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.
READ MORE: The origins of the Great Depression of Halloween haunted houses
Bans established due to fear of spreading virus and respect for flu victims
WATCH: The Spanish flu was deadlier than WWII
During the pandemic, cities have banned or discouraged these traditions to reduce transmission of the virus, and also to be “respectful of those who may be sick or who have lost loved ones,” says Katie Foss, professor of media studies at Middle Tennessee State University. and author of Building the epidemic: epidemics in the media and collective memory.
Cities that had previously banned large gatherings could issue separate statements reminding people not to break them on Halloween, said J. Alex Navarro, deputy director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. and one of the editors. -Boss of The 1918-19 American Flu Epidemic: A Digital Encyclopedia. Even if cities weren’t outright banning Halloween events, they might encourage people to tone them down.
READ MORE: Halloween Costumes Through The Ages: Photos
The officials “urged parents to tell their children, we know you’re going to go out and do these pranks and tricks and be loud and rowdy,” he said; “But keep in mind that there are a lot of people who are recovering at home and trying to get some rest, and who won’t be able to go out the next day and repair all the damage these rowdy kids have done.”
In Spokane, Wash., Navarro said police were supposed to take the Halloween masks away if they saw people wearing them. Although the wearing of flu-prevention cloth masks has been encouraged or mandatory in some cities in the western United States, Navarro says officials likely viewed Halloween masks as unsafe because revelers were passing by. usually these homemade masks in turn.
READ MORE: When the rules of mask wearing in resistance to the 1918 pandemic
Sporadic Halloween festivities and reported mischief
In many cities, it seems that most people have heeded any bans or warnings from authorities regarding Halloween. “Hallowe’en’s revelry lacks the spirit of previous business: sea urchins make miserable efforts to [revive] classic forays into ashtrays and fences, ”reported the Buffalo express in a headline the day after Halloween in 1918.
Yet reports of celebrations differed between and even within cities. On November 3, the Democrat of St. Louis Globe reported that Halloween “took place this year without the usual gay parties and youth celebrations, by health commissioner’s edict.” However, a few days before, the Saint-Louis post-expedition had described a completely different Halloween night in Missouri town.
“The flu bans apparently didn’t spoil Young America’s respect for Halloween in St. Louis,” the Post-shipment reported. “Police report the usual number of street lights turned off and the usual number of bread boxes overturned.” More dangerously, someone had shot a woman in a car and sent another bullet through the window of a woman’s bedroom.
Confined residents were anxious to get out
The day after Halloween, Birmingham News posted a headline claiming “Halloween ghosts are loudest that have ever pestered Birmingham”. The Alabama newspaper speculated that residents had been keen to get out after “almost a month in lockdown” due to the pandemic, and may have been prompted by the news that World War I was drawing to a close.
“That night was more gloriously observed and the property was more completely devastated than at any time since the Magic City was chartered,” the article reported.
That same day in Texas, the Dallas Evening Newspaper posted a title claiming Unusually harsh and noisy Halloween celebration in Dallas. ” That night, a two-year-old suffered burns, an eight-year-old sprained his ankle, someone hit a 14-year-old man on the head with a bottle, and drivers were injured several times with their car. . There were also thefts: young people stole a horse, a car, a piano and several tires from people’s cars.
The influenza pandemic continued after Halloween, extending beyond Armistice Day on November 11 and into 1919. It remains the deadliest influenza pandemic on record, killing an estimated 675,000 people in the United States. United States and up to 50 million people worldwide. Some experts estimate that it has infected a third of the world’s population, or around 500 million people.
See all pandemic coverage here.