We're celebrating Thanksgiving amid a pandemic. Here's how we did it in 1918 – and what happened next
By Grace Hauck
via the USA TODAY newspaper web site
More than 200,000 dead since March. Cities in lockdown. Vaccine trials underway.
And a holiday message, of sorts: "See that Thanksgiving celebrations are restricted as much as possible so as to prevent another flare-up."
It isn't the message of Thanksgiving 2020. It's the Thanksgiving Day notice that ran in the Omaha World Herald on Nov. 28, 1918, when Americans found themselves in a similar predicament to the millions now grappling with how to celebrate the holiday season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Every time I hear someone say these are unprecedented times, I say no, no, they're not," said Brittany Hutchinson, assistant curator at the Chicago History Museum. "They did this in 1918."
On Thanksgiving more than a century ago, many Americans, like today, lived under various phases of quarantines and face mask orders. Millions mourned loved ones. And health officials in many cities issued the same holiday warning: Stay home and stay safe.
The first cases were detected in the USA in March of that year, growing exponentially by the fall. In October, the virus burned through the nation. Dozens of cities implemented face mask orders and curfews and locked down for two to three weeks, temporarily closing schools, libraries, theaters, movie houses, dance halls, churches, ice cream parlors and soda shops. The virus killed about 195,000 Americans during October alone.
As Thanksgiving rolled around, some cities celebrated the relaxation of flu-related restrictions – partly due to opposition campaigns by retailers, theater owners, unions, mass transportation companies and other economically stressed stakeholders. Washington, Indianapolis and Oakland, California, had lifted restrictions days before, and San Francisco was on the brink of lifting its mask mandate.
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