning that the epidemic was spreading throughout the state . . . and the nation at large.

“There is no known cure.”

Physicians were at a loss. There were no influenza vaccines, no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia. Doctors could merely  treat the symptoms, and advise patients to stay in bed, stay warm, and drink lots of liquids.

Oct. 3, 1918 Batavia Daily News

Some physicians, including Dr. J.W. Le Seur, Batavia’s health officer, prescribed a homemade preventive spray:

“One dram of olive oil. One drop oil of eucalyptol . . . the throat and nostrils [should be] sprayed three times a day”


But nothing stopped the wave.

In October, it struck Genesee County full force.

Bergen was the first to feel the brunt.

October 4, 1918 Batavia Daily News

“As there are over 100 cases of Spanish influenza in Bergen, Dr. Whalen, the only physician in town, being ill with the same disease . . . the high school was ordered closed . . . . Drs. Ganiard and Davis of LeRoy have been asked to look after Bergen.”


October 8, 1918 Batavia Daily News

Four days later, the situation had only grown worse. More doctors and nurses were called in.

“Twelve families reported cases on Sunday and 13 on Monday and several this morning. There must be at least 150 cases of the malady in town.”



Cases were being reported in other county towns, too. Officials attempted to allay the public’s growing fears. Batavia’s health officer assured city citizens that relatively few cases of flu had appeared, and nearly all were “mild.”

October 10, 1918 Batavia Daily News

“Health Officer Le Seur . . . learned there were less than 100 cases of sickness in the city that could be called influenza . . . and only seven cases which were at all severe.”



But also on the front page of that day’s Daily News came the first announcement of the death of a Genesee County serviceman from Spanish influenza: 20-year-old Edward Howard Fay of Byron had succumbed at Camp Bliss, Texas. Before the war was over, 13 others in service from Genesee County  would die from the disease or its complications.

The next day,  October 11, 1918, area physicians recorded the county’s first four deaths from Spanish influenza and its complications.

Oct. 11, 1918 Batavia Daily News

One was Dr. Merle Clor, a 29-year-old Batavia dentist with a young wife and a two-year-old daughter.

Two were farmers—David R. Howell, age 30, from Bergen, and Lynne V. Parsons, 32, of Le Roy. Both men were married with young children.

The fourth victim was Miss Martha Ganiard, the 16-year-old daughter of Dr. Henry Ganiard—one of the Le Roy physicians who’d been traveling regularly to Bergen to care for flu patients while the town’s own doctor was also incapacitated by the disease.

Oct. 12, 1918 Batavia Times
Oct. 11, 1918 Batavia Daily

On that same day, because so many new cases were appearing, Batavia’s health officer ordered all schools, churches, theaters, bowling alleys, and other gathering places closed for two weeks.

Officials in Bergen and LeRoy had already issued similar closing orders.  Elba, Corfu, Darien, Oakfield and other county towns would follow suit.


Public notices appeared in newspapers pleading with the public to take every possible measure to prevent further spread of the deadly disease.

October 16, 1918 LeRoy Gazette-News
Oct. 16, 1918 LeRoy Gazette-News

But the numbers of cases soared. Hundreds of Genesee County men, women, and children were ill with influenza. Often, entire households were stricken, leaving no one to care for fellow family members. Few homes escaped the illness entirely.

Oct. 18, 1918 Batavia Daily News

Doctors and nurses were overwhelmed. Hospitals were inundated with patients.

Every day brought more cases—and more deaths.

Within one week after the first four had died in the county, 27 more had perished from Spanish flu and/or pneumonia.

Oct. 21, 1918 Batavia Daily News

Businesses were suffering. Customers and employees were staying at home; some because they were sick, others out of fear of becoming so.

Factories closed for lack of workers well enough to do their jobs.

Crops ready for fall harvest were rotting in the fields.

“Help is very scarce and there are many beans unharvested and acres of potatoes which are not dug,” came an October 16, 1918 report from Bergen in the Batavia Daily News.

Daily updates giving the numbers of cases and deaths reported in Rochester and Buffalo  over the previous 24 hours were alarming. The numbers for New York City were staggering.

October 22, 1918 Batavia Daily News

[Rochester] “There were 48 deaths and 550 new cases reported up until 6 o’clock last evening.”

[Buffalo] “. . . for the period ending at 11 o’clock last night . . . a  total of 1,504 new cases and 106 deaths was recorded.”

Determined to stem the tide in Genesee County, most towns continued to keep their schools closed, and to ban or at least discourage public gatherings.

Batavia officials went a step further, announcing a  “Smudge Day” to fight the disease. All citizens were to rake up their leaves into piles and burn them en masse on the designated day. The carbon and smoke, officials said, would kill the influenza “germs.”

October 24, 1918 Batavia Daily News

Despite objections that the smoke would only worsen the conditions of flu and pneumonia patients already struggling to breathe, the plan was carried out.

“All day long the gentle autumnal breezes wafted the smoke of hundreds of bonfires over the streets of the city . . . . It was pretty smoky at times, but . . . the streets have an improved look and the charred bodies of millions and millions of ‘flu’ germs are now lying harmless.”

The burning, of course, did no more to deter Spanish influenza than the many potions, tonics, and other patent medicines (even shoes!) that were touted as preventives and cures in local newspaper ads.


54 more people in Genesee County died during the second week following the first fatalities.

Oct. 23, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

Nothing stopped the disease. Every day brought a flood of additional cases—and more tragic fatalities.

Oct. 26, 1918 Batavia Daily

Obituaries and funeral announcements filled the pages of local newspapers.

So did stories of multiple deaths in families, of parents losing beloved children, and of children suddenly orphaned.

The bad news, both local and otherwise, kept coming.

It seemed the horror would never end.

October 28, 1918 Batavia Daily News

[New York] “More than 100,000 persons in this city have been ill from Spanish influenza within the past six weeks, and over 12,000 have died.”

[Rochester] “The total number of cases has now reached 9,703, with 418 deaths.”



By the end of October, in just 20 days—from the first death report on the 11th to the close of the month on the 31st—116 Genesee County men, women, and children had died of influenza and/or pneumonia or other complications of the disease.

By November 11, when Germany at last agreed to lay down its arms, ending the war, 19 more had perished. The remaining weeks of November would take two dozen additional lives, bringing the total fatalities in Genesee County for the two months to 159. 

Nov. 13, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

Gradually throughout November, however, the numbers of cases in Genesee County steadily decreased.  . . and with that decline, the numbers of deaths diminished as well. Bans of public gatherings were lifted. Schools and churches reopened.

Dec. 4, 1918 LeRoy Gazette

Although December 1918 and early 1919 would bring sporadic additional outbreaks, and deaths, the fall of 1918 would prove to have been the peak of the disease.

The worst, like the war, was over.



Today, mysteries remain over the origin, causes, and nature of the devastating flu. We understand now that in the spring of 1918 a lesser wave of the same flu had broken out in isolated pockets in the United States, particularly in Army camps, as well as among troops of all countries overseas. But the lack of disease-reporting agencies at home, and strict censorship of bad news by armies on all sides of the war, prevented a coordinated medical response, and kept the general public in the dark.

Jan. 14, 1919 Batavia Daily
Sign at Philadelphia Naval Aircraft Factory

Only in Spain, a neutral country without censorship, was the disease widely reported—thus giving it the inaccurate name of “Spanish” influenza.

The truth was that throughout 1918 all the armies in the war were ravaged by the disease, reducing many units to a small fraction of their effective combat strength, and creating a demand for more replacements, more men who in turn would be exposed to the flu while crammed into close quarters in camps, barracks, navy yards, and troopships. Tens of thousands of soldiers died from the disease and its complications.

Scientists today have identified the 1918 virus as an H1N1 subtype with distinctive mutations. But despite replicating and studying the microbe, medical experts still don’t fully understand its uniquely devastating properties, its penchant for the young and healthy,  its mechanisms for rapidly ravaging bronchial tubes and lungs and damaging other organs.

Clearly, however, one major cause of the disease’s deadly global spread was the war itself—or more specifically, the vast movements of troops from all over the world on land and sea, often in conditions that served as virtual incubators. The virus’s dispersion into civililan populations was only a matter of time.

Advertisement, Dec. 3, 1918 Batavia Daily

In a sense then, every victim of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1919 was a  casualty of World War I.

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed three to five percent of the world’s population.  In less than two years, it took more American lives than all U.S. wars of the past century combined.

Perhaps the pandemic’s greatest mystery is this: Why has one of the most cataclysmic public-health disasters in human history been largely relegated to the distant shadows of our national memory?

Have we forgotten the many who died?

Next: Part 2—Remembering the Victims of Genesee County’s Autumn 1918 Spanish Influenza Epidemic



All Genesee County death statistics from A Special Report on the Mortality from Influenza in New York State During the Epidemic of 1918-19 by Otto R. Eichel, M.D., New York State Department of Health, New York 1923 (pages 24-27). Accessed online,

National and worldwide statistics based on “1918 Pandemic (H1N1 Virus)” website, Centers for Disease Control,


Genesee County in Autumn photo, ©2017 Terry Krautwurst; “Keep ‘Em Going, Boy!”, author collection; “Emergency Influenza Hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, 1918,” Otis Historical Archives Nat’l Museum of Health & Medicine [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons; “National Red Cross Home Service Photo, 1918,” retrieved from the Library of Congress (; “Influenza Precaution Sign” [NH 41731-A], Naval History and Heritage Command (

Newspaper articles and ads retrieved from

Parades, a Tornado, an Eclipse — and in a Distant Wood Called Belleau, a Sad Summer Begins


Perhaps the tornado that struck Genesee County in May, 1918 should’ve been taken as a warning of the summer to come, given that it coincided with a deadlier storm building “over there” as the Kaiser’s troops smashed through French lines toward Paris.

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“Portions of houses, roofs of buildings, garages and trees were gathered up in the mighty storm king’s leash and hurled whole rods from their sites.”

May 10, 1918 Batavia Daily News

“There came a sudden crash, a noise like a crackling of a mighty fire, then a switch that seemed like the indrawn breath of a giant and that intake of air plucked roofs from houses, windows from their frames, and trees from the earth. People ran out of their homes and stood in the drenching rain because they felt that their homes were unsafe.”


But in that summer’s opening days, no mere tornado could quash Genesee County’s overwhelming enthusiasm for giving the Kaiser what-for.

On May 21, thousands thronged to Batavia to watch Genesee County’s kickoff parade to raise donations for the Red Cross War Fund. Thousands more marched in the parade. Automobiles, floats, bands, and masses of marchers  streamed continuously along Batavia’s major streets for nearly an hour.

Two hundred white-clad Red Cross workers led the procession. Dozens of young women wearing veils of red, white, or blue formed an enormous “living Red Cross flag.”  Another section featured 800 school girls representing the Junior Red Cross.

Bands from every county town accompanied the floats and the footsteps of the marchers. There were massed ranks of social and patriotic organizations, and Polish and Italian societies. Throngs of employees of  businesses and factories created floats and marched too—among them were 300 workers from Massey-Harris, another 300 from  Batavia Steel Products.

May 22, 1918 Batavia Daily News

“One big float was piled high with shells and surmounted with the caption, ‘Pills for the Kaiser.’  This provoked many a cheer. The same truck carried a cannon which  . . . with the roar of a discharge . . . sent confetti scattering over the heads of the people.”

“From the Court House through Main and Jackson streets,” reported the Daily News, “a line of watchers sometimes six and seven deep along the curbs applauded and cheered, doffed caps to the waving flags, dug deep into pockets and flung coins and bills in the huge flags that begged contributions for the wounded boys over there.”

And the parades and rallies and calls to service kept coming.

May 28, 1918 Batavia Daily News

On May 26, just five days after the huge Red Cross parade, 2,000 county citizens turned out to cheer another group of draftees—97 men, the eighth contingent since last September—as they marched to Batavia’s train station to leave for Camp Dix.

Four days later, on May 30, Memorial Day rallies, prayer meetings and speeches stirred patriotic fervor in every county town.

On June 1, a call went out to Genesee County boys between the ages of 16 and 21 to join the United States Boys Working Reserve, to work on farms in place of the many men who’d left for the war.

On June 5, all males who’d turned 21 in the previous year were required to register for the draft. In Genesee County, 243 men reported, adding that many more to the ranks of those in line for service.

Then three days later, on June 8, amid optimistic news of U.S. Marines pushing back German forces headed for Paris, a total solar eclipse on the scale of 2017’s swept across the United States, darkening the skies over Genesee County from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.

June 8, 1918 Batavia Times

It was an event that, like the tornado, had no apparent relation to the war, and no immediate effect on Genesee County’s patriotic fervor. But in hindsight, whether foreboding omen or not, it marked a turning point, the beginning of what would become an all-too-regular occurrence over the coming months in Genesee County newspapers.

Summer’s first announcement, eerily echoing descriptions of the eclipse casting shadows, appeared in the Batavia Times on June 29, three weeks later.

“A gloom was cast over Batavia yesterday when the news became known that Glenn Shotwell Loomis, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Loomis of No. 21 Lincoln Avenue, had lost his life in the trenches of France.”

June 29, 1918 Batavia Times

Twenty-three-year-old Marine Private Glenn S. Loomis, Batavia’s first war loss, had been killed in action on June 7—only hours before the eclipse had brought somber skies to Genesee County.

“The young man had written several letters to his parents,” reported the Times. “On March 27 he wrote his parents: ‘I hope to see you before very long, as I don’t believe the war will last much longer.'”

The article continued, “Mr. Loomis was a young man of sterling character, and was highly respected. He possessed a cheerful and winning way, and made friends wherever he went. At one time he was employed as a reporter on the Batavia Times.”

Worse,  by the time the news of Private Loomis’s death reached the county, three more Genesee County Marines also had perished. July newspapers would announce the deaths of Privates Robert S Spencer and William K Bray of Batavia, and Private Hiram G Luhman of Oakfield. (Click on highlighted name for full honor roll profile in separate window.)

All four died in the vicious month-long fighting for a few hundred strategic acres encompassing tree-covered hills, wheat fields, and a dense, brush-entangled, boulder-strewn forest called Bois d’ Belleau, or Belleau Wood.

At the end of May, the American 2nd Division, which included the 5th and 6th Marine regiments, was rushed to the area northwest of Chateau-Thierry to halt the enemy’s advance toward Paris. On June 1 the division took up positions west and south of Belleau Wood, where several German divisions had taken the adjacent villages of Belleau, Bouresches, and Torcy and had set up strong machine-gun emplacements in the woods and on surrounding high ground.

For five days the division held its ground against German attacks, stopping the advance.

Then, on June 6, the 5th Marines’ 1st Battalion, which included Glenn Loomis’s 17th Company,  launched the Americans’ first offensive attack in what would become a grueling, bloody, nearly month-long series of attacks and German counterattacks.

June 7, 1918 — Glenn S Loomis Killed

Sweeping north from its position near Champillon west of Belleau Wood against strong machine-gun fire, advancing across a ridge, over an open wheat field, and through woods to take enemy-held high ground, Loomis’s battalion reached its objectives by mid-morning despite heavy losses and dug in, where it fought off repeated German counterattacks.

Private Loomis was killed in a counterattack sometime around midnight that evening.

October 21, 1918 Batavia Daily News

“I had sent him out to warn us of the approach of the enemy,” wrote his platoon commander in a letter to Loomis’s parents. “His last deed was to give us the warning.”

“He cried ‘Boche’ and came tumbling down the hill and fell against a tree. He was stabbed in the back through right side. Bayonet going through chest.” — Sgt. F.A. Seeres



Searcher’s report in Glenn S Loomis Burial Case File, National Archives, St. Louis MO


June 10, 1918 — Robert S Spencer Killed

Robert Spencer’s 6th Machine Gun Battalion was in the thick of the fighting, supporting key attacks by both Marine regiments. On the day he was killed, the 6th Marines were attacking north into the center of the woods. Spencer’s 17th Company was providing concentrated fire, despite heavy shelling all day from enemy artillery and minenwerfers (heavy trench mortars).

(Spencer is the center marine in photo, published in the July 12, 1918 Batavia Daily News.)

“The Germans were shelling us heavily and sent over a Minewerfer [sic], a large shell which you can not hear coming, which dropped in his trench killing himself and three others instantly.” — Lt. H.D. Campbell

Marines with captured German minenwerfer

Spencer’s lieutenant, H.D. Campbell, described the Marine’s death in a letter to Private Spencer’s family, which was published in the July 12, 1918 Batavia Daily News. “It was during the big drive which the marines stopped and after our second attack we were held up by machine gun fire and dug in.” He went on to express his sorrow, adding: “Bobby was my orderly and the most straightforward, big-hearted lad in the company.”


June 11, 1918 — William K Bray Killed

William Bray and Glenn Loomis were classmates at Batavia High School, and graduated together in 1913.  They surely knew one another, and because Bray’s 51st Company had assisted in the June 6 attack in which Loomis was later killed, it is likely that he was aware of his schoolmate’s death as he lined up with his company, five days later, for another assault on Belleau Wood.

Contemporary view of June 11 attack launch point; Belleau Wood in distance.

At 4:30 in the morning on June 11, under cover of a heavy morning mist, the 5th Marines’ 2nd Battalion moved out across an open wheat field toward the fog-shrouded forest in the distance. William Bray’s 51st Company was on the right of the leading wave.  The Marines made it most of the way across the exposed field before German machine gunners opened up.  Reads History of the Second Division in the World War:

“Once discovered . . . they were brought under fire, and the leading waves shot to pieces, the volume of fire coming from the right front in the angle of the woods.”

By the time the battalion reached the edge of the woods, Bray’s 51st Company had been virtually wiped out. According to one official account, only one officer and 16 men were left.  The battalion as a whole that day lost six officers and 176 men killed or wounded.

Typical German defensive views from western edge of Belleau Wood.

June 19, 1918 — Hiram G Luhman Dies of Wounds Received June 18
U.S. Marine Corps machine-gun crew

By June 15, after two weeks of repeated attacks and German counterattacks for possession of the woods, the 5th and 6th Marine regiments had taken 2,400 casualties, including at least 567 killed.  To give them much-needed rest, all units were temporarily relieved by the 3rd Division’s 7th Infantry—all, that is, except the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, including Hiram Luhman’s 23rd Company, which was needed to help the 7th Infantry hold the territory the Marines had taken.

Private Luhman was mortally wounded on June 18, just two days before his company was finally relieved. In a letter to Hiram’s parents published in the September 23, 1918 Batavia Daily News, 23rd Company’s Lieutenant H.D. Campbell wrote, “Your son passed through the battle of Bois Belleau and only a few days before we were relieved he was killed in a heavy artillery barrage.”

A  report signed by his company sergeant reads:

“He was wounded in the back and head by fragment of shell at 11 P.M. June 18th, sent to Hospital, died of wounds June 19th 1918.”

Hiram Luhman had turned 18 less than two months before he was killed. He was one of the earliest Genesee County soldiers to enlist—barely three weeks after the U..S. had entered the war, and just one day after his 17th birthday.

“When he left Oakfield, the same day he enlisted, the Oakfield High School students escorted him to the train,” reported the July 13, 1918 Batavia Daily News. “School was dismissed for an hour and the students formed in line and, carrying flags, marched to the West Shore station.”



After several days of much-needed food and rest, the Marine 5th and 6th regiments returned  to Belleau Wood and repeatedly attacked remaining enemy positions until, at last, on June 26, the message went out to commanders: “BELLEAU WOODS NOW U.S. MARINE CORPS ENTIRELY.”

The ruins of Belleau following the summer’s fighting.

There would remain scattered skirmishes and additional casualties, and in July more intense combat by the relieving 26th Division to drive the enemy from the village of Belleau itself and from German strongholds in surrounding territory and towns. The Battle of Belleau Wood had been won, but at horrific cost.


In the one-month battle for possession of a faraway French forest, 665 American Marines had been killed, and another 3,633 wounded. In all, the casualties suffered by the 2nd and 3rd Divisions involved in the fighting totaled nearly 10,000 Americans killed or wounded.

One of several temporary American cemeteries after the fighting at Belleau Wood.

At home in Genesee County, regardless of enthusiastic media reports of Allied victories abroad,  the news of the four local mens’ deaths in June cast a shadow that would lengthen all too painfully over the coming months. Day after day that summer and fall, more sad announcements would appear in local newspapers.

The toll grew. By the end of August, ten more Genesee County men had perished.


(Click on highlighted name for full honor roll profile in separate window.)

July 15, 1918 – George K Botts of LeRoy, killed in action near Fossoy, France.

July 18, 1918Clarence Heale of Batavia, died of disease at Camp des Souges, France

July 19, 1918Edward Coyle of Batavia, killed in action near Soissons, France

July 20, 1918John Kirkpatrick of Stafford, killed in action near Nogentel, France

July 23, 1918Albert Gelonek of Batavia, died of wounds near Courchamps, France

August 2, 1918Leonard Snyder of Batavia, died of wounds near Le Charmel, France

August 5, 1918Floyd Cochran of Batavia, killed in action near St. Gilles, France

August 9, 1918Ira Spring of Tonawanda Reservation, killed in action near Ancervillers, France

August 11, 1918Charles Votrie of Batavia, killed in action near Bazoches, France

August 25, 1918Leo Fiorito of LeRoy, died of wounds near Poperinghe, Belgium


Coming Soon: Autumn Brings Heartening War News—and a Merciless Disease


Retrieved from the Library of Congress: “They Fight for You,” W.G. Sesser, artist (; “Come Across,” C.W. Love, artist (; “Farm to Win,” Adolph Treidler, artist (; “The Call to Duty: Join the Army,” Edoardo Cammilli, sculptor; “Belleau Village” photo, Bain News Service (

Others: “Now is your Chance,” author collection; Belleau Wood map from With the Help of God and a Few Marines by Brig. Gen. A.W. Catlin, Doubleday Page & Co, 1919; “Open wheat field across which … ” photo, from Where the Marines Fought in France by Ray P Antrim, Park & Antrim, 1919; “Marines with captured German minenwerfer, National Archives Photo No. 111-SC-50436 (; “Typical German defensive views” ©2017 Terry Krautwurst; “U.S. Marine Corps machine-gun crew, National Archives Photo No. 111-SC-9836 (; “American Cemetery at Lucy le Bocage” accessed at website “2nd Division – Second to None”

Newspaper clips retrieved from

A Good Doctor, a Good Man, a Good Life Cut Short


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It was a cloudy Saturday, April 27, 1918. A light spring rain was falling when the phone rang in the Milligan household on South Lake Street Road in Pavilion. The news that Mrs. Milligan received when she took the call still echoes with sadness today, 100 years later.

Doctor John Deming Arnett, the town’s popular young physician, had been killed in action “over there” in France. He was Genesee County’s first World War combat casualty.

“His untimely death has moved the community to grief over his early demise and sympathy for his young wife.”



The call came from the brother of Dr. Arnett’s 25-year-old wife, Florence, who was living with her parents in Albion while her husband was overseas. She had received the  telegram from the War Department that morning. “Deeply regret to inform you,” it began.

The couple had been married barely more than a year.

It was a tragic ending to what had been a storybook start promising a bright future.

Dr John D Arnett, 1914
Hospital of the Good Shepherd

In 1916, Dr. Arnett, a bachelor from Medina who’d graduated from Albany Medical College in 1914 and recently completed his internship at the Hospital of the Good Shepherd in Syracuse, moved to the peaceful small town of Pavilion to set up a practice.

At first, he stayed with and took patients in the Milligans’ home. Later, he rented an office and quarters above the bank building in town, where he brought his new bride after they married in January, 1917.

In ordinary times the story probably would’ve continued as promised; the doctor and his wife building a comfortable and happy life together in the village, perhaps raising a family, the years turning to decades, the decades to lives fulfilled as good neighbors and valued members of the community.

But the times were hardly ordinary. Three months after John and Florence’s wedding day, the United States declared war on Germany. Europe was self-destructing. Britain and France were reeling from bloody losses.

It would take months for America to equip and send an Army. But the Allies had another pressing need that could be filled sooner: trained doctors.

The call went out. Applications appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association. “OFFER YOUR SERVICES,” an editorial read. “This gives each physician the opportunity TO ACT AT ONCE.”

The doctor from Pavilion submitted his application, and on August 2 he was called into active service in Washington, DC.  On September 18, 1917, the newly minted Lieutenant John D Arnett, Army Medical Officers Reserve Corps, left the United States for war-ravaged Europe aboard SS St. Paul.

Arriving in England, the doctor spent that fall working in Royal Army Medical Corps hospitals, primarily the 5th Southern General Hospital in coastal Portsmouth.

Wounded British soldiers waiting for transport.

At the city’s busy port, hospital ships from France unloaded thousands of maimed and gassed soldiers who’d managed to survive the battlefield and the grueling chain of field medics, dressing stations,  burn and gas centers, casualty clearing stations, and painful transport over rough roads in wagons or lorries filled with groaning and dying comrades to reach—at last—home ground and—perhaps, with the help of men like Dr. Arnett—a chance for recovery.

It was here that Dr. Arnett gained first-hand experience in treating the ghastly wounds of war. He would soon need it.

At the turn of 1918, Dr. Arnett was sent to France, arriving there on January 6—his first wedding anniversary. He was assigned to the 99th Field Ambulance, a mobile medical unit in the British Expeditionary Forces’ 33rd Division. The unit’s main dressing station at the time was just west of the city of Ypres, Belgium—or what was left of it.

The ruins of Ypres, Belgium, December 27, 1917, three weeks before Dr. Arnett’s arrival.

Ypres was at the core of a bulge in the British line, enveloped on three sides by enemy troops. British and German forces had been slugging it out since July in the infamously bloody Battle of Passchendaele, a town just northeast of Ypres that British forces had finally taken in November but were only barely holding. The conflict is also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, for the city had been the center of two previous major battles for control, and near-constant combat since 1914. Estimates of the total casualties on all sides during the three battles range from 800,000 to one million soldiers.

Returning from the front near Ypres.

The landscape for miles was nothing but watery shell holes, debris, and desolation. The cold, wet terrain, churned by daily artillery bombardments, was a sea of mud 15 feet deep or more. The few roads stood like shallow dams barely above the mire. Soldiers  walking perilous duckboard trails could slip and be sucked into the muck to their deaths.


Almost immediately, Dr. Arnett was put in charge of patients at a gas and wound station in the ruins of Ypres’ former prison.

A team of RAMC stretcher bearers.

Days later, he was assigned to an advanced dressing station even nearer the front lines, where he and his station’s stretcher bearers worked ceaselessly, often under fire, to retrieve and treat wounded troops.

It was the first of what over the next three months would be many rotations for the physician between gas and disease treatment centers, advanced dressing stations, and combat-line infantry stations.

In the midst of all this, possibly as a way to anchor his sanity, Dr. Arnett managed to write many letters home, corresponding with friends and family and former patients in Pavilion. On January 26, 1918, he wrote to his mother:

“I have just come from the line where I have put in my second trip in 8 days . . . . I got along fine up the line and was a much braver man than I thought I was.”

The doctor continued, “They threw over a lot of gas shells during the night but I had a man on guard to awake us if any gas came near. I got so I could sleep with big 8 inch guns bellowing all night within a few yards of me.”

He described one of the horrors of war, using an ironic opening line to soften the image for his mother at home in Knowlesville:

“I have seen some wonderful sights lately. I drained a shell hole and found five bodies partially uncovered just their heads and shoulders protruding into a shell hole. We gave them a reburial and put a cross up.”

On March 29, 1918, German forces launched a massive spring offensive across the Western Front. In Flanders, the German Fourth and Sixth Armies attacked from south of Ypres, and were pushing north and west, attempting to take the hills below Ypres, then the city itself. Their goal was to drive the British  and French in southwest Belgium and northern France toward the English Channel.

An RAMC advanced dressing station.

The 33rd Division was rushed south to reinforce embattled English troops, who were taking heavy casualties and falling back all along the line. Throughout early April the  99th Field Ambulance moved with the struggling infantry, setting up dressing stations behind the lines as needed to treat casualties as the Germans continued to push ahead.

On April 13, the 99th established its main dressing station at an army camp in Berthen, a few miles northwest of the British-held town of Bailleul, where German troops were attacking.

Barricade in Bailleul hours before it fell.

The next day, the 14th, Dr. Arnett was assigned to an advanced dressing station barely more than a mile from the fighting in Bailleul.

On the 15th, despite stiff British resistance, additional German attacks overran the town.

Dr. Arnett and his aides evacuated, returning to Berthen that evening.


Doctor John Deming Arnett was killed at Berthen the next day, April 16, when the camp was shelled while he was tending to the many wounded from the battles at Beilluel.

An article in the May 22, 1918 LeRoy Gazette-News relayed the details of  his death as described by his mother-in-law, Mrs. Charles Sayers, in a letter to a friend in Pavilion. “Dr. Arnett was standing talking with three others, three miles back of the front line trenches, when a German shell exploded near them, a piece of it striking Dr. Arnett on the chest,” reads the article. “He lived ten minutes, but he did not speak.”

On April 10, 1918, six days before he was killed, Dr. Arnett wrote in a letter to Lula Pyatt, one of his patients in Pavilion:

“[I’m] Getting to be an experienced warrior now, but it is not a pleasant thing to get used to. The quietness of Pavilion would suit me better.”

The young doctor was buried the following day at a Trappist monastery atop Mont des Cats, a tree-covered ridge overlooking Berthen and the surrounding countryside.

Mrs. Virginia Arnett at her son’s grave.

After the war, Dr. Arnett’s remains were interred at Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium, where his mother visited his grave in 1931 on a Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimage, and where he rests in peace and quiet today with 375 of his fellow Americans.






For source references and documents, and to read more information about Doctor Arnett’s life, see his Genesee County Honor Roll profile here.


Graduation photo courtesy of Albany Medical College Archives; Hospital of the Good Shepherd postcard retrieved from U.S. National Library of Medicine, Digital Collections (; “Wounded British Soldiers Waiting,” © IWM, Imperial War Museum (; “Ruins of Ypres,” National Archives Photo No. 165-BO-1702 (; “British Soldiers Returning,” National Archives Photo No. 165-BO-1433 (; “RAMC Stretcher Bearers,” © IWM, Imperial War Museum  (; “RAMC Advanced Dressing Station,” © IWM, Imperial War Museum (; “Barricade at Bailleul,” National Archives Photo No. 165-BO-0751 (; Arnett officer photo courtesy of the National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division (; Mrs. Virginia Arnett at grave photo courtesy of Millicent Arnett Matson.

Hundreds Leave the County to Serve–and War’s Harsh Realities Come Home


In Genesee County on New Year’s Day morning, the dawn of 1918, the thermometer plunged to two below. Over the next six weeks, the temperature rarely rose above zero.

But it wasn’t merely the weather that brought a chill to Genesee County that winter.

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The war in Europe was no longer just “over there.” Its impact had come home. The nation was straining to house, clothe, equip, transport and feed an army at home and abroad, while continuing to support its allies with supplies and provide relief to the violence-ravaged people of France and Belgium.

Fuel and food shortages were felt in every American home and business.


January 14, 1918 LeRoy Gazette-News (L) and Batavia Daily News (R)

The fuel situation became so severe that by mid-January the government had ordered all factories east of the Mississippi to close for five days,  and to close on every following Monday for six weeks. Hundreds in the county lost work hours.

Retail stores and business offices would have to close, too.

Warming weather allowed the government to lift the mandatory closings in late February, but citizens and businesses were nonetheless strongly urged to voluntarily conserve fuel and food.

Homeowners were asked to burn wood instead of coal if they had it, and to use as little electricity as possible. Grocers, bakers, and pasta manufacturers were required to use at least 50 percent wheat flour substitutes in their products. Home bakers were told to use the same formula to make “Victory bread” for their families.

“Heatless Mondays, meatless Tuesdays, and wheatless Wednesdays” became a way of life in Genesee County.

Austerity was not only the order of the day, but a patriotic duty.

In the meantime, the county was bidding goodbye and good luck to more young men leaving to fight the Kaiser.

March 2, 1918 Batavia Times

“Hundreds of people had gathered on the streets . . . and nothing but well wishes were heard on every side of the young men leaving.”

On February 23, 56 volunteers left for Camp Crane, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to serve as Genesee County’s own U.S. Army Ambulance section.

Two days later, 65 more men departed for training at Camp Devens, in Ayer, Massachusetts, as members of the county’s fourth draft contingent.

A fifth Genesee County draft contingent of 42 men would leave on April 4 for Camp Dix, near Wrightstown, New Jersey.

Women, too, were leaving Genesee County, to serve as nurses.

March 5, 1918 Batavia Daily News

Already, nurses Bessie Boddell of Bergen and Edna Guymer of Pavilion were at Camp Devens, and Anna MacKenzie of Bergen at the base hospital in Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. LeRoy’s Catherine MacPherson, serving at Camp Meade in Maryland, would leave for France in June.

Nora Taft of LeRoy and Florence Carpenter of Batavia had been tending to sick and wounded soldiers at Base Hospital No. 23, near the front in France’s Vosges Mountains, since they’d left in November 1917.

Ruth Randall of LeRoy, who also had sailed for France that November, was caring for soldiers at a hospital near Paris.

Many more women from the county would soon follow.

March 2, 1918 Batavia Times

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of newly minted doughboys were shipping out for Europe. News of the arrivals of Genesee County boys in France appeared regularly in local newspapers.

By the end of March, 310,000 American soldiers were in France; by the end of April, there were 430,000; by May’s end, 650,000 had landed on French soil.

The journey across was dangerous. Enemy submarines prowled the waters for troopships; reports of sightings and attacks were common. On February 5, the Tuscania, a converted Scottish luxury liner carrying more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers in a British convoy, was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland. Over 200 Americans died.

January 7, 1918 Batavia Daily News

The news from the front, too, was worrisome. All winter long, the war had not been going well for the Allies.  Although little ground had been gained on either side, the weekly casualty figures were alarming.

The deadly efficiency of modern weaponry was all too clear.

And the situation would soon get worse.

On the first day of spring, desperate to strike a fatal blow against the British and French before more American troops arrived, Germany launched a  series of massive attacks known as the Spring Offensive, or Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle), along the Western Front.

March 23, 1918 Batavia Daily News

“A powerful enemy attack delivered with great weight of artillery and infantry has broken the British Defensive system west of St. Quentin.”

German soldiers advancing in France.

On the opening day, March 21, elite German storm troops massed at the Hindenburg Line between Cambrai and St. Quentin and, after an initial five-hour bombardment of more than one million  gas and artillery shells, poured through a 19-mile gash in the line.

By the end of the day,  7,500 British soldiers had been killed, 10,000 wounded, and 21,000 captured. Within the next two days, German troops had opened a 50-mile breach in the line and advanced close enough to Paris for its long-range guns to lob shells into the city.

It was into this hellish maelstrom that Genesee County’s young men, and the rest of the doughboys either already on French soil or bound for there, were headed.

Although none from the county were yet among them, American soldiers were dying on the battlefield.

That was reason enough for the folks back home to be worried. But there was another reason, too, a lesson already learned five times over in Genesee County:

All soldiers, not only the ones facing fire on the battlefield, and not even just those who were “over there,” were in harm’s way.

The county had already lost five young men in the war to accident and disease.

[Click on highlighted name for full honor roll profile in separate tab]

An accident took the life of Thomas Clark Illes of LeRoy, the first county soldier to die in service after the U.S. entered the war.

On June 20, 1917, two days before his twenty-second birthday, Illes enlisted at the 74th New York National Guard Armory, the regiment’s headquarters in Buffalo. He was killed on September 8, 1917, a few weeks before the 74th was to leave for training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “The young man had just alighted from an Erie engine on which he had ridden down town from the army camp,” reported the September 10, 1917 Batavia Daily News, “when he was struck at the Kenmore crossing by a Lockport car. He was so badly injured that he died within a few minutes.”

1918’s first war-time death occurred on January 11, when John R Wilder of LeRoy succumbed to pneumonia at an Army hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

Wilder, a railroad fireman in civilian life, was a mechanic with the 50th Aero Squadron at Kelly Field, in San Antonio, Texas. “We are considered the finest squadron ever in Kelly Field,” he wrote in a letter to his aunt. “It is quite an honor to belong to such a company of men.” The unit was on its way to Garden City, New York, to depart for overseas duty when John fell ill on January 2 and was sent to the hospital. Wilder, whose wife died in an accident in July 1915, was 27 years old and had two young daughters.

On February 3, 1918, Clifford Barber died of diphtheria in an embarkation hospital in Newport News, Virginia.

Clifford, who grew up in Alexander and Bethany, had worked for several years in the composing room of the Batavia Daily News. He enlisted in Rochester on April 28, 1917, just over three weeks after the United States declared war on Germany. In December 1917, his regiment, the 4th Infantry, moved from training at Camp Greene, North Carolina to Newport News to leave for overseas duty. Barber came down with pneumonia while there, and had just recovered from that illness when he contracted diphtheria and died suddenly. He was 20 years old.

On March 29, 1918, Edgar Murrell became the first Genesee County soldier to lose his life overseas.

Murrell, who likely went by his middle name, Roy, was born in Monroe County and spent most of his life there. But around 1915 he moved to LeRoy and was working as a farm hand when he was inducted in September, 1917 and assigned to Battery D of the 307th Field Artillery at Camp Dix. Murrell and a small group of others were transferred out in February 1918 and sent across as replacements.  Murrell died of pneumonia and diphtheria before reaching France, at Morn Hill rest camp, a stopping-off place for Europe-bound soldiers near Winchester, England. He was 27 years old.

Willis Curtis Peck enlisted in the Navy in 1915, before America was in the war, and had achieved the rank of Coxswain when he died of tuberculosis on the final day of March 1918 at a naval hospital in Newport, Rhode Island.

Peck was born in Brockport but grew up in Batavia. He served aboard the USS Rhode Island, a Virginia-class battleship in the Atlantic Fleet, in 1916 and 1917. From May 1917 on, he was based at the U.S. Naval Training Station in Newport, where he suffered from a long illness and was in and out of the hospital until his death at age 25. Willis Peck was Batavia’s first war-time serviceman to be buried at home. All city businesses closed during his funeral.


Retrieved from the Library of Congress: “Feed A Fighter,” Morgan Wallace, artist (; “Light Consumes Coal,” Coles Phillips, artist (; “Be Patriotic – Sign Your County’s Pledge,” Paul Stahr, artist (; “Help Your Boy at the Front” (; “Join [Red Cross] America’s Answer,” Hayden Hayden, artist (; Troops on Transport Ship, Official AEF Photo 13912, U.S. Signal Corps (; “German Soldiers Marching Toward Albert France” (

Others:  “74th Regiment Armory,” author collection; “Aviation Camp, Kelly Field” from Kelly Field Postcards, Internet Archive (; “Embarkation Hospital, Newport News” from Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War Vol. V, Ch.24, Fig. 164 (; “Scene at an American Rest Camp,” National Archives Photo No. 165-BO-0495 (; “USS Rhode Island [19-N-60-4-5]” Naval History and Heritage Command  (

Newspaper articles retrieved from


“The Boys of Battery D”

First WWI Draftees from Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming Counties.  Is Your Relative Among Them?

– – – – –

[Click unit photo above to view full-size with soldiers numbered for identification. Click “+” or zoom in for closeup; use arrow keys to scroll.]

 Most of the members of the first two contingents of WWI draftees from Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties—over 160 men in all—are in this photo, taken in October 1917. About 85 are from Genesee County, 30 from Orleans County, and 50 from Wyoming County.

In September of 1917, when the government sent the first two waves of draftees to training camps, the National Army put men from the same regions in the same units. All early western New York draftees were assigned to the new 78th Division based at Camp Dix, outside Wrightstown, New Jersey. The majority from Genesee, Wyoming, and Orleans counties were initially assigned to Battery D of the division’s 307th Field Artillery.

The men wouldn’t be together long. At about the same time the Battery D photo was taken, the Army began relaxing its policy of localized units, and over the next several months, though some remained with Battery D or other branches of the 78th Division, most of the men in the photo were transferred to units in other divisions: the 3rd, 5th, 32nd, 42nd, 82nd, and more. Tossed into the winds of the Great War, each would find a different fate. Nearly all served overseas. Most saw combat. Some were gassed or wounded. Ten made the supreme sacrifice.

Did you have a relative in Battery D? Can you help identify him?

Below are lists of the names of the members of each county’s first two draft contingents. The lists have been compiled using the original Battery D muster roll (click on image to see original document), as well as newspaper articles from the time and other military records. If you find a relative on the list and/or think you can identify him in the photo, please contact me.


[click on any list image for complete full-size list in separate tab]

Update — These Men Have Been Identified:


Left: Norris W Seward, Bergen; Middle: Stanley Crocker, LeRoy; Right: Roy C Price, Batavia

Click here to read their full profiles.

Can you help identify more of the “Boys of Battery D”? Too often, our memorials to those who’ve served our country become only lists of names; over time, the men themselves become faceless. I’m hoping that the descendants of these men, and others in their communities, will come forward to help identify these men, to create a lasting document that will honor them fully, in both face and name.





A Census, the Draft—and “Distant Battlefields Come Close to Home”


With the nation newly at war, the summer of 1917 was a time to line up, sign up, and be counted in Genesee County. June and July brought a state military census, a Liberty Bond drive, home defense enlistments, draft registration and selection . . . and news that Genesee County boys  were among the first to ship out for the war “over there.”

[click on articles/documents for full view in separate tab]


Are you a US citizen? In what country were you born? Are you white or colored (if colored, state black, yellow, brown, or red)?  Do you own an automobile?  Horses? Mules? Rifles? Can you take shorthand. . . make garments . . . do farm work? Can you operate an aeroplane . . . a wireless outfit . . . a steam locomotive?


Mid-June saw hundreds of local volunteer agents, most of them women and many of them suffragists, knocking on Genesee County doors and working at registration booths to help gather information for the state’s “Military Census and Inventory.” Their job: ask every county male and female resident between ages 16 and 50 a battery of questions designed to assess New York’s resources, both human and material, that could be put to military use if needed.

June 9, 1917 Batavia Times

“Persons who fail to comply with the law and refuse to answer questions can be summoned to court. If they refuse to obey they can be sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.”

An identification card was issued to each person as proof that he or she had participated in the census.


The census also automatically enrolled all male participants ages 18 to 45 in the reserve New York state militia, subject to be called into active service if the governor so deemed. To make that clear, those men received a “Notice of Enrollment Under Military Law” card.



“Now is the time for every man to come to the aid of his County.”

June 9, 1917 Batavia Daily News

June and July also saw hundreds of males young and old—ages 16 to 64—signing up for Genesee County’s Home Defense regiment. Organized in response to a call by the state Adjutant General for every county to do so, home defense regiments were composed of  volunteer community companies, each with no fewer than three officers, 18 noncoms and 36 privates, to be drilled and trained at least weekly.

Their duty: to “repel invasion, guard strategic points, and preserve order when other forces of the state are engaged in serving their country.”

By September, Genesee County had formed 12 companies—three in Batavia, and one each in Alabama, Oakfield, Elba, Byron, LeRoy, Stafford, Corfu, Darien and Alexander—totaling some 800 volunteers.


Genesee County more than did its part, too, in the Federal Government’s effort to raise two billion dollars for the war effort by selling Liberty Bonds, issued the month before.

June 13, 1917 LeRoy Gazette-News

“Nothing will contribute more toward bringing this war to a happy and speedy conclusion than Money Power.”

As June 15, the last day the bonds would be available, drew near, communities in the county launched  intensified subscription campaigns, and again citizens responded, lining up at banks and signing pledges distributed by canvassers.

In the final two days of the Liberty Loan campaign, Batavia raised more than $200,000 in bond sales. And when the bond issue closed nationwide, LeRoy led the state per capita with over $500,000 in subscriptions. Genesee County as a whole generated more than $900,000 in bond sales.


It was the draft, however, that was foremost on the minds of most Americans that summer.

June 2, 1917 Batavia Daily News

The Selective Service Act, passed by Congress just weeks before, on May 18, required all males between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for the draft on June 5.

By the end of that day in Genesee County, just under 3,000 men had registered. Nationally, over 10 million men had registered for war service.

With the immediate goal of raising an initial army of 687,000 men within weeks, the Selective Service Act assigned first-draft quotas to each state, county, and large-city district based on its population. New York State’s quota was 69,241. Genesee County’s quota, originally set at 214, then 225, was eventually established: 268 young men would be called.

Upon registration, every draft-age man in the nation had been assigned a number from one to the total number of registrations in his county or district. On July 20, in Washington, DC, numbers were drawn one at a time to determine the order in which men would be called for examination before their local draft boards.

The first five numbers drawn were 258, 2522, 458, 1436, and 2624. In Genesee County, those numbers belonged, respectively, to Thomas J Johncox (Batavia), Howard J Radley (Oakfield), Walter N Dorschied (Batavia), Franklin H Judd (Linden), and Harry A Dobson (Pavilion).

The next day, the Batavia Daily News published a full three-page list of every registered Genesee County man and his place in the order to be called for the draft.

Click for: Second page of draft listThird page of draft list.


For many, the long list of local names made clear what until then had seemed an abstraction: hundreds of the county’s sons and grandsons, nephews and neighbors, friends and boyfriends, could be sent to fight in a vicious war overseas. And for those whose names appeared nearest the top of the list, particularly the first 500 or so, the call would come soon.

“Genesee County knows today, full well, that Uncle Sam is at war with the Kaiser. Over night distant battlefields have come very, very close to home.”

July 21, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“Hundreds of Genesee County boys and young men know today that American citizenship has its responsibilities.

The draft figures made public yesterday and today excited the greatest interest.

Late yesterday as editions of The News made their appearance . . . papers were purchased with great eagerness and by evening not a newspaper was to be had in the city.  A special late edition . . . was taken by automobile to Stafford, LeRoy, Bergen, South Byron, Byron Center, Elba, Oakfield and East Pembroke. In each town many anxious young men were eager for news.” 


Over the following weeks, some 600 county men would be called to appear before the county draft board, made up of County Sheriff Freeman Edgerton, County Clerk Charles B. Pixley, and County Health Officer Dr. Victor M. Rice, who conducted physical examinations.

July 21, 1917 Batavia Times

A few were released for failure to pass the physical. Many, about half, claimed exemptions from the draft allowed by the Selective Service Act for men working in critical industries; clergy; those holding key military, governmental, and judicial positions; and sole supporters of dependents—which at the time included most  married men, and accounted for nearly all county exemption claims.

The call and examination of so many men, and the review of numerous exemption cases,  occupied the board for the rest of the summer. But by the end of August, as dictated by the federal draft authorities for every board across the nation, Genesee County had selected the first 45 percent of its first quota of draftees–121 men–to be sent to training camp in two groups in September.


September 4, 1917 Batavia Daily News


On September 5, an advance contingent of 14 county men—the first five percent of the quota, intended to help train those to follow—left Batavia for Camp Dix, New Jersey. Three weeks later, the remaining 40 percent—107 more men—boarded a New York Central to join them. They were the first two of what would become, over the course of the war and additional draft calls, 16 contingents of Genesee County draftees.


July 11, 1917 Batavia Daily News



The draftees would undergo weeks or months of training before being sent overseas. But news arrived in July that some Genesee County soldiers were already in France. Levere H. Johnson, Collis H. Huntington, and Robert S. Spencer, members of the 5th Marines, had shipped out on June 14 as part of the first convoy of American Expeditionary Forces to leave the U.S. for the war, and landed on June 27.

Sadly, Robert S. Spencer would be one of four Genesee County marines killed in the fighting at Belleau Wood a year later, in June 1918, and would become one of 66 men and one woman on the Genesee County WWI Honor Roll.

So, too, would Dr. Victor M. Rice, the county draft board’s examining physician, who died of influenza and pneumonia at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia in October 1918, less than a month after volunteering in answer to a national call for army physicians to help stem a deadly flu pandemic.


Coming Soon: “The Boys of Battery D”


Retrieved from the Library of Congress: “Gov. Whitman’s Proclamation – State Military Census” Eagle Job Printing Dept., Brooklyn, New York (; “Let’s End It–Quick, with Liberty Bonds, Maurice Ingres, artist (; “Your forefathers Died for Liberty in 1776 – Buy Liberty Bonds” The Ohio Litho Co. (; “Register June 5th” Arthur William Colen, The Colonial Press (; “Draft Drawing, July 1917” National Photo Company (; “America Here’s My Boy” Joe Morris Music Co., New York ( Photos ©2017 Terry Krautwurst: New York State Census badge, certification card, militia enrollment card.

Newspaper clips retrieved from


On a Snowy Good Friday, War—and “Months of Fiery Trial and Sacrifice”


On April 6, 1917, Genesee County awoke to a lily-white landscape.  Snow had fallen softly overnight, large wet flakes settling six inches deep, clinging to limbs and branches, frosting and hushing the grey-skied morning. It was a fitting start to a Good Friday; lovely, somber, purified, still. Ordinarily, the word “peace” might have come to mind.

But everyone in the county knew that this day would bring the opposite.

Friday Evening, April 6, 1917 Batavia Daily News

Four days earlier, President Woodrow Wilson had convened a special session of Congress, and after recounting the events leading up to the moment, had asked for a declaration of war against Germany.

“The world must be made safe for democracy. . . .”

Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

Wilson pulled no punches regarding the gravity of his request. “It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you,” Wilson said in his conclusion. “There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us.”

Two days after Wilson’s speech, on April 4, the Senate voted 82 to 6 in favor of war. And at 3 o’clock in the morning on April 6, as snow tumbled in the darkness across Genesee County, the House of Representatives concluded 17 hours of debate by voting “yes” 373 to 50. At 1:18 pm, President Wilson signed the resolution, and the country was officially at war.

Genesee County’s citizens hadn’t waited for an official declaration to express support for fighting the Kaiser, however.  Wilson’s speech before Congress had already inspired patriotic demonstrations and rallies. And the weeks to come would bring many more.

[click on articles for full view in separate tab]

“Bells pealed out their stirring notes for five minutes, and the noon whistles were given a prolonged blast.”

April 4, 1917 LeRoy Gazette-News 

“With other cities, towns, and villages throughout the nation, Le Roy joined Monday noon in an expression of patriotic spirit. Bells pealed out their stirring notes for five minutes, and the noon whistles were given a prolonged blast. Main street from end to end was a blaze of the Stars and on every street in town Old Glory floated out to the breeze.


April 11, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“It was a demonstration of loyalty to Old Glory in the hour when America joins the fearful world conflict. . . .It was the soul of America that seemed responsive to the call as the shadows of dusk seemed to gather. . . . There was, first, the biggest parade ever seen on the streets of Batavia, with over 3,000 in line. Afterwards, there were mass meetings . . . . Throngs packed the meeting places to the doors.”


In an address to the nation on April 16, President Wilson called for every man and woman to increase production “on the farms, in the shipyards, in the mines, in the factories.” He enjoined businesses to put patriotism over profit. He asked housewives to economize and to raise gardens for family food.  April 19, the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, was declared to be “Wake Up America Day.”


Genesee County responded overwhelmingly. Women, led by the  county’s suffragists, met to plan and organize their roles in the war effort.

Farmers held mass meetings and pledged to work hundreds of additional acres. Boys from the county’s high schools enlisted in the state’s Farm Cadets program, allowing them to work on farms toward the war effort in lieu of classroom time.


Every community held parades and rallies, and formed Red Cross chapters.  Towns, factories and businesses held flag raisings. The Stars and Stripes waved from most homes. By the end of April, local newspapers were reporting flag shortages.


April’s end also brought Congressional approval of the Selective Service Act, designed to raise an army of more than 500,000 men within a dozen weeks.

President Wilson signed the law on May 18, and soon designatedJune 5 as National Registration Day, when all men between the ages of 21 and 30 would be required to register for the draft.

Three days later,  Genesee County Sheriff Freeman Edgerton announced the names of draft officials and registration locations in every  community. The system was in place.



Many in the county, however, had already enlisted, and more would sign up in the days ahead. Some wanted to be with friends who were joining, or preferred a particular unit or branch of service. Most were simply eager to get into the fray.




On May 25, the Batavia Daily News published a list of 118 Genesee County men, many of them new enlistees, who were already serving their country.  Within a year, the number would increase tenfold.

[click on image below for link to full article in separate tab]

On May 26, 1917, in anticipation of an upcoming Memorial Day that would see patriotic parades of historic proportions throughout the county, the Batavia Times published an editorial that would prove all too prophetic.

” . . . ere the observance of this day comes again, some of our young men may have lost their lives . . . “

May 26, 1917 Batavia Times

Many of our young townsmen have been called to the colors, and many more are to be called, and perhaps ere the observance of this day comes again, some of our young men may have lost their lives in battle, and there may be many sorrowful hearts in our immediate vicinity.





Indeed, nine of the men on the Batavia Daily News‘s May 25 list of those already in the service would not survive the war–Clifford A.  Barber, Arthur L. Calkins, Howard Fay, William Hyde, Hiram Luhman, Carl J. Nielson, Robert Spencer, Peter J. Schlick, and Elva Springer.  And they would be joined by 58 others on Genesee County’s World War I Honor Roll.


Coming Soon: “Distant Battlefields Come Close to Home”


Retrieved from the Library of Congress:  President Woodrow Wilson Addressing Congress,” 1917 (; “Wake up America!”, James Montgomery Flagg, N.Y., The Hegeman Print (; “Sow the Seeds of Victory!”, James Montgomery Flagg (; “Join [Red Cross symbol]”, Hayden Hayden,  Snyder & Black Inc. N.Y. (; “Don’t Wait for the Draft–Volunteer,” Guenther (; “Make the World Safe–Enlist Now and Go with Your Friends,” Arthur N. Edrop, N.Y., The Hegeman Print (; “Spirit of 1917” (; “Join the Army Air Service, Be an American Eagle,” Charles Livingston Bull, Alpha Litho. Co., Inc., N.Y. (; “Enlist in the Navy–To Arms,” Milton Bancroft (

Newspaper clips: Courtesy of

Winter’s Fury, Spring Beckons—and “Days of Anxious Waiting”


If it hadn’t been for the Kaiser, February and March of 1917 in Genesee County would’ve echoed almost any earlier year’s transition from winter to spring in western New York.

February’s first days brought brutal winds, record cold, and snow measured in feet, not inches.

[Click on articles for full view in separate tab]


“Engines Were Buried All Day in about Eighteen Feet of Snow”

February 7, 1917 LeRoy Gazette-News

“The storm, which started on Friday night with some snow and a strong north wind, continued almost  unabated until yesterday,” reported the Wednesday, February 7  LeRoy Gazette-News.  “Saturday was one of the worst days here this winter. The temperature in the morning was two to eight degrees  below zero and the wind which blew at a 40-mile clip all day drove the cold into buildings, making it difficult to heat them. On Sunday more snow fell. . . . The wind came up again and continued without let up until yesterday noon.”


“Low Temperature Records for this Winter were Broken this Morning”

February 12, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“The high school was not in session this morning, owing to the low temperature in the rooms, although the heating plant was operated to its capacity. . . . Joshua R Houseknecht of the Batavia-Stafford townline road reported that the mercury registered 20 below zero at 5:45 o’clock and it was 18 below at 8 o’clock this morning on his farm.”



But western New Yorkers always have been a hardy lot, not the sort to let a little cold and snow get the best of them, and 1917 was no exception.  “Those who bundled up well and kept moving did not suffer,” observed the Daily News in that February 12 article announcing record cold.

A few days earlier, “When the Waterman house at Corfu burned on Monday evening,” reported the February 9 Batavia Daily News, five firemen at Darien Center gamely hitched up sleighs and headed to the trouble. “The two rigs had a hard time getting through the drifts,” the Daily reported. “They arrived home about midnight, with pretty tired horses.”

Then too, there is a silver lining in every cloud, or in this case tons of ice in a frigid winter.  “Councilman Nelson W. Cleveland . . . is now at work storing a large shed with about eighty tons of additional ice,” reported the February 24 Batavia Times.  “The second cutting was eleven and twelve inches in thickness. . . . At East Pembroke, where only one cutting was made on the Tonawanda creek . . . ice which measured 28 inches in thickness was taken.”

Weather-wise, March came in like a lamb, promising spring soon. Not even a brief snowfall on the 5th dampened the county’s anticipation.

“The snowfall will be of much benefit to the wheat crop, which is reported to be wintering in good condition,” opined a West Bethany correspondent in the March 6 1917 Batavia Daily News. “New seedings and meadows will also be protected from the cold.”

By mid-March, the signs of spring were everywhere.  Robins were spotted in Corfu, LeRoy, and Bergen.  In Bethany, shearing of sheep was begun. In North Byron, reported the March 24 Batavia Daily News, “Charles Searis has tapped his sugar bush.”


Yes, all would’ve been well in Genesee County in 1917 as winter made its welcome exit and spring’s long-awaited renewal arrived, bringing a fresh start, a fresh season.

All would’ve been well, that is . . . except for . . . the Kaiser.

Day after day in February and March of 1917, nature’s cadence from winter toward the edge of spring in Genesee County was overshadowed by a darker sort of  rhythm, a relentless beat orchestrated by the Kaiser and his minions toward the edge of war.


February 1: Germany resumes unrestricted submarine warfare.

“Situation Is Grave”

February 1, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“Germany’s statement means that her submarines have been unleashed for unrestricted operations and henceforth all traffic by sea–neutral or enemy–within a proscribed zone, will be endangered.”



       February 2, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“Tonight or tomorrow the American people may know the course their government has decided upon.”.


February 3: The United States breaks diplomatic relations with Germany.

“These Are Days of Anxious Waiting”

February 3, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“It is a historic fact that such action as the United States has taken is invariably succeeded by hostilities.”



February 7, 1917 LeRoy Gazette-News

“These are days of anxious waiting for the people of the United States for it is a time when no one knows how soon the clouds of war may obscure the sunshine of peace . . . . In these hours of suspense there is little excitement because the people of this country are looking at the matter with a determined purpose to face whatever may come with courage and confidence.”



February 8: 45 ships reported sunk by German submarines in seven days.
February 8, 1917 Batavia Daily News

Throughout February and March, hardly a day passed when local newspapers didn’t report at least one more ship sunk, more lives lost. Germany’s strategy:  to cut off food and war supplies to England and its allies, forcing a surrender within six months.




February 26: Ocean liner Laconia torpedoed without warning with 281 aboard; 10 Americans killed.

“A Clear Violation of American Rights”

February 27, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“The first torpedo struck near the stern and when the vessel was struck a second time she listed quickly to starboard.”




March 1: “Zimmermann Telegram” reveals secret German plot to enlist Mexico and Japan in war against U.S.

“We Shall Make War Together . . . It Is Understood that Mexico Is to Reconquer the Lost Territory in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.”

   March 1, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“Revelation of how Germany, expecting war with the United States as the result of her submarine campaign of ruthlessness, plotted to unite Mexico and Japan with her for an attack on the United States has stirred the capital to its depths.”



The telegram from Germany’s foreign minister,  Alfred Zimmermann, to his counterpart in Mexico City was transmitted in code on January 19.  The message was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence, and passed along to the United States. Although neither Mexico nor Japan was found to be complicit in the plan, the telegram provoked outrage throughout the country when it was released to the public on March 1.

British Decoded Telegram
German Encoded Telegram


March 8: German admiralty announces 47 more ships sunk by its submarines in recent days.
March 8, 1917 Batavia Daily News

Germany’s  stepped-up campaign of aggressive submarine warfare against  shipping bound for Britain or its allies was clearly taking a toll. Weekly reports such as this one suggested that the admiralty’s effort to cut off food, ammunition, and medical aid was threatening to succeed.


March 10: President Wilson orders all merchant ships armed.

“Guns, Gunners and Ammunition Will Be Placed Aboard American Merchant Ships Immediately”

March 10, 1917 Batavia Daily News

” . . . they will be sent to sea under orders to fire on German submarines . . . . The mere appearance of a German submarine in the presence of an American armed merchant vessel would entitle that ship . . . to take all measure for protection. . . . ”


“Time To Shoot”


Remainder of March: Submarine attacks continue, outrage grows.   The nation gears up for war.

As March wore on, every day seemed to bring news of more sinkings, more Americans killed, less hope of peace.  The March 19 Batavia Daily News (left) reported three unarmed American ships sunk the day before.  On March 24, the Batavia Times (right) reported 21 lives lost when the U.S. steamship Healdton was torpedoed. Among the dead were seven Americans.

“The Time When Every Man Must Be a Patriot Has Come.”

The nation’s patience was worn thin. There seemed little doubt that the United States would soon be at war. National Guard units such as Buffalo’s 3rd Field Artillery and  74th Infantry Regiment, which included Genesee County men,  were called up to protect bridges,  power plants, and shipyards. Enlistment offices opened. And impassioned editorials in local papers reflected the nation’s growing patriotic fervor.



March 28, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“The time when every man must be a patriot has come. Men of the United States of America must now take their stand. There is only one way to face, there is only one path to take. The way to face is toward liberty and freedom. The path to take is our country’s.”


President Wilson would soon address Congress at an emergency special session, called for April 2, regarding “the German situation.”  The nation waited to hear what course of action the President would take. But deep down, nearly everyone in Genesee County, indeed most Americans, already knew.


Next: “Months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead”


“Getting on His Nerves?” C.D. Dana (LC-DIG-ppmsca-33521); “Sailors and Others in a Lifeboat,” Frank Branqwn, U.S. Navy Recruiting Bureau (LC-USZCR-11363); “Time to Shoot” W.A. Rogers ((DLC/PP-1932:0042)); “Uphold Our Honor,” New York: Hegeman Printing Company (LC-USZC4-8307); “Join Army Navy Marines” (LC-USZC4-8309): Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

“Kaiser Warning Uncle Sam” J.M. Stanforth: Courtesy of “Cartooning the First World War” project at Cardiff University.

Zimmerman Telegram as Received by the German Minister to Mexico, “Telegram from Secretary of State Robert Lansing to the American Embassy, London, 3/1/1917” (ARC 302025); and Zimmerman Telegram Translation, “Telegram from Ambassador Walter Page to Secretary of State Robert Lansing 2/24/1917” (page two, ARC 302022):
Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, 1763-2002, National Archives Catalog, accessed online[enter ARC NUMBER].

Newspaper clips: Courtesy of


Mad Dogs, Blizzards, A Fireball, Buffalo Bill’s Demise—and “That War Over There”


In hindsight, perhaps they were hints of things soon to come, connections to the coming conflict between county and Kaiser hidden between the lines of the local news in Genesee County in the winter of late 1916 and early 1917:

[Click on articles for full view in separate tab]


“Trail of Fire Left by Meteor Across the Sky”

December 7, 1916 Batavia Daily News

“Many people who were out of doors last evening between 7 and 7:30 o’clock had a view of a beautiful celestial visitor that was awe-inspiring in its brilliancy . . . what might have been a golden serpent sinuously working its way through the sky. The head was a ball of fire and the body was a shimmering streak of flame from which the gilded scales fell off as it moved creepingly along.”




“Buffalo Bill’s Remains Will Lie in State in Colorado’s Capital . . . Well Known in Batavia”

January 11, 1916 Batavia Daily News

“Many Batavians knew Buffalo Bill well at the time he was a resident of Rochester in 1874 and 1875, as he frequently visited this village during that period. . . . “He was an intimate friend of the late Major Reedy of Batavia, afterward sheriff of Genesee County, who, like Cody, was an old Indian fighter . . . . After the organization of his big Wild West Show Buffalo Bill visited Batavia twice, on July 2, 1892, and the last time on May 28, 1912.”


“Rabid Dogs Are Creating Some Alarm – Many Persons Bitten”

January 13, 1917 Batavia Daily News

“The spread of the disease known as rabies has assumed alarming proportions in Western New York,” warned health officials. “Within a week, a boy who was bitten by a strange dog on the streets of Buffalo died of hydrophobia, and some thousands of dollars worth of horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs have died in Western New York from rabies and an even hundred of persons within this same territory have been bitten by dogs, which were found . . . to have had rabies .”


On the other hand,  you hardly needed to read between the lines to know that serious trouble was brewing. A mere glance at any day’s headlines would tell you that.

Since August 1914, when the treaty-linked trains of England-France-Russia and Germany-Austria-Hungary had collided head-on and Europe exploded in war, the news in Genesee County from across the sea had been bad at best, and horrifying too often.


The births of the modern machine gun, torpedo, and tank; of “aeroplanes” that rained bombs; of gas that blinded, burned skin, and flooded lungs; of machinery that coldly flung body-mutilating explosives into distant troops, had spread death and destruction like no war before. By the end of 1916, combined German and Allied casualties totaled more than two million.

In the still-fresh September 1916 presidential election, although Genesee County had voted overwhelmingly for his Republican opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, Woodrow Wilson had won reelection to the Presidency using the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.”

Many Americans called for military preparedness in the interests of national defense, and many more raised funds or made bandages for the Red Cross to help the armies overseas. But few wanted the United States to get involved in that unthinkably bloody war thousands of miles away in foreign lands.

Meanwhile, German submarines nosed along our shores and throughout the Atlantic and Mediterranean prowling for ships carrying, or thought to carry, ammunition and supplies for the Allies. At least, following the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, in which 128 U.S. citizens had died, and of the Sussex in March 1916, in which several more Americans perished, international outrage had prompted the Germans in May 1916 to limit attacks on commercial ships. Its subs would sink a ship only after a search proved contraband was aboard and only after its crew and passengers had been provided safe passage.

Small comfort, and an agreement that Germany would soon retract, on the final day  of January.

But in those wintry months of December 1916 and January 1917, as blizzard after blizzard swept through western New York, choking roads and stopping trains in their drift-covered tracks, Genesee County residents had worry enough just staying comfortable in their own homes. Coal prices were sky-high, and municipal gas plants could barely keep sufficient pressure up for heating and lighting.


But you have to wonder if anyone noticed, sitting by the fire reading the news as the storms raged outside.

That meteor: Wasn’t Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany’s private yacht named Meteor?

And Buffalo Bill: Wasn’t Kaiser Wilhelm one of Cody’s biggest fans, so admiring the showman’s efficiency in transporting men and animals by train from one performance to another that he had sent members of his Prussian Guard to study his techniques?

And that scourge of rabid canines spreading across western New York:  Wasn’t Kaiser Wilhelm known throughout the world as “The Mad Dog of Europe?”



Next: “Days of Anxious Waiting”



“Getting on His Nerves?” C.D. Dana (LC-DIG-ppmsca-33521); “Deutsches U-Boot” (LC-DIG-ds-09934); “Kaiser on Ship ‘Meteor'” (LC-DIG-ggbain-04171); “Buffalo Bill” (LC-USZC4-3116): Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

“Mad Dog of Europe” J.M. Stanforth: Courtesy of “Cartooning the First World War” project at Cardiff University.

Newspaper clips: Courtesy of