Herman and Louisa Sproed family. From left to right, Herman, Edward, John, Louisa, and baby Joseph. Taken in Minnesota, 1901-1902, with permission from the Sproed family, Ancestry.
It was a dreary Saturday in late October 1918, the youngest two Sproed children kept an anxious eye out the window of their home watching for the return of their father and news of their mother, hospitalized with influenza. Death had claimed their brother John six days prior, and illness and fear permeated the community as the numbers of sick grew with each day’s newspaper count. Father Herman Sproed had left on the bicycle earlier that morning bound for the hospital with a bouquet of flowers, as he had each day since their mother had been hospitalized. Surely, he would return soon, and with good news of their mother’s recovery.
October 8, 1918 the Oregon Statesman, local Salem paper broke the news with the headline, “Influenza Hits Oregonians Now” reporting the four cases traced to Portland’s Benson Polytechnic school and related quarantine. The next day the community patted itself on the back by reporting that although the disease had hit Chemawa Indian School, cases were isolated, and it was “not known that any persons are ill with the malady in Salem.” City officials made the decision to close the city on October 13th. No large public gatherings, no movies, no church, and so on. The paper continued to report deaths connected with Salem – soldiers, former residents, relatives of residents, but nothing close to home until 29 Oct 1918, the report of deaths in the prior week. The second name on the list, and first death of a Salem resident, was John Theodore Sproed at 2590 Cherry St., brother to our children anxiously waiting for their father to return. John had fallen ill first and in nursing him, Louisa had become sick herself. Both were admitted to the hospital. John, age 18, died 19 October 1918. And the Spanish Influenza would not be finished with the Sproed family until it claimed the life of son Michel (often misspelled as Mishel) who died 21 December 1919.
Spanish Influenza death report in the Oregon Statesman, 29 Oct 1918.
Herman and Louisa Sproed brought their family to Salem from Minnesota, by train in 1911. The harsh, cold winters of the Midwest had taken their toll on Louisa’s health and it was hoped that the warmer climate of the Willamette Valley would allow her to recover and thrive. They purchased a small farm off Cherry St. in the Highland Addition. The home address was 2590 and is now the location of Fox’s Auto Repair. The family had six children, five boys and one girl. Their names, in birth order: Edward Carl, John Theodore, Joseph Jacob (Joe), Michel W., Hulda Marion (Hilda), and Peter Crist (Pete). The family belonged to the Seventh Day Adventist Church and had settled among friends that also identified with the faith and ancestral origins of Father Herman who had been born in Germany and brought to the United States as a child. With the onset of World War I community tension was high and measures put in place to register and track residents of German descent. Yet, despite the challenges and hardships they experienced, the family would remain in the Salem area for over 50 years, farming in the same location.
But we must return to the story of our waiting children. Their brother John dead, and now awaiting news of their sick mother. Father soon appeared; the bike left haphazardly in the grass near the gate. He stood, both hands learning against the fence as though drawing the strength needed to break the news to his children. But they already knew. The minute they saw the bouquet of flowers still in his hand, they knew. Upon arriving at the hospital that day, Herman had been informed of his wife’s death. The children never forgot that day, and thanks to their oral history and documentation neither will we. All three Sproed family members, Louisa and her two sons, were buried in the City View Cemetery and share a headstone.
This article was written by Kaylyn F. Mabey for the Statesman Journal, March 2020.
- Oregon Death Index – Louisa, John, and Michel Sproed
- Death Notices – The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (Seventh Day Adventist periodical) October, December 1918
- FamilySearch – oral history recording (Louisa Sproed Memories)
- Salem City Directories
- “Death Report” Oregon Statesman (Salem, OR) 25 October 1918
- “The 1918 “Spanish Influenza” Pandemic In Oregon”, Ivan M. Woolley, Oregon Historical Quarterly, September 1963, p. 246-258