In the fall of 1918, World War I was nearing the end. As children looked forward to the Halloween season, a real horror appeared around the world including Arizona. The Grim Reaper that would be known as the Spanish flu. This 1918 influenza pandemic would kill over 50 million people before it subsided in 1920. One of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. October of 1918 was the worst month for deaths.
In early October, states and many cities and towns around the country including Arizona enacted strict quarantines to prevent the spread of the flu. Schools were closed and parents were told to keep their children off the streets. On Oct. 9, the Arizona Republic newspaper reported: Tucson now closed up. Following the discovery of 27 cases of Spanish influenza here today, acting Mayor Bernard tonight issued a proclamation closing all theaters, schools, churches, pool halls and other public places until further notice.
Towns such as Jerome, Prescott, Kingman, Clarksdale, Morenci, Metcalf, Clifton, Superior, Hayden, Winkelman Ray/Sonora and Prescott posted armed guards at all entry roads and prevented anyone from leaving or entering town. Public funerals were forbidden as were any public gatherings. The quarantines would be modified as time passed. Some towns lifted the quarantines then reinstated them as more cases of the flu were reported. As Halloween approached, children were hopeful that the quarantine would be lifted but that would not happen.
Halloween in most of Arizona would only be celebrated at home. No big parties were allowed and there would be no trick or treating. On Halloween night 1918, some kids went out into the night and although they could not get any candy treats, they still found they could play some tricks. In Phoenix, newspapers reported that kids had barricaded streets, upended signs and pulled up street signs and pulled three fire alarms. Firefighters had showed up to find no fires in progress. A fourth alarm appeared to be true as when firefighters showed up they found a vehicle on fire. The fire was probably set by frustrated kids unable to celebrate Halloween. In Hayden boys barricaded some of the streets and carried garbage cans and placed them on the front doorsteps of some of the homes.
On Nov. 11, 1918, in the town of Prescott, the quarantine could not stop a celebration which was described as “the 4th of July, Frontier Days, New Years, Halloween and street fair all combined.” It was the first Armistice Day a celebration of the end of World War I. Despite the prohibition law, liquor flowed freely. Fireworks were shot off and there was dancing in the streets.
In December the quarantine was finally lifted. The city government of Douglas made an ordinance that everyone out on the public streets of town must wear a gauze flu mask. Anyone not wearing one would be arrested. It is estimated that 6,000 Arizonans died from the Spanish flu in 1918. For many families it was a bad year and an All Hallow’s Eve to be forgotten.