Thanksgiving 1918 took place during deadly pandemic. What can it teach us?

Thanksgiving 1918 took place during deadly pandemic. What can it teach us?
Influenza epidemic 1918 (Image: Library of Congress)

[Ed. – Considering the reports of high numbers of people traveling for Thanksgiving this year, nothing.]

The month before, the so-called Spanish flu was blamed for killing 11,000 in Philadelphia.

The epidemic that ultimately would claim an estimated 675,000 American lives — probably a tremendous underestimate since it didn’t include countless deaths involving preexisting conditions — was on fire in the fall of 1918.

Yet on Nov. 28, 1918, the nation celebrated Thanksgiving. Exuberantly.

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“Best Thanksgiving in History of City,” proclaimed a headline in the New York Sun. Philadelphia, despite a daylong chilly drizzle, was the venue for parades, sporting events, and “flag raisings,” The Inquirer reported.

In his annual Thanksgiving proclamation, President Woodrow Wilson didn’t even mention the flu, which he later contracted himself.

COVID-19 is casting its long, persistent shadow over Thanksgiving 2020, but for a variety of reasons, the Spanish flu didn’t have a similar effect in 1918 on Thanksgiving or the subsequent holidays. That likely had consequences later.

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