John Lewis Knapp’s sister, Clotilda E. Knapp, was born 4 Jan 1893 in Randolph Twp., Portage County, Ohio, to Lewis J. Knapp and Mary M. May. Clotilda was the second child in the family.
Clotilda married Paul Romanus Bissler, son of Joseph W. and Mary Bissler. Joseph Bissler was an older brother of Samuel Bissler, founder of the Bissler Funeral Home in Kent, Ohio. Paul Roman Bissler was born 11 Aug 1894 in Suffield Twp., Portage Co., Ohio.
The young couple had one daughter, Evelyn M., born 22 April 1915 in Suffield Twp., Portage County, Ohio. During the fall of 1918, Clotilda was pregnant with the couple’s second child.
World War I was winding down overseas in France, and her younger brother, Hubert, was serving stateside in the Army. It looked like he wouldn’t have to deploy overseas. The young mother-to-be didn’t realize that soon she would be locked in a life or death struggle of her own with an invisible enemy.
The Americans had joined in the fight, bringing the Allies closer to victory against the Germans.
Then, soldiers and citizens started to get sick – and die. And it was happening all over the world.
A virulent form of influenza ravaged the earth – a fifth of the world’s population was infected.
The flu was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40 – unusual for influenza, which is usually a killer of the elderly and young children.
Some facts taken from Stanford University’s website about The 1918 Influenza Pandemic:
- The flu infected 28% of all Americans.
- An estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in the world war.
- Of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy. An estimated 43,000 servicemen mobilized for WWI died of influenza.
- The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people world-wide.
- More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.
- Known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe” the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster. The effect of the influenza epidemic was so severe that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years.
This flu attacked quickly – and the younger and healthier the victim, the more savage the attack. Some victims died within hours after the initial onset of symptoms.
The death rate for 15 to 34-year-olds of influenza and pneumonia were 20 times higher in 1918 than in previous years. People were struck with illness on the street and died rapid deaths.
One anecdote shared from that fall of 1918 was of four women playing bridge together late into the night. Overnight, three of the women died from influenza. Others told stories of people on their way to work suddenly developing the flu and dying within hours.
It isn’t known when Clotilda Bissler got sick, but she gave birth to a son born prematurely on Oct. 10, 1918. The baby boy, Joseph L. Bissler, died the following day, on Oct. 11, 1918. His young mother followed him to the grave on October 12, 1918.
The doctor listed the cause of death on Clotilda’s death certificate as lobar pneumonia and premature labor. Also listed as a contributing factor to her death was La Grippe.
The Great Pandemic of 1918 had claimed two more victims.
Paul married his second wife, Martha M. Winkler. But sadly, tragedy struck a second – and a third time – for Paul Bissler.
First, his daughter, Evelyn, the child from his first marriage to Clotilda, died in 1927 of myocarditis caused by scarlet fever at the age of twelve.
Then a tragic car accident in May 1943 claimed the lives of two of his young sons from his marriage to second wife, Martha. Paul and Joseph Bissler were killed in a car accident while they were riding with their father on May 31, 1943.
Paul R. Bissler died 9 Dec 1961 at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, Ohio. Martha Winkler Bissler passed away on 29 Jul 1986 in Stow, Ohio.
One of Paul and Mary’s daughters, Mary, married Dick Richards, a Kent area florist and Knapp family friend. Mrs. Richard H. (Mary) Richards of Kent is listed on Martha’s obituary as a survivor, along with sons, William of Suffield, David of Rootstown and Daniel of Maui, Hawaii; and another daughter, Andrew (Betty) Karaffa of Wheat Ridge, Colo.
You have to admire the tenaciousness of our ancestors – and their courage in pressing on despite adversity and tragedy. Whatever challenges life threw at them, they just kept putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.
If you want to learn more about the 1918 Flu Pandemic, check out Stanford University’s site about the pandemic. This is the source of the statistics I mentioned in the blog post.