From Suffering Comes Compassion
The flu epidemic had gotten so bad at Camp Colt that the facility was put under quarantine in late September of 1918. The influenza had made it into Adams County. The military installation had the most cases since it was an efficient incubator and superb conduit of infection.
The epidemic thrived because the camp was in the process of being broken up. Staffing was down and the hospital was a shadow of its former self and more significantly, the nursing staff was drastically cut. The Gettysburg Times for 3 October reported that twenty-one soldiers died in a single day at Camp Colt. The outbreak by now had affected the whole community.
The local Red Cross set up a temporary, one hundred bed hospital at Xavier Hall on West High Street, for the military's worst cases. Volunteers assisted as aides and attendants and the public also supplied food and medicine. With the increased exposure more civilians were affected by the disease. Burgess William Weaver recalled, "...it seemed that our whole town was a hospital and morgue."
In a public statement, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of Camp Colt, thanked the local community for their support and sacrifices, "... during the recent regrettable epidemic." Estimates vary but by the end of the year, close to 200 soldiers had died from the influenza.
One of the local volunteers who contracted the flu was Annie M. Warner, the sixty-five year old wife of local businessman John M. Warner. John was eighty-five years old.. Fortunately for the Warners, Annie survived her sickness and her recovery inspired John to have a hospital built in honor of his wife.
In 1918 there were no hospitals close to the Borough of Gettysburg. The closest hospitals were located in York, Carlisle or Harrisburg.
In 1919, John Warner, with the assistance of local businessmen and concerned citizens, formed a corporation which aided in construction of the hospital. The hospital was to be named the Annie M. Warner Hospital. Its purpose was , "... for relieving the wants of the afflicted who may be suffering from accident or disease without distinction of race, color, creed or condition..." John Warner contributed six acres of land and $25,000 to the project.
Money for construction, staffing and equipping the hospital came from many sources. The funding ranged from money raised from food sales and dances to subscriptions from local citizens and assistance from the state legislature.
On March 25, 1919, Annie Warner broke the ground at the site of the proposed hospital. The cornerstone was laid on July 1, 1919. Construction of the forty bed, two story hospital was completed in September of 1920 but due to another shortage of nurses, the building was not occupied. Finally on March 17, 1921, the Annie M. Warner Hospital admitted its first patient.
In 1980 after fifty-nine years of service the original building was demolished so a modern and larger hospital could be built. On July 1, 1982, the name was changed to The Gettysburg Hospital to better represent the community in which it serves. Today, the hospital is once again undergoing renovation.
Regardless of all the changes, the caring, selfless and compassionate legacy of John and Annie Warner will carry on forever in Adams County.
Gerald J. Desko @ 2012.All rights reserved.