(CNN)On the list of traditions canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, Halloween might be next on the cultural hit list.
The 1918 flu caused Halloween cancellations across the US. It could happen again
Los Angeles County, for example, has led the charge by issuing formal guidance that recommends against trick-or-treating and bans outright haunted houses, festivals and other traditional festivities that would fall under current Covid-19 health guidelines, according to the county's public health department.
The decision is history repeating itself: During the 1918 influenza pandemic, "Halloween parties in general, as well as other social functions attracting large numbers of people (were) discouraged" by LA health authorities, according to an October 30, 1918, Los Angeles Times report.
The fall of 1918 was the second and worst wave of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide.
"Not only was the peak of death right before Halloween, but they were still experiencing pretty severe waves," said Carolyn Orbann, an associate teaching professor in the department of health sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The highest death rates occurred from October to December, possibly due to a deadlier strain of the virus and crowding in hospitals and military camps.
"In most places in the United States, by October 31 of 1918, conditions would have been grim," said Elizabeth Outka, a professor of English at the University of Richmond and author of the book "Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature."
"A lot of things were shut down: stores, schools, churches," said Outka. "There was widespread disruption and a widespread sense that public gatherings were not a good idea."
As the flu ravaged the globe, many US cities saw the need to restrict or ban Halloween celebrations.
"Oct. 31 — noiseless Halloween! Never heard of one?" wrote a reporter for a local newspaper in Santa Ana, California. "Well, San Francisco is going to have one tonight, Chief of Police White announced this afternoon. Noise disturbs influenza patients, he declared—and San Francisco has thousands of cases.
"The board of health's order forbidding parties, further acts as a kill-joy of Halloween's usual festivities."
San Franciscan authorities weren't the only municipal leaders to throw water on denizens' appetites for spine-tingling chills and spirits.
Latrobe, Pennsylvania, banned all "Hallowe'ening" over concerns that celebrating "might be the means of spreading the disease which is claiming so many lives in other parts of the country," said Burgess J. E. Peebles, as reported in the Latrobe Bulletin. Peebles added that he would integrate plainclothesmen into the police force but trusted everyone would comply so that arrests wouldn't be necessary.
St. Louis's health commissioner shut down Halloween parties, football games and other public gatherings.
The city of Rochester, New York, thought any "fun should be curtailed." The night's "revels (lacked) the spirit of previous affairs," Buffalo journalists reported. Denver anticipated a quiet night as well, as the city banned parties where "ducking for apples, pinning a tail on a donkey while blindfolded and other amusements and features" were usually enjoyed.
With war in mind, some cities banned traditions that would have wasted food. "I saw a report from Missouri where I guess normally they would throw dry corn into each other's houses," Orbann said. "It said, 'the price of corn is too high for us to scatter the dry corn.' So the kids scattered the white fuzz that comes off of cattails around ponds."
Though cities banned public gatherings, some people still threw house parties. "People weren't flaunting rules," Orbann said, "but instead working within existing rules as they were understood at the time."
Witnessing the horrors of the 1918 flu didn't mean that gatherings "weren't happening as we see with (Covid-19)," Outka said.