Local News

Sampson woman survived Spanish flu pandemic, now navigating coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is uncharted territory for most people, but not for Sannie Purdie.

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Gilbert Baez
, WRAL Fayetteville reporter
SALEMBURG, N.C. — The coronavirus pandemic is uncharted territory for most people, but not for Sannie Purdie.
Purdie, who turned 105 on Wednesday, survived the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago. That pandemic infected 500 million people and killed 20 million to 50 million worldwide, including 675,000 Americans.

The Sampson County woman was 3 when the Spanish flu pandemic hit in 1918, and she said she doesn't remember much other than what her mother told her.

"My momma said you'd see somebody carrying a body this way, a body that way, people dying like that," she said.

Like now, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to protect people during the pandemic. But Purdie said she remembers some horrible-tasting home remedies.

"We used take castor oil and turpentine and some things like that," she said. "We had to take it. [My mother would] smack you and make you come take it. 'You got to take it now.' I said, 'Oh, no, no, no.'"

Purdie held several jobs during life, including as a cook who was known for the things she loved to bake.

"I made pound cakes, fruit cakes and all that," she said.

The family is known for its longevity – Purdie's father appeared in the local newspaper when he turned 109 and was 115 when he died – but family members said they are amazed that Purdie is living through two pandemics.

"She is a blessing to the family, and I guess we are a blessing to her to be here able to take care of her," great-niece Priscilla Culbreth said.

What's her advice on surviving two pandemics and living to be 105?

"I pray and ask the Lord to watch over me," she said.

On Saturday afternoon, the family plans to celebrate her 105th birthday by having her sit outside a Salemburg church as a parade of cars passes by blowing their horns.


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