Bones found in Schuylkill County may be linked to 1918 pandemic

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Sep 9, 2015 4:43 AM

Photo by National Photo Company photograph via Library of Congress website

Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

(Schuylkill Haven) -- A road construction project may have unearthed a link to an early 20th century pandemic. Human bones found in Schuylkill County are now being tested.

PennDOT archaeologist Kevin Mock says he believes the remains could be from the 1918 flu outbreak, also known as the Spanish flu.

It killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, including 1,600 in Schuylkill County in just a month.

Mock says the rash of deaths would have required quick burials.

"And we do know that people were buried en masse. When the Spanish influenza struck the community, it was pretty devastating, and people were dying pretty quickly, as far as we can tell, faster than they could even build coffins for," he says.

"What we can tell is that the remains weren't in any sort of formal burial so they weren't in a coffin or a casket. It looks like they're in a row, and they're very close together. Which also leads to the possibility that it was associated with the Spanish influenza."

PennDOT crews digging space for a curb recently discovered the bones in Schuylkill Haven.

They halted work in that area.

Researchers from Erie's Mercyhurst University are now studying the bones, hoping to link them to the 1918 outbreak through forensic testing and death records.

But they might need help from the public.

Mock says if anyone has ancestors buried in Schuylkill Haven who died from the Spanish flu in 1918, they should reach out to PennDOT's District 5 office.

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