As public health officials continuously evaluate our current situations of mask wearing and social distancing, during one deadly season in the late 1930s, Buffalo’s health commissioner banned the kiss to stop the spread of disease.
“Kissing is very dangerous,” said Commissioner Francis Fronczak. “It spreads the virus which has made so many people sick.”
The order came as 139 Buffalonians had died of respiratory illness in the first three-and-a-half weeks of 1937.
"Kissing is one of the easiest ways to transmit pneumonia, influenza and grippe," Fronczak told reporters as he announced cooperation from the railroads and bus companies to “display placards in (their) terminals, warning the public to refrain from kissing departing and arriving friends and relatives.”
The commissioner said everyone should come under the ban, because “everyone is a suspect or carrier of respiratory infection.”
City Clerk George Reibold jumped on board as well, posting one of the “stop that kiss” signs in the office where many couples would come to pick up their marriage licenses.
“We have some people who think this is a place to practice kissing,” said Reibold. “It isn’t healthy, you know, and besides it’s tiresome.”
In seemingly the most polite way possible, The Buffalo Evening News editorial board offered a brief response that seemed to capture the thoughts of most Buffalonians.
“The ban on kissing urged by Health Commissioner Francis E. Fronczak would seem to be highly sanitary but unsatisfactory,” wrote The News on the Editorial page.
Buffalonians hated it – but newspapers around the country ate it up.
Newspapers in Chicago and New York called it a “war on kissing,” which was picked up when MGM came to Buffalo to shoot a newsreel to be played in movie theaters around the country – including at Shea’s Buffalo.
“The film pictures Commissioner Fronczak at his City Hall desk, dictating his message in the war on osculation,” reported the Courier-Express. “Dr. Fronczak is heard describing the dangerous possibilities if the general practice is not stopped – for the time being at least. The film ends with a smile for audiences when it pictures a better-than-middle-aged gentleman trying to impress on a young and pretty girl the importance of following out the instructions.”
For the health of Buffalonians, Fronczak would have liked to see people stop kissing – but even as he ordered it, he knew that most people weren’t going to stop, even as he raised awareness of the dangers of the pneumonia and flu sweeping through the city.
“I’m afraid mine is a voice lost in the desert,” the commissioner told one reporter.
Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo's pop culture history for BN Chronicles, has written six books, and teaches English at Bishop Timon - St. Jude High School.