History: Quarantined in Riverton

March 28, 2020

Harriette Sorensen Roy

History: Quarantined in Riverton

Editor’s Note: MC History Spotlight is a regular history column brought to you by Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

The recent events of the mass stay at home orders and self quarantines are not unique to history. Much as been written lately of the events of the flu pandemic of 1918. During that era, illness often ran rampant as vaccines were in their early stages. Today, we take you to Riverton Township in the late 1920s for the story of the Sorensen family and the family’s three months of quarantine. 

In the winter of 1927, sickness struck the Riverton Township household of Frederick (1889-1969) and Myrtle Leona (1890-1944) Sorensen. Family members were quarantined by the Mason County Health Department for several months. In later years, their daughter, Harriette (Sorensen) Roy, then 10-years-old, recounted that long winter in a memoire.

“Shortly after Christmas, more sickness came to our home. Uncle Art (Arthur Oswald Gebott – 1893-1934) got a dreadful disease. The doctors said it was pneumonia and this was life threatening. The doctor stayed with us every night, sleeping when he could, on the couch. In the morning, Dad would hitch the doctor’s horse to his cutter and back to town (Scottville) he would go to his home and office. That afternoon, after office hours, he would once again come to stay the night. Uncle Art’s condition worsened. We all helped with his care spraying his body with cool water because his fever raged. We gave him fluids. It was around the clock care. He became irrational and we had to hold him in bed. The doctor said, ‘This man is seriously ill. I don’t know if we can pull him through.’ That afternoon when the doctor arrived, Uncle Art was covered with pustules. There was no mistaking this disease. It was small pox. The doctor said, ‘You are all exposed and I must call the health department.’ So off he went to Wiley Store to the nearest telephone.”

There were five Sorensen children: Anker Robert (1915-1954); Harriette Orvilla; Frances Genice (later Frances Septrion, 1919-1999); Frederick William (1920-1981); and Jeanne Margaret (later Jeanne Murphy, 1922-1991).

Fred and Leona Sorensen, 1940

“That very evening someone came from Ludington with enough vaccine for us all. Our family was either the first or amongst the first to be vaccinated in Mason County. Also, they brought out a large red board, which they nailed to the side of the house. ‘Quarantine’, it said. This meant no one could leave our house and if anyone entered, they must stay.

“Dad went to Uncle Miller’s (Miller Ford Sorensen, 1899-1979) for the whole three weeks. He brought home our school books. We studied at home with Mother, for a teacher and school was never so great before or after this year. Time passed quickly and all too soon we were back in school again, but for a short time.

“Now, my 5-year-old sister, Jeanne was sick. Once again, the doctor came and spent the weekend with us. When a rash appeared, he knew. Once again, the health department from Ludington put a big red sign on our house. This time it read ‘scarlet fever’ and this time we were quarantined for four weeks. Jeanne wasn’t very sick after the first few days but she was kept in the living room with only Mother going in with her. Dad was at Uncle Miller’s. We missed Dad so much, we would kiss him through the window when he looked in at us. Our school books were brought home from school. Mother was our teacher. She taught us, read to us, played the piano, sang for us and played games both inside and outside. She was a very busy lady.

“Two days out of this quarantine and before the red sign was removed from the house, my cousin Chris (Soren “Chris” Christian Soresen, 1923-2010) got the rash. Sure enough, we were in for four more weeks. By this time we loved Mother for a teacher. We missed our friends too much. Mother missed her friends too. Counting the time for our quarantines plus the times waiting for the health department to release us, we were over three months confined to our house.

“Now the health department couldn’t decide what to do with us. Finally they said, ‘fumigate.’ The house and everything in it. They brought us a candle to burn and said all persons must evacuate the house for 12 hours. We didn’t know where to go, no one wanted us. The Bowdens came forth, good friends that they were, with an invitation for us to spend the time with them. I was so happy to spend the entire day with these people because Billy was my best boyfriend. What a wonderful day we had, all 10 of us and for three meals. They were good people and they have five children of their own (two more to come).

Harriette Sorensen

“We finally went home that evening. The house was aired, cool and clean. The germs were all gone. The next day Dad took us to school in the sleigh. He had put the bells on the horses so everyone would hear us coming. The Bowdens rode with us. Billy sat by me and we held hands and laughed all the way.”

The experiences of taking care of her family members when she was 10-years-old influenced Harriette to become a nurse. She graduated from Hackley Hospital School of Nursing in Muskegon in 1940 and worked as a nurse her entire career. Even in retirement, while living in Florida, Harriette volunteered in nursing and Hospice. Harriette died at the age of 89 on Dec. 10, 2006.

Special thanks for Sandy Spangler, daughter-in-law of Harriette Roy, for the information.

Presented by Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care, 502 N. Sherman St., Ludington, MI 49431; 231-845-6100; www.ludingtonwoods.com.

This story is copyrighted © 2020, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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