Funerary architecture in the late-nineteenth century often used a broken column to represent the loss of the head of a family. While this symbolism had become less popular by 1919, the older cemetery architecture still resonated. At age thirty-seven, Edward Paschal Markette (also spelled Markett), the son of George W. and Lucy A. Markette, represented this sort of a loss and his story offers a window into the 1918-19 influenza epidemic in Americus, Georgia. As a railroad engineer, Markette's career was vital to the movement of people and goods through Americus and southwest Georgia, especially during a time of war. Yet, as Markette's experience during the influenza pandemic shows, the movement of passengers and freight carried invisible risks as well. His death affected not only his family but the broader community as well.
Markette likely experienced no busier a time in his career than the year 1918. Railways, under the President Woodrow Wilson's Railroad Administration, had become, according to John Barry, "virtually nationalized" as the United States prepared to enter the First World War. Mobilization meant that trains were in constant motion carrying ordinance, supplies, and soldiers. And, while the constant utilization of the railroad provided plenty of work, it put strain existing railroad infrastructure. Fears of fuel shortage led the Fuel Administration to institute daylight savings time. Various forms of rationing, including medical supplies, put strains on civilian consumption.
Seaboard Air Line Railroad and Connections, 1916, Wikimedia Commons
Although born in Plains to a farming family, the Markettes moved to Americus between 1900 and 1910. That year, the father worked as a watchman at an oil mill. The two Markette sons worked with machines: George W. Markette Jr. was a bicycle machinist and Pascall Markette already worked as an engineer on the railroad. Employed by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, Markette worked along the Savannah and Americus line to ensure that the trains ran on time and delivered their freight and passengers. It is quite possible he contracted influenza while working on the railroad, as his job made it impossible for him avoid airborne illness. "He had been ill only about a week," the Americus Times-Recorder reported," death being due to pneumonia which developed following an attack of influenza." According to his obituary, Markett was a popular young man, a member of Central Baptist Church, and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
1001 South Lee Street, 2021, photograph by Chandler Bowman.
The death had broader implications for the Seaboard Air Line and the Americus community. The railroad needed to fill a position that required expertise and experience to meet the needs of both the military and civilian populations. Markette’s life and death shine light on the significance of railroads during World War I and the influenza epidemic. The death caused a ping-pong effect. War strained the railroads with passengers and freight. The movement of people allowed airborne illness to spread. The susceptibility of railroad workers like Markette to influenza added strain to the railroads and made the U.S. war effort vulnerable right up to Armistice Day.