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Spanish Flu and Halloween


On this date in 1918, as World War I raged on across the sea and the Spanish Flu was spreading from community to community, children were looking at a different type of Halloween.


Some newspapers issued notices warning kids off the "traditional fun-making." The Grand Forks Herald wrote: "Hallowe'en, which annually brings joy and excitement to the hearts of boys and girls … has arrived, but ... the influenza, and Chief of Police Overby, have conspired to make the day an uneventful one, and it is possible, though not wholly probable, that [there won't] be a sign of a spook tonight." 


The police also expressed that any property damage that may occur would be "considered as working against the government," due to the ongoing war overseas. In Bismarck, the Tribune reminded its readers that causing property damage was a "disloyal activity," since it would require materials, time, and labor to fix it, all more difficult to come by on the home front. The newspaper added: "The Halloween prank of the average boy is not vicious, but it often is destructive....and we have seen enough destruction in the world the last four years." 


Home Dixon, assistant state Boys' and Girls' Club leader, encouraged club members across the state to enjoy the day without causing any trouble. Despite the flu, most of his suggestions included small community gatherings: such as hosting a Halloween program in a rural schoolhouse; staging a public parade; fortune telling; and bobbing for apples.


Small Halloween-related gatherings dotted the newspaper columns in Fargo. In Guelph, Dickey County, a Halloween festival was held at Hudson School as a fundraiser. Proceeds were used to buy a Victrola for the school.


In Grand Forks, all gatherings, "social or otherwise," were banned due to the flu, preventing indoor Halloween parties – and police there had forbidden outdoor gatherings as well, though they encouraged the carving of Jack O'Lanterns.


Police Commissioner Chris Bertsch Jr. in Bismarck issued a notice that "the City Health Commissioner's ban on the congregation of children in the streets" was still active and that it would be "rigidly enforced." Children had to be home early and could not gather in large groups downtown.


Certainly, these factors affected Halloween, although a few pranks, parties, and gatherings still occurred in various communities across the state. 


Have a happy, safe, and healthy Halloween!


Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker



The Grand Forks Herald, Thursday, October 31, 1918, p5

The Bismarck Tribune, Thursday evening, October 17, 1918, p8

The Bismarck Tribune, October 30, 1918, p8

The Oakes Times, October 17, 1918, p1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, October 31, 1918, p7

The Oakes Times, November 7, 1918, p5

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