City Native Remembers 1918 Flu Pandemic

City Native Remembers 1918 Flu Pandemic

Dorothy Sellers, 106, a Connellsville native who now lives in New York City, remembers the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic when she was a little girl growing up in the city.

Connellsville native Dorothy Sellers, 106, still remembers when the 1918 flu pandemic struck when she was just a little girl.

“I was only 5 years old, but I remember hearing sad conversations during the pandemic,” Sellers said during a telephone interview from her Long Island home. “I remember feeling sadness.”

Many years later, Sellers said she realized that the pandemic was world history.

“I can still remember a big platform built on the outskirts of town where they put extra patients they were treating,” Sellers said. “It was a very sad subject.”

Back in 1918, Highlands Hospital was known as Cottage State Hospital. It was established in 1890 with the first patient admitted in 1891. It later came under state ownership and was established for coal miners, according to Marcy Ozorowski, an employee at Highlands Hospital.

Although the pandemic was very sad, Sellers said no one in her family died.

However, Sellers remembers that a very close friend of her father, Williams “Bill” Sellers, died during the pandemic.

“His name was Bill Sherman,” she said. “It was newly married and had just returned to Connellsville after World War I. He came to visit us all the time, and I remember that I really missed him.”

When asked to compare the 1918 flu pandemic with the current COVID-19 pandemic, Sellers said she was too young to remember.

“I can tell you that I’m not happy with the current pandemic and never is anyone else,” Sellers said.

Sellers said she had a wonderful childhood growing up in Connellsville.

“I remember that we had a good bit of property,” she said. “I have a very pleasant memory of my childhood there. I remember at time that you could see the fire burning in the coke ovens. I had a very pleasant memory of my childhood there. Connellsville was a very pleasant world.”

When she was a Connellsville resident, Sellers said she remembers the Driscoll family, who owned the Daily Courier at the time.

“My father was very good friends with William ‘Bill’ Discoll,” Sellers said. “The Driscolls were very well-known in Connellsville.”

Sellers said she also remembers a big house that her family owned in Connellsville

“We had a very big white house, and people would drive by to see it because it was very nicely landscaped,” she said. “Before my father died, the house burned down, and my father suffered injuries.”

A 1931 graduate of Connellsville High School, Sellers said she attended college in Ohio.

“I had to leave college during the midst of the Great Depression because my father had just died,” she said. “That was the low point of my life. I had to leave school because there was no one to pay my bills.”

When Sellers was attending college in Ohio, she remembers that her father came to pick her up and bring her back to Connellsville.

“I remember my father bringing me back from college to Connellsville,” she said. “I got to see my grandparents. Casper Fries was my grandfather’s name.”

After leaving college, Sellers said she decided to move to New York City where her aunt was working.

“She offered me half of her bedroom, and I took it,” Sellers said. “She lived on Long Island, and I was looking for a job.”

After a long unsuccessful attempt to find a job, Sellers said she finally found a job.

“I lied about my background to get the job,” Sellers said, laughing. “I looked about 14 years old at the time. Naturally, they weren’t going to give me a job.

“One day the office manager came around and asked me if I had worked for Mr. Gardner, so I saw that they had me,” she added. “I told her that I couldn’t get a job unless I lied. She told me, ‘We are not going to fire you because you doing so well. Now, no more lies. That was my big lesson in life.”

Eventually, Sellers found a job at Seagram’s Distillery which was located at the intersection of Park Avenue and 52nd Street in Manhattan.

When asked if her Manhattan job was exciting, Sellers said “not really.”

One of her friends and neighbors Gretchen Browne, who helped Sellers with the telephone interview, said Sellers was “downplaying her role as a business woman in New York City.”

Sellers was eventually promoted to executive assistant of the CEO of Seagram’s, which is a landmark in New York City.

“Dorothy was also a very gifted artist who sold her artwork in New York City,” Browne said. “She is a very special person in my life. She took aerobics at age 98. She still lives independently. She has a few aides who come into her home to help her.

“She is a very successful person who came from Connellsville,” Browne added.