1918 brought good news amid epidemic
At Thanksgiving 1918 the Spanish flu epidemic raging across the world still had south Louisiana in its grip. The Crowley Signal, for example, reported that it was “very prevalent throughout this section,” and newspapers across the area carried reports of prominent citizens suffering from the illness.
But good news outweighed the bad: World War I, then called “the greatest war ever,” had finally ended. Tyranny was defeated, our soldiers were coming home.
In his Thanksgiving proclamation, President Woodrow Wilson said “the American people have special and moving cause to be grateful” because “complete victory has brought not only peace but the confident promise of a new day.”
The war’s end, he said, was “cause for such rejoicing as revives and strengthens in us all the best traditions of our national history.”
Louisiana governor Ruffin G. Pleasant shared those sentiments.
“In this Thanksgiving month liberty has been given its greatest impetus since the beginning of time,” he said. “We have cause … to rejoice and give thanks to Almighty God for the crowning events of this year. There is a sun that is rising to its zenith and it will never set.”
It was time to offer thankful prayers, both leaders said, and time to feast again from our bounty.
Unfortunately, the deprivations caused by the war and pestilence made that feast more expensive than ever. Many people could remember the good old days when a turkey cost less than a dollar and another quarter would buy “all embellishments necessary to dress up the bird in real Thanksgiving style,” one news story said. But those days were probably gone forever.
The federal food administration, for reasons known only to bureaucrats, ruled that any turkey offered for sale had to weigh at least eight pounds, meaning that it would cost $2.80 “for the smallest bird you are allowed to buy,” according to one consumer report. That was nearly a dollar more than a year before.
Worse, “lettuce leaves, celery and parsley on the outside and oysters and nuts on the inside, with cranberries to smear over the white meat … will cost no less than $5 and as high as $10,” the report said.
It would do little good to substitute a chicken for the turkey because chickens also were “higher than ever before.” Even pork chops, “which will be the favorite of many this year,” were up twenty to forty percent.
Fruit cake, “the added delicacy of the dinner,” would also cost more.
“The average cake which you bought from your baker last Thanksgiving for 60 cents per pound, and considered high at the time, will cost you 75 cents and up this year,” according to another report. The candied fruit in them was more expensive and shelled pecans were up from 75 cents a pound to $1.25.
But, one editorial suggested, the feast would be worth every penny.
“Think of the victory attained,” it advised, and “the price of everything will drift into oblivion, at least for the time being, and Thanksgiving, observed as it should be, will ne one of the greatest days of the year.”
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.