The ravages of pandemic
It had been a long, 600-mile drive over mostly dirt roads and they weren’t even halfway to Arizona.
The temperature had suddenly dropped from the mid 70s to nearly 50 degrees during the day, and roads each night were covered in heavy frost.
Bill Bezold and his family had spent days on the road already, chugging along on narrow tires, carefully keeping their clattering engine cool, and finding gasoline wherever they could.
In the next to the last week of October 1918, Bill drove into Ashland and asked for directions to the hospital.
Born near Chicago in 1882 to John and Louisa Bezold, Bill was the oldest of four children. Before he was 10 years old the family moved to Missouri, where his father was a farmer who soon opened a grocery store in town. His motto was, “Quick sales and low profits.”
Hearing that Idaho was “god’s country,” Bill and his brother Elmer left Missouri for The Gem State and began farming near Aberdeen.
It didn’t take Bill long to become restless. He soon moved across the border to a farm near the eastern Washington town of Endicott. Here, 29-year-old Bill met, and on Oct. 11, 1911, married a farmer’s daughter, 21-year-old Edna Zimmerlee.
Their first son, Arthur, was born in February 1914, followed by another son, William Lorin, in December 1916.
Why the family was on the road to Arizona in 1918 isn’t known. Perhaps they were trying to escape the raging Spanish flu pandemic and believed Arizona offered warmer weather and a better chance for their children’s survival.
Even before they reached Ashland, Bill knew something was wrong. He was feverish and so was his wife. The boys seemed healthy enough but were beginning to complain.
Doctors at Ashland Community Hospital recognized the symptoms immediately and found beds for the entire family.
Bill, William Leonard Bezold, died the next morning, Oct. 23.
Not yet 2 years old, William Lorin, Bill’s son, was gone the next morning. On Friday afternoon, Oct. 25, Bill and his son were buried together in Mountain View Cemetery.
Bill’s wife, Edna, managed to hold on for a while; however, two days after her husband and son were buried, she joined them. Before her passing, she was able to give doctors contact information for relatives in Washington and Idaho.
Edna’s mother, Francis Zimmerlee, arrived the day after her daughter’s death. She had been detained at the bedside of her seriously ill son. The day after her arrival, she sat at the graveside memorial service as her daughter was buried next to her husband and son.
Mrs. Zimmerlee’s 4-year-old grandson, Arthur, was getting better in the hospital. He would recover and grow up with the Zimmerlee family.
Bill’s father arrived from Idaho a week after his daughter-in-law had died. The distance and train delays had kept him from arriving sooner.
It was, said the Ashland Tidings, “one of the saddest instances of the ravages of Spanish influenza to come before the notice of the people in this city.”
After Edna’s mother and Bill’s father returned home, community members placed stones to mark the Bezold graves. Sadly, visitors to Ashland’s Mountain View Cemetery will notice mistakes on the stone over Bill and his son’s grave. The metal plaque calls baby Lorin, Bill’s “Brother,” and misspells his name as “Loren.”
Arthur Wayne Bezold, the toddler, the family’s only survivor, remained in Washington and grew up to be a farmer. He died at age 86 in 2000, 12 years after his wife’s passing.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.