A new memorial dedicated to the victims of the deadliest disease outbreak in modern times is taking shape in central Vermont.
In 1918, the Spanish Flu claimed more lives than the number of people killed in World War I, but there are very few—if any—public memorials to those victims.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Brian Zecchinelli said when he saw the name of a man on the granite memorial whom he never met, but one he sure wants to remember. “I’m feeling really humble and proud at this moment.”
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His grandfather, Germinio Zecchinelli, died 100 years ago this week from the terrifying Spanish Flu pandemic that was sweeping the globe.
All told, more than 50-million people died worldwide. That number included 675,000 Americans—more than 1,700 of whom were Vermonters.
The communities of Barre, Montpelier, and Burlington were particularly hard-hit in the pandemic, Zecchinelli said, citing research he conducted in commissioning the new memorial.
“It was shocking,” Zecchinelli told necn, describing the disconnect between the size of the death toll from the pandemic and an apparent scarcity of memorials to the victims.
To change that, Zecchinelli turned to Rock of Ages in Barre, and the company’s famous monument-makers.
“I think it’s overdue,” Steve Benoit of Rock of Ages said of the idea of a memorial to the flu victims.
Rock of Ages artisans crafted a new reflection bench, honoring all the lives lost to the Spanish Flu a century ago.
It’ll sit in Barre’s landmark Hope Cemetery, overlooking the plot of Brian’s grandfather and many other people the virus struck down in their prime.
“We’re not forgetting about their loved ones,” Zecchinelli said of the people around the world who lost ancestors to influenza.
At the headquarters of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration in Middlesex, archivist Rachel Muse researched Vermont records on the 1918 flu, which struck well before the era of vaccines and today’s knowledge of disease prevention.
Muse said the emergency sparked public policy changes in Vermont, such as when communities report concerns to the state and when schools would be ordered to shut down to stop an outbreak.
“I think there’s a lot to be learned,” Muse said of the legacy of the Spanish Flu. “It definitely impacted how we treat public health crises to this day.”
The new reflection bench to the Spanish Flu’s victims, including Germinio Zecchinelli, is scheduled to be dedicated Oct. 26.
When asked about how the project may indicate that it’s never too late to remember a significant event like this, Steve Benoit of Rock of Ages responded, “Especially when it’s as personal as this to Brian and his family.”