Stained glass windows leave an impression. They are lifelike images that are hand painted on glass. We appreciate the colorful windows and the pictures remind us of stories about our Christian faith, guardian angel protecting a child and the Good Shepherd with a sheep across his shoulder. Occasionally the old windows create a curiosity. Such is the case in our school library, now a library but first it was a chapel for students when the school was built in 1919.
The names on the windows are “In Memory of” Ralph Edward Boschert and Albert F. Ell.
Finding out about the “Memory” of Ralph Boschert and Albert Ell takes on a journey of discovery because those who were close to them are no longer alive. In searching for information, we have learned that each of these men were in the Navy during World War I. Neither died from wounds in battle across the ocean but from another battle, the one of a virus that was deadly, commonly known as the Spanish Flu. This is how the Center for Disease Control describes that virus.
“The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919. In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic.”
Both Ralph Boschert and Albert Ell were in the 20-40 year age group and in the Navy. Newly enlisted, Ralph was at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, Illinois, when he contracted the flu and died of it and pneumonia. He was 22 years old. Albert was just shy of his 23rd birthday and had returned from serving in the war. According to a descendant, Bob Ell, Albert came from Europe aboard a ship that was so crowded that the men had to stand in water all the way across the ocean. His death certificate shows influenza as the cause followed by bronchial pneumonia.
Ralph Boschert and Albert Ell are buried in All Saints Cemetery, their names etched in stone but also in our school’s stained glass windows. As we think of them, we have a reminder for today – to consider the similarities between the pandemic of 1918-19 and what we are experiencing with the Covid-19.