Way We Were: Thanksgiving 1918 and Thanksgiving 2020
Park City Museum research coordinator
Perhaps no year is more relevant than this one to take a look back at Thanksgiving 1918, the Thanksgiving of the flu pandemic.
Thanksgiving in 1918 took place on Nov. 28, as declared by President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s proclamation was not one of caution; rather, he told the American people that “this year we have special and moving cause to be grateful and to rejoice.”
It may seem uncouth that the president asked people to “rejoice” while hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans were dying — family, friends, neighbors and strangers alike, but Wilson’s words were apt for Nov. 16, 1918. Just five days before his declaration of Nov. 28 as Thanksgiving Day, World War I — “the war to end all wars” — had finally ended.
However, despite the good news of the war ending, Wilson erred in his message to Americans. Not once in a roughly two-page announcement did Wilson remark on the pandemic, much less ask Americans to be cautious as they returned home to loved ones.
The week of Thanksgiving 1918 in Park City, The Park Record reported that “at present there are thirteen cases, eight in isolation hospital and five in homes,” and noted all members of the households were under strict quarantine. Overall, the paper noted that Park City was more fortunate than most of the country in the number of cases and deaths it had seen, but two popular and young Parkites had died as Thanksgiving approached.
The City Council met on Nov. 22 in advance of Thanksgiving to talk about enforcement of quarantine orders and a mask mandate because regulations “were (right) now being completely ignored.” Mayor Fitzgerald pleaded for “those afflicted” with the flu to follow the guidelines put in place to protect everyone’s health.
It is worth noting that November 1918 was amidst the second wave of the flu. That second wave, roughly Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, was much more deadly than the first wave in the spring and summer of 1918. Approximately 292,000 American died in those four months from having the “Spanish Flu.”
The Park Record wrote in November 1918 to “avoid crowds. Wear a mask and report your neighbor if (they) fail to do so. See that your home is well ventilated. Don’t sleep in ‘stuffy’ rooms. Cooperate with the (police and health) officers and don’t be a ‘grouch.’”
We tend to agree with the same for today. Just like in 1918, Park City has been more fortunate than much of the country in avoiding a crisis with the pandemic, but with cases rising every day, we need to be diligent in following health guidelines.
Ultimately, The Park Record reported on Nov. 29, 1918, that “it was a quiet Thanksgiving.” Perhaps a quiet Thanksgiving is what we need this year too.
Learn more about Park City’s history in the Park City Museum’s exhibits or Hal Compton Research Library, or on our YouTube channel.
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Thanks to COVID-19 cutting into visitation numbers, Park City’s seasonal workforce is sufficient. In any other winter, “the hiring situation would be dire.”