The United States recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths (a case-fatality ratio of 7.5%). This was the worst year for diphtheria in the United States in the 20th century.  Later in the 1920's vaccines were developed, and children to this day are given Diphtheria shots during their formative years.  The Iditarod race in Alaska originated to commemorate the delivery of Diphtheria serum in January of 1925 from Anchorage to Nome via sled dogs. ​

Maria Holle and Gustav Kleiboeker

 Married October 22, 1908

Erwin Meyer, took to heart all that his father told him about looking after the other children and being the new man of the house.  Erwin worked hard and started out on his own farm while he was still in his 20's. Erwin's younger brother, Hilbert, known as Hip, who had been living with his grandfather Henry Holle, moved in with Erwin and helped farm the land Erwin had bought.  Erwin kept his word to his father and looked after Hip and his other siblings, but especially Hip. 

​​Epidemic Stricken Meyer Children find new home with the Kleiboekers 

In February of 1918, Agnes Holle Meyer now had to make decisions on her own.  How could she manage a farm by herself and continue to raise 5 children?  She took a big decision to move into the town of Freistatt, and rented a house that still stands today (across the street from Norman Doss House).   Her move to Freistatt probably was based on the fact that her oldest sister Emilie was living in town and now married to John Nobe with 4 children.

in 1900, when John Nobe was 20, he worked as a farm hand and lived with the large Holle family per the 1900 census.  This either caused or was the result of a budding relationship between John Nobe and Emilie Holle, Agnes' sister.  On February 3,1901 Emilie and John were married at Trinity Lutheran in Freistatt.   By 1918, John was becoming a very successful merchant in town.  Per the book: Freistatt: An Enduring Heritage by C. Aufdembrink, "John Nobe purchased the Schoen Hotel (now the Freistatt Farmers Exchange Building) from Ernest Schoen's son Phillip in 1909.  The building was converted into the Nobe General Store and a home for John Nobe, Emilie and their children.  The Nobe store provided a place to congregate at the counter and enjoy a beer, pretzels and conversation.  Later John Nobe expanded his business to include the sale of binders and farm equipment.  Also as a sideline, he had been encouraged by Pastor Roschke to furnish Freistatt with a casket business..... It is remembered that he stored the caskets in the rooms upstairs which had once been the sleeping quarters of the Schoen Hotel".  So John Nobe, the store merchant and casket provider was also the Freistatt undertaker and as mentioned earlier signed his brother in law, Hermann Meyer's death certificate.  

Tombstone of Loren Henry Adolph Meyer.  In German the inscription states: "Here rests with God, Loren, dear little son of H. and A. Meyer, Oct 18 1917 - Nov 27 1921.

Assumption is that this stone was put in place either by Loren's Uncle and Aunt, Oscar and Beata Kleiboeker or his Grandfather Holle.

Many cities had very different Influenza responses. St. Louis was held up as a role model with very few deaths, a response based on science and a Mayor who relied on his Health Director.  Kansas City had a more politically driven response and sided with the businesses to stay open and ended up with many more cases and more deaths.  Nearby Lockwood, just north of Freistatt had similar experiences to the Joplin and Monett area.  The description of the Armistice Day parade is worth reading!

"Cousins" Erwin Meyer and Leona Kleiboeker

Emilie Holle and John Nobe, married on February 3, 1901, She was 19 , he a young looking 21.

Erwin Meyer on left with Melvin Kleiboeker, (son of Gustav Kleiboeker and Maria Holle) at Gus's house, where Erwin was raised.

The newlyweds Hermann Meyer III and Agnes Holle started farming near Freistatt, and on the 31st of August of 1905, Agnes delivered a beautiful new baby girl named Rosa Caroline Meyer.  Caroline was chosen as the child's middle name as it was the name of both of her Grandmothers.   2 years later in 1907 Hermann and Agnes welcomed Erwin Johann Freidrich Meyer into the world and then in 1909, Martin Hermann Meyer joined the family.  They continued to farm and grow and were active members of the Lutheran Church there in Freistatt. In 1912 the third son, Hilbert Oscar Gustav Meyer, known as "Hip" arrived.  And then in October, 1917 with the war with Germany heating up, little Loren Henry Adolph was born.  The Meyer family now had 5 children, Rosa age 12; Erwin age 10; Martin age 8; Hip age 5 and 3 month old Loren to care for as they started the year off in January 1918.  

But 1918 was a horrible year for the Meyer Family.  Hermann who had turned 40 years old in May of 1917 was looking forward to a good year.  He had 5 wonderful children, who were now of the age to help more around the farm.  The US had  declared war against the Germans in April 1917.  Thoughts of who might be drafted and when were on everyone's mind as every young male had to register in June of 1917.  Worries that local folks might look down at the German speaking population in Freistatt and thinking of them as "the enemy" was also discussed.

Unfortunately, the Meyer Children family saga does not end here in 1919, with the children now being raised by 4 different families.  The youngest, Loren caught a bad bacteria infection, while living with Oscar and Beata Kleiboeker.  Dr. Wright was called on October 28, 1921, the same doctor who treated Loren's father back in January of 1918.  Dr. Wright diagnosed Loren with Diphtheria.  Diptheria is named for the greek word for leather or hide describing the coating that appears on the throat of infected individuals. Amazingly, Loren was a victim of yet a third major US epidemic to affect the Meyer Family. Loren died on November 27,1921 at the age of 4.  His death certificate shown here at right has his Uncle Gustav Kleiboeker as the "informant" and his other Uncle John Nobe as the Undertaker.

On Wednesday, January 23rd, 1918, Dr. E. B Wright of Pierce City was called to the Meyer home as a result of Hermann not feeling well with fever and was coughing and staying in bed.  The doctor diagnosed it as "Measles", but the family subsequently always referred to it as "Black Measles".  The term "Black Measles" was used with people who had a severe form of measles characterized by dark, hemorrhagic skin eruptions.  Per Erwin Meyer's daughter, MaryAnn, "his fever was so high, that it made a white spot on the headboard of the bed".   This was something Hermann's oldest son, 10 year old Erwin would never forget.  Erwin spoke with his dad right before he died.  Hermann told his son Erwin, that he now had the responsibility to look after his mother and brothers and sisters and "he was now to be the man of the house", which stuck with him for the rest of his life.  
On Saturday, January 26th, Hermann Meyer III died at 3 pm in the afternoon from Measles with complications of Bronchial Pneumonia, per his death certificate signed by Dr. Wright.   2 days later on Monday January 28th, Hermann Meyer III was laid to rest in the Freistatt Cemetery by his family and friends with Rev. J. E Roschke officiating at the service.  John Nobe was the local undertaker from Freistatt.  Agnes was now left with 5 young children, and no husband and no real way to make a living out on the farm west of Freistatt.

So with Agnes in need, the Nobe family offered work to Agnes doing household duties and probably helping out at the store after Agnes and her 5 children got settled in their new home.  But that summer of 1918, was a scorcher, with temperatures in the 100's and high humidity.  Emilie was now pregnant with her 5th child, who was due in October.  Emilie already had lost her second child in 1911, Alvin, who only lived til he was 4.  Agnes, with her littlest one, Lorn, who had only been born in October the year before took much of Agnes' attention as she tried to work and help out her 36 year old pregnant sister in that summer heat. Agnes worked hard to balance the needs of her older children Rosa, Erwin, Martin and Hip, taking care of the little one year old Loren, and continue working at the Nobe Store.

But then in the fall of 1918, many in the Freistatt area including the Holle and Nobe families came down with the Flu or "Grippe" the German word for the flu used by the German speaking community of Freistatt.  This flu was not the normal flu and "gripped" on to you and spread like wildfire into epidemic proportions.

The war was heating up that summer as well and many in the Freistatt area were drafted and sent off to Camp Funston to train before being sent to Europe. Among those who were drafted or enlisted were: Alvin H. Biermann, Martin C Biermann, Irwin Groh, Carl Holle, Edgar L. Kaiser, John Krehmeier and Martin Osterloh.   Martin Osterloh's wife was Sophie Holle, younger sister of Agnes, Emilie, Maria and Beata.  In addition Martin was listed as a Farm Hand working on August Lampe's farm when he registered for the draft in June of 1917.  Was it possible that Martin may have carried the flu virus back to the Freistatt area on one of his home leaves? Could he have infected some of the Holle or Meyer relations? Or maybe even some of the Lampe's?

On May 1st of 1938, Erwin, Regina and Delores had been out and upon arrival back home, Delores the 2 year old went to check on Hip and found him dead in his bedroom.  Hilbert (Hip) Oscar Gustav Meyer died of a brain aneurysm, and was buried in Trinity Cemetery, Freistatt.

The 3 oldest and remaining Meyer children all lived long lives.  Rosa til age 96, Erwin to 93 and Martin to 88. June Kleiboeker adds this note about Rosa:  "We often rode our bikes to Uncle Oscar and Aunt Beata's home so we knew Rosa well.  She and Aunt Beata had a sweet relationship with each other, both had an infectious sense of humor and made the best peanut butter cookies.  Rosa would often say they hit the ball of cookie dough over the head (with the meat tenderizer gadget) and that's what made the cookies taste so good.  I believe Rosa was the daughter Beata never had."

But the tragedy of the 3 epidemics, Measles, Influenza and Diptheria to all hit one family was heartrending.  Many of us were blessed to have known the Meyers as true Kleiboeker Cousins, even if not really true first cousins.  The greater Kleiboeker family all treated the Meyer children as one of us, supporting them as they could.  May we all continue to do such and live the example set by them in the years ahead.

The greater Gus and Oscar Kleiboeker "Family" with the Meyer and Nobe children picking strawberries in the 1920's

From Left: Beata (nee Holle) Kleiboeker; Oscar Kleiboeker; son Arno; Loren Meyer (in dress but common for toddler boys to wear such at that time) Loren's older sister Rosa Meyer, and Walter Kleiboeker.  Probably taken in 1919 or 1920.

After Agnes' death, the Holle sisters and family all came together and a solution was worked out to raise the 5 Meyer Children.  The oldest, Rosa (12) and the youngest Lorn (1) went to live with their Aunt Beata and Uncle Oscar Kleiboeker.  Erwin (10) went to live with Gus and Maria Kleiboeker.  Although these three Meyer children were living with two different families, at the time these 2 Holle sisters and 2 Kleiboeker brothers were living together in the same house, as they were still starting their farmsteads, and helping each other.  Martin (8) went to live with his uncle John Holle and family and Hilbert, known as Hip (5) went to live with the Holle grandparents in Freistatt.    

Mary Ann Daughtery, the granddaughter of Agnes continues with her memories: 

"The death of their parents was devastating to these children as you can imagine.  Rosa being the oldest probably was effected the most.   They (the 5 Meyer children) did relish the times their paths would cross.  Daddy (Erwin) only went to school 6 years and I don’t think all of that was at Freistatt.  He mentioned Sylvan School which was a country school west of Freistatt.  Don’t know about the schooling for rest of the children.  Only six years is mind boggling in today’s world. But he could do mathematics in his head that was astonishing.  Like figure how many square feet of different sizes of lumber it would take to build a barn.   His lack of formal education did not hold him back.  Martin probably attended school less than Erwin.

My dad said he was alway grateful to the Kleiboekers as they (the Meyer children) didn’t have to go to an orphanage.  It really was quite something that they took in 3 extra children at that time.  As I understand it, both Oscar's and Gustav's were living back in the field in a pretty small house at that time.  That would have been a lot of children in the house.  He also remembered Beata baking bread for him and sending it with Rosa when he was first living on his farm."

"Cousins" Elda Kleiboeker and Rosa Meyer

Many of us have heard of the "Spanish Flu" Epidemic of 1918, but there was also a significant Measles Epidemic in 1917 as well. Measles had started in rural areas in 1917 but turned into an epidemic as a result of all the WW1 new recruits populating US Army Bases very rapidly. 

  • Per the Office of Medical History of the US Army:  "During the fall and early winter of 1917, when mobilization camps were being organized, barracks and tents were overcrowded and inadequately heated, and it was impossible to supply the men with sufficient warm clothing. These adverse conditions were augmented by an unusually early and severe winter. The draft brought large numbers of persons together from all walks of life and from every environment. The inducted men were principally young adults and included not only the generally immune city boy, but also vast numbers of rural lads who had never before been exposed to the infection." 
  • The CDC states on their website (june, 2020)  "Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Also, measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed."  Lawrence County Missouri sent many young men off to the great war, with many going directly to Basic Training at Camp Funston, Kansas (now Fort Riley, near Manhattan, KS) which was a known Measles Epidemic hotspot in 1917 as well as a later hotspot for the the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and 1919. Before the draft in summer of 1918, volunteers were frequently sent back and forth from the Camps to their home for leaves, and probably brought the Rubella or "German" Measles back home with them.  The Army's Office of Medical History further states: "At Camp Funston, Kans., a measles epidemic, beginning about October 18, 1917, and reaching its crest during the week of December 20-28, gradually subsided by February 15, 1918, after which time the disease did not exist in epidemic form. During the interval October 18, 1917, to May 18, 1918, about 3,000 cases were admitted to sick report, among 22,854 hospital admissions, or about 13 per cent."

Beata Holle and Oscar Kleiboeker 

Married October 22, 1908

Hermann Meyer III & Agnes Holle on their wedding day, November 10, 1904.  Agnes was considered the last bride in Freistatt to have worn  black at her wedding.

"Cousins" Elda Kleiboeker and Erwin Meyer

Agnes Meyer continued to help the various members of the Nobe family who were not feeling well, and especially to her pregnant sister, Emilie.  But by the grace of God,  Emilie successfully gave birth on October 17 to a beautiful baby girl, who John and Emilie named Amanda Bertha and later referred to as Mandy.  But the Nobe household was not well, and Agnes continued to help with the sickness and the newborn. Agnes with her 5 children and a working mother was not feeling well 6 days later on October 23, when Doctor Carlos Copeland of Monett was called.  Could Agnes also have caught the dreaded Grippe?  Indeed, the Doctor diagnosed her as having the "Spanish Plague".  Now it was time for all the Holle sisters to work together and support Agnes and help her in her time of need.   Her parents, Henry Holle and Caroline Fritz were still living at the time, and sisters Maria and Beata, now Kleiboeker's were all helping out, in addition to the Nobe's in town and most likely all of Agnes' other siblings.

But Agnes was not able to recover from the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and she passed away on Sunday Nov 2nd, 1918.  Her funeral was on Monday November 3rd.  There was great concern throughout Missouri then in terms of how contagious this flu might be and no one was very sure of how it spread.  Granddaughter Mary Ann Daughtery writes of her grandmother Agnes's Service: "They did not have the funeral in the church but took her straight to the cemetery because of the pandemic."  The tombstone was put in place by her children and it states in German, "Here rests with God, our loving mother, Agnes Meyer, Born 12 April 1884, died November 2nd, 1918."  Agnes was only 34 years old.

Others from Freistatt also lost their lives to the Influenza Epidemic.  John Krehmeier who was stationed in Germany after the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, died of the virus on January 18,1919 in Germany.  His body was returned to Freistatt and was buried in the Trinity Cemetery on Oct. 30, 1920.  August Lampe was killed by the flu and died January 26, 1919 at the age of 41. Karen Kleiboeker remembers August's wife always wearing black to church and often sitting in the mother's room of the old church in Freistatt.

Family Info and great history 

At age 27, Erwin married Regina Lampe in 1934.  Erwin cemented his Kleiboeker relationship with this marriage as Regina was a granddaughter of Minna Kleiboeker, Gustav and Oscar's oldest sister!  Erwin and Regina began their lives together on the farm and had their first daughter, Delores in 1936.

For further reading and viewing:

The Hermann Meyer II (1852-1915) and Caroline Rosenbaum Family were later immigrants to the Freistatt Missouri area, arriving in 1882 directly from the area of Bramsche, Germany, not too far from where the KIeiboekers orignated. The Meyer's oldest child, Hermann Meyer III (shown in wedding photo at right), was 5 years old when he and 2 sisters and their parents arrived in Baltimore on the 27th of July, 1882 on the "America", a Norddeutsche Lloyd Ship from Bremen Germany.  From Baltimore they boarded a train to Pierce City Missouri. Upon arrival, they were warmly embraced by Hermann Meyer II's older sister Elise Meyer and her husband Rudolf Bohnenkamp who had made the trip from Germany to Illinois 16 years earlier back in 1866.  They were all re-uniting in Freistatt.

In 1904, Hermann III, now 27 years old, married 20 year old Agnes Holle at Trinity Lutheran, in Freistatt.  Agnes Holle was the second oldest of 9 children born to Henry Holle and Caroline Fritz. The next two Holle sisters, Maria (pronounced as Mar-ee) and Beata (pronounced  as Bee-ta) were married 4 years later in 1908 to two Kleiboeker brothers, Gustav and Oscar in a double couple ceremony on October 22, 1908 in Freistatt.  These two brothers and two sisters farmed and lived together initially on the same land and even used the same house, which was just a bit North and West of Freistatt.

Irwin Groh writes letters about the Spanish Flu and death of Freistatt neighbor, Edgar Kaiser*

".....And you still have a sore throat.  You had better watch and don't get that "Spanish Flu" as they call it.  Suppose you know, poor Edgar [Kaiser] passed away last Tuesday at Camp [Funston].  Died of Spanish Flu which developed into pneumonia.  They shipped his corpse to Monett.  Saturday he was brought out here. And Sunday afternoon he was buried.  Thursday and Saturday I helped dig a grave for Edgar, and Saturday evening Anna [Margaret's oldest sister] and I had gone to Monett in my Buick 6, and when we got back they wanted me to set up [wait up with the corpse].  So Eddie [Helmkamp] and I set up that night and I slept to 12 o'clock Sunday noon.  Some sleepyhead, wasn't I?  We had no services in Church Sunday morning, as they closed the schools and Church for 2 weeks [because of the flu]...." (letter dated Sat. 12 Oct. 1918 but finally completed and mailed on Monday Oct 14 from Irwin Groh to girlfriend, later wife, Margaret Wiedman. ) 

In an earlier letter Irwin wrote on October 6th, Irwin describes how Edgar Kaiser got sick at Camp Funston, and was sick enough to require Edgar's mother to travel to Camp Funston on October 5th.  Edgar died Tuesday, the 8th of October.  From other letters we learn that Margaret comes down with the flu around the 20th of October and Irwin gets it the following week. Irwin is sick for 4 days with chills and high fever, but by Nov. 3rd he's back to full health.  On Wednesday Nov 6th he reports to duty in the US Army in St. Louis to serve in WWI.  A letter dated November 15th from St. Louis, Irwin writes to Margaret:  "....I haven't been sick yet, but there has been about 100-150 taken to the Hospital.  Four boys out of our bunch of 9 have been taken out.  I have been lucky so far, and I hope I won't take it.  So don't worry about me, dearie, and forget about the "flu"......"  This letter also talks about the end of the war on November 11th, so Irwin was only in the army from 11/6/1918 to 12/20/1918.  In a letter written on Dec 11th from St. Louis, Irwin writes: "...I received a letter from home yesterday stating they have closed the [Friestatt] schools and church again on account of the "Flu"...  I believe I had better stay here, don't you think so?...."

*These letters are all published in John E Groh's "New Light on Freistatt, Missouri.  The Fritz, Groh, Waiss and Wiedman Family Legacies Meet"; Authorhouse Publishing, 2006.

It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this H1N1 virus, that struck the Nobe and Meyer families.  The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 deaths occurring in the United States.   Although there is no universally acknowledged place of origin for this flu, the origin within the US was clearly at Camp Funston, Kansas in March of 1918 in the same place, the Measles Epidemic broke out the year before, and had eventually taken Hermann Meyer's life.  But now, with many more soldiers being sent to and from the camp for basic training prior to being sent to Europe, the flu spread even more quickly and intensely.  The soldiers took it with them to Europe, where it received the name the Spanish Flu, primary because Spanish King Alfonso XIII was stricken by it in May of 1918 which created a lot of headlines in the European press. 

Flu cases were diagnosed during the summer of 1918 but without much drama. However, starting in August, the situation changed drastically. The influenza virus had mutated and a second wave was now spreading through many military bases and via soldiers returning home.  Because of wartime censorship, news about the epidemic was restricted.  But the huge enlargement and movement of troops clearly helped spread the virus.  By the end of World War I the U.S. military grew in size from 378,000 soldiers in April 1918 to 4.7 million soldiers.

From a recent article in the Joplin Globe, here is how the flu was impacting Southwest Missouri in the fall of 1918:

"The first Joplin case was a soldier from Arkansas who was removed from a Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad train in September. Local newspapers began to take notice of the illness. The Monett Times reported national figures of 23,000 soldiers stricken as of Sept. 24, with 390 deaths. It carried a short article on the best medical advice to prevent the flu, mainly not coughing or sneezing on others, washing hands, not using utensils of others, general cleanliness and avoidance of crowds.

By the beginning of October, it was felt again at Camp Funston and in Southwest Missouri. Inductions from Arkansas were suspended for October. On Oct. 1, Springfield’s mayor closed all schools and theaters and prohibited public gatherings.

It fully hit this area about a week later. The suddenness of the outbreak could be gauged by the fact that on Oct. 8 — the same day the city held a large Liberty bond parade down Main Street — the Globe reported that the Red Cross ordered mobilization of nurses to combat influenza. The war had called into military service many doctors and nurses so that the Red Cross was asked to call for volunteers to supplement nursing staffs.

The next day, all Joplin schools, churches and theaters were closed, and any gathering of at least 25 people was prohibited by the Joplin City Council after a meeting with Dr. R.B. Tyler, commissioner of health and sanitation. He reported 54 cases on Oct. 8 with no deaths, but by Oct. 10, there were 94 cases and three deaths. Camp Funston reported 1,430 new flu cases the same day. The camp’s death toll by the end of the third week of October was 861. (More U.S. soldiers died from influenza in World War I than were killed in combat.)

On Oct. 10, the Barry County board of health called for suspension of all public gatherings “to include schools, churches and all other in-door gatherings, and thus save as far as possible, the inception or spread of Spanish influenza.” 

A week later, the epidemic was in full force in Southwest Missouri. Nevada closed its schools with 200 students sick. Cottey College was quarantined. Churches and places of amusement were closed. Monett’s cigar factory closed indefinitely as half its workers had the flu. A letter published in the Baxter News from Ray Shields, a soldier at Camp Funston, reported five ambulances and five trucks in the camp were busy day and night “taking them out of here by the hundreds.” While he was well, he saw men keel over as they waited in the mess line. The flu was spreading fast.

In one day, there were seven area soldiers whose obituaries listed the cause of death as influenza. Families with the flu were quarantined. By Oct. 24, 391 cases had been reported in the area with 22 deaths. A more stringent ordinance was passed. For example, restaurant customers were required to finish a meal in 30 minutes, and all business hours were limited from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On Oct. 24, Jasper’s mayor said no public meetings of any kind were allowed, nor were schoolchildren allowed on the city streets. By Oct. 25, seven Joplin physicians, including Tyler, had come down with influenza and/or pneumonia.  From Oct. 1 to Nov. 7, the Globe reported 386 cases of flu and pneumonia with 64 deaths."