How the Flu Pandemic Changed Halloween in 1918

How the Flu Pandemic Changed Halloween in 1918

“Witches should beware,” said the American Baltimore October 31, 1918. The City of Maryland’s Health Commissioner had banned public Halloween events, asking the Chief of Police to prevent people from holding “carnivals and other forms of public celebration.” The United States was in the midst of the second, and deadliest, wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic. And that meant Americans had to cut back on their usual Halloween festivities.

In the early 20th century, partygoers weren’t knocking on doors to make candy, and Halloween was generally less of a child-centered party than it is today. The adults dressed and held private parties or participated in street celebrations. Meanwhile, young people, especially boys and young men, have spent the night playing pranks and vandalizing the property of their neighbors. It could mean robbing neighbors’ doors and building a bonfire with them, or stopping a train by dropping a fake plush “body” on the tracks.

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