Tales of the Pandemic

William Wallace Richards 1890-1918

Board member and author, Shelley Richards, shares this bio of her grand uncle William W. Richards, Sr. featured in her upcoming book.

William Wallace RICHARDS, Sr.

William Wallace RICHARDS, Sr. was born in Lockport, May 1, 1890 and was the eldest child on Philip RICHARDS and Martha Bell TURNER, and the brother of Robert Ransom RICHARDS, Sr. William W. grew up and became interested in the theater. During approximately 1908-1910, he became involved with the Jack LEWIS Stock Theater Company, playing parts of performances at the Lyric Theater in Buffalo. By 1910 he moved to Marion, Indiana to most likely be part of a company there. By June of that year he married Opal Lucille ROOK of Dunkirk, Indiana. In 1913 he sent a very handsome picture of himself to “Mother and Father,” dated July 10 and taken by Cobb Photographers in Indiana, featured in this biography. Their son William Wallace RICHARDS, Jr was born January 22, 1914 in Indiana.

By 1917 -1918, the Spanish Influenza epidemic was raging throughout the country, eventually killing more people than the number who died in WW1. William, his wife Opal and child William Jr. had moved to Erie, PA to follow William’s work as a theater stock company manager with the Pauline McClean Theater Company.

Newspaper accounts of the day indicated widespread caution being used in the US, especially in public places like theaters. Many of them were forced into closing, causing much hardship in the industry. The newspapers were filled with obituaries of young and old alike dying at record rates. On Dec. 3, 1918, William was admitted to St. Vincent Hospital in Erie PA, about two blocks from his home at 134 E. 8th St. Six days later on December 9, 1918 he died of the deadly influenza. A newspaper account in the Buffalo Daily Courier on December 10, 1918, the day following his death, noted “The report made by the Health Department on the influenza situation in Buffalo for the 24 hour period ending at 11 o’clock last night shows 104 new cases. There were three deaths of the flu and two of pneumonia in the same period.”  William’s body was removed from Erie, PA to Lockport and he was buried in a pine box in Glenwood Cemetery (Section 18, lot 24) a few days later – he was 28 years old. Opal returned to Indiana with then 4-year-old son William Jr. who were also very sick but survived. She later remarried to William WORSTELL in Indiana. William Jr. died in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1957 at age 43 and is buried in Marion County Indiana. Opal died in 1980 and is buried next to her son.

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