Birta (Bertha) Mattson Oldham

Walk with the Dead: Fargo's Riverside Cemetery

Birta (Bertha) Mattson Oldham

Fargo, North Dakota 58103, United States

Created By: North Dakota State University


As you approach this spot on the tour, you may wonder if you are in the right place as there is no tombstone for Birta Oldham. You may notice that there is what seems to be a lot of "open space" in this section, but section 31 is full. It is full of mostly folks just like Birta; those who were buried alone. Section 31 is one of the soberest parts of Riverside, to me. While you may see tokens of affection and remembrance in several sections of Riverside, there are almost none here. When thinking about our history, it is important to learn how we all lived, not just our doctors, businessmen, and politicians, but folks like Birta, too.

If she had a stone here, it might say: Birta Mattson Oldham, Born Oct 3, 1890, Died Oct 19, 1919. Of course, that wouldn't tell you much, but it would tell you she was here, and is here still, right below you.

Birta was born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 3, 1890 and would live just two weeks into her 29th year. She married Thomas a week after her 20th birthday in 1910 in Fergus Falls, MN.

On Birta's 21st birthday, she was pregnant.

On Birta's 22nd birthday, she was pregnant.

On her 23rd birthday, Birta had probably just discovered she was expecting. again.

For her 25th birthday, Birta was in her final weeks of pregnancy.

During 1916, 17, and 18, Birta was without a birth, but again in 1918 she conceived and bore Albert, who came on Saturday, October 11th. Birta died 8 days later, on Sunday, October 19, 1918. A victim of Spanish Flu that became pnumonia, she was unable to recover.

The Spanish Flu's origin was linked to either Spain, hence the name, or a military base in Kansas. While other strains of the flu usually hit the very young and the very old, citizens would learn the hard way that the Spanish flu primarily killed those in the 20-to-35-age group.

State governments in MN and ND did nothing to warn of the illness, nor did city government. On October 1, 1918, the Forum reported the epidemic was serious and people should get plenty of fresh air. Two days later, there were 100 cases of the flu in Fargo.

Through early October, Fargo-Moorhead had more than 2,000 people down with the flu, with about 250 new cases being reported every day. Fargo hospitals were at capacity, while Moorhead faired far better.

The Forum reported that 124 people in Fargo died in October, the worst death toll from one cause in the city's history. By early November, the number of new cases of flu dropped sharply. The flu resurfaced in late November, then subsided. By January 1919, the epidemic was virtually over. (3)

After Birta died, the 1920 census shows that Thomas Oldham was a railroad worker who boarded on Broadway. That year's census also shows Arthur, age 5, living as an adopted child with John and Emelia Anderson. None of the other children are listed in Fargo.

In 1930, Arthur is listed as a 15 year old "lodger" at the Anderson's address, 1326 4th Ave N. Also in 1930, Theodore and William, age 17, reappear in Hillsdale, MN as "foster sons" to the Strenzke family.

Albert and Edith are never mentioned. Edith is now buried in California. Albert's connection to the Oldham family was lost.

Birta's husband, Thomas, would would remarry in Omaha in May 1922 and have two more children with his second wife. He and she are resting beneath lovely headstones in Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, CA.


  1. Sullivan, Kathy. “Bertha J ‘Birta/Beda’ Mattson Oldham (1890 - 1918) - Find A Grave Memorial.” Accessed December 5, 2016.
  2. Sullivan, Kathy. “Thomas Edward ‘Tom’ Oldham (1880 - 1931) - Find A Grave Memorial.” Find A Grave, June 25, 2012.

  3. Fargo, Forum Communications Company 101 5th Street North, and ND 58102 Call us at235-7311. “1918 Flu Outbreak Hit Fargo Hardest,” May 23, 2014.

  4. Year: 1920; Census Place: Fargo Ward 5, Cass, North Dakota; Roll: T625_1332; Page: 20B; Enumeration District: 18; Image: 457.

  5. Year: 1920; Census Place: Fargo Ward 5, Cass, North Dakota; Roll: T625_1332; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 18; Image: 425.

  6. Year: 1930; Census Place: Fargo, Cass, North Dakota; Roll: 1733; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 0041; Image: 972.0; FHL microfilm: 2341467

This point of interest is part of the tour: Walk with the Dead: Fargo's Riverside Cemetery


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