“My Nettie, My Nettie; Oh, My Nettie”

Reflections on the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 in Logan, Utah

“Spanish Influenza – Just Grip Camouflaged Under A New Name.” image courtesy of Newspapers.com

“Spanish Influenza – Just Grip Camouflaged Under A New Name,” read the 13 January 1919 headline of an article from The Journal, a Logan, Utah newspaper.[1] Over the previous months, Utah along with the rest of the world had been fighting Spanish Influenza. The first cases in the state occurred around the beginning of October 1918. Within a month, there were 1,500 documented cases and 117 deaths.[2] Then, as now, some downplayed the gravity of the situation.

The first cases of Spanish Influenza in Logan, Utah were detected on about 9 October and were traced to the business district of the city, but by 12 October, the number of cases had rapidly multiplied in the business houses on Main Street.[3] The family of my second great grandfather, Andreas Peterson, resided at 247 North Main Street, just a few blocks from their shoe store at 73 South Main.[4] Their residence and business placed them at the frontlines of Logan’s outbreak – an outbreak that would deeply affect their own family.

The city took immediate precautions. Within days, movie theaters, pool halls, dance halls, schools and churches had closed.[5] Over time, the directives and ordinances became even more stringent. On 18 November, an ordinance mandated the use of gauze masks for all individuals going out in public.[6] Public health officials later pointed to this last ordinance as a turning point in the progression of the disease. By the beginning of December, the number of cases in the city were drastically reduced.

History of the Spanish Influenza in Utah October 1918 – December 1918. (image courtesy of Newspapers.com)

Nevertheless, with the Christmas holidays, the spread of the disease once again blossomed. on 14 January 1919, The day after The Journal published their article dismissing Spanish Influenza as “the same old grip,” The Logan Republican, another local newspaper, sounded the following warning:

“An increase in the number of Spanish influenza cases is noted in many parts of the United States, and Utah is no exception… The state board of health and other leading medical authorities… insist that the country should be prepared for a long campaign, and that there should be no relaxation on the part of the health authorities.” While sounding this warning, they also qualified their call with the following statement: “cities and towns cannot be closed indefinitely on account of the epidemic…or financial ruin will follow. There is only one way to combat the disease, and that is prompt isolation of those who are afflicted.”[7] Then, as now, they faced the same challenges in balancing public health and economic interests.  

Andreas’s journal makes little mention of these restrictions or the events of the pandemic. On 11 November, he made a note about the armistice with Germany.[8] A note on 19 November reported that Joseph F. Smith, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had died. A note on the birth of Andreas’s grandson, Charles Overn Peterson, on 26 November was followed by a description of the family Christmas dinner with son, John. Perhaps more telling is what was not recorded in Andreas’s journal. Since his return as President of the Scandinavian Mission in 1912, Andreas had been a sought-after speaker and lecturer for Sunday Schools, sacrament services, funerals and other religious meetings. Andreas meticulously recorded his speaking engagements and lectures in his journal and had a full schedule through the end of September 1918.[9]  He did not have another speaking engagement until March 6th the following year.[10] Andreas’s typically busy schedule ground to a halt.

On 13 January 1919, the same day The Journal reported that the Spanish Influenza was “just grip camouflaged under a new name,” Andreas Peterson accompanied his twenty-six-year-old daughter, Nettie, to the O.L.I (Ogden-Logan-Idaho) station in Logan, Utah.[11] She was returning to her teaching position at the Oneida Academy in Preston, Idaho where she had been teaching domestic science.[12]  Andreas’s journal reported that “she was healthy and happy” whey they said goodbye.

“The 13th January, Monday morning, I accompanied Nettie to the O.L.I. Station where she departed for Preston to be a teacher at the Academy, she was then healthy and happy.”

Perhaps it was before Nettie left, after all her family’s residence on Main Street placed them at the epicenter of the disease’s debut in Logan. Maybe it was the dinner at Charles and Libby’s house the night before she left. Perhaps it happened on the train as she headed north to return to her teaching post. Maybe it happened sometime in the few days that she spent in Preston. The incubation period for the Spanish Influenza was about 2-3 days, so it could have happened at any point before, during or after her journey.[13] In any case, at some point Nettie contracted the dreaded disease. Andreas reports:

“The sixteenth, Thursday afternoon, Nettie returned very sick. The seventeenth. Dr. Merrill came and examined her and found that she was suffering from pneumonia. The illness worsened and so we watched her night and day until the twenty-fifth, Saturday at 2:15 p.m., when she calmly passed away in her sleep, an event which cause great sorrow in the whole family.” These details were confirmed on her death certificate.[14] .  

Death certificate of “Netter” Peterson.

The Spanish Influenza epidemic was unique in its high mortality among otherwise healthy young adults in contrast to most strains of the virus which were more typically fatal for the young and the elderly.[15]  Nettie was just one of the approximately 675,000 individuals who died from Influenza in 1918 and 1919 in the United States, and yet as small as her place was in the overall statistics, her loss was felt deeply in her family and community.

Nettie was the next oldest sister and close friend of my great-grandfather, Anthon Overn Peterson. At the time of her death, Anthon was not present as he was stationed with the Marines in Balboa Park, California. Even though Nettie died more than 100 years ago and left no descendants of her own, the pain of her passing is tenderly remembered in our own family. My mother recalls that when Anthon heard the news, he wept “My Nettie, my Nettie. Oh, my Nettie…”

The Family of Andreas and Inga Overn Peterson: From left to right: Elise, Anthon, Inga, John, Andreas, Charles, Minnie, William, Nettie. ca. 1910

Nettie’s loss was also felt in the community. Andreas reported: “Tuesday, the twenty-eighth, at 2:00 p.m., [Nettie] was laid to her final rest in a very beautiful coffin, with a silver plate bearing an inscription which read: ‘Nettie Peterson – most happy when serving others. 1892-1919.’ Friends and relatives provided a large, beautiful wreath of flowers which accompanied the coffin to the grave.” Andreas’s journal and newspaper accounts reveal the funeral program: [16]

  • A solo by Professor C.R. Johnson and a mixed quartet performing “Jesus Lover of My Soul
  • An opening prayer by Bishop B.G. Thatcher
  • A talk by President O.H. Budge, who spoke in the highest terms of the character possessed by the deceased. He had known her during her girlhood and school days (more than twelve years) and found her to be very sincere in her work, while she journeyed through life.
  • Oh Dry Those Tears,” solo by James A. McMurrin and cello accompaniment by Elroy Christensen.
  • A talk by Carl E Peterson, uncle of Nettie, who spoke upon the continuation of life beyond the grave and the assurance the righteous have of a glorious resurrection.
  • A talk by Professor Lowry Nelson who spoke of the fine character and many accomplishments of Miss Peterson while she was a student at the Utah Agricultural College (later Utah State). Among other things, he said “Her soul was the soul of an artist and her heart the heart of a child. Her memory lives sweetly with us all.”
  •  “O My Father,” solo by Neene (Neyneen) Farrell with cello accompaniment by Elroy Christensen.
  • Closing remarks by Bishop George Lindquist.
  • Dedication of the grave by Nettie’s brother, John Overn Peterson at the request of the family.
  • Benediction by Orval Adams.

101 years after the death of Nettie Peterson, and 100 years since the Spanish Flu Pandemic, the world is now in the grips of another pandemic. Some claim it “is the same old grip” while others warn that “the country should be prepared for a long campaign” Still more warn that “cities and towns cannot be closed indefinitely on account of the epidemic…or financial ruin will follow.” Regardless of where any of us fall in this range of opinions, let us remember that each statistic represents a life. 100 years from now, descendants and friends will repeat the refrain, “My Nettie, my Nettie, Oh My Nettie” – a memory of life lost.  


[1] “Spanish Influenza—Just Grip Camouflaged Under a New Name,” The Journal (Logan, Utah), 13 January 1919, p. 6, https://www.newspapers.com/image/597281140/, subscription database, accessed April 2020.   

[2] Twila Van Leer, “Flu Epidemic Hit Utah Hard in 1918, 1919,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 28 March 1995, https://www.deseret.com/1995/3/28/19166723/flu-epidemic-hit-utah-hard-in-1918-1919, accessed April 2020.     

[3] “Influenza and the Mask,” The Journal (Logan, Utah), 21 December 1918, p. 11, https://www.newspapers.com/image/597226012/, subscription database, accessed April 2020. 

[4] U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 (index and images), Logan, Utah, 1920, Andreas Peterson household and business, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed April 2020; and,

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 (index and images), Logan, Utah, 1917, Andreas Peterson household and business, https://www.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed April 2020; and,

Andreas Peterson, The Journal of Andreas Peterson, vol. 3, Grant and Kathleen Peterson, eds., (1996), p. 106.

[5] “Status of Influenza in Logan City” The Journal (Logan, Utah), 12 October 1918, p. 3, https://www.newspapers.com/image/597223760/, subscription database, accessed April 2020. 

[6] “Influenza and the Mask,” The Journal (Logan, Utah), 21 December 1918, p. 11, https://www.newspapers.com/image/597226012/, subscription database, accessed April 2020. 

[7] “Wave of Influenza” The Logan Republican (Logan, Utah), 14 January 1919, p. 6, https://www.newspapers.com/image/77927037/, subscription database, accessed April 2020. 

[8] Andreas Peterson, The Journal of Andreas Peterson, vol. 3, Grant and Kathleen Peterson, eds., (1996), p. 110.

[9] Andreas Peterson, The Journal of Andreas Peterson, vol. 3, Grant and Kathleen Peterson, eds., (1996), p. 109.

[10] Andreas Peterson, The Journal of Andreas Peterson, vol. 3, Grant and Kathleen Peterson, eds., (1996), p. 112.

[11] Andreas Peterson, The Journal of Andreas Peterson, vol. 3, Grant and Kathleen Peterson, eds., (1996), p. 110.

[12]  “Local News,” The Journal (Logan, Utah), 13 January 1919, p. 3, https://www.newspapers.com/image/597281137/, subscription database, accessed April 2020; and,

Oneida Stake Academy Community and Historical Center, https://oneidastakeacademy.org/, accessed April 2020.

[13] John M. Barry, “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America,” Smithsonian Magazine (November 2017), https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/, accessed April 2020.

[14]  “Utah State Archives Indexes,” database and images, Utah State Archives (https://archives.utah.gov/research/indexes: accessed April 17, 2020), Department of Health. Office of Vital Records and Statistics Death certificates, Series 81448.

[15]  Dave Roos, “Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu Was So Deadly,” History, 3 March 2020, https://www.history.com/news/spanish-flu-second-wave-resurgence, accessed May 2020.

[16] Andreas Peterson, The Journal of Andreas Peterson, vol. 3, Grant and Kathleen Peterson, eds., (1996), p. 111; and,

“Funeral Held for Miss Nettie Peterson” The Logan Republican (Logan, Utah), 30 January 1919, p. 1, https://www.newspapers.com/image/77927221/, subscription database, accessed April 2020; and,

“Tender Tributes Paid Miss Nettie Peterson” Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 31 January 1919, p. 11, https://newspaperarchive.com/salt-lake-city-deseret-evening-news-jan-31-1919-p-11/, subscription database, accessed April 2020; and,

 “Miss Peterson’s Funeral” The Journal (Logan, Utah), 29 January 1919, p. 3, https://www.newspapers.com/image/597281215/, subscription database, accessed April 2020.

3 thoughts on ““My Nettie, My Nettie; Oh, My Nettie”

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