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1918: Spanish influenza claims life of Miami, Okla., businessman

Addison T. King, 1903, a member of the junior class. Central College yearbook, Fayette, Mo.


While hostilities were mounting abroad and America’s imminent entry into the world-wide battlefront was becoming evident, one segment of Oklahoma in particular was experiencing an economic boom.

Ottawa County, encompassing Miami, in northeastern Oklahoma, underwent a structural transformation during the years 1916-1918, unlike any building boom prior to that time, or probably since.

The mining industry in and around Miami, where lead and zinc were in abundance, set the stage for riches achievable to seemingly anyone who would dare invest.

The Miami Record-Herald reported in its March 30, 1917 edition that during the week ending March 24, a half million pounds of zinc, valued at $261,120, and 540 tons of lead, valued at $62,100, were brought into the Miami district market.

The northeast Oklahoma town, which is located along what was first designated as the Will Rogers highway (later renamed Route 66), got a boost with the expansion of lead and zinc mining in the area.

The confidence level was high, and investors, both local and regional, were anxious to improve the community’s infrastructure.

Here’s a sampling of the construction under way, as described by the Miami newspapers of the day:

A new $75,000 four-story courthouse, (now demolished) with the county jail (one room set aside for women) located on the top floor.

In June 1918, the Miami State Bank opened for business in the new Commerce Building on Central Street.

The new Miami Hotel, boasting as many as 150 rooms, (many with private baths) was completed in 1918, at a cost of $22,000.

A new Christian Church, corner of Second and Vine (later North Second and West A streets): $60,000.

A new Baptist Church, corner Fifth and Oak (later South First and West A streets): $40,000.

A new Methodist Church, at the corner of Second and Vine (later N. Second and East A streets): $10,000.

The Carnegie library, at the corner of Second and Main, cost: $15,000. (Razed 1962)

New Frisco depot: $20,000.

The Robinson building, constructed near the corner of Fourth and Main: $15,000.

In 1917, the Mabon building, located on the west side of Main, between Third and Fourth, was remodeled and extended, at a cost of $30,000; the Elks lodge occupying the third floor.

The Schmucker opera house, located on North Main Street, was completed in the fall of 1917, with a seating capacity of 1,000. Cost, $30,000. Before the building was completed, W.B. Schmucker sold the building to Frank Slaton, wealthy mine owner, who operated it as the Glory B. (Note: During Word War I, W.B. Schmucker’s son, Private Theodore Schmucker, was wounded by shrapnel while participating in the Argonne offensive.)

And in November 1917, representatives of the Miller-King Lumber company purchased lots on South Main Street, near the Judd garage, and began erection of sheds and buildings necessary for a lumber yard to help supply the demand for construction supplies.

New lumber company

The construction boom no doubt contributed to veteran Vinita, Okla., lumberman Addison T. King’s decision to relocate his young family from Vinita to Century, a small mining town near Miami, in November 1916, and soon thereafter to Miami, the up-and-coming town located along the winding path of the Neosho river.

The need for lumber in the county in general, and in Miami in particular, seemed insatiable, and soon King partnered with H.C. Miller to form the Miller-King company, which competed with already established businesses in order to supply that demand.

As 1918 dawned, Addison T. King was 35 years old, married to his college sweetheart, and the father of four children with one more on the way. He graduated from Central College in Fayette, Mo., with an AB degree in 1904, where he participated on the college baseball and tennis teams. Following the lead of his older half brother, C.W. King, after college A.T. King went into the lumber business, working for his brother’s lumber firm in Vinita before joining H.C. Miller’s firm, and moving to Ottawa County.

Soon, he invested in Miller’s lumber company, which was renamed the Miller-King Lumber Co. In November 1917, they established a lumber yard on South Main Street in Miami, and A.T. King moved his family into a house at 209 A Street SW.

Community involvement

As he had previously done in Vinita, A.T. King immersed himself into the civic life in Miami. He became a member of the Rotary Club, associated with the Methodist Church, participated in betterment campaigns in Miami, including the push to get the town’s streets paved, and on a personal level, joined a group of vocalists, participating in various local entertainment venues.

Tragedy strikes

In May 1918, the Miami Record Herald reported that John, the 19-month-old son of A.T. King and is wife, Ruth, was ill, but improving. The next edition of the newspaper brought the sad news that Little John had died. A short service was conducted at the family’s home, followed by burial in Vinita.

Lions Club

On Monday evening, Oct. 7, 1918, Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Simpson hosted a banquet for new members of the Lions Club at their home, located at 124 C Street SE.

The Miami Daily Record Herald reported on this banquet in its Oct. 8, 1918 edition:

“During the course of the dinner A.T. King, V.L. Krucker, S.B. Estes and J.R. Simpson sang several songs, one of which was a parody on “Tenting Tonight,” with words referring to the Fourth Liberty Loan *. The quartet received much applause and the rendition of the songs was excellent.”

Ominous warnings

Not long after the Lions Club meeting, notices in the newspaper regarding the Spanish Influenza became frequent.

In mid October, schools were closed in the local Solid South and Elm Creek districts, as well as in Quapaw.

The Missionary Study Class of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South postponed its meeting indefinitely.

G.O. Shepard of the Farmers’ State bank became ill with the Spanish influenza, as did W.B. Plannett, manager of North’s 10-cent store. Louis Pierman died at the Quapaw hospital.

Surgeon General Rupert Blue of the U.S. Public Health Service issued the following notice, which was published in the Miami Daily Record-Herald Oct. 17, 1918:

“Influenza is a crowd disease, therefore keep out of crowds as much as possible.

“Influenza probably spreads mostly by inhaling some of the tiny droplets of germ-laden mucus sprayed into the air when ignorant or careless persons sneeze or cough without using a handkerchief. Therefore, cover up each cough and sneeze.

“Influenza is probably spread also by the filthy habit of spitting on sidewalks, street cars and other public places. Therefore do not spit on the floor or sidewalk.”

Too late

For A.T. King, the warning came too late.

On Oct. 10, he was experiencing severe chills. He was able to rally some, but the influenza tightened its grip. His wife delivered their fifth child during the evening of Oct. 19, and A.T. King’s mother was in Miami to help with the children. On Thursday evening, Oct. 24, 1918, Addison T. King, then 36 years old, died of the Spanish Influenza.

King’s body was taken to Vinita for burial beside his young son who died in April. The funeral entourage to Vinita included members of the Miami Rotary Club, of which King was a member.

Farewell to Miami

Somberly, the King family left behind their ties to Miami.

The Nov. 24, 1918 edition of the Miami Daily Record Herald reported, “Mrs. A.T. King and children will depart Tuesday for Fayette, Mo., to reside with Mrs. King’s mother, Mrs. Mumpower.”

Note: * The Fourth Liberty Loan was part of the larger effort by the U.S. government to sell war bonds (also known as Liberty Bonds) during World War I. Source: National Museum of American History, Behring Center.

Mary Lou Montgomery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for their communities. Her collective works can be found at

The new Miami Commerce Building, Miami Daily Record Herald, June 2, 1918,

Addison T. King, 1903, a member of the baseball team. Central College yearbook, Fayette, Mo.

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