|Gravestone of Mabel Ruth Lambirth (1912-1918), Hazelwood Cemetery (2015 photograph)|
|Notice (including mistaken family name) from Grinnell Herald, November 12, 1918|
Ruth's death, therefore, was not an isolated case, but merely one of many that made the year 1918 stand out for families touched by the virus. At the same time, Ruth's encounter with the flu was different: state records reveal that October had been by far the most dangerous month, during which almost 43,000 cases of flu were reported across Iowa. By contrast, in November state authorities counted only thirteen cases of influenza, one of which killed Ruth Lambirth.
|Data on Diseases in Iowa, Second Half of 1918, Report of the State Board of Health for the Biennial Period Ending June 30, 1920 (Des Moines: State of Iowa, 1921), p. 19.|
However much the family mourned Ruth's death, her lonely gravestone points to an important postscript: if elsewhere in Hazelwood one meets whole families metaphorically gathered together in adjacent graves, Ruth's stone stands alone, her family having survived the flu and moved on, abandoning her and her memorial. Who were these people, and where did they go?
The Lambirths, as it turns out, moved a great deal in their lifetimes. Joseph Elmer Lambirth, Ruth's father, was born in 1884 in Metcalf County, KY where young Elmer, as he was casually known, grew up. In 1909 he married Lillie Davis of Center, KY, and the following year the couple welcomed their first child, Roland. By 1911 the family was settled in Illinois where Elmer rented farmland and where in 1912 a second child arrived: Mabel Ruth, whom the family called by her middle name. Within a few years, the Lambirths moved again, this time settling in Iowa. No later than 1916 they were living in Poweshiek County where Elmer rented a farm in Chester township from John and Zella Matzen. The Lambirths continued to work this farm after the Matzens sold it to B. J. Ricker in 1920, and remained Ricker's tenants until 1923, when they decided to move again, this time to a farm in Jackson Township (near Montezuma) where federal census officials found them still in 1930. In the meantime, a third child—Lucille—was born.
|B. J. Ricker farm, Chester Township, 1921 Atlas of Poweshiek County|
|Montezuma Republican January 22, 1931|
|Gravestone of Lillie and Elmer Lambirth, Barnes City cemetery|
However, despite the fact that Ruth's body lay in Grinnell, neither Lillie, who died just a few blocks from Hazelwood, nor Elmer was buried at Hazelwood with their little girl who had died so many years before. Ruth's gravestone was destined to stand among graves of people she never knew.***
|Gravestone for Olive Ruby Cessna (1885-1891), Hazelwood Cemetery (2015 photo)|
|Section 33, Chester Township, 1896 Atlas of Poweshiek County|
|Grinnell Herald July 3, 1891|
Nothing survives to explain how the Cessna family dealt with Ruby's death. Perhaps Newton and Nancy Cessna, like some other parents of their era, anticipated the fragility of their children's well-being by delaying the naming of newborns. The 1885 Iowa census reveals that the first-born Cessna daughter (later known as Pearl), born November 15, 1884, was still unnamed when the census official inventoried the family early in January, almost two months later. The record for Ruby's own birth in December, 1886, shows a similar reluctance to assign a name: the document identifies her only by gender and surname. So perhaps the Cessnas were alert to the dangers of childhood illness.
|"Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935," database, Family Search (http://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XVHZ-DRW)|
The parents of Ruby Cessna did not confront the same terror as was visited upon the Case family. That first-born daughter, Pearl, and her younger sister, Maude, both survived the dangers of diphtheria and other childhood maladies. Nevertheless, their dad, who had been reasonably successful as a farmer, by 1895 decided to move into Grinnell, and the family soon thereafter took up residence at 921 Summer Street. Newton Cessna became meat manager for Grinnell Provision Company, and, to judge by his report to the 1915 census officials, he did very well, earning over $4000 in 1914. But Nancy Cessna was not well, and in 1917 the family—including the two unmarried daughters, both of whom were teachers in their late twenties—moved to California where they hoped the climate would be kinder to Mrs. Cessna. For some years the senior Cessnas lived near Pearl, who in 1921 had married Francis Kellogg, a fellow high school teacher in Eureka. Later, the elder Cessnas moved to Pasadena, close to their other daughter, Maude, who had married Chauncey Traver, a doctor at the Patton State Hospital for the Insane.
And so Newton and Nancy Cessna lived out their lives in California, as did their daughters. Years after having left behind the grave of Ruby Cessna in Hazelwood Cemetery, Nancy died in California, and was interred at Mountain View Cemetery, Altadina, CA in 1934; her husband lived well into his nineties before his 1952 death when he was buried by his wife. Ruby's grave remained far away.
|Gravestone of Newton and Nancy Cessna, Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, California|
***If the influenza epidemic of 1918 passed quickly, diphtheria did not depart Grinnell quickly or quietly. As the first waves of the twentieth century washed over central Iowa, the disease continued to inflict loss upon Grinnell families. That history is not visible in the gravestone assigned to Lester Arnold Learned, who, the Grinnell Herald reported in its October 12, 1906 issue, had died from diphtheria. The gravestone, decorated with a small lamb at rest, recalls the boy who died that October, just short of his seventh birthday. An epigraph below the date of death quotes from the W. A. Ogden hymn: "I am Jesus' little lamb, Happy all day long I am." An inscription above the lamb reads, "Our Little Brother."
|Gravestone for Lester Arnold Learned (1899-1906), Hazelwood Cemetery|
What brought Grant and Lorena Learned to Iowa is unknown; perhaps they came east because of Lorena's family in Kellogg, but the 1905 Iowa census has them living not in Kellogg, but in Grinnell at 1138 Elm Street. In Montana Grant had been known as a "stockman," so he probably pursued similar work around Grinnell, but neither the 1905 nor 1908 city directories recalls him, and by 1909 he was back in Miles City, Montana.
|Notice from the Grinnell Herald, October 12, 1906|
Unless Lorena or her husband left behind some explanation, we will never know the answer to these questions. Like the Lambirths and Cessnas, the Learned family continued their itineracy after Grinnell, which ended up constituting only a brief chapter in lives for the most part lived out elsewhere. Consequently, the gravestone of Lester Learned, like those of Ruth Lambirth and Ruby Cessna, occupies a lonely spot in Hazelwood cemetery, comforted by the presence of no other member of the family. Parents and surviving children had moved on, leaving Grinnell and its memories visible only in the rear-view mirror.