Gussie Gordon Bumgardner

Pandemic Influenza Storybook

Storyteller: Barbara J. Burkett–Halapin, Ph.D.

Location: Virginia

Illustration of a young woman looking out an open window

My grandmother, Gussie Gordon Bumgardner, was born in 1898. She was 20 years old at the time of the 1918 pandemic and lived in the small town of Shenandoah, Virginia. Gussie was a stoic woman of few words, but became very animated when discussing the pandemic flu.

“I thought I was going to die. I remember lying here in the front room and watching hearse after hearse pass by my window outside.”

Her comments were remarkable for many reasons, but especially because Gussie was a hardy individual who never gave in to sickness. At the time, 60 years had passed, yet I could hear fear in her voice as she talked about the 1918 pandemic flu. Secondly, to this day, Shenandoah has only one hearse and one funeral home. Her comments left me with a vivid picture of how the flu impacted such a small community, and her telling of the pandemic elicits fear in me half a century later.