Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia


A century ago, a worldwide health disaster hit home. The influenza pandemic of 1918–19, the global epidemic often called the “Spanish flu,” killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide.  

Here in Philadelphia, the Liberty Loan Parade, a patriotic wartime effort on September 28, 1918, helped to spread the disease. Soon, the city was in crisis. Hospitals overflowed and bodies piled up in morgues. Philadelphia had the highest death rate of any major American city during the pandemic. More than 12,000 people died in six weeks; over 20,000 died in six months. 

Many of those people died young. Very few were wealthy or famous. Their names are not in history books, but their families did not forget them.

Spit Spreads Death explores how neighborhoods in Philadelphia were impacted, how the disease spread, and what could happen in future pandemics.

Spit Spreads Death is an exhibition and artist project that explores both this devastating historic event and the connections to contemporary health issues. Join us for an exploration that begins before the exhibition opens and will continue throughout the life of the exhibition. Stay tuned for details on neighborhood walking tours, a health fair, free flu shots, and the opportunity to participate in a public parade held on the anniversary of the Liberty Loan Parade. On September 28, 2019, facilitated by the internationally renowned artist group Blast Theory and local community health organizations, the Mütter Museum invites our audience, supporters, and the Philadelphia community at large to participate in a parade to memorialize the Philadelphia victims of the influenza pandemic and to honor the tremendous work being done every day by community health groups.

Want to receive email updates about the exhibition? Subscribe here and select the Spit Spreads Death check box.


  • JULY 3, 2019: Liberty Loan Pop-up with historical curator Jane Boyd and Museum Director Robert Hicks at the Mütter Museum
  • SEPTEMBER 7, 2019: Health Fair at Mifflin Square Park (register for a booth here!)
  • SEPTEMBER 28, 2019: March in a public parade led by artist group Blast Theory (stay tuned for more information!)
  • OCTOBER 17, 2019: Spit Spreads Death opens to the public

Have a family flu pandemic story?


June 22, 2018

Mütter Museum Awarded Funding for New Exhibition  

Click HERE to see more updates on Spit Spreads Death


Major support for Spit Spreads Death has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, with additional support from the Groff Family Memorial Trust and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Mütter Museum helps the public appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body while understanding the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.

  • 19 S 22nd Street
  • Philadelphia, PA 19103
Get Directions
  • Monday through Sunday
  • 10am–5pm
  • We are closed on Thanksgiving, December 24, December 25 and January 1