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. Nearly 14,000 people died in six weeks, one death every five minutes; more than 17,500 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. It is an exhibition and artist project that explores both this devastating historic event and the connections to contemporary health issues. It is an exploration that began before the exhibition opened with a commemorative parade and will continue throughout the life of the exhibition with a variety of community programming.
Explore the Pandemic
See how the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic affected the people and neighborhoods of Philadelphia.
Images from the Exhibition
In addition to the physical exhibit, on September 28, 2019, facilitated by the internationally renowned artist group Blast Theory and local community health organizations, the Mütter Museum invited 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. Experience the parade in Blast Theory's artistic film, featured in the exhibition.
Photographs from the Parade
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.